Song Sources: The Howling Tongue of Each Other (FAWM 2016) part 3

This Song Sources series is a retrospective and comprehensive set of liner notes (including recording and mixing techniques) for every track on The Howling Tongue of Each Other. It’s my hope it will be useful to other songwriters and home recordists.

Part 1 is here. See also the equipment list if you’re curious about that sort of thing.

This covers tracks 10-13.

10. Go Down, Oh Troubles

I wanted to write a song about the Syrian refugee crisis without being too specific and without aping a music style to tell the story. I read a lot of articles from people on the ground, but the one that really stuck with me was this one in Newsweek.

Nothing in particular about it ended up in the song — and there are lots of stories that could be told here, but at the same time I was reading that to research my song, Mosno posted a song about the street where he grew up. It was beautiful. Mosno’s story is different, but it did help me realize a common emotional element in the idea of looking for an old home (in the literal sense in his case) and being unable to find it or go back there if one wanted to. (Mosno was banned from Sudan for writing a political song.)

Anyway, I decided that what I really wanted to talk about in relation to the refugee crisis was that losing a home in that way can be like losing a loved one: It’s taken from you, by often incomprehensible circumstances, and you can never get it back. I had to go to some pretty dark places to be able to imagine that kind of devastation. To then get to another country and be a pariah, or to see your fellow countrypersons doing things that make others hate you even more in your new home, and never really feeling like you can actually settle down because suddenly no place feels like it can be home, even if your old home was a more dangerous place to be.

The story is pretty self-explanatory and could fit more than one tale, but that’s the one I was telling when I wrote it.

I started the lyrics on Thursday when I was watching a documentary on Robert Johnson in the background, worked on the chords in the chorus a little on Saturday, then finished the lyrics on Sunday morning while waiting for Rick to come over to record his banjo and harmony parts.

The musical structure is 12 bars, but it’s actually 8-bar verses with an extra bar at the end of each line, and not a 12-bar blues style. (I’ve used this before for a FAWM song in 2013, “The Language of Flowers,” which is one of my favorites to play with the band.)

I did a quick one-take to make sure I didn’t forget the tune, but I had the tempo too slow, and then the actual recording had to wait until Tuesday anyway. I didn’t prepare the arrangement well enough, so I also had a rough time locking in on the first pass vocals. I realized that it really just needed to start as simply as possible, so I deleted the first pass vocals, then recorded the piano and started muting all the guitars until the arrangement was pretty naked throughout most of the song. The I did a couple hours of vocal takes trying different voices until I found the one that felt like home.

The piano has my usual presets to make it sound more like an upright, tweaked just a little. I also discovered the “sample delay” in Logic! It’s a really basic tool I knew had to exist but I don’t remember seeing it before (it simply delays playing the track by a number of samples or milliseconds, i.e., it’s not an echo, just the dry sound moved over). This made doing the stereo width on the piano so much easier as I no longer have to zoom in and manually nudge the track in one of the channels or use a colored delay.

The guitars are triple-miced; the OM1 was stuck in a far corner of the room about a foot from the wall (don’t ask me, it sounded right for this …); the Junco in the middle of the floor, and the ribbon mic about 8″ from the speaker as usual. Very tiny bit of compression on the closer tracks, and a little short hall-ish verb on the junco track to put everything in same space.

The viola bass is just run through the guitar board and miced with the ribbon, a little closer to the grill and dead center. I used the series setting (part of my rewiring), which is my favorite sound on it, but ironically I don’t think I’ve used it yet for FAWM. Anyway, it sounds very upright-ish in that setting, particularly with that mic placement.

The vocals are the Junco through the ART in cardiod mode, set flat but with a 45Hz cut on the preamp side. The gain’s a little hotter than the output to get a little distortion on the louder parts. I think I was a little too close to a corner, though, because I got a weird and unusual resonance around 600-700Hz that I had to EQ out that was making it sound very boxy and small. I hate having to EQ vocals and I should have noticed on the way in.

Tiny bit of organ (with manual volume swells and the Leslie plugin) and (real!) shaker were the last things I added, a little extra spice. The shaker was like, “OH THAT’S WHAT WAS MISSING.” It seems that’s always the way, when a shaker is missing.

I am satisfied with this one. It gets me in the feels.

Peace.

