All The While
One of the best pieces of advice I've ever been given was given to me by Patrick Leonard of Toy Matinee, 3rd Matinee, and producer of many hit records. He told me many years ago to try writing music on an instrument I was only marginally competent at, namely guitar, instead of my primary instrument, keyboards, in order to concentrate more on the core of the song. I became obsessed with alternate tunings from Michael Hedges, Jonatha Brooke, and others. This song was written in a Michael Hedges tuning from his song "Face Yourself" as documented in his book. A side note is that this is the only example I know of where bassist Mel Brown was forced to use a pick by the mean producer... which in this case was me. But for me, what stands out most on this song is that I played all the acoustic and electric guitars, even the leads, myself... something totally new, as a keyboard player primarily.
This is one of the oldest songs on the record, frequently performed by my band The Taylor Mesple Group back in the mid 90's. It has undergone so many versions and variations, one of those songs where I was never settled on what the rhythm section should be doing. It was always in transition to becoming something else, not locked in, a truly elusive song. Drummer Christian Teele did wonders firming up the vision and laying the new foundation. The last missing link turned out to be bassist Lars-Erik Dahle from Ole Borud's band, in Norway. We met by chance on Facebook, and his playing brought the song together for the first time. We listened to some Mark King references to get our heads pointed in the right direction, and the first track he sent me was perfect. So many great soloists have shown off their chops over the middle section over many years, that I'm planning to release alternate versions with alternate soloists very soon, including Peter Mayer and Alex Nekrasov.
A Friend Of Mine
Another "old" song from the TMG days. Longtime collaborator and bandmate Joe Gamble really helped this to come to life for the recording. His guitar style has really been a cornerstone to this song since the 90's. I had been searching for the right background vocal "texture" for a while and knew I needed a special guest vocalist to pull it off. I was referencing Richard Page/Mr. Mister clusters and Shem background vocal examples, and was thrilled when vocalist Dan Merrill from the band Simon Apple stepped up to the plate to add the finishing touch. It was also great to work with my Dad once again on nylon string guitar on this one. This song illustrates the fact that my two first loves musically are catchy, accessible vocal hooks combined with "heavy" instrumental solo opportunities. I still believe they can exist in the same song. The life changing example of this was when I heard Kenny Kirkland letting loose on Sting's "When the world is running down, make the best of what's still around" as a 10 year old kid, and I'll never be the same.
I've always really liked the unusual chord changes on this tune in the verse and pre-chorus, it reminds me of a progression Allan Holdsworth might write if he were writing a pop song. Aflat Major add 4 to Fflat Major 9 sharp 11 just gets players standing on their toes from the beginning of the first verse. And then it cleans up so simply for the chorus, for contrast. Duke Levine and Andy Argondizza played really toney guitars on this, I love the way they sit in the mix.
Sting's On The Radio
As Joe Gamble said about "No Apology" from my Victory Land CD, this song is "the deepest song on the record" this time around. It kind of leaves the listener with a bit of a haunted feeling, I think, or at least that's what I'm being told. I dug deep to unearth this story, both autobiographical and hypothetical at the same time. A portrait of the beautiful and painful reality of being grabbed a hold of by music, by art, and held in its passionate grip. This paradoxical reality can be passed down from father to son, as it was from my father to me. He played the main guitar part on the nylon string, which made it all that much more poignant to me. Additionally Duke Levine's electric guitar work was very innovative and emotive for the song.
For Heaven's Sake
I have used many variations on this cyclical chorus chord progression in songs and especially bridges, and I'm ok with repeating myself. I always felt like this song is one Michael Hedges might have written. He was a big inspiration to me as a kid, and has continued to be my whole life. I got to open for him once as a teenage and that was a powerful experience. I let my vocal be very "Hedges" on this, not trying to overly color it with texture, just an open sound that's very pure. Drummer Christian Teele contributed such a dreamy and mysterious foundation for this, like so many other songs on this record, working with him was such a gift. He is my secret weapon when I'm producing records. Poet and friend Gil Helmick took the lyric to the next level and eloquently spoke the extra verse we couldn't fit into the song form. His innovative group "snowmonks" is on my label Old Port Records. My lovely wife Rebecca added the icing on the cake with her soulful harmony vocal.
Probably the most "progressive rock" song I've written. Lyrically pretty far out there. Producer Joe Gamble did a fine job of making this fit on the record and still letting it be what it is. Pretty steep in concept, especially the bridge with the choir voices and the bizarre chord changes. In typing up the credits for the album I realized that this huge sounding song was done by two people, Joe and I. Ironic, I thought. My vocals were mixed through a $40 Midland Electronics kit tube amplifier from the 60's or 70's that I bought on eBay. It had a great sound, and it got better the louder you turned it up.
I'll never forget the first time I played this song for bassist Mel Brown while we were rehearsing with Christian Teele and Darren Rahn during our short stint as "Marilynn's Kitchen". As soon as I finished the last line of the chorus, he raised his hands like a referee in an American football game signaling a successful field goal kick, and exclaimed "WHOOOOO!". I'm grateful we got to bring "the old gang" back together for this tune, and for Clarence's soulful background vocals. Masterful mixing engineer Jacob Detering put the finishing touches on it. Watch out for this guy if you're a mixing engineer, your job is in jeopardy if you're not careful. Oops, I'd better watch my back too.
Song For A Dead Friend Part 2
It was Toy Matinee guitarist Tim Pierce who told me about Kevin Gilbert's unfortunate death, on a late night phone call many years ago. Kevin had been dead for a while by the time I found out, which added to the feeling of disconnectedness and emptiness I felt, always wanting to meet him and never getting the chance. It seems so many of my heroes have gone before their time. This was written in the next hour after that painful phone conversation. We recorded it with Tim, and Abe Jr., during the Victory Land sessions many years ago, and it was mixed for a tribute CD that never materialized shortly thereafter. It seemed to fit on this record so I pulled it off the shelf and included it. We miss you Kevin, you were a musical genius. The 2 inch tape we were recording to ran out prematurely and accidentally at the end of the song, just like Kevin's short life.
I knew very early into this CD project that Last Days would close the album. I drove around in the middle of the night for about a year delivering 300 newspapers each morning when I first moved to Maine, waiting to build my career back up in a new location. Many, many mornings I was listening to one of Peter Mayer's brilliant CD's "Music Box" or "Romeo's Garage" while driving around in the dark silence and contemplating what really matters. I think a little bit of his musical soul was borrowed for this one even though he didn't play on it. He's one of the most profoundly gifted and skilled musicians I've ever gotten to work with. I used two capoes on this one... in standard tuning. The first capo was on the 3rd fret, and the second was a partial/cut capo on the 5th fret on capoing the 3rd, 4th and 5th strings, making the guitar sound like "DADGAD", Pierre Bensusan's favorite tuning. I like the intentional "emptiness" of having no bass, and a wordless chorus, just ghostly "ahh's".