Unspoken Words

How can I try to explain,
When I do he turns away again
It’s always been the same, same old story
From the moment I could talk
I was ordered to listen

Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away
I know I have to go

© Cat Stevens, from the album “Tea For The Tillerman“, 1970

These lyrics just fell together in about 20 minutes back in early September 2016, from what I remember. And then, the lyrics just ended up in the box file and nothing has happened to them since then, until I recently took a fresh look at them and thought damn, this is a really good lyric.

I cant describe it any other way. A conversation led to it just toppling out where five minutes previous, it hadn’t existed and I had no notion of it coming from anywhere.

I had been spending a writing and recording weekend with one of my dearest friends and closest collaborators and the conversation came round to probably something that I only understand tangentially; I have been a son, but I’ve never been a father and I never will be. I didnt have much of a relationship with my own father, being estranged from him for 40 years before being reconciled two months before his untimely passing in 2012 but the perspective I’d never seen was that which my friend was going through; that is not only watching what was happening to his own father as he was getting older but how he was dealing with the responsibility at the same time of being a father himself to his only son, a job for which I’ve heard so many of my friends say that no handbook has ever been written – you can only do what you believe at the time is right and if you allow yourself to worry about whether you’re doing something right, or what you did ten or fifteen years ago, whether it was the right things – it will eventually eat away at you and you spend years questioning your own judgement with the benefit of hindsight. And that was before he began to think about what kind of a world was he leaving for his own flesh and blood… How much, if at all can he protect his son from the world he and his peers have made without much of a care, compared to the world his own father and his peers left for him, which he previously never gave a thought to, until now? I can’t even begin to imagine what that must be like.

So, thats what led to these lyrics. A father in his autumn or winter years talking in reassuring tones to his son who may, or may not comprehend the wisdom that is being imparted to him in genuine sincerity at the time they are being said.

These were not words I heard from my own father, nor my friend from his, not that I am aware of, anyway.

They are words that I guess, if I were ever to become a father that I would like to say to a son of mine, but thats not going to happen.  Its one of those subject matters that is tricky for an artist to take on from another writer, I guess. I haven’t written any music to it yet, but as I develop as a lyricist I have learned to recognise particularly good words that say all the things that I want them to – so this one will be recorded and when the KOAS project is eventually complete, this one will see the light of day. In quite what form, I don’t know yet. But I’m very happy with these lyrics and what they say and how they say it. It deserves to take on a life of its own and go on its own journey.

A few notes on individual lines; “you’ll learn to fit in where you’re meant to stand out“, I think I heard the idea for this from an online life coach. So many of us spend so much time trying to be something or someone we’re not meant to be, in somewhere we’re not meant to be, instead of just finding our place in the universe where we’re meant to stand out and shine and be all we’re meant to be. “All of those old records and songs I dont understand“; my own father was a damn good jazz musician and I am not the worlds biggest fan of the genre to put it mildly. Tracks that would have meant the world to him, I just couldnt get a handle on… but I’m now starting to learn and see them through the eyes he gave me. “Little Man, I’m so endlessly proud of you“… Not something I ever heard said to me, but I’ve seen it said so many times in the mediums of film and TV; I guess every son is always going to be a little man to their mother or father in one way or another, no matter how old they grow up to be. I guess they are words that I would have liked to have heard when I was younger but now, when I hear them its almost as if its a little too little a little too late to be absorbed as anything more than a platitude. Again, I’m kinda putting words into my own mouth that I’ll never say, and they might be slightly cheesy and schmaltzy, while wearing their usual scarf of darkness, but hey… sue me. It gives it the effect to the song that I need it to. You’re doing good, kid. No matter what it is, so long as you do it from your heart, I’ll always be proud of you.

All of the things you are will never be undone“; we all write our own life story, our own legacy and everyones life is an inspiration to someone. What we do with this short time on earth, the legacy we leave behind, is what defines us. The goal is not to live forever: its to create something that will.

The rest of the words, I dont think need any explanation.

