'I'm Not Blacking Out, I'm Breaking Through' Issue #4 Is Here!

March 11, 2017

I’m Not Blacking Out, I’m Breaking Through
By Scott Taylor

#4: ‘Stethoscope’
 
Greetings everyone! I hope you’re all stayin’ alive out there and super psyched for this latest action packed episode of ‘I’m Not Blacking Out, I’m Breaking Through’, because we’ve got a fun one for you today! This time around we’re gonna reminisce about a weird little rocker from 2014’s Day 5. Here’s the story of that album’s third cut, ‘Stethoscope’.

The next thing you know it’s already now

That’s pretty much how I felt the better part of the entire day of August 5th, 2008. It was damn near 100 degrees, blindingly hot from dawn’s first light. I woke up still suffering from the terrible headache I had the night before due to sinus pressure courtesy of the crappy summer bug wreaking havoc on me. I accidentally took the ‘blue’ pill. Okay, it’s not quite as freaky as you’re thinking; I just messed up and took what I subsequently realized was Tylenol PM. This was an unfortunate mistake on my part as I started getting sleepy right as my day was getting going. Yay!

Skyler and I were headed to record a demo of a new song he and I had written. Our destination was the home studio of our friend, Smoke (M2D6 of Oldominion) and I have hilarious drowsy recollections of stopping at 7 Eleven prior to the session and slamming back a ton of black coffee. It was all I could do to try to equalize myself the entire day. Oh God, what a weird day! Somehow we managed to track the whole darn thing. Sky played all the main electric and acoustic guitars and I played bass and drums. We both sang and rocked a duo guitar/harmony solo. Over the next week or so, Smoke had fun experimenting with overlaying some beats, reversing tracks and trying out other trippy production effects. I recently listened to the mixes from this version of ‘Stethoscope’ (dated 8/5/08 & 8/12/08) and they’re really fun to dig on! That whole day had a mirage-like feel to it. Our recording aptly reflected the vibe.
 
The sweltering August heat of that recording session stands in serious contrast to the torrential downpour I seem to recall transpiring the day we first jammed out what would become ‘Stethoscope’. It was spring 2008, Skyler and I had recently started getting together once a week and learning songs by Paul McCartney & Wings with the intent of playing the annual Night of the Living Tribute Bands at the Capitol Theater in Olympia on Halloween (which we did and you can still find it on YouTube! *see link below.) We were just cutting loose one afternoon and Skyler started pounding this total tomahawk stomp on the drums while I banged out a dark, fuzzy, Neil Young & Crazy Horse wannabe chord progression on the guitar. We woodshedded on that one for a bit then recorded it and some other song fragments in progress on my old Tascam Porta One 4 track cassette recorder. The music took shape swiftly and with ease.

Seeing the light, counting the cards; you can’t unless you hit it hard

Lyrically, this song tumbled together somewhat unorthodoxly. Skyler remembers, “I had recently seen a clip of Bowie cutting up his lyrics and putting them into a bowl, then picking them out at random as he wrote a song. I really liked that idea and wanted to give it a go, so I brought my stack of notebooks with random lyrics, knowing you had similar stacks and off we went.” It is indeed a strange phenomenon witnessing a song’s meaning unfolding unto itself. I can’t really think of any other way to describe it. Previously, I’ve touched on the role of random chance when it comes to seeing connections between phrases on the same page written at different times. ‘Stethoscope’ is an entire song comprised of such connections with not even one pre-determined lyric going into it. Skyler asserts that, “Taking turns putting random lyrics together had a remarkable effect and the song ended up mysterious, with a lot of underlying themes, yet totally cohesive. It was fun looking through my lyric notes for something in response to yours and vice versa. It was a very freeing exercise and we ended up with a great song!”

Every bizarre phrase strung together in this song experiment fits together snugly and seamlessly and I’ll be damned if I still have no clue what it’s about? As always, I have mental snapshots of moments in time attached to certain phrases. “Time machine radio” for instance, makes reference to my listening to old 1960’s & 70’s country on an AM station of my transistor radio at sunset while camping in the eastern Washington foothills of the Cascades during early summer. Similarly, “holographic stereo” is a nod to the so-called ‘Holographic Universe Theory', which was the topic of discussion on the radio program Coast to Coast AM that I was listening to one night during that same camping trip.
 