Thousands Of Syrian Refugees Seek Shelter In Makeshift Camps In Jordan

Lyrics

F > F/E > Dm > F/C | F > F/E    > Dm > F/C |    Bb
Go down, oh troubles, I can never get away
F/C    F/E    | A7
I am many miles from my home
| Bb    | C7    |F
and you’ve followed all my days

F    F/E    | Dm    |F
When the journey will be long
| Bb    | F |
There are some things that you keep
|F    | Dm | F
I can remember them if I want
| Bb    C    | F |
Though it might make me weep

There was a little street
And a shop where we worked
There was me and my little brother
Who’s laid to rest in the dirt

Well the bombs were so loud
And the bullets came like rain
And you shout and you cry
Till you think you can’t ever again

Bridge
Bb    | Am    | Dm
Search the whole world around
Bb | Am    | Dm
oh for how long we didn’t know
Bb | Am    | Dm
You just gotta put your feet down
Bb C    | F    | D7
Just keep searching for that home

Modulate to G for the final chorus

Last line repeat:
G    /F#    B7
C    D7/C    G

11. The Edges Where We Meet

Joe and I do a collaboration almost every year (I mean, aside from being in band together …), and every year something surprising happens. Well, at least neither of us think that the stuff we write together sounds like something we would do on our own, but Lexa thought this sounded very Jon-like, so whuduayeno.

Joe sent me a file with some lyrics (including what I thought was a very solid line we could use as a chorus) a couple weeks ago, and a bunch of ideas about imagery etc., one of which included the idea that someone’s world has been reduced to black and white images. So I suggested that we think of it like a graphic novel. We got together on Wednesday to finish the writing process.

We even went so far as to sketch out some panels to aid in the storytelling!

the20panels20where20we20draw

After a lot of back and forth over a few hours, we settled on a story about a guy suffering through depression and neglects his girlfriend by being absorbed in books. She doesn’t want to deal with it anymore and leaves him; this song is basically the morning he “wakes up” and starts feeling things again … and one of the first things he feels is a bit of anger on top of the regret.

Musically it’s fairly basic, but Joe’s idea to skip a bar in the verse was a pretty inspired one (he always seems to know when something needs to go), and I think the tune ended up pretty good all the way through.

For the recording, we started with the acoustic, settling on a kind of weird setup involving the tube mic and a low impedance setting on the tube preamp, then Joe played the bassline with some nice little runs to build up the bridge. Joe did a quick guide vocal then packed up for the night and I added the keys (a synthy organ pad and what’s probably supposed to be a Rhodes patch).

The midi drums are using a pair of logic’s drummers, “Graham” for the real drums and “Leah” for the electronic drums in part because I don’t know how to get her collection of drum machine/samples otherwise. (I tried an 808 plugin but got bogged down and didn’t like its kick.) I was able to get something useable for the verses from Graham and something close enough from Leah; most of my changes were deleting extraneous hits and the choruses are pretty much rebuilt.

I separated out the bass drum from the electronic drums so I could use it for sidechaining. The bass and the organ pad both use it for some ducking, just enough to give them a little extra groove.

I layered several electric guitars, starting with the lead (played on the Sheraton), then a rhythm track (duplicating the acoustic) which didn’t survive except in the choruses and part of the bridge, and the swells to build a pattern (Joe’s idea). The guitars in the verse still seem a little too busy to me, but I think it sounded fine in the end.

This also turned into a modulation fest: There are rotary effects on the lead close mic and both keyboard tracks, a multitrack chorus on the electric rhythm in the bridge, and a vibrato effect on the swells, plus the tremolo chop (mimicking slicing) right before the last chorus comes in.

Joe came over on Saturday and we worked on the vocals together. I sang lead because there was a low A that was tough for Joe to hit and there was a high G in the harmony that was tough for me to hit. The lead vocal is the tube mic overdriving the tube preamp (overdriving it some … so nice together!), and the backing vocals are the Sennheiser MK4, which had some nice heft with Joe’s voice and filled in nicely under the lead vocal (we also tried the ribbon for that, which sounded really nice, but it was a little too smooth for this song).

Thanks also to Rob from ilyAIMY on the lyric inspiration! We shared a gig on 2/13 and he told me as I was leaving that he liked the places where we overlapped. This was the catalyst for the song, and the “assignment” I gave to Joe.

Lyrics

| Amsus2    |
I traced out your name At the edge of the page
| G6    | Amsus2
As the memory replayed I felt like a fake
| | G6    |
A lost and shape-    less shadow on that day

| Fmaj7 (C-B-A-G)    | C
At the edges where we meet    That’s where I
| Fmaj7    | C
hide

Verse 2
Barely half awake
The one rite I know
how to make
I recall the complaints
That I’m just an empty page
Then you walked away

Chorus 2
| Fmaj7 (C-B-A-G)    | Am
At the edges where we meet    That’s where I
| G    | Am
hide
| Fmaj7 (C-B-A-G)    | C
At the edges where we meet    That’s where I
| Fmaj7    | C
hide

Bridge
|C    | G    | Am    |Fmaj7
|C    | G    | Am    |Fmaj7
|C    | G    | Am    |Fmaj7
|C    | G    | Am    |Fmaj7
You want me awake    Well now I am awake
No words that I can
say no step that I can take
To bring you back to the
frame we’re on a different page
and again I trace your name
again I trace your name
again I trace your name

12. (We’re Gonna Have) A Real Good Time

we27re20gonna20have20a20real20good20time

Appropriate for a 45.