Unspoken Words

v1/
Dont you worry, son
None of this is your fault
Just try to be honest about all the things in life you want
I know that this is not what you want to find out
But you’ll learn in good time to fit in where you’re meant to stand out

v2/
Playing all of those old records and songs I dont understand
And there are others that are familiar like the back of my hand
Dont wait for that song that may never come
Because all of the things you are will never be undone

Ch/
Ah, it all comes down to this, this day near the end
I’m not just your father, I’ll always be your friend
Little man, I’m so endlessly proud of you
You remembered to yourself you should always be true
But I know it was never easy

v3/
Pressure seems so relentless, you cant catch your breath
You feel chained to a treadmill, walking in a wheel without end
It seems no one’s listening when it makes you cry out
But dont you forget son, this is not what your life is all about

Ch/

Mid8/
Time will come for your children to raise little ones of their own
Dont forget that they could reap the seeds of all the things you’ve sown
Please tell me son, when the weight of the world gets too much for you to bear
Just close your eyes, think of me for a moment and I’ll promise I’ll be there

Ch/

© Lyrics by Steve McCarthy-Hunt 2016

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“You call me a fool
You say it’s a crazy scheme
This one’s for real
I already bought the dream
So useless to ask me why
Throw a kiss and say goodbye
I’ll make it this time
I’m ready to cross that fine line…”

© Becker/Fagan, Deacon Blues from the album Aja, 1977

Many album projects have slipping deadlines and this is equally true of the KOAS project. My previous update hinted at overdubs being completed by the end of March and this has been the one that has slid the furthest. It has been an interesting month which has been split between finding a new day job to fund this writer/producer life and getting the necessary work done. And now three weeks into April, I’m happy with the way the overdubs have all been addressed. Every track is now in the state of maturity necessary for the vocal work to start being done which I will commence over the first May Bank Holiday.

Some tracks did require some re-arrangement or pre-production work; specifically, Manhattan Lullaby, Escape From The Shadows (a particularly complex arrangement) and Elia. Others needed sections re-writing – it dawned on me rather late in the day that the intro parts for both Castles In The Sky and the problem child Doesnt Matter Now were not only similar, they were too similar. I guess thats one of the problems that comes about from working on these pieces in isolation as is my wont, compared to doing it in a more traditional structured way. But, it was something that wasnt difficult to fix; it is a source of much brow furrowing as to why DMN was such a problem for so long but then seemed to come together rather like throwing all of the pieces of a jigsaw on the floor and seeing them all join together in mid-air before hitting the ground fully formed. I know that might seem like a really odd analogy, but its the only one I’ve got that fits.

But… notwithstanding that, everything has come together pretty quickly over the last month and the next objective is doing the backing vocals, which will start next weekend. I anticipate that this will probably take most of May to complete now that I’m starting a new day job tomorrow. Once this is done the real challenging part of doing the lead vocals will start in June.

This particular phase has been challenging, it has taken longer than it should have done, but its now done. And, along the way, I’ve learned a lot and have even had some moments where I’ve finally learned to play with as much feel as I write with. Two particular parts – the guitar solo in No Getting Over You and the E-bow/sax solo in Five Years have been moments where its only afterwards when you listen back to it are quite moving, especially Five Years. It wasn’t by design, but it does that thing that I absolutely adore in a song, in that it builds, it climbs and then it soars and when it happened and came together it was quite a profound personal moment. And they do say that your music needs to move you first before it moves anyone else. And if this process has done anything, it sure as hell has moved me.

Hopefully those moments will continue to inspire during the journey of putting down the vocals, which is going to be particularly challenging as it is something I have not done with my own voice before, so I’m going to be needing all the inspiration I can get. And channelling the vocal styles of the likes of Donald Fagan, Matt Munro and Peter Skellern and others who have inspired the feel of some of the songs is going to be an absolutely monumental task. But, its what the songs need so it has to be done somehow, if the project is to succeed and it has come too far now to do anything else but succeed.

There have been other thoughts on track listings, what is going to be included and what isnt, whether one of the albums will end up more as a mini-album or extended EP, but thats for another time.

Onwards and upwards we go. More as it happens…

 

 

Update

Although I’ve recently posted details of one of the songs that has been written/reworked for the KOAS project in the last couple of days and also some of the edits and rewrites of some lyrics that I discussed in my last update nearly two months ago, its been a while since I last took stock of how far down the road this project is.

As is often the way of the many of us who have a day job as well as doing this thing that we love and have a calling for, the day job tends to swallow an awful lot of the available time meaning that the timelines for projects such as this, particularly complicated ones (like trying to write/record/produce/mix/master two release-quality albums at the same time, almost single-handedly… who has dumb ideas like that, ferchrissakes?) tend to end up moving sideways. So, my apologies for my lack of updates/progress, but a lot of things have been achieved since I extracted my digit a while back.

And, as these particular tasks have been achieved, they now bring other key milestones into sharper focus as they are things that have to be done and will take their own time before they’re exactly right and ready. So, I’m afraid this isnt a “its all done and y’all can buy it next week!” post. Sorry about that!

