April 1, 2017
I’m Not Blacking Out, I’m Breaking Through
By Scott Taylor
This is a first. I’m actually posting ‘I’m Not Blacking Out, I’m Breaking Through’ on the first of the month! This works out quite nicely, seeing as the tale I’m about to tell concerns a song that burst into the world on an April Fools’ Day, once upon a time. Oh yeah, it also happens to be the very first song from our first album, 2008’s Only If…And Even Then. The song is ‘Misspoken’ and here’s the scoop.
What do you have to say?
Paul McCartney has stated that when he and John Lennon first started writing together, “We would write a song and just have to remember it. And there was always the risk that we’d just forget it. If the next morning you couldn’t remember it – it was gone. In actual fact you had to write songs that were memorable, because you had to remember them or they were lost! There must have been dozens lost this way” (Patches, Matt. "Paul McCartney Reveals There Are 'Dozens' of Lost Beatles Songs." Esquire, July 31, 2015. http://www.esquire.com/entertainment/music/news/a36809/lost-beatles-songs-paul-mccartney/). Songwriters have all experienced that moment. In fact, it’s the moment we as artists honestly desire more than any other. When blind inspiration hits you out of nowhere and you see/hear a fully realized work in your head your number one priority is to surrender your attention to it as soon as possible. I call it ‘catch the lightning’. Alas, much like actual lightning this inevitably presents its own uniquely frustrating set of challenges. It’s funny now, but in the moment I was kinda freakin’ out!
It was a gorgeous, crisp, blue afternoon in early spring. As I recall the sun was shining bright April Fools’ Day 1998 in Olympia. I had just finished lunch and had to make a stop at the bank. I was standing in line like, y’ know whatever, and BAM! A whole song, no kidding, slams into my head all at once. I lived downtown and walked around humming music in my head all the time. I’ve mentioned before how the acoustics of my physical environment often tend to forge an odd synchrony with my musical brain. Usually, it’s a specific rhythm or combination of rhythms or a riff that sprouts up spontaneously as I absorb the sounds in the world around me. Random phrases and lyrical fragments pop in and out as well. Best of all, I love when the hooks hit. Hooks are what make songs catchy.
Bits and pieces here and there are one thing; this was something entirely new to me. I couldn’t tell you what the catalyst was. My OCD was getting the better of me that day and my thoughts were all over the place. Standing in line at my bank was taking forever when, like a lyrical roller coaster, these silly words tumbled out of the ether wrapped around a melody. It was sort of a cute pun personifying putting one’s foot in one’s mouth, aside from that I couldn’t immediately discern any apparent “meaning”. I just liked how it sounded. Words and music felt like one and the same. It was so natural, like it had always been there; all I needed to do was snatch it up. Keep in mind I was already standing in the line from hell, now I was becoming super anxious. My stupid OCD took a well-deserved backseat as this breaking development desperately clamored its way into my head. I had to get out of there and go write my song!
Running rampant circles ‘round my brain
I feel like this is a good time to point out that I am pounding a self-imposed deadline, so to speak. Yes, at this very moment, it is actually April 1st! See, I haven’t had a chance to resume writing for a day or so and I’m hell bound to get this thing posted pronto! I’m trying to generate a vibe here, man!! This April Fools’ Day sure has been a hoot and, yeah, I’m being sarcastic. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been all bad. Well, not necessarily, categorically ‘bad’ per se at all, just a goofy day and people are everywhere like the crazy ants in my apartment and it’s just now that I FINALLY get a damn minute to get back to my writing! Sorry, I’m venting. I digress. Forgive my unfocused words. Folks, you have before your eyes the most real time edition of ‘I’m Not Blacking Out, I’m Breaking Through’ ever. I’m laughing now because, ironically, today feels a lot like the day I was talking about when this song sprang into existence!
Yay for mania!
Okay enough, back to the song…
Where was I? Oh yeah! Okay, so standing in line was driving me up the wall. Not helping matters was the crappy 90’s "alternative" adult contemporary shit my bank had playing in the lobby. Ugh! I’m talking zero musical nutritional value, ick!! Anyway, I had to drown it out and keep humming through this tune in my mind so I wouldn’t lose it. This was kind of a good thing actually, as it kept me from tripping on my immediate frustration too much. I worked through the verses and chorus and figured out the sneaky little bridge that’s barely there, but it’s still a bridge! I decided the drums and guitars should kind of enter and exit at specific times, building and taking away. I remember mentally experimenting with several dynamic parameters; loud/quiet, key changes, stops and starts, riff textures/chord voicings and especially placing the bass notes off root throughout the chorus.
I would like to highlight that last factor cited as a significant epiphany arrangement-wise. Playing a bass note off root can work wonders to color a chord progression. This simply means the bass plays some other note in the scale being played. It’s like if the guitar chord I’m playing is say, ‘D’, play the bass note in ‘A’. If it’s ‘Bb’, play ‘F’ or for a ‘G’ chord, make the bass play ‘B’. (Those are all actual bass note/chord combos in ‘Misspoken’, btw.) Both McCartney and Brian Wilson have used this device to magnificent effect many times; up to this point it hadn’t quite clicked with me. But I was ready for it anytime, I studied those guys hard! Low and behold when I least expected it, I got it.
Yeah, you could say I had a couple ideas standing there in that line. It was like a meteor shower of music melting my brain. But, it was exciting and I really liked it and I just remembered what Paul always said about him and John. I figured if I could hang onto it, it probably didn’t suck. Like I said sometimes they stick and sometimes they don’t, you never know. It was looking good so far though. My baby song blissfully drowned out the dreadful Goo Goo Matchbox diarrhea still being vomited from the bank lobby speakers.
You heave a sigh
At last I made it the two blocks back to my place. Now that I think about it, there were ants there too. Ants suck. Somehow I managed to maintain the whole darn thing! I grabbed the brand new guitar I had just purchased. I was still psyched about that, as it was the first genuine left-handed acoustic guitar I had ever owned. It was a cheap, foreign made Martin, but it was a bona fide lefty, proper. Getting it to accurately intonate took a little finessing still (it wasn’t ‘top of the line’ by any means), but I got ‘er working alright. This song was my test drive. When I checked myself for accuracy after completely composing it in my head; I gotta say I was right pleased with the results! Over time the fundamental arrangement never altered dramatically. This accidental song faithfully encapsulates and expresses its own spontaneity.
Shortly thereafter I got my little Tascam Porta Studio and this was one of the first songs I recorded on it in the basement at my old place. I miss that basement. I got to play with all the ideas I’d had in the bank line that day and hear how it sounded all together. I love the brevity of ‘Misspoken’. The song structure is so tight; it only does what it needs to do. The economy is equal to the urgency. For quite some time after I wrote this song I was pretty proud of it. I still am. It’s simple, but it’s not. Like I said it represented a big leap forward for me as a songwriter.
I need to write a whole record full of songs no longer than two minutes. I’ve wanted to do that for a long time (someday!!) At least this one made it onto a record and not just any old place on any old record. I’m glad it’s the first song on our first album. We don’t hit the oldies too often these days, but the fact that we still play this one live I think says a lot. That said it’s time for me to split! The Hard Way have a gig in a couple hours (I need to warm up!) I hope you’ve enjoyed this real time, April Fools’ Day edition of ‘I’m Not Blacking Out, I’m Breaking Through’ as much as me. Busting this out has been almost as rewarding as writing the actual song.
(There was one time I stood in line so long at the bank I pissed myself. But that’s a different story for another day.)
This time you’ve gone too far...