Tranzor Z

Tranzor Z was a cartoon I used to watch after school when I was in grade school. The premise was that a teenage pilot would land a hovercraft inside the head of a giant robot and then control the robot from inside the hovercraft. The robot’s name was Tranzor Z, and he defended the world from invading monsters.

I originally started writing this song when I was working on a project with my friend Brandon Heffley. The original lyrics were a bout a pizza deliveryman who likens his job to fighting off monsters from the outer reaches of the galaxy. It was kind of funny, but I thought something was missing.

So I started thinking about the kind of kid who might like a show like Tranzor Z, and I figured it would be someone who, like me, got picked on a bit in school. For a while, I only had the first and last verses and the “I want to be Tranzor Z” chorus. So there was a kid getting picked on in a schoolyard, then he got tired of it and turned on his tormenters. But, again, something was missing.

I knew I wanted a song with three verses and guitar solo in the middle, so I recorded all of the music and then set it aside. (The backing track for “Tranzor Z” was actually the first piece of music I recorded for the EP.) It was only after recording pretty much the whole rest of the EP that I realized what was missing: a moment of transformation. So I wrote a verse about the kid and his friend watching TV and getting inspired by the show.

One of my favorite lines in the song is the one where “Television bathes us in a cathode ray of hope.” In my mind, I picture a kid sitting in front of the TV, getting bathed in cathode rays (kind of like the Hulk and his gamma rays), and transforming into the hero he wants to be before returning to the playground to vanquish his enemies.

Since this was the first track I recorded, it was also the first one where I started experimenting with horn sounds. In part, it was because the original series had a synthetic horn sound in the theme song, though I was also inspired by the sound of Belle and Sebastian. Once I found a sound that I liked, I wanted to use it on everything, which is how three of the four tracks on the EP ended up with so much brass.

The song is also loosely connected to “Yuck My Yum” on a few levels. For one thing, it’s the kind of show I would have been watching while the kids in my neighborhood played roller hockey. For another, it was one of Damian Smith’s favorite shows for a short while. He used to walk around his driveway and backyard with his legs sticking out from the bottom of a large box, pretending it was his hovercraft.

That is, of course, when he wasn’t busy breaking all of my toys.

Throw Some Shade

I got the idea for the song when I was thinking about people who accidentally end up in internet memes and what their lives are like, or just people who get caught on camera doing something dumb when they’re young and it follows them around for the rest of their lives.

The verses are about living in the wake of that kind of event — wanting to move on but not being able to because social media is everywhere. And I imagined a guy knowing that his girl friend had that kind of past and wanting to tell her that it’s okay, and that it’s also okay if she takes her frustration and anxiety out on him sometimes because he gets where she’s coming from. Of course, it isn’t a great relationship, and they both know it, but for now, they’re a comfort to each other even if they know the relationship isn’t going anywhere.

The line about sliding the bottle over because the oats are in the back of the closet came to me one morning when I was making breakfast. I literally slid a bottle of olive oil over to get to the canister of Quaker Oats in the back of my cabinet. Hmm, I thought. That’s a pretty specific detail. Maybe I should put it in a song

I was also pretty happy with the phrase “morning heart attack,” even though I don’t quite know what it means. I think I was going for the idea that the person who is looking for the oats is always on the verge of a panic attack. And it just occurred to me that “oats” are sometimes associated with the exuberance of youth — as in “sowing wild oats.” But the oats in this song are locked up in a closet, just like the life that the character isn’t living due to her anxiety.

I wish I could say I did that on purpose!

What to Say to Your Musician Friends

Last week, I put out a new song called “Before the Boys,” and since then, I’ve been extremely flattered by the comments that friends of mine have made — from the friend who meant to text her husband about the emotional response she’d had to the song but texted me by accident to the friend who emailed me with a thoughtful and detailed appraisal of the song. Comments and compliments like these mean the world to me, and I imagine that other musicians feel the same way when friends, family, and even strangers reach out to say a kind word or two about music they’ve written and recorded.

Of course, it isn’t always easy to know what to say to a musician — or any artist for that matter — about a recent release, especially if you’re not a musician yourself. So here are a few ways to say “Nice song!” in a way that the musician in your life will really appreciate:

  • Hey! This song reminds me of… This is a great way to show your musically-inclined friend that you’ve not only listened to a new song but also thought about how it fits in with other kinds of music that you like. Also, you get bonus points if the point of reference is a song that your friend likes and admires. For example, a friend of mine recently wrote, “Reminds me a bit of Brian Wilson with that jangly staccato piano.” I took that as a huge compliment!
  • I love the line about… If you want to let your musician friend know that you really listened to the lyrics, mention your favorite line — or, better yet, favorite lines — of the song. Maybe there was a clever rhyme that you noticed, or maybe just an image that jumped out at you. Whatever the case, the songwriter in your life will really appreciate that something in the song made you take notice. For me, it was a friend who mentioned that he liked a line in my song about an X-chromosome!
  • I shared this song with… Again, if your goal is to let the songwriter or musician in your life know that you really appreciated a song, share it with someone! Back when I was in high school, the way to do this was to make a mixtape. Now it’s even easier. Just share a link to the song with someone who you think will appreciate it, and also let your friend know that you did so. I was extremely flattered when a friend of mine told me that she shared “Before the Boys” with her daughters!
  • I added your song to a playlist! Musicians and songwriters love to hear this because it means that you’ll be listening to their song again and again. If you want to add some context, let them know which playlist, and maybe even who else is on it. I was quite flattered when my mom mentioned that she was adding “Before the Boys” to her “Driving to the Cape May” playlist!

I’m sure there are plenty of other creative ways to show the musician or songwriter in your life appreciation for a song, but these are four of my favorites. If anyone has any other ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments!

Album cover for "Before the Boys."