Track-by-Track: “Spooky Spongecake”

Like other tracks on Thank You for Holding, “Spooky Spongecake” has a longer history than one might expect. I originally released a different version of this track as simply “Spongecake” about a year ago (and have since made it unavailable for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.) Here’s what I had to say about the track at the time:

I was sitting on the beach, and every iPod was playing Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville,” but they were all out of sync with each other. The song would be fading on one speaker and just starting on another. Or two would be playing almost simultaneously but not quite in sync with each other. The line that kept jumping out at me was “living on spongecake,” which I later learned was actually “nibblin’ on spongecake.” But when I thought it was “living,” the line really stuck with me because I thought, yeah, isn’t that pretty much what we’re all doing? Living on a media diet of spongecake and margaritas? Pretentious, I know, but a few days later, I went back to work, and the Xerox machine (which is actually a Canon) was grinding away, and that line was still in my head. This track is an attempt at capturing what it sounded like.

The original version of the track actually included a brief snippet of the Jimmy Buffett song that I looped and ran through various effects and filters so as to make it unrecognizable. All the same, I didn’t love the idea of having someone else’s voice from a hugely popular pop song on the track. My concerns weren’t just artistic. I also didn’t want to violate copyright law, so I took the track down from BandCamp and recorded a new version in which I’ve replaced Buffett’s voice (as well as his melody) with my own. I also changed the words a bit: “Groovin’ on spongecake.” That version was twice as long as this one and included synthesizers, guitar, and drums. It had a distinctly Depeche Mode feel.

I’ll also admit that this is one of the strangest tracks on the album. In a way, it’s in line with one of my larger projects as far as being a recording artist is concerned. While appreciate the form of the traditional three-minute pop song (as exemplified by “Margaritaville” and countless other songs that have graced the pop charts over the decades), I also like to explore other forms that recorded music can take.

Perhaps the best known version of this view of recording artistry is John Lennon’s “Revolution 9” from The Beatles (aka The White Album). In this track, Lennon spliced together sound effects and recordings to create a sound collage that left many fans scratching their heads in wonder. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” it wasn’t.

With “Spooky Spongecake,” I was trying to paint a creepy picture of an deserted workplace where only the copy machine and a malfunctioning music player are getting anything done. It’s essentially in line with some of the other songs in the “mini album” that begins with “Mellow Pleasant Spongecake” and ends with this track.

The “Mellow Pleasant” version of this song represents the robot from “Thank You for Holding” drifting into a reverie about the world outside. “Best Worst of Times” is a meditation on what the world was like before it ended. “Sweet Chocolate Jesus” gives us another answering machine repeating a meaningless message to no one. “66th and City” depicts an abandoned home in a world populated only by ghosts. And “Spooky Spongecake” returns us to the dreaming robot, only now the dream has turned sour.

Track-by-Track: “Mellow Pleasant Spongecake”

This is somewhat of an odd track (among other admittedly odd tracks) largely because it started life as two separate recordings. The first was an instrumental piece titled “Mellow Pleasant Beat.” I recorded that one shortly after buying some synth plug-ins for Reason. (It think it was “Booster Pack Retro: Digital Sound Vocal Expressions,” in case you’re curious). It was a fairly short and simple recording, but I liked the sound of it, especially the “Ah-ahs.” Of course, it really didn’t go anywhere, so I set the recording aside and forgot about it until I stumbled upon it a few months later.

At that time, the tracks in Thank You for Holding were starting to come together. One of the tracks was called “Spongecake” (which I’ve since re-titled “Spooky Spongecake” to distinguish it from this one), but it was actually stranger than the current specimen under consideration. So I layered in the vocal track (me singing “Groovin’ on spongecake” over and over with a lot of effects on my voice to make it sound old and wobbly like a malfunctioning computer from a low-budget 1970s sci-fi film).

Within the context of Thank You for Holding, this track would close out side one of an LP or cassette if the album were on one of those media. As with “Don’t Let It Go,” I thought a largely instrumental track would work here, though this one reminded me a little bit more of “technical difficulties — please stand by” kind of a message rather than a message you’d hear while on hold, the idea being that the robot from the earlier tracks is experiencing technical difficulties and, perhaps inexplicably, dreaming about spongecake.

I say “perhaps inexplicably” because there actually is an explanation for the spongecake line, but I’ll save that for my post on “Spooky Spongecake.”