Inspiration can come like a bolt from the blue or emerge slowly in the process of grappling with mundane practicalities. The opening line popped out of nowhere and hinted at a theme that I could develop for the verse narrative. But when I got to the chorus, the only actual word to emerge from all my nonsense syllable vocalizing was “waterfall.” Couldn’t figure how the verses could relate to that word, so I discarded it and went looking for better solutions. But nothing else came. I put down the guitar and went to a mediation workshop. Sitting there with legs crossed and eyes closed, the instructor talked about the challenges of meditation, letting go of conscious thought, tuning out the active brain, “where our thoughts often come tumbling like water over a waterfall.” The resonance of that word echoed loudly in my mind, and with that cosmically random validation, the song was complete.
Signs and Wonders
SIGNS AND WONDERS
The title was inspired by a throwaway line for Tommy Lee Jones in No Country For Old Men. Turns out to be a Biblical reference (most literary references are either Biblical or Shakespearean, though Star Wars and Harry Potter are coming on strong). But thinking about the glorious majesty of even the smallest elements in nature, and finding some other references between nature and superstition, I arrived at a lyric celebrating beauty and meaning as we take in the world, rather than just moving through it. Filmed in several locations in Rhode Island, the video is a collaboration with artist Savannah Barkley, whose work incorporates both handmade objects and environmental sculpture. I owe a massive debt to her, and to cinematographer Thomas Danielczik for spending hours in the snow and catching below freezing ocean breezes at 5am…
ALL THE SADNESS/H3>
ALL THE SADNESS
We initially recorded this as a graduate student project at UMass Lowell, though eventually I re-did my vocals and the string arrangement. But the guitars and bass remain, as well as an extremely last-minute idea to add some piano. I have a long and tortured relationship with the instrument but am glad we recorded my single take ramblings. The extended instrumental passage owes to the patience and power of some of my favorite Sigur Ros pieces. And the video brings you Lowell in its four-seasoned glory.
THE LOGICAL SONG
THE LOGICAL SONG
(Supertramp Cover)(video prohibited from streaming sites in North America by publisher)
In our tradition of including a cover version of a song, here’s one that Greg and I share an affinity with. When I tried it out as a slower, ruminative ballad, the lyric took on a new gravitas, especially as ICE agents began knocking on doors around town. The instrumental passage was really fun to put together, beginning with Ben and I adding random percussive sounds, then scoring the strings around them. It really came together when Greg added his multi-octave bass part. Talk about patient, he doesn’t even appear until five minutes into the track…
The last song written for the record, we had already done the basics, so this one is just me and the orchestra. I’m not entirely clear on what it’s about, but it’s something to do with doppelgangers, ghosts, and the passage of time. After we recorded it, I learned of a concept in Cambodian culture of bongsokol – the presence of dead ancestors. So, we’ll go with that. The video was constructed by simultaneously projecting images of moving through trees with a slow dolly in/out shot of me singing, onto three different pieces of fabric, and then filming the result. In some ways, the look of the behind-the-scenes mechanics was the most interesting feature – alas, only I was there to see it…
WON'T LET IT GO
WON’T LET IT GO
The lyric is inspired by the air of anxiety that permeated my world at the dawn of the Trump era. Lowell has a very large immigrant population, and the fear was palpable, and still is. This is my pledge to not stand idly by. So far, I’ve not been tested. But it could come at any minute. The video takes place in two locations – a greenhouse, and the Tremont tunnels, located under the Jeanne d’Arc corporate office building that was constructed on top of the foundation for what had been a water distribution system in Lowell’s early days as the center of industry in North America. I’m very grateful we were allowed to film there, and even more so that somebody decided that such things were worth preserving. Gives one hope…
ARMS AROUND ME
ARMS AROUND ME
Musically, this comes from an experiment in trying to utilize Robert Fripp’s guitar tuning, which emulates how a cello is tuned in the low stings, then continues the pattern in the upper two. But his tuning requires smaller gauges in the high strings than I had on hand, so I just left the top two in standard tuning. At any rate, from such things new patterns and chords emerge, and this is one of them. Lyrically, it references a childhood memory of standing with my father on an observation platform on a mountain, somewhere in the Great Smokies National Park. It’s my earliest recollection of vertigo and a fear of heights that is with me to this day. And yet, with my father’s arm around me, my fear was abated. The rest of the song celebrates the recurring phenomenon of people bringing peace and stability to troubled regions of my psyche. The video recreates the childhood memory of the first verse, finds itself in Hawaii, then just as quickly on the shore of Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester, MA, surrounded by friends and family (those are Greg’s two sons, Cameron and Jude), back to Hawaii, then finally a series of free images from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Arts– a last minute save when I realized I forgot to film the last chorus…
This song celebrates beauty in things often overlooked. There’s a similar simplicity to the music and lyric – no need to get fussy when you’re singing of the joy found in small things, even, or especially, a teardrop. Or the too-often unspoken – love. The video concept came to me fully formed, though it took a while to figure out how to shoot it. But I knew the camera would travel over objects and faces, and that flowers would play a role. When we put together the set, I fairly quickly spread a bunch of stemmed flowers across the backdrop, and when I saw what they looked like through the camera lens, I knew what the album cover would be, the rich colors reflecting the vibrant sound of the record.
SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT
SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT
The title stolen from an early Ingmar Bergman film, the music thankfully upbeat and light on its feet. I also borrowed a couple of lyrics from a spoken word assemblage in an Adrian Belew song (please don’t sue me). Even as I was writing it, the image of a spontaneous street parade came to mind, so the musical arrangement was crafted with the video in mind – thus the brass band. The Party Band is a fixture around Lowell, comprised of former and current music students from my department at the university, as well as anyone from the community that cares to join in. Much beloved, they are woven into the fabric of the city. The opening of the video begins on the street in Lowell where we shot the cover for Departure, and though we had the cooperation of a street festival organization, the chaos of trying to get it all filmed in a couple of hours probably took a few years off my life. Nevertheless, if you ever get the chance to stage your own parade – do it!
A little instrumental number inspired by Hawaiian slack key guitar tuning, and a black sand beach on the Big Island. This is my dad’s favorite song on the record. And Darleen’s guitar lines are his favorite part. Mine too. Oh, and Greg gets to play his bass ukulele, something he has used on occasion on other songs – it gets a remarkably full sound when you plug it in. Extended traditions…
STUDY IN BLUE
STUDY IN BLUE
This song came from the same Fripp-inspired tuning that gave birth to “Arms Around Me,” both songs written in the same day. The words had me flummoxed, as the phrase “study in blue” appeared early and wouldn’t go away. Eventually, I transposed my frustrations with lyric writing to someone working in a visual medium, and voila! The verses came while sitting in a car in a rain storm. The guitar is so hypnotic that sometimes, I could sit and play those chords for hours. When we recorded the basics, it actually went on for two more minutes until Ben gave the drums one more pounding and threw down his sticks in disgust. I edited that moment in just before the band fades out completely. I hope you find the video’s VERY handmade quality appealing. If you ever get the chance to shoot a seven minute single take – consider the beauty of the edit…