The three key things that have been achieved so far are as follows:

  1. Album covers/artwork, sleeve notes etc, all done and ready for both London Road and No Expectations. Many thanks to the fabulous Aminah Hughes for her photography for No Expectations. I knew from the moment I saw those photos that I wanted to use them for an album cover, if she gave her permission.
  2. There is only one track left that is at the “needs almost everything doing to it” stage, and that song is Doesnt Matter Now, which has always been a bit of a problem child. Everything else is at a very highly advanced stage of recording and arranging. Most of them, so far as tracking/recording are concerned only need occasional solos/overdubs and vocals.
  3. I faced up to the fact that some of the songs needed to be re-jigged/re-arranged/new lyrics needed to be written and did it – and in doing so, managed to unlock the potential of the songs from ideas to (almost) completed works. In this respect, I have been particularly heartened by the progress made on Manhattan Lullaby (such a departure from what I’m used to listening to and writing), Elia (forty years of pent up synchronicity), No Getting Over You (especially the pre-chorus, the chord pattern of which is my happiest possible accident, it sounds truly beautiful and evokes exactly the emotion I wanted for it), Fear Of Missing Out, Five Years (one of my most intense, honest and direct lyrics) and Let It Go (one of my most musically ambitious).

Doing all of those things only at weekends has been quite challenging. But it is happening.

Next, after these remaining overdubs are done comes the vocals. Given that there are going to be quite a lot of BV’s/harmonies to go on, which will all be (for want of a better word) mechanised (using a TC Helicon Voicelive Touch, tech fans!), this is likely to be quite time consuming too,  as its not just oohs and ahhs, much as I love them and some songs need them (and they will be there too, they have their place) but not as time consuming as it would be doing root/3rd/5th/Octave for real without the aid of technology. The  Helicon is a very useful piece of kit and has already been used on an AlterZero track, Brand New Wave, nearly two years ago. The time is soon arriving for it to really start earning its keep and I’m confident it will without the BV’s sounding in any way obviously robotic, which is always the downfall of such technology in inexperienced hands. But, if done properly, it can be a real boon to any track.

And thats not forgetting the real vocals as well. With three notable exceptions that are slated for the London Road album, specifically Heroes, Are You Coming Home With Me and Without You, which will be feature lead and backing vocals by my BASCA collaborative partners who were involved in the writing, performing and recording, the rest is likely to be down to yours truly to deliver. That in itself is going to be a whole other mountain to climb and a real rubicon for me to cross, personally but one that has to be done, because there is, pretty much no-one else to do it, so it has to be me who steps up. Its that thing of hearing your own voice being played back and getting used to hearing that tone that takes a lot to learn to be comfortable with.

And, once that minor thing is done, then comes mixing and mastering.

I’m pretty confident that all of the overdubs, solos etc will be completed by the end of March, given the current work-rate; Backing Vocals I’m expecting to have done by the end of April at the latest (given that my current day job contract is up at the end of March, freeing up more precious time to devote to this project) and I’m hoping that all the lead vocals will be done by the end of May, at the very latest. My goal is to have both albums mixed and mastered and ready by the beginning of September.

So. Only a year behind schedule, but whats a year, huh? The best things in life are always worth waiting for, so we’re told…

 

 

Elia

This one came about originally (as the more regular readers may recall) from a track that was going to be called The Last Dance, which was conceived some time back in 2013. And while I had an idea for the music, what I didnt have was any way of really making that real. So far, so me. *grin*

So, on the trip to Long Island last year one of the  main objectives was to try and talk to my uncle Angel to see if he could help me find the right music to go with it, given that he had far more exposure to the kind of music that I was hoping to develop. What transpired was that he and a very good friend of my late father, a vibraphone player and close friend called Paul Oves (who played with my father in a New York function band called The Jewels in the early/mid 60s and who had passed away some time ago) had written a track that had stayed as an instrumental because they hadnt developed any lyrics for it.

The story that Angel told me goes that they (by whom I mean the band Intensive Heat – who were akin to an NYC based Toto who deep down aspired to be Earth Wind & Fire) were rehearsing the track in Atlantic studios in New York City (I understand they were using some downtime in the very late hours) some time in 1975, in the company of a then barely known engineer who who subsequently went on to achieve great things with Foreigner (and lots more big artists since then!), called Jimmy Douglass and while they were playing around with this particular track and into the control room walks the great Arif Mardin (check out his discography, its staggering – suffice to say “George Benson” or “Aretha Franklin” or “The Bee Gees“. He’s a record producing legend, sadly no longer with us) who stands behind Jimmy with a growing smile on his face, nodding in approval as the track goes on.

