The verses of this song are based around a simple fingerstyle guitar riff that I came up with years ago. We had a clear idea about the structure of the song; and we had a melody for the choruses; and Walter came up with a wonderful chord progression for the "middle-eight" break and guitar solo. But that was all we had. I guess we could have just left it in the vault, unfinished and un-realized, except for the fact that it is a vital component of the Strange But True suite: the verse chord sequence is a 180 degree flip of the verse chord sequence from a later song in the suite (Future Imperfect, if you must know). And the symmetry is just too cool to discard.
So earlier this year I sat down with my lyric book and worked up a set of lyrics that suited the mood of the piece, and started to record. Over these last two months, the song has really come together faster than is typical; indeed, I am currently listening to "final" mixes in the car and I'm still not totally sick of the music, which unfortunately is the norm at this stage.
Feel the need to learn and test our self-reliance
Push the limits of the land and who we are
Put our minds to solving mysteries with Science
Sending probes to the nearest star
Gas emissions feeding ozone deconstruction
Grain belt slipping up the belly of the beast
Commerce engines driving tubes of mass seduction
Siphon payday to the priest
Long ago we stamped our feet to the rain-maker's melody
Felt the beat and electric heat of the thundercloud parade
Stretch a hand to the medicine man, taste the latest remedy
Every nervous reflex reeling us into the shade
Emotional wrecks at security checks for our protection
Iron curtain rising in the final act
Product placement in the pay-per-view election
Faith is trending over Fact
In the flickering shade of a Steel Tree, in the battle field's sterility
Feel the sweet electric beat of a sixty hertz crusade
Purple pills from the Pharma Girl; tickets to tranquility
Tuning in to the scorpion dancing into the shade
Is it right for you? Ask your Doctor; Drink the magic potion
Join the ranks of the no-think tank; blinded by the Right
We are reflected in the plastic-covered ocean
Toxic soil on sacred sites
Too much noise, too much information
Unfiltered data feel a vague sensation
Century overload; can't tune out the station
Solving every problem with the wrong equations
under the flickering steel tree
where I bombed you and you bombed me
music © 1989 Colin Nicholls & Walter Nicholls
Lyrics © 2012 Colin Nicholls
Sometimes you just have to acknowledge that things aren't working out. For whatever reason, I could not get the drum, bass, and acoustic guitar tracks to gel. I got tired of tweaking to no effect, and decided it was time to shake things up.
- Mute the drums and the Chapman Stick.
- Activate the click track.
- And break out the Carvin BK5 and lay down an alternative bass track.
In my head I'd always heard the bass lines played on a Stick, and almost instantly, the feel of the piece changed, but in a good way. The change in feel is inevitable: a normal bass guitar lends itself to a completely different vibe than the Stick, but suddenly I was thinking of alternative cool riffs and laying them down in places where, before, magic was missing. This was a good thing. Sure, that one particular riff that kinda wanted to be a Stick riff didn't sound so cool anymore, but this was offset by all sorts of good stuff coming in elsewhere.
Once I had a good, clean, complete take, I moved to the acoustic guitar, and re-did any part where it wasn't locked in to the new bass line. Yeah.
Now it's back to the drums for the same treatment. There's some places that need tidying up, and the second half of the track never had anything more than guide drums on it anyway. So... it's progress. I wish it was faster, but at least I'm happy with the results.
Here's a teaser:
Chapman Stick is all recorded.
The timing was getting a little sloppy with all the "guide" tracks, so I went back and created click track that was locked into the acoustic guitar, because that's a track I'm least likely to want to re-do... then recorded the Stick bass to the timing of the click.
Now, of course, I need to tweak the drums into line, and re-do a couple of places where I need to complement bass flourishes. Progress is good.