Track-by-Track: “Best Worst of Times”

Before I begin, a quick note to say that Thank You for Holding is now available on several platforms, including iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled broadcast…

This short track was an extremely late addition to Thank You for Holding. I was in the final stages of putting the album together and sequencing it when I stumbled upon this recording that I’d made in May of 2016.

At the time, if I remember correctly, I was fooling around with a Vocoder, which is essentially a synth you can sing into, and I rearranged and added some superfluous words to the famous opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

When I stumbled rediscovered the track on my hard drive a little over a year later, it occurred to me that the song fit thematically with one that comes a little bit later in the sequence, “66th and City.”

I also thought that it complemented the synthy sound of the song that closes out “side one” of the album, “Mellow Pleasant Spongecake,” and would therefore offer a smooth transition into “side two.”

Then again, I also think of “Mellow Pleasant Spongecake,” “Best Worst of Times,” “Sweet Chocolate Jesus,” “66th and City,” and “Spooky Spongecake” as a mini album within the album–the automated answering system dreaming of life outside its electronic confines and being woken rudely by the sound of a copy machine sputtering away in an adjoining office.

But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Track-by-Track: “Don’t Let It Go”

So far, “Don’t Let It Go” is the track from Thank You for Holding that has gotten the most compliments. Not sure if that’s because there’s no singing on it or because people like the guitar playing… Hmm…

In any case, this instrumental started as a fairly long jam that I recorded with — I think — a loop pedal and a Tascam Digital Portastudio that I was using before I started using my laptop and Reason to record. I’m not sure how long the original track was, but at some point I edited the best parts of my guitar solo together and replaced the bass and drum tracks with a combination of live and sequenced instruments.

Actually, if you listen carefully to the bass line, you can probably hear that the first part of the song is a synth, the middle is live, and the last part is basically a single note that I lifted from an earlier recording of the song and repeated until the end.

The title is somewhat of a play on the title of the Disney song “Let It Go,” which was popular a few years ago. It was the kind of song that I was hearing everywhere and just getting sick of, so I gave this song the opposite name despite the fact that there’s no similarity between the two tunes whatsoever.

I made a couple of earlier versions of this song available on BandCamp a while back — maybe a year or so ago — and I almost included it on Garden Variety, but as with “My Head,” I couldn’t get the sound quite right until now.

In fact, of all the tracks on Thank You for Holding, this one gave me the most headaches and took me the longest to mix because I wanted it to sound “live” as opposed to the exquisite corpse of patched-together performances and sequenced tracks that it actually is. One way I did that was to start the song at one tempo and gradually speed it up as the track progresses.

The main reason I included this track on Thank You for Holding is that I think it has a kind of 1970s jazz-rock sound to it that would definitely be right at home on an elevator or on a telephone hold message. And, of course, I also added the robot’s voice to the end of this one by splicing together a few of his phrases from “Thank You for Holding” to make him sound even sadder and lonelier than he does on that track: “Thank you for holding. Your call is the only life I know.”

Track-by-Track: “My Head”

I have my friend the very funny and very talented Joe Lavelle to thank for reminding about this song about a year ago.  I wrote the song back when Joe and I were in high school, and it was originally just a refrain: “You stepped on my head, she said.” I added verses a little bit later and played the song in a band I formed with some friends of mine. In any case, when I started recording music again, it was Joe who suggested that I should record this one. The only problem was that I’d forgotten the last verse and had no record (or recordings!) of it, so I had to write a new one.

I recorded and released a slightly different version of this song last year at Joe’s request, and I was going to include it on my EP Garden Variety, but I thought it sounded somewhat thin so I dropped it from the lineup. Even so, I still liked the song, so I added a jazzy electric piano part to beef it up and included it on Thank You for Holding.

In addition to the electric piano, I also like the sound of the rhythm guitar. It’s an Epiphone Dot Studio semi-hollow guitar that I borrowed from my friend Tim Simmons. Tim and I have been borrowing instruments from each other for a few years now. In fact, he’s largely responsible for my return to music after many years of not playing much at all. But the guitar has a nice, warm sound to it, and if you listen carefully, you can also hear the faint crackle of static, which I think gives the track a live feel.

One last thing I’ll point out about the track is that I love the instrumental break in the middle. Belle and Sebastian is one of my favorite bands, and their songs make great use of brass instruments, and that’s the kind of sound I was going for with the French horn and trumpet in the middle of “My Head.” Unlike Belle and Sebastian, though, my brass section is entirely synthetic. Turns out that Tim Simmons didn’t have a trumpet to loan me.

My Head

Keep on, keep on, keep on coming.
Soon we’ll all be gone.
Live your life while it’s worth living
‘Cause it won’t last long.

“You stepped on my head,” she said.
“You stepped on my head,” she said.
“You stepped on my head,” she said.

Housework, housework keeps on coming.
Where does free time go?
Stop an hour, watch the opera,
The only life you know.

“You stepped on my head,” she said.
“You stepped on my head,” she said.
“You stepped on my head,” she said.

Keep on, keep on, keep on dreaming.
Leave the world behind.
Somewhere you know your life waits
Beyond the daily grind.

“You stepped on my head,” she said.
“You stepped on my head,” she said.
“You stepped on my head,” she said.