The end of the track comes along and Arif pushes the talkback button with a big smile on his face – “Hey guys, that was great!” to which Mr Oves on Vibes turns, looks up at one of the world’s most pre-eminent record producers and drawls (possibly a little too smugly)

“…yeah…. I know”

… at which point, Angel recalls that the smile melts away from Arif Mardin’s face as fast as it appeared and in pretty short order he says goodbye to Jimmy, he turns and walks towards the control room door and leaves. Never to be seen in the company of Intensive Heat again.

Talk about how life can turn on a sixpence.

It is so easy to look back and say if only, if but for just a little humility and a thank you that their lives may all have been different. But, these things happen and these are decisions that we have to live with. When Angel told me the story, my chin was on my chest and the question “how did Paul make it out of the city alive after that?” sprang to my mind, but… I wasnt there. Its not my place to judge and history always wears 20/20 spectacles.

So…. for the best part of nearly 40 years since that day, the piece of music recorded that day as a basic two track instrumental, known as Elia has lain on a cassette in my uncle Angel’s house in Long Island and had hardly ever been heard by anyone outside the band.

Until the day I turn up asking for help in putting together The Last Dance. Angel played me a ProTools recorded wav file of this recording and its simplicity (only three chords in the entire thing, pretty much) was exactly what I was looking for, without having to make any kind of structural change at all. I was bowled over thinking:

“….s**t… talk about synchronicity.. how strange is this.. a forty year old track somehow is a perfect fit for a song I couldnt find music for, for the last 4 years….?!”

Anyway. Over the course of the next 10 days, I recorded ten guitar track takes with Angel and put together the backbone of the track and then on my return to the UK started to build the rest of it.

And, as it built, two things came to my mind. One, it was still different enough from The Last Dance for that track to still have another chance to be built anyway, in its own right and secondly, I had a lot of lyrics floating around that could bring Elia a life of its own.

So, I elected to write some lyrics specifically for Elia so that she could come to life after nearly 40 years and these were written to the tune itself, as opposed to my usual way of working which is lyrics first, music later. And here it is.

Musically, the track is in a very very advanced state (just needs vox), is true to the original but with my own bridge sections and the only thing that has been kept musically is Angel’s guitar parts. Everything else is yours truly. I hope it will appear on either the London Road album or quite possibly No Expectations.


Elia

Verse1/
Elia
Do you still remember our favourite song
Those summer nights are gone
And I’m left wondering just where I belong
We stood on every rooftop
And fell in love in every town
And the wonders of the world mean nothing
Without you around

Verse2/
Oooh, Elia
I miss you so much, so much now you’re gone
Was there nothing I could do to make you want to stay?
Ooh, these city streets are so empty without your love around
And all that I wanted was just one more day
Just one more day…

Ch/
Oh my Elia,
Oh you’re like a bird on the wing,
I got you under my skin
And I dont know where you stop and I begin
Oh, my Elia,
My sweet Elia,

Bridge/

Verse3/
Oh Elia,
Sing your song like a bird flying home
Just remember, you’re never on your own
Now you’re gone I’m left feeling blue
I’ll always remember my last dance with you
My last dance with you.

Ch/

Bridge/Coda

© 2016 Lyrics by Steve McCarthy-Hunt
    Music by Angel Paniagua/Paul Oves/Steve McCarthy-Hunt

The featured picture is a publicity shot of the band Intensive Heat and is used courtesy of my cousin, Cynthia Paniagua.

 

 

 

 

 

Rewrites…

Its been a while since my last post; lots been going on, but unfortunately the pace of getting things done has moved away from the writing and more towards the production side of things (MIDI editing, quantising, etc) which I always knew would be very time consuming. The thing is though, for the material to be of album release quality, as opposed to just demo “My Ears Only” quality, it means that a lot of care needs to be taken over virtually every single note, every single patch choice, vst, plugin….particularly when one leans as heavily on the technology as I do.

So, the last two months have seen a lot of progress made on some tracks (especially with the upgrade to Cubase 9 which has improved workflow even more), however millimetric it may seem to be. And, although I hoped that I would never do it, especially after having admonished my closest musical collaborator for doing it a few years ago, was rewriting lyrics. Some of the songs (and I cant believe I’m saying it!) were lyrically a bit too dark and I think I needed to move away from that. So:

Let It Go has been rewritten lyrically and is now in its most advanced state yet – four guitar parts, bass lines, synth lines, strings, all been rewritten, re-played and re-arranged. It is now much closer to my original Steinman/Skellern vision, which I’m very happy with. All it needs now, truthfully is the vocals adding and mixing.

