“Black Boots”

As you may have noticed, I’ve been releasing a decent amount of music lately. In part, this is because I’ve been collaborating with other musicians like Timothy Simmons, The La-La-Lettes, and my cousin Vince as part of The Ministry of Plausible Rumours. Meanwhile, I’ve also been recording a few songs on my own, and the latest is a somewhat long song with a country & western lilt called “Black Boots.”

The earliest version of this song came to me many years ago with the phrase “I’m wearing my suit to the steakhouse tonight.” One of the couplets went something like, “I’m tired and lonely and looking to fight. I’m wearing my suit to the steakhouse tonight.” But sometime in 2020, I started playing with the idea from a different angle and it became “Are you promising to hold your tongue but looking for a fight? Are you wearing your black boots tonight?”

And as far as that “different angle” goes, instead of imagining a guy with anger management issues, I started thinking about a pair of sisters who don’t get along but who still love each other. This idea stemmed from a picture that my friend Jen Mitlas shared on social media of herself and her sister eating ice cream when they were children; the caption said something like, “See? Sometimes we do get along!”

Hence the first verse of the song: “Unfocused picture: You and your sister/Ice cream on Saturday night./Moment of detente,/You both get what you want/Before diving back to the fight.”

Of course, the song is a work of fiction, and I imagined that the two sisters were of different political philosophies–that one was a cop or in the military (“a warrior by trade”) and that one was ostensibly of a kinder and gentler bent but was, nevertheless, always the first to attack (or, in the song, “pull the blade” on) the on the other.

I also imagined that the sisters were twins, but I think that notion came about when I realized I could rhyme “Fighting each other” with “Inside your mother.” I just thought the idea of two children punching and kicking each other even before they were born was funny.

On the topic of rhymes, I felt like I was cheating a little when I rhymed “ice cream” with “ice cream” in the final verse, but I liked the idea that, as adults, the two sisters still set aside their differences to enjoy ice cream when they get together.

Musically, the song owes a massive debt to “Mississippi” by the Cactus Blossoms, which I first heard in an episode of Twin Peaks: The Return. I really liked the drum beat on that song, so when I bought a drum kit back in the Spring of this year (itself a weird story), one of the first patterns I tried to learn was the rhythm from that song. Once I had it down, I recorded it and built the rest of “Black Boots” around it.

Fun fact: The sewer pipe for my house runs through the room where I record drums. You can hear water running through it at about 3:28 on the song. Someone must have been taking a shower at the time. Either that, or they flushed the toilet. In either case, I actually thought the sound of running water was pretty cool, so I kept it in. Also, I didn’t feel like recording the track again.

My initial plan was to save the song for later — maybe to include it in an EP or an album, but then I saw a review of “Mine Forever” by Lord Huron on Jeff Archuleta’s (quite excellent) Eclectic Music Lover blog. Since the instrumentation on that song — especially the twangy guitars — was similar to the instrumentation of “Black Boots,” I figured Jeff might enjoy my song, so I sent him a rough mix and told him I didn’t really plan to do anything with it. But Jeff said he liked it, and since I’ve been a big fan of his music reviews for quite some time, I figured I had no choice but to release it… So here we are!

“Never Talk Back” Video

Here it is, the video I was working on a few weeks ago. Some parts remind me of A Hard Day’s Night. Others remind me of Twin Peaks: The Return. There’s actually a pretty strong woodsmen vibe throughout…

Big thanks to everyone involved in shooting and editing this project!

 

Track-by-Track: “Thank You for Holding”

Given that it’s the title track of the album, you might think that I recorded “Thank You for Holding” fairly early in the game, but I was actually working on a few other songs before this one came into the picture.

Somewhere along the line, though, I looped a few bars of “My Head” and layered in the “ooh-ooh” voices and thought it sounded like Muzak or elevator music or the music you might hear when you’re on hold with a customer-service help line. That’s when I started ad-libbing the lines about waiting for a customer service representative to come on the line.

As each new line came out, I started thinking of the voice as a robot’s voice and decided to make him a little bit lonely and depressed a la Marvin in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The flute solo was on the track from an earlier version of “My Head,” and when it interrupted the flow of my robot soliloquy, my first instinct was to take it out, but then I thought that playing the flute would make a great hobby for a lonely robot.

Ideally, when you listen to this track, it will come on right after “My Head” with no pause between tracks; I want it all to sound like a single song since the backing tracks are essentially the same. Of course, that makes the song seem incredibly long.

On its own, “Thank You for Holding” is a little over six minutes long. With “My Head” tacked on, it’s about eight minutes long. Whenever I listen to them together, there’s always a point where I begin to wonder whether the joke is going on for too long, but it always happens at the same point in the song: the part where the robot says, “A customer service representative will be with you shortly… shortly… shortly…” as if to underscore the fact that “shortly” is a relative term when it comes to being on hold.

Actually, I’ve been on hold a few times since recording this song, and whenever it happens, I can’t help feeling like the universe is getting me back for recording such a long track about being on hold. I also think there’s something eerily and maybe madly comical about stretching things far beyond their optimal lengths. “Kristin Schaal Is a Horse” is one example that comes to mind. “Too Many Cooks” is another one.

In terms of production, I got the eerie vocal effect by using a combination of effects in Reason, my preferred program for recording. One of the effects is a virtual delay unit called The Echo, which allowed me to give the voice a kind of wobbly feel like a tape that’s slowing down and speeding up. I also used an effect called Neptune Pitch Adjuster to lower the timber of my voice (though, oddly enough, not the pitch). The overall effect I was going for was that of a tape on tape deck with dying batteries. Or like the sound of DC’s voice in Twin Peaks: The Return.

Oh, and one last thing: In case you haven’t guessed it, I love the idea of robots that run on spinning reels of magnetic tape. It makes me think of Philip K. Dick‘s depictions of a future that’s now gradually fading into our collective rear-view mirror.