May 29, 2013

Prisoner, The Hand Of The Bold

Scars scratch the truth
helping you through everyday
on walls that surround you
can't confine you to any place
Let your mind drift far, far away

There are a lot of traps and mental prisons in writing. Rules and limitations from society, genre, friends, band mates, producers,  and even ourselves. Each one boxes in the writer a little more. The creativity becomes a little more restricted. The possibilities less. The outcome more solid. This can be great. It is necessary to wrangle imagination in, or songs become unmanageable.

Prisoner is about living inside the cell. Understanding the condition. Moving beyond without violent resistance. But with creative resistance.
There are no worse punishments than ones given to ourselves.
No greater depths of hell than in our mind.
And freedom is only granted from within.

Wanting success can be one of the toughest cells in a creative prison. On one hand the writer -usually- wants the audience to like the work. But writing what you think people want often produces the worst ideas. Writing for money does even more damage to the spirit. The other hand, writing for completely for the self, can give some of the most creative ideas a chance to live. It is the hand of the bold and the dangerous. It is the abstract. The mysterious. But that can leave piece indigestible. Flighty and over intellectualized. And worse yet, writing for an audience of One, leaves the writer with an audience of One.

I wish we had more time to work on this song. But that is the consequence of working fast. Our albums were all recorded in under the span of two weeks. This pressure can provide great conditions for spontaneous creativity. The pressure drives the mind. The imagination. Reaching new places. It's tough. It's exciting. It's not for the feint of spirit. But it does have draw backs. Sometimes the songs are just beginning to cook, but we are on to the next piece. I wouldn't say I have regrets or disappointments- I love all our songs and I have pride about the work we have done on each one. I feel lucky to not have a song that I am embarrassed about releasing. But sometimes I wish I could work on it more. I am really happy with the new arrangement we are using for Prisoner live. I wish I could record that. Maybe a live record would be good for us...

Songs suffer from trying to do too much. Trying to cover too much ground. Trying to express every side at once. That's when rules help. But which one's to listen to? Which one's to fight?  It's hard to take outside criticism because it feels like a personal attack. It feels like the idea wasn't given a good shot. You can fight for every inch an idea, but I think songs will suffer more. I've learned the problem is not the prison. Just how we feel inside of it.

Gone are the old friends
whose time they won't spend anyway
here are your new friends
who you can depend, won't go away
Let your mind drift far, far away

The truth is, there is no right answer. Only what things we can live with. There are some limitations we shouldn't tolerate. Some walls must be broken. Some amount of personal identity must be asserted. It is up to the artist to decide what is tolerable. Knowing that: resistance to others only further alienates the project.

There are times I have felt trapped. Stuck. Like everything is moving on a schedule. Like I'm unable to move for myself. It is not a good feeling. It's also not easy to break out of it. The worse part is you want to blame others, but it's only the self. It's only the mind confining itself. This song is to remind myself: let your mind drift far, far away.

falling, together.
never knowing a part from the self,
the water, and the rain
we are bound
racing to end, heavens of earth and black tar
they will take us, but at least we can go together

May 22, 2013

Mamas Cooking, See The Flow.

Mama's cooking on the big piano
Been cooking on the big piano
Come back home and that's where I found her
She's knows I should be sleeping but to stop she'd need a better reason
Mama's cooking on the big piano
Ny mama she's a lovely teaser, way she's banging I'd love to please her

Live vs Record. Everything changes. Writing for either takes a different approaches. Mama's Cooking was originally written for Loud Is The Night. There is a version recorded from that session, different from the one on Big Red and Barbacoa.

It was a mistake to leave it off the first record. If I could go back that might be one change I would make. Live, this song was already a staple of our show, often working as the closer on the set. Getting bigger and louder the more we played. Becoming a sweat soaked rampage capable of blowing down the garage rock door. It didn't start that way.

It was written as an acoustic song. I wanted to be sort of a weird White Album earthy drone. When I was first working it out, we weren't playing a lot of shows so I was more focused on sounds. But as time between writing the song and recording increased, and more shows were played, the sound evolved.