Five Years (itself a re-write) has had a lot done to it as well which is somewhat odd for such a sparse track and again only needs three musical parts doing to it – a 70’s string machine part and a guitar e-bow line, and vocals.

Fear Of Missing Out and Elia/Last Dance have been almost finished to the point of just needing vocals.

Escape From The Shadows is in quite an advanced state – I had hoped for something closer to New Order‘s True Faith in its overall feel, but it seems to be dragging itself more into a combination of that feel but transported into the late 1990s instead. I’m letting it pull me in the direction I think it wants me to go in, but I’m not totally sure exactly where it is going to end up….yet.

Oh yes. Elia. The Last Dance doesnt really exist any more, the track is now Elia and the lyrics have been rewritten to fit into the kind of vibe that my uncle and the rest of Intensive Heat wrote in the 1970s and only the phrase “one last dance” remains from the original. I have considered rewriting Last Dance musically, closer to what I originally wanted but couldnt find, but maybe thats just me being a masochist, chasing an uncatchable butterfly purely because I can.

Manhattan Lullaby has been lyrically rewritten as well (much less maudlin as a result) and I’m about to rewrite the lyrics of Accidental Love. I have been kinda happy with Accidental up to now, anyway, but… for it even to be a proper album track that I’m going to be happy with, it is going to need a different focus as I’m starting to think its a little disjointed and at the moment is dependent on soloing and wise-arsed word play… at the moment, it depends on a musical focus that I’m not totally convinced I can offer. It needs a little something else…

And, in the coming weeks, I am hoping that the addition of a proper brushes library for Superior Drummer will allow me to make more progress on Manhattan Lullaby, Castles In The Sky, Doesnt Matter Now, No Getting Over You, Stay and the other jazzy tracks and to get them to have the space and dynamics that they need and deserve.

The entire project is taking an awful lot longer than what I thought it would. But I always knew that it would be a journey of discovery and it would place some big challenges in my path. Even with the much reduced commute, fitting it in amongst domestic and professional commitments is proving to be the biggest challenge I have had. As I’ve hinted at before, sometimes I’ve wondered if the fire had gone out altogether (particularly when trying to rewrite/re-record Dont Turn Away, which I threw several days at but it just wouldnt, wouldnt work, no matter what I tried, which was a bitter pill to swallow, considering how long it has been in gestation. I think I might have to leave that one to someone else to do instead, which is a pity but.. *shrugs* shit happens.

There have been moments where it has sailed close to the wind and I’ve wondered what the hell I’m doing this for, but this project is too far gone to pack it in now. I’m hoping to get more inspiration to get back into continue to developing more new lyrics, but there are already plenty of others that I’ve got that could still be rewritten and redeveloped – Tomorrow Too Soon, Birds and Butterflies, Another Day – all are germs of ideas in their first draft stage that could be developed into something.

Plenty to be getting on with then, over the coming months while the professional/work situation becomes more stable. The biggest part of me wishes (like you wouldnt believe how much) that I could find the energy to charge at it with a real head of steam and get it done, but I dont think thats the way it wants to go.

One thing I’ve learned about this art in the few short years I’ve been doing it is that you cant force it, no matter how much you might want to. If you do, it will not only suck, but deep down in your heart you’ll know it too, even if no one else does – and that is something that I would venture that I’m far from alone in not being comfortable with. I would prefer to put this out when I know that I have done my absolute best and cannot have done any more, that I cannot have put any more of my own soul, my own feel, my own blood, sweat and tears into it. Not because I forced it.

Just as well I dont do this for a living up against real deadlines, eh?

Five Years

“…And now it’s all over,
You’ve paid your money and you’ve taken your choice
And I don’t know if we’ll ever meet again
But…. I just wanted you to know
I remember every…. single… thing….”

© Cocker/Banks/Mackey/Senior/Doyle/Webber, “Disco 2000” from the album Different Class, 1995.

Just before I make a return to my day job for a while in order to sustain my procrastinated passion (thanks Dad, at least I know where I got it from), I’ve decided to rewrite the lyrics to The Wishing Game.

