In the Pink

It’s hard to say where this all started.

I emailed Jen and Jeff a few weeks back and asked them to record a drum track for me so I could build a song around it. Then Jen asked what tempo I wanted, and I said something vague like “I don’t know… Somewhere between 110 and 120 beats per minute?” Then Jen said something like, “So 117.24985?” Which I said would be perfect since that’s always been my lucky number.

So they recorded the track, and I didn’t do anything with it for about a week. But then there was a massive thunderstorm, and my gutter got clogged, so I went out on the roof to see if I could clear the downspout. When I came back in, I realized that if anyone saw me out on the roof, they might think I was crazy — and would likely be correct in their assessment, but for all the wrong reasons. That’s when the first lines of the song came to me: “If there’s a reason I’m up on the roof, it’s not the reason that you think.”

Given the state of the world these days, the song quickly took an apocalyptic turn, and I imagined someone looking out on a world with dead streets and fire in the sky. Of course, that imagery was kind of dark, so I lightened the proceedings with a chorus that I’d written a year or so earlier: “I keep seeing angels in the corner of my eye.” I distinctly remember that I was making an espresso when that line came to me, but beyond that and another line about the angels being devils in disguise, the lyrics never went anywhere.

So, arguably, the song started back when those two lines came to me. But there’s a further complication: As I was working on the song, I realized that I needed an instrumental bridge for the middle. That’s when I remembered an instrumental track that I’d written and recorded a while back called “Poly the Glot.” It had the perfect instrumental break for this new one. Or almost perfect, anyway. I had to change the key and make some other minor adjustments.

Since no one had really heard “Polly” except for a handful of people, I didn’t think anyone would mind that I was pillaging my back catalog for the sake of new material. So while I was at it, I took some interesting sound effects from that track as well — a lot of the electronic screeching you hear throughout the track originally appeared (in another key) on “Polly the Glot” as well.

Oh, I forgot to mention that when I started recording the song, I decided that “between 110 and 120 beats per minute” wasn’t exactly what I wanted, so I sped Jeff’s track up a bit and ended up with a tempo of 142 beats per minute. And to sweeten the deal, I got my friend Tony Yoo involved. He’s the one you can hear singing backing vocals on the chorus.

In any case, “In the Pink” could have started on any number of occasions: Back in 2015 or so when I recorded “Poly the Glot,” a few years later when I was making espresso and the chorus came to me, a few weeks ago when I asked Jen and Jeff to record a drum track for me, or the afternoon I went out on my roof to clear the gutter during a thunderstorm. Whatever the case, I hope you enjoy listening to it!

Soft Light Redux (for a good cause!)

Longtime readers of this blog may recall that I recorded a song called “Soft Light” a while back. Today, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve teamed up with several extremely talented music producers to release eight new versions of the song! The producers are all students in my colleague Jen Mitlas’s music production course at Montgomery County Community College, and they’ve each come up with a different take on the song. Worth noting: All proceeds from sales of this album will support a scholarship fund for students in the Sound Recording and Music Technology program at Montgomery County Community College.

Billy Joel Was Right!

Screen Shot 2018-02-25 at 12.14.15 PM.pngI’m not sure how old I was when I heard Billy Joel’s “The Entertainer” for the first time, but I distinctly remember taking note of the part where he sings that it took him years to write his latest song and that although they were the best years of his life, the song ran too long, so they cut the running time down to three minutes and five seconds. At the time, my instinct was to call BS on the idea that it took the guy “years” to write a three-minute pop song, but I was probably only about ten or eleven years old at the time, so what did I know? Not much, it turns out.

My latest recording, “Never Talk Back,” actually took me almost a quarter of a century to write and record. I probably wrote the earliest version somewhere around 1996, tried recording it a few different ways on my Tascam Porta 03 multitrack cassette recorder and then decided to go to graduate school for English. Though I’d play the song on my acoustic guitar once in a while, it mainly lay dormant in the back of my mind for the next decade or so until I started getting back into playing and recording music again.

But even then, I kept experimenting with different ways of arranging and recording the song — different styles, different keys, different melodies — without ever hitting on a version that I liked. Back when I was recording under the Android Invasion name some time ago, I think I may have put out a jazzy instrumental version of the song called “Hotrod,” but I’d have to look into that. I also played a hip-hop-flavored electronic version in a show with my robot friends at Old Haverford Friends Meeting House a couple of years back. And I tried to record a Burt Bacharach-esque version on Thank You for Holding last year, but it just wasn’t working.

This time around, I tried to keep the song as simple as possible. I started with a basic piano riff (that I eventually dropped) and asked my friend Tim Simmons to play drums along with the piano part that I’d written. Then I added a bass and two guitar parts, and that was pretty much it for the backing track, though I did also edit the song down from something like six-and-a-half minutes to just over four, so props to Billy Joel for calling that aspect of the song-writing process, too.

It took me a little while to get a vocal take that I liked, and I decided to sing the song in a fairly low register so I could avoid having to tweak the track to make it sound like I can hit high notes. Also, I’ve been playing out a little more lately, and I realized that it’s a whole lot easier on my voice to sing like Leonard Cohen than John Lennon or even Tom Petty. Not that I ever sounded like either of them, but you get the picture.

All of this is to say that Billy Joel was not bullshitting me when I was ten or eleven years old — that a song can, in fact, take many years to write, and that sometimes it’s in the best interest of a song to cut it down to three-oh-five (or, in my case, four-oh-one). But I’m still kind of mad at him for writing a song about Bethlehem, PA, and calling it “Allentown.” Now that, my friends, is BS.