Three in the morning and the neighbor's calling
Ain't no peace when we start balling
Dogs all bay and the dead start waking, she's got soul that can't be faking
Three in the morning and the neighbor's calling
Better stop before the cops come over, but me and my baby gonna play it all night

There are some bands with live shows sounding exactly like their records. Some completely different. Sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. Great records can sound like they were recorded live. I've only rarely been a fan of live records though.

I've always liked treating them as different but maybe that's changing. I love the sound of a band planning together, but not listening to uncontrolled jams. As a musician I love to jam, but as a record listener I don't have the patience for it. It's not that I think songs need to be short. I just like the song to be thoughtful in it's progression.

The wildness of experimentation easily wears thin on me. My patience can be extended for a live show. The experience, the energy, the visuals all permit the song to travel, to breath, and to live beyond the length and precision of the record. I can watch that journey. It is a story. To see the faces...Is it fluid? Is it a fight? Are they worried about where to go? Are they happy when they got there? It's all over their bodies.

When you are that involved in music, you can't hide frustration, joy, or terror. It just broadcasts. Seeing that keeps the jam interesting for me. On record everything seems purposeful. It's too easy to say -I meant to do that. Making it less of a trip.

The second version of Mama's Cooking was done all live in one room including vocals. Probably not too different from an early Little Richard, or Elvis track. The first version we did featured Dan on Background vocals singing harmony with me, how cool is that... I love hearing the double kick stomp to kick it off. The bass line is furious. I always play it hard, like I'm attacking the strings. I know I've had strong performance when my right hand bleeds a little bit, usually from the index.

In a live show, I look for moments where we can reach out beyond the song. To interact with the audience. To say- this is happening only tonight. That type of playing and arranging can sound flat on record, without a good audience to interact with. So it becomes about building flow. It's hard to say if what you are recording will work at all. There is not that initial reaction from the audience. Just like the faces of the musicians give away how they feel about a song, so does the face of the crowd.

Keys are flying, and the walls are shaking
ain't gonna stop till the whole place breaking
doors are banging and the phone keeps ringing
Keys are flying and walls are shaking
Me and my baby go for bacon fat, don't you know we're always down for that

Recently we've been narrowing our sound. For the first time we have a sound that is cohesive. More focused. We are going to keep the sound of playing together in the studio. Drums and bass have to be locked in. No other way about it.

The best way for me to lock in with kick is to track my bass while watching the drummer. I keep my eye on the movements. Watch the energy. See the flow. It's not anticipation, but co-operation.That is enough to give a track life. I don't know if we will record another song all live with vocals. But never say never, right?

Mama's Cooking sounds live, because it is. It also makes it stand alone a bit. It's also the only song written from Loud Is The Night onto a later album. Anyway you cut it, it is one of my proudest songs. It is rock and roll thru and thru.
The old star-eaten sky
sends no safety
means no harm.
Night waits,
wanting to be used.
His eagerness
persists in the air
like breathing late-Saturday
atmosphere. Not to offend
the next, once her edge drops a bit.
-The night'll go where you go.


May 8, 2013

Sun, Intention and Result

Sun shining, radiate your own mind
Choose right you might find another life
you might find another
woman don't you know me
woman don't forget your mine

What is a song without a chorus or hook? It is often considered the most important part of a song. The part everyone wants to sing with. The identifiable. Usually names the piece. The face of the song that should dictate the mood and production. Everything hinges on the chorus or hook, so what is left if you take it away?

That is the question Loud Is The Night is built around. Sun is completely devoid of a chorus or proper hook, but not of form. There are a lot of examples of this form in the folk-blues world. Though the more popular songs will repeat one singular unchanging phrase at the end of each verse. But what makes it unique and oddly beautiful is its brevity. It is an idea broken into two thoughts. One to the other, one to the self. Sun is a musical statement. The words could easily be a conversation more than something to be sung. That is why there is no chorus. And why there is no hook. I wanted to make something that was less of a production and more physical.