While I was relatively content with them as they were, I wasn’t convinced that my collaborative partner Robert’s music really suited them and had thought for a while that I could find something better for the minimalist melody that he came up with. Well, that was nearly three months ago and it has taken a while for inspiration to arrive.

In fairness there has been quite a lot going on around here what with devoting time to getting back into work before I end up in penury, giving an old friend somewhere to run to temporarily when his world and his routine came to a grinding halt and the re-emergence, albeit somewhat temporarily, of someone important from my recent past who I never thought I would see again. And it is that person who has inspired these lyrics.

The goal for this track is still to be a song that has a feel very much like George Michael’s A Different Corner – although its three times as long nearly (weighing in at 5 minutes plus)  it is quite minimal in its sonic soundscape, giving the lyrics room to breathe but with a simple softer melody that couches lyrics that are anything but soft. Reflective, yes. Somewhat regretful, yes. Maybe some might say harsh in places. Well, maybe they are.

To explain: Five Years is basically about how I felt about someone right now as they unexpectedly came back in and almost immediately out again of my life, right this moment as I type, five years after one of my most important anniversaries  to the day. Its kind of akin to burning a bridge that someone is in the middle of rebuilding, even though you never asked them to – and wishing that you didn’t have to, but knowing that deep down, there was not really any other option.

As the lyric implies, despite all that has happened, ultimately I was still the wrong man for her, for a plethora of reasons. And, whenever we touched or kissed, I knew it deep down, as well. Some things you can’t hide, no matter how well you think you can.  Some of the lines I had already, but most of them have come about over the last 2-3 weeks in isolation, but in the knowledge that they’d fit together when the time came, because they were borne from the same subject matter about the same person.

Anyway. For a change, I digress. The track itself, is almost finished. Melody, bassline, rhythm part, arrangement, everything bar the vocals and some other overdubs (maybe synth or sax or strings). Will it make it onto one of the KOAS project albums? Arguably it will. Its likely to be on No Expectations instead of Never Be Mine as the closing track.

 

Five Years

v1/
So now we can’t even talk on the telephone
How did I become so jaded with you?
Maybe I’ve spent too much time here on my own
To think I needed anybody new

So now you reached out, right out of the blue
Could you tell that I’d been thinking about you?
I should have known some things were too good to be true…

v2/
Its nearly five years since I caught your eye
Wouldn’t have made it, if it wasn’t for you
Learning to live with watching my best friend die
And I was lost but you knew just what to do…

But when you said you can’t do this any more
I didn’t fight it, I just walked out of your door
Did you really think I’d ever come back for more…?

Bridge/
Why are you back, just like a long lost pet?
Did you think I’m as good as you were ever going to get
But you tell yourself you haven’t sunk that low just yet….

All of those battles fought over old ground
You spend my time and drink my money all over the town
We think we’ve both changed, but is that really true?
I’m still the wrong man for you.

Solo/

Bridge/
Skin warm like gold, but a cold heart just like steel
I fell out of your hands and under your heels
And just like the last time you said it was over
You thought I’d still be thinking of you.

v3/
Maybe its my turn to decide
Not to follow you so blind this time
Maybe its you who should be left alone wondering why…

Maybe it proves I’m right not to trust you yet
Because when I kiss you, its clear that you’re not pissed enough yet
How do you churn me up inside when I thought there was nothing left…?

Bridge/
Tomorrow its five years since I last looked in her eyes
Life wasn’t easy, but at least I know I tried
Despite the wounds and all the sacrifice
Through it all I still think about you…

Solo/Coda/

©Words by Steve McCarthy-Hunt, Music by Robert Pearce, 2016

Whats New?

Its been nearly three weeks since my last review and look-back at what has been going on with writing and recording. So, I figured that now was as good a time as any to bring you up to date with what has been happening.

To get one thing out of the way first, there hasnt been any new lyric writing over the last 14 days or so. Most of the energy has gone into recording and composing.

As I hinted at, during my previous update there are a number of tracks that for a while didnt appear to be going anywhere that have found a new lease of life. These include:

Elia/The Last Dance – now in a very advanced state. Most of the core tracks are in place and all that remains to be done on it are some overdubs and vocals. I feared that this one was getting bogged down because of the complex arrangement that was required to make it all work. That bridge has been crossed and for the most part all of the component parts sit together quite well, but not quite there yet.

Castles In The Sky – likewise. The core tracks and the arrangement are in place. Hardest bit to do is going to be the vocals and any solo parts – saxaphone and jazz guitar.