One of my favorite zingers to find its way into this song originated from a quip made by a severely adult A.D.D. co-worker friend of Elizabeth’s at the time named Barb. Barb was a manically entertaining, verbally caustic grenade of a woman; an odd bird, to put it mildly. Once I overheard her spat out something to the effect of “I'll stab you with a clue!” This remark was so ridiculous I knew it would wind up somewhere in a song. “Circle the drain, does the fun ever start?” is a cute one, too. Seriously, it was akin to a kind of lyrical hopscotch the way a line like that spilled straight into a perfect foil like “everything’s happening, so tear it apart”. Once again, any “meaning” per se in this song is purely coincidental or subjective. However, might I suggest that perhaps it concerns questioning reality?
 
Cold as a stethoscope, make up a sound

Melodically speaking, Skyler and I approached this song intending it to have a dual lead vocal, the kind of thing Lennon and McCartney had pulled off in so many catchy early Beatles songs. Classics like ‘From Me To You,’ ‘She Loves You,’ ‘If I Fell,’ ‘I’ll Be Back’ and ‘Baby’s In Black’ all have tightly wound two part vocal harmonies where either part could be construed as the “lead” vocal. We applied that mindset and our melody was very strong so it just flowed very organically. Sometime later our intermittent side project, the fabled outfit collectively known as Scott Taylor & the Fond Farewells, integrated this song into our set and we continued to explore and massage it.

I should note that at the time both Skyler and Luke were members of the Fond Farewells, but not yet members of The Hard Way. In my mind and heart they had always been extended band family at the very least and quite likely would have been in the band sooner if not for other primary musical obligations of the moment. Looking back, the whole Fond Farewells era was a doorway leading toward exploring more nuanced arrangements. It certainly provided me confidence to begin pushing my music into increasingly eclectic directions.

When Skyler and Luke had joined The Hard Way, at some point it was suggested we dig this one out and give it a go. We strived to combine the strongest elements of the previous attempts at the song. I was keen on reinstating the thumping tomahawk beat from the original version and really rocking the daylights out of this thing. We incorporated the dark, smoky Fender Rhodes piano into the proceedings (a remnant of the Fond Farewells’ version) and Skyler and I managed to play our searing, melodic guitar harmonies (or “guitarmonies” as we like to call ‘em) simultaneously during the recording resulting in a dynamic ebb and flow underscoring the smoldering tension in the music. I love the Vibraslap that initiates the instrumental section. I always wanted to use one somewhere and right there it hit the spot!

Never again isn’t tomorrow...

I thought the official album version turned out terrific! The wall of vocals was made extra creamy thanks in part to Skyler’s eagerness to try having each of the band members sing every note in the background vocal harmony line, a method implored to tremendous effect by no less than the likes of a little band called Queen (Yep!) I think we pulled off a super dense, dreamy vocal blend that would have given 10CC a run for their money!
 
Wow, every time I take a trip back in my mind in regards to one of these songs it winds up being a deluge of memories, more than I can reasonably fit into one of these little monthly columns! I’ve enjoyed sharing my ‘Stethoscope’ stories with y’all and I’d like to thank the song’s co-author, Skyler Blake for his invaluable recollections as well.
 
Fun fact: when we did the session for ‘Stethoscope’ out at South Sound Sound in Shelton, Skyler and I managed to cram his Subaru wagon full tilt with my Marshall stack, his Fender Deluxe and Princeton amps, the Fender Rhodes piano and its speaker cabinet and our guitars AND, somehow…ourselves.

Oh yeah, we rocked that shit.
 



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SONG LYRICS

* NOLTB, Halloween 2008 (McCartney & Wings tribute feat. Scott, Sky, Dave, Liz & the late, great Steve Munger!):

1 comment

  • Tharp

    Tharp Busan, ROK

    Love this tune. Dreamy Cali-esque hard edged pop. And Scott, you can write more than music.

    Love this tune. Dreamy Cali-esque hard edged pop. And Scott, you can write more than music.

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