In the evolution of our three albums, and my songwriting, it is probably the biggest change linking them together. The first, I avoided choruses. Feeling them to be the most contrived and boring parts. The second album grew from the experience of the first. I learned that no matter how good the song is, without a strong chorus, people have far less to hold on to. To identify with. They are less likely to pay attention. I felt like we were tipping the balance. The third was a complete focus on the chorus. Moving the song around it. Really trying to find those moments and flush them out as best we could. 

It was different for me. A new way to approach the craft. I think for the future we will continue in this direction. I don't want to lock us down into anything but I don't know if I'm ready to try that idea again yet. The band is alive and life means change. I don't have a definitive destination, but I know I don't want to be stagnant. Each album. Each song, a stop on our way to the next one. 

Bird calling, makes you wonder why you can not fly
Home told me, you can fly if you want to hide
you can fly if you want to
woman don't you need me
woman don't forget your boy

The solo for Sun is one of my favorites. The whole song sways beautifully and the solo with it. It was recorded on an old tack piano Dan had in his basement during the first album. I think he still has it but the tacks might have been removed. At the end of the song, after the final vocal refrain, there is a subtle change in the bass that just adds a huge relief to the groove. I always enjoy listening for it.

So again: What is a song without a chorus or hook? Some might say it is wrong, or incomplete.  I would argue against that and I believe Sun to be good evidence. It is wonderful to have songs of all varieties and forms. There is no right or wrong in music. Only intention and result.

A purple morning, for a few minutes the birds bleet
and two dogs, gruff and snort across the street
and leave all dreamers' stories incomplete
from the kiss that never again will be, 
or the crash of a flighted-girl beneath
some truth she always wished to see.
No, this cant be the same room, 
the same bed, that last took me to sleep


*image from:

May 1, 2013

Hear Me Crying, Soul-Speak

The older I get, the less that I know
The closer I move, the further it goes. 
I guess I'll just stay in bed.
Dark is the path. Light is a room.
If you hold it back,
It isn't too soon to tell me to think it again
Loud is the night. Quiet the dock.
The harder I think, the more that I stop.
I guess I'll just stay in bed
Hear Me Crying

Few people can really Moan. I'm not talking moan with a stomach ache, any physical pain really, or moan in ecstasy. I mean Moan with a: "M." The type of moan where everyone in ear shot says, I know what that means. Where, with a sound, you prove, not just explain, what you feel and make others empathize. 

It's more than vocal acrobatics. Most vocalists, even great ones, over-do it to the point it becomes ridiculous and the message of the song is lost. A Moan isn't about proving the talent of the singer, probably doesn't have much to do with singing at all. It is more like acting. The performer is telling  the story. That is the division between a good moan and a moan that sets the listeners nerves on fire. There are many great moans in music, that you might think it's easier than it sounds. Try it and hear that it is not. 

I always tried, every night
to be in your arms
holding you tight loving you right
Darling you wouldn't be true

Fear makes it difficult to Moan. At some point you have to let go completely, there is no performance, no audience, no hang-ups, no song, only living. A moment of life where your body, your voice is being used to explain something beyond words. The soul speaks. It is overwhelming. The frailty of self-awareness disappearing. The inability for words to mean enough. It all comes out in the Moan.


I wanted to write a song with the capacity to house a Moan. I would love to hear Dan try it. The man has a voice that commands. Who knows maybe I will get there, I am a much improved singer from the time we recorded the first album. One the coolest thing I have the privilege to experience is to hear Dan sing songs I have written. It has happened only a few times but I remember each one. When I wrote Hear Me Crying I was working as a tutor in a writing lab at a San Antonio Community. And one thing it gave me, besides a lot of time to write, was a chance to listen to full albums on 45+ min commute. For some reason for about an entire month I listened only to Etta James' At Last. By the end of the month I had the idea to write a song around the Moan. The words draw a lot of influence from my study of Zen, with a little nod to Chuck Berry.

Not all moans are vocal. Instrumentals can have the same effect. A well crafted chord structure can create the landscape for a solo to express itself. It is all about speaking beyond the parameters of words. Like a painting, or photograph, a moan is worth more than a verse.

She set the kettle when he came in
He hasn't lifted his head since
Always going to the same seat
  Her stronger punches
She's put away to sit with him
Looking at the stove
Afraid it will boil soon


*image from: