Most weeks I write a song. I track them on Sundays and post them here along with a few notes.
This song was started in November and I had a chance to finish it up last Sunday. It’s a slower song that has a sparser arrangement which is driven more by the bass than the guitar. I applied some keys to it as well. I did a small guitar part on the telecaster through the invader to explore the reverb and tremolo effects that were recently restored to the amplifier. Lyrically it’s about TV.
This is the last song for 2018. I had the melody and lyrics kicking around for a few years. I borrowed a lot from Justin Townes Earle for this tune, specifically Harlem River Blues. This song makes use of two chords, A and B minor. I initially had another part for this song because I didn’t think I could get away with just two chords but in the end it didn’t need it. I used the tele for this one and added some organ to fill in the gaps.
The song this week was a bit of a reach for me and I’m not entirely convinced it came together completely but I wanted to try something new. The riff was inspired by some of the riffs on the Ty Segall self-titled. It had me playing around in keys that were new territory to me and experimenting with slower tempos. I also fuzzed out the bass and only used distorted guitars. I distorted the vocals to match. In the chorus, I tried to do a trick I learned about this week that Nirvana did a lot where you only play the first three strings of a chord and then complete the chord with the vocal melody. The resulting song was heavier and slower than I usually do and has kind of a Melvins-y feel to it.
Sunday’s session produced two new songs this week. The first one has a really weird back-and-forth progression for the verses that didn’t really come together until I put in the vocal harmonies. I single tracked the guitar this time around to see if I need all the layering that I normally do and to see if it would be any clearer. I wanted to see how sparse of an arrangement I could get away with. Lyrically it’s a bit of a mishmash, the first verse is taken from something I heard at work one day and the rest are recounting some details from my wild middle school years. The choruses felt like they needed new words each time around instead of repeating the same phrase so I used them to build on the ideas laid out in the verses.
On Thursday last week, a colleague at work said he had been tuning in to the song blog and wanted me to throw a line in one of the songs that he’d recognize. At lunch he told us about his glory days during the summer of his senior year so I built a song out of that. The arrangement ended up being a little folk-song-y and it kind of reminds me of the Blaze Foley song, ‘Highschool Hero.” I used the same board as last week and again went with the SG through the Invader for guitars.
The genesis of this week’s song is the first half of the first verse. It was a phrase that came to me when we were last on tour a few Marches ago. My voice was shot and I was sick so I was going through quite a few ‘Fisherman’s Friends’ throat lozenges. The phrasing of the line is really weird and that’s what drew me to it and made me want to flesh it out. I had sketched out the main phrase back on Jefferson street and I had always wanted to make a full song out of it. I again used the new board and am learning to navigate it better in preparation for our next Spiders’ record, which we will be starting in the weeks ahead. The lyrics are about responsibility and perseverance.
This song was written over the thanksgiving holiday. My folks have an old classical guitar that I used to sketch up the parts of the arrangement. I found myself playing on a different key that had a some major chords where I usually expect minors and a couple of half step intervals which are pretty rare for me. I used the SG again through the Invader for the guitars. I was happy with how the fast picking solo came together. Sonically, this session was my first experiment with a new board that I managed to get my hands on that used to be the sound board at a prominent Cambridge rock club. It has much better pre-amps than what I was working with before. I have a lot to learn with it, but the early returns are promising, I feel like I’ve lifted the blanket that was covering my earlier recordings. The Spiders and I are hoping to make our next record ourselves and with this thing I think we’ll be able to. Lyrically, I’m thinking about the phenomenon of family.
We threw a party to celebrate the boy’s first birthday on Sunday this week and there was lots to do to prepare. I had to work quickly in order to get everything recorded in a small window of time early Sunday morning. I was able to get everything tracked in a few minutes under two hours. Working quickly has it’s advantages though, you aren’t able to over-analyze things and you have to commit quickly. As a result, I only tracked each rhythm guitar once and put one on the left and one on the right. Normally I double or triple each track. For the guitar this week, I was able to use my newly resurrected Invader GA-30 RVT that is fresh back from the shop. For inspiration I was listening to a No Age album this week and it starts with a song that sits on a single chord for a large portion of the verse. I also heard some Waylon Jennings songs where he does the same. So with this one I was trying to get a lot out of the first chord and have the chord changes have more impact. Lyrically I’m looking at exhaustion.
For the second song this week I did a cover of Matt Copley’s ‘Winter Wait.’ It’s a great song that he wrote a few years ago when his first son was born. Now that I have one as well I found some parts of this song particularly resonant, especially now that the weather has started to turn. His original version was a simple acoustic arrangement so I thought it’d be fun to do a more fleshed-out presentation.
