Over the next few weeks I am going to post about each song on my album in turn. The posts will include the story behind each song, some notes about the recording process, a streaming copy so you can listen while you read, and for the truly curious I’ll be putting up the GarageBand files as well.
I think the Garageband files might be interesting for anyone who is recording with GarageBand themselves; to see how the sounds were created and the songs constructed. If you know anyone who might find it interesting, spread the word.
Without further ado, here’s the first song on the album, and the first song I recorded for the album…
This past March I went on a two week road trip up the west coast and back with my friend Lisa. We had a great time cruising in her RV, yet I was depressed for most of the trip. I had been going through some dramatic changes over the previous several months, including a divorce, and I had yet to see the light. I’m not sure how apparent this was to her or to the people we visited along the way; I kept it to myself as much as possible. There’s sometimes a strange contrast between the interior and exterior.
We got back to Las Vegas in late March, and I remember the first night home I was very glad to be back. Though the trip was absolutely great, there was a part of me that was uncomfortable ignoring my depression for all that time. I didn’t know what to do about it, but being back in the house alone I felt awful, yet relieved to be able to let myself feel awful.
One thing was sure that first night home: I couldn’t sleep. It was in this insomnious state that I went into my studio for the first time in several months and picked up my guiltar. In the unlit room I plucked out a few unplanned notes: the spare opening guitar line of Nocturne. The resigned simplicity of it and the pacing resonated with me, and so I decided to record.
I knew I wanted the guitar to sound very distant, and slowly approach the listener. Even though the style of the song was very different from what I normally do, it came pretty naturally. I had the intro, first verse, and bridge section recorded in a couple hours.
I felt right away that I wanted the song to be the opening to an album — not that I actually believed I’d record a whole album at the time; I’d had more than a few false starts on such things over the years. But I liked the idea of setting a tone of sleepy melancholy and then exploring that through several songs. Maybe an album about one lonely night from sundown to sunrise.
I had so much unfinished music I’d accumulated over the years, but I thought to myself that I’d let go of the past, and write all new songs. They’d be more atmospheric, darker, with a deliberate pacing. An album that you could listen to while falling asleep. And then as the morning light came, I went to sleep myself, having completed the first half of the tune.
I let the half song sit on my iPod for a week or two before recording the second half. I listened to it often while driving around in my car. I seem to use the car as a secondary listening room; a way to see how the songs sound when played out in the real world. My car just has a stock stereo, and it’s good to hear what happens to the mix on a non-ideal system. But just as importantly, driving around puts me in a different frame of mind from being in the studio, so I get different insights into the music. Eventually I went back to the song and added the second verse and the ending.
The only part that gave me any trouble was getting the last vocal section right; the part that begins at around 2:18. But even that came together relatively easily.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the reaction to this song, which has been very positive. It is a little shorter and simpler than most of the other songs, and in some ways I thought of it as an intro rather than stand-alone. But several people have named it as their favorite tune on the album, so I guess it works well in any case.
Like everything on the album, Nocturne was recorded with a relatively simple setup: a MacBook Pro running GarageBand 09 via a Tascam US-122 audio/midi box. Vocals were recorded through a Sure Beta 87.
For instruments: I used a relatively new Schecter electric guitar, the only electric I currently own. My bass is an old Peavey Dyna Bass (in passive mode) bought used around 1993. The keyboard sounds were from GarageBand using my old Ensoniq as a MIDI controller.
The drums on this song are a loop from one of the excellent “Jam Packs” that I got for GarageBand. For years I avoided loops, considering it cheating. But in the past couple years I’ve got over myself and decided to serve the song over my ego. I found this rhythm loop fit perfectly, and I added only a few fills of my own and the percussion during the second bridge/finale section.
I’ll be posting about the title track, “Drift” in a few days!