Doesnt Matter Now – chords and arrangement are completed, even has some guide vocals. Its likely to remain very sparse, as was the original intention. But at the moment, its maybe a little too sparse and requires some drum brushed parts and upright bass and a couple of solo spots for saxaphone and guitar. Its going to be one of those long songs that needs space and room to breathe and is very much going to be “less is more”, but I’m not quite sure what form that is going to take yet…

The Wishing Game – now this one, while I’ve managed to save the original music track that was written for it by my collaborator, Robert…. I’m not sure I can really save the lyrics. I have a feeling that this one may end up being re-appraised, lyrically. Musically, there is a definite passing resemblance to George Michael’s A Different Corner – this song may take a lyrical turn inspired by that, its a little early to say. I’ve not put the final arrangement on enough times yet to work out what that will be. I might have to try the Polly Samson trick of mixing the arrangement down to MP3, sticking on my iPod and going for a long, long walk with a notepad across the Wiltshire Downs and seeing what shakes out after a while. If it worked for her on Rattle That Lock, it can work for me too, I hope!

The Fear Of Missing Out – very advanced stage of production. Almost all of the music is complete. Saxaphone and brass stab parts were the last ones to go on, early last week. Just the vocals left and then mixing. Only thing is, its still maybe a little more “jazzy” than “funky” and while the Steely Dan influences are clear, its not really grooving yet. And while I’ll not be distraught if it doesnt, I’d be more satisfied with it if it did.

No Getting Over You – almost done, bar vocals and mixing. Again, this was one that had bugged me for a long time, but managed a growth spurt in the last month.

This Time – just guitars and vox left to go before mixing.

There is still a lot to be done and I’m still debating what to do with some of the other songs. Some may be put back into very deep storage, I haven’t decided yet.

These tracks include: Let It Go, Stars, Accidental Love, Stay and a couple of others. I’m inclined now to take the approach of composing the music first and then the lyrics, until inspiration rears its head again on a lyrical front, which it hasnt really done since Castles In The Sky came along nearly three months ago.

Theres also the fact that I may be moving house, depending on what full time work I end up in next (still very much open to fate) and also that I’ve had an unexpected house guest recently which may further complicate matters. Hopefully some further progress will be made over the late Summer Bank holiday, but… we shall see.

Use of the Arranger Track and Beat/Tempo Detect tools in Cubase has helped a lot in the last two weeks and has led to a couple of lightbulb moments (ie, “why the hell didnt I use this before?”) but I think also that there has been something in the Creative Energy thing I was chewing over a couple of weeks ago. The more I immerse myself in it, the more it helps.

I just have to make sure that I keep putting myself in the orbits of creative people, I guess.. *grin*

What does all this mean for the KOAS project? Well, I think its unlikely that we’ll see a double release of both London Road and No Expectations, as was originally planned and chances are, neither will happen until closer to Christmas or at least until the day job situation becomes clearer. No Expectations will definitely still happen, but London Road may end up being reduced to a four or six track EP, depending on how things go.

Anyway. Thats enough for now. Hopefully, the Bank Holiday will see some more real progress. More as it happens, when it happens.

See you all soon, I hope.

 

 

Latest Developments

“And they call you a genius
Cause you’re easier to sell… 
But the fire in your belly
That gave you the songs
Is suddenly gone
And you feel like a fake… 
Is that what you want?”

© Hogarth/Rothery/Trewavas/Kelly/Mosley, from the album Afraid Of Sunlight, 1995

As a certain footballer who may remain nameless was fond of saying “Its a funny old game…”

It certainly is. Nearly three weeks has gone past since my last update and I’m not going to deny that at that point, I was feeling somewhat jaded and wondering whether this project had any steam left in it. There have been some changes since then, I’m glad to say.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned recently is about energy and being around it and people who have it. What I mean by that is (stick with me, please!) it has dawned on me that if I am in the company of people who have the positive energy that I crave, that it tends to rub off, however briefly they may be in my orbit. This epiphany came when spending a weekend with the most inspirational person I know and her boyfriend. She has had mountains and obstacles to climb all of her life which would have floored a lesser person and she just doesn’t know the meaning of “Quit”. It is impossible not to look at her, to be in her company and not be inspired and to give yourself a good kick and tell yourself to pull your finger out.

And, that I did. I also have had some visits from some of my closest musical collaborators as well which has helped too – and it began to dawn on me that the fuel for the fire that I was searching for is actually the energy that these people give off, whether they be creatives or not. Until I find a way of developing and sustaining my own fire, being around these guys is a source of energy, whether it be positive or negative – it is still an energy source that I can channel and use. So, the lesson clearly is “I need to be around creatives more, go to more gigs and draw in all the inspiration and energy that these guys give off”. And I need to do it soon.