The first song from this week’s session ended up in a different key than it was written. I hit the wrong setting on tuner and so the guitar was tuned a half step lower than I intended. When I went to add the bass I was noticed it was off, so I recorded the bass tuned to E and played a half step down. Coincidentally, it put the vocals in a good spot for me so it ended up working out. I might not have been able to grab that high harmony in the chorus if it was in the original tuning. I stole the opening drum part from a Blinders song that I always liked a lot. I dug how the opening chords and riff are part of the same part instead of having the lead on top of the chords as I usually do. Lyrically, I’m talking about how we tell our story with a structure that wasn’t there as we were living it.
The verses here have the chords sliding into one another like last week’s song. I also again went with the single-tracked, distorted vocal we did on all the early spiders stuff. I used the epi-les paul for all the guitar this week. The chorus has a little repeating figure on top of the chords that that had a little Jay-vibe to it. I also threw some claps and tambo on that part as well. Lyrically it’s about the unsolicited advice that all new parents have to endure and the really weird tone that usually accompanies it.
This week’s composition was inspired by the “lost” Marked Men song that I heard about on NPR. The chorus melody was lifted from some song that was playing in Front Street Coffee on Wednesday morning. I got some tea there and took it down to the wharf with the boy where we enjoyed some of the last warm weather we’ll see this year. The words are about my reaction to certain styles of comedy and how hard it is to stay atop the standings.
I was listening to a lot George Jones this week and wanted to try my hand a country tune. The lyrics are meant to be funny but it comes across more earnest than I intended. The bridge lyrics were contributed by Hilary and ended up being a nod to Lithium off of Nevermind.
During this week, Hilary and I were looking at a house for sale in Swampscott. It had a lot of what we were looking for but in the end we decided against making an offer. We spent a lot of time thinking about it. Lyrically, the song is about how big decisions can usurp your thoughts and how persistent they can be. Under the solo is a tom-based drum part. I heard that done in a Strokes song once and really liked how it amplifies the part by pulling back.
The Epi-Les Paul and Tele-Squire were in need of a string change this week so I brought the SG for this one. It came in handy for the last chorus because the longer neck allowed me to do some really high barre chords that add a lot to the part and wouldn’t have happened otherwise. My tendency is always to go straight ahead so I was happy with the rhythm that emerged for the verses. Lyrically I’m wrestling with career, time and attitude.
The chords and rhythm for the verse on the song this week are a kind of riff on the classic grunge progression, (eg. Smells Like Teen Spirt) The lyrics are written but not yet recorded. They are about Hilary’s experience this week jumping into the fray on the internet.
This week’s song is an instrumental. I had a handful of riffs that came together for this one but no vocal melodies jumped out to me. I was exploring time signatures this time around. A lot of the riffs vary between 3/3 and 4/4. One gets the 4/4 treatment early in the song but then shows up at the end in 3/3. There’s also a part in the bridge where the guitars are in 3/3 and the drums are in 4/4. None of this was intentional, but it did happen.
The song this week has a 90’s vibe to it. The vocal performance is in a lower register than I usually sing and gives it a laid back feel. The solo was created with layered, octave hammer-ons so it sounds like some sort of keyboard. The lower vocals gave me an opportunity to do some higher harmonies on the last chorus that came together well. Lyrically I’m sorting through my feelings for a friend of mine who has been going through a very challenging time. The Spiders have started working on this one.
The second song this week is a lullaby for the boy. He’s 10 months and getting really big. He seems so fearless and does everything with such force that it made me think of him as the King of the Jungle. In the verses I list out all the animals and how he’s crushed their spirits. In the choruses I varied the backdrop to reflect the animals from the verses. I threw in a quick, falsetto pre-chorus to break up the monotony of the verse and chorus being basically the same part.
This week two songs emerged from the Sunday session. With the first song, I was trying to find a little more space in the parts. In the verses I found a little something more for the bass to do instead of just root-notes. Also, I liked the idea of having more of the Queen-style guitar harmonies running through more of the song instead of just saving them for the solos. The lyrics are written but not yet recorded. They were written on the train commute from Salem to Brighton. I was on my way to meet with an athlete and was listening to a podcast on the Heisenberg principle.
For this week’s instrumental I started with the Bass and built it up form there as opposed to my typical approach of starting with the guitar. I was interested in layering up harmonies and seeing how I could keep adding parts as the song goes along. This arrangement was also an excuse to further develop the full, multi-mic approach I started last week. This time around I spent more time adding compression and EQ to the drums.
The set of riffs for this song have been kicking around in my head since 2005. When I lived in Davis Square I made a quick, single-track recording of these riffs and labeled it ‘hipster music’ because the reminded me of the Strokes or British Sea Power. The bridge wouldn’t be out of place in an Inblackandwhite song. I came back to this recording and beefed it up with some harmonies and built up the structure more but it’s pretty close to the initial idea from a decade ago. The drums here are recorded using a full set of mics instead of just a matched pair of Cascade Fatheads so the sound is starting to get better.
For this week’s second entry, I did a slowed-down song that would have worked as an acoustic arrangement. I instead opted for a quiet, reverby, electric guitar which, together with the layered vocals, makes for a dreamy, haunting sound. The Invader did some interesting things during the solo which furthered the spooky mood. When I recorded the vocals, I didn’t have the windscreen properly placed and so I had to do some mixing gymnastics to reduce the plosives. The result has some nasty buzz around the vocals but it fixed the larger problem. Lyrically, this song is about having to find a new studio after we lost our lease on the Jefferson Ave. space and wondering why that was such a hard thing to wrap my mind around. It’s a reflection on why that space was important to us and the purpose it served while we were waiting for the boy.
This week was an instrumental exercise. I was playing with layers and guitar lead harmonies as well looking for a different-feeling rhythm that had some space in it. Also, I was happy to find a nice riff for the bass in the verses. There are words are written for this song but not yet recorded. They explore the idea that objective truth is an option for some people.
This week I was interested in a propulsive beat that pulls the song along. I found some weird chords to play with when the song opens up that reminded me of my cousin’s work in Prize the Doubt. I threw in some abrupt rhythmic pauses as a nod to them. I was happy with how the harmony guitar lines came out at the end. I shared with Amaral and he thought the ending had a Jay Reatard feel to it. There are lyrics written but not recorded that are a riff on “the wisdom of the staircase” and also work in one of Gunnar’s classic quotes.
This week’s song features a finger-picking riff that I had been playing around with since the early Jefferson Avenue days. I was thinking about the Walkmen when I was putting this together. I was using a sparse arrangement with a cleaner, reverby tone instead of all the distorted layers I tend towards. The finger-picking arrangement helps bring it further from my usual output, but also made for a dirty, difficult tracking session. There are lyrics written but not yet recorded. They explore my reaction to some recent unpleasantness.
This week’s second song is an instrumental. I was working with some parts that were outside of my normal comfort zone and quite a bit different from each other. Stitching them together was a good exercise. I was also looking at varying the tones to help differentiate the parts. There’s definitely an opportunity for vocals here but I haven;t cracked it yet.
I didn’t quite get to the drums on the first song this week. It’s a very straightforward, very classic DWatS kind of song. I’ll add drums on the next studio catch up day. I have some lyrics and a melody written for the bridge at the end but need to hustle out some lyrics for the rest of it. The main riff was one that Hilary made up for me.
The second song this week is an exercise in trying to find more space in the structure of the parts. I was working on syncing up the bass and drums more closely as well as doing some single note progressions so that the chords have more impact when they come in. I was also looking for interesting harmonies to go with all those single note parts to see if that could fill the space the same way chords can. There are lyrics for this one mostly written and the main theme is about a friend’s deadpan response to a crazy situation.
The first song this week is still without a drum part. The idea is to do some galloping snare part for most of the song. It proved to be trickier than I thought and I ran out of time. The main riff was contributed by Hilary and I built the rest of it out from there. No words written for this one yet, but it will need them eventually.
This one is a summertime jam. The the rhythmic, clean, left-channel guitar part in the verses was inspired by the single from Culture Abuse’s new record. This one came together quickly and has some fun thin lizzy style guitar stuff going on as well as some fun tambo stuff.
I started with a cleaner tone this week to give myself somewhere to go as I built the song up. This one is currently just instrumental but could use some words for sure. I found some fun harmonies to close out the song. I was happy with the way this song builds as it goes.
This one makes good on a riff I’ve had kicking around for a really long time. The lead is a little close to what I did on Night Games and I think that’s what kept me from doing anything with it. I always liked how this riff used all of the strings. The way it builds in the bridge is how I always heard that part in my head and I was happy to finally find a place for it. The lyrics in the chorus acknowledge the voice in my head throughout the creative process. The rest are about recognizing my role in my own failures and finding value without external validation.
This week’s song is an instrumental with the aggression puled back a little bit. The tones are cleaner and the arrangement is a little sparser. In the bridge I went for a reverb-soaked clean tone to pull that part out. No words are written for this one yet.