The lyrics are era-appropriately simple; it’s just a party song. Sam Cooke’s my favorite singer, so it’s modeled a bit after something he’d have done early on, but also after the songs produced by Gary U.S. Bonds (the most famous of which is probably “If You Wanna Be Happy for the Rest of Your Life”), which sounded like the best party you’ve ever been to.

Recording:

This song … I don’t know what it was, but everything came together so easily and quickly, which is a great feeling after I had a near-total failure at recording something similar two years ago. (To be fair to myself, I was extremely ill at the time I tried to record that one.)

I got home from work on Friday, fired up a new file, and nailed the harmony parts at the beginning in under ten takes for all four parts, and left the mic up in omni mode for the rest of the recording. I did the bass with just room mic (forgot to turn on the close mic, but the resulting sound was perfect, and more historically accurate), then did a few takes of the electric (whole takes to maintain the air of a “live” recording), and did the main song vocals at that point before settling in for about 10 takes on the piano (plus a few more to figure out what I wanted it to do right before and after the a cappella section). The piano probably took as long as the rest of the recording, honestly.

The only vocal not done with the Junco in omni mode is the lead vocal. My idea was that I’d mimic having recorded this on four channels: one for the piano, one for the guitar, one for the drums, the bass bleeding into whichever of those is closest, and one for all the vocals, so it would have been more appropriate to leave the lead in omni as well (cardiod has a different tonality, a little less bright and more bass). I also lost a little room ambience doing it that way. I have no complaints about how it sounds, but I didn’t quite think it through all the way at the time.

The mixdown process was also pretty light, since I had good sources and a simple arrangement; in fact, it sounded almost perfect before I added anything whatsoever to the tracks, but a tiny bit of compression on the lead vox and instruments and a little longer room reverb added to everyone and we’re good to go.

I really, really, really wanted my friend Ryan (another one of the Marksmen) to play sax on this (and he’s also a phenomenal singer), but he couldn’t make it in time, so I had to roll with it as-is.

Lyrics

Come on brother
let’s go across the water
Go call your sister
Go tell your daughter
we’re gonna have a real good time

E    | C#m7
get out your guitar
E    | C#m7
We’ll break out the wine
E    | C#m7
Get out on the floor
E    | B7
and have a real good time

Chorus (x4)
E    | C#m7    | F#m7    | B7
We’re gonna have a real good time

Don’t tell me you’re tired
Get those dancing shoes shined
We’ll light that old fire
And have a real good time

Well tell all your aunts
I know they like to dance
And tell all your friends
Let’s have a real good time

13. Herring and Oak

I do a Celtic-flavored instrumental every year, usually something faster like a jig or reel, but since I hadn’t written a slow one in several years I worked up something this morning.

My buddy Keith asked if I was free to mess around with his new guitar, which is a beautiful custom-made fully hollow strat-style body with a baked maple neck (no finish!), and a cool set of lipstick pickups. He had it strung with heavy strings and tuned down a full step. I was already working on some ideas for this instrumental, and I just mentally jotted down some stuff I wanted to throw in over a chord progression I’d written and decided to wing it. (Maybe I’m being lazy, because it definitely would have been a better performance if I wasn’t “writing” it on the fly.)

It might be the closest I’ve ever heard an electric sound and play like an acoustic and one of the best clean tones I’ve ever heard.

He also brought over his Goodsell, which has a weird tube complement (they’re like jukebox tubes or something) and a reputation for being a really good recording amp. I miced it up with the RE20 and miced up the Sakura with the ribbon, ran them in stereo from the delay pedal, and put the Junco and the 251 build in figure 8 to cancel the amp they weren’t micing. The room ambiance was pretty good despite the close space and it’s one of those times where what I got on tape sounded better than what it sounded like in the room, but it’s still pretty true to what the guitar sounded like.

A little delay and compression on the guitar going in and some gentle compression on the mixdown; not much else going on here. No EQ or reverb added. I even left in the parts where you can hear me manipulating the volume pedal rocker.

I rebalanced the recording a bit back toward the close mics to get the low-end back, thanks to some feedback from @standup. New headphones on the last day of mixing … bit of relearning going on.

About the title: After I finished working on the basic mix (to set the mic balances), Lexa and I went for a walk in Herring Run Park. It was a bit devastated after the recent storm (I think it must have flooded up to the path — there were leaves in the shrubs and lots of sand was thrown up on the path), but there was also a very weird color to the water, which is probably some sort of pollutant, which is really sad, because there were herring in the stream again a few years ago after several decades of it being uninhabitable for many fish. (Though I’ve seen carp and bluegills in it since I was a teenager at least.)

Chords

A part
| Bm    | G    | A    | D
| Bm    | G    | A    | D 😐

B part
| A    | D    | G    | D
| A    | Em    | G    | D 😐

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