That might sound a bit New-Age-Hippie, but its the only explanation I can think of. And whatever it is, it appears to have worked and is still working. Better still not to question it or try and overanalyse it… just get on with it.

Add that to the other self-help lingo of “if you’re ever in doubt as to what you’re achieving, take a look behind you and see how far you’ve travelled down your path”. Which if you measure it in years or months is usually quite a good way of perking yourself up – but when you apply it to a three or four week period and it still raises your eyebrows, then its maybe time to think that the problem is my own impatience rather than anything structurally wrong.

I did say when I commenced this journey and gave up the day job that it would be a voyage of personal discovery. How very true that turned out to be.

There has been quite a lot of progress in the last 8 or 9 days

– the music for No Getting Over You, which has bugged me for the best part of two years (especially when I had the tune in my head all along) has finally dropped into my lap and the track is in a very advanced state of recording. Chords, arrangement, the lot.

– Another problem child, Doesnt Matter Now, which has been sitting around as a set of complete lyrics with a great story with only an intro for over a year is now, as of today, in a state where the rest of the instrumentation can be put on the track. It even has a vocal melody, which apart from maybe one or two lines in the entire song, it has never had before.

–  The Fear Of Missing Out, which when I last left Long Island nearly two months ago was just an intro and two first verse chords. Its now pretty much finished bar comping the guitar lines, adding vocals and mixing. Again, it just seemed to topple out over the course of 24 hours, very much against expectations.

– Likewise, Castles In The Sky is, as we speak, in development to the point where it has most of the instrumentation that it needs, it has its chords, its melody, its key components: From where, I know not, some sort of momentum has come and I’m very glad of it.

There remain a number of tracks deserving of priority attention that are in a state of partial build:

  • Elia/The Last Dance,
  • This Time,
  • Talk To Me,
  • Come Back To Me, Money,
  • An Accidental Love

At this rate there may well be enough to complete the No Expectations album.

Whether it will be these tracks that appear on it remains to be seen. But there is enough in an advanced state “in the can” for at least a couple of EP’s if nothing else.

So. Onwards and upwards.Repetition is the mother of skill, as one of my favourite life coaches is fond of saying.

Crossroads/update

I returned from the BASCA Monnow Valley writing retreat on Sunday night, about 12 hours before I was scheduled to do, but it was the right thing to do to slip away earlier than planned. My thought last year was that it would be the last one that I would do should realistically have been the one that I ought to have stuck to. Like last year my contribution as a writer was somewhat tangential and I spent most of it in a production capacity. The first twenty four hours ended up being written off after I found that I couldn’t really do anything with the combination of an elderly Romanian Jazz Piano Diva and a Polish ambient techno-metal/odd time signature composer (yes, really. Very challenging when they are the matches and the dynamite and you’re the oxygen. The next two rotations brought about two good tracks, with intelligent lyrics (Without You and Heroes) but while my storytelling and production contribution was valuable (approx. 50-60% in each case), my lyrical contribution was down in the mid to low 20%’s.

Which in itself would be fine had it been a “Production Retreat”. But it wasn’t. What I hoped would happen (capitalising on the energy of the other participants to capture some of that passion and energy for writing and creativity again that I could leverage for KOAS) didn’t really come to pass.

Our mentor was her usual irrepressible self (wouldnt have her any other way) with fabulous war stories and brought along another great professional writer to impart some wisdom and encouragement. Funnily enough, the road that he’s walked down to find himself where he is now is looking very similar to the one that I’m on. Lovely fella, experienced, wise and a great sharer of this recieved wisdom.

So…. (before I digress any further) combining that level of reduced participation with the lack of momentum since returning from the US on the KOAS project, it started to get quite mentally cloudy for a while. The thought did cross my mind as to whether the fire, the passion for writing songs had gone out altogether – and at some point, I would need to stop trying to light a fire that had limited fuel and was never going to catch and concentrate on going back into the day job and just accepting that maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew and that the project wasn’t going to be realised.

After all, I did say nearly four months ago that I wasn’t going to get a better chance to do this, that it meant a lot and that I should seize the opportunity while I had the money and health to do so.

Well, hand on heart, I cant say that I have seized the day. A lot of examination led me to rationalise that because most of the time I wrote over the last five years for catharsis, that because I have a different emotional attitude these days (dont ask) that maybe there