For this one I was trying my hand at a murder ballad in the style of ‘Long Black Veil’ or ‘Tom Dooley.’ I did the base tracks for this one with the 7/8th scale Taylor at home, directly into the laptop through the built-in-audio. I put the rest of it down with the Fatheads in the studio. The lyrics for this were inspired by a story one of Hilary’s aunts told while they were visiting. She said that her grandfather moved to the Midwest because he was running from the law. As she tells it, he had clubbed a man over the head with a shovel in New York City. I thought two things were interesting about this story. The first is the notion of the country back then being so big that you could erase yourself by moving 1000 miles away. The second is that this poor fellow was trying so desperately to distance himself from this terrible deed and now this story is the only thing we know about him.
This song is the first track recorded at my new studio on Bridge Street. The drum kit is a different kit than the previous recordings, but the amps are the same. It is a continued experiment in adding new tools into the mix. The bridge features a finger-picking interlude and the verse phrase has a heavily articulated rhythm. With the lyrics I am describing that funny feeling when you are awake in your dreams and how nothing and everything makes sense at the same time. The bridge starts on the same chord that the chorus ends, so I abruptly cut into the bridge and it fits nicely with the theme of the lyrics and how dreams take weird shifts all the time. You can hear faintly how I messed around with some volume-knob hammer-on stuff in the early part of the bridge to add to the dreamy-quality of the song. I need to spend some more getting the right guitar tone for this idea to properly work.
The song this week is just a little acoustic sketch of some parts that were kicking around. I would like to develop it further and add a vocal part. This song was recorded at home, straight into the laptop. The very next day after this song was recorded we learned that we lost our lease at the Jefferson Ave. space, so to me it’s fitting that it was recorded at home, in between studios.
This song took a while to come together, I did all the bass and guitars at Jefferson and finished up the rest at Bridge Street. The opening has a real Ratatat feel to it. The drums were the first thing I recorded at the new space. The vocals are way over-compressed and there’s a nasty hiss in there as a result. Lyrically it’s about staying complete in a situation where there are a lot of factors working towards the opposite goal.
The song this week was a song I heard in a dream. In the dream, I was at a concert and I saw a band play this song and I really liked it. The tempo and beat are very different from where I normally am. The verse and the chorus are the same progression with different arrangements. I threw in a chorus part to break up the monotony of the other similar parts. There’s a blank verse in the middle that could probably use a solo, although it’s not too bad as is. The first line of the lyrics is taken right from the dream as well. I made up the rest after I was awake. The second chorus was written while driving down Storrow Drive along the Esplanade, I think while driving to studio 52.
This song has a Replacements feeling to it. It uses a capo which was something I was against for years but mostly out of ignorance. I started playing around with one when I was playing acoustic for the boy around the house. Moving the capo up the fretboard made it sound a lighter and more appropriate for newborn ears. The main riff feels like something Amaral might come up with, and has a little ‘Copper Green’ to it. There’s a blank verse in need of a solo but I’m saving that for Amaral. I There might be a bridge too many in this song but I do like all the parts. I especially liked how the bridge vocal phrase returns for the outro with new chords under it. The lyrics concern the passing of my uncle and some thoughts on the interesting relationship that he had with his family.
I wrote this song while I was in AZ for MLB spring training. It was the first time I’d been there and I was struck by how cold it was. The weather was unseasonably chilly but also the place had a cold, empty feel to it as well. I really did see a rabbit on the sidewalk with his throat ripped out. The lyrics and vocal melodies really drove this one. I just put chords underneath and went from there. It was fun to do the descending bridge, it reminds me of something that would be in an REO Speedwagon or Journey song.
This song is an obvious ode to the boy. He’s been getting so expressive lately so it’s fun to read into those expressions. He didn’t give a lot of feedback for a the first few months so it’s fun to watch his personality emerge. I was happy with the drum part for the verse, it’s a little different. There’s a blank verse on here that needs a solo, maybe xylophone or something like that could work well.
This song is currently an instrumental. the whole song was born out of the the hammer on melody of the second verse. Once I had that riff I started fleshing in the song around it. I really like the mechanical feeling of the intro / outro. The chorus part feels like ‘Fever to Tell’-era Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I’m excited to add the lyrics for this one and finish it up.
This one has acoustic guitar with a full electric band behind it. That kind of arrangement always calls the Pixies to mind for me. me. I like throwing hand claps and tambo in with the texture of the acoustic. The first line of the vocal part was the genesis of this song. Once I got rolling with the lyrics, the focus shifted to anxiety about the current political landscape so the themes aren’t consistent, but I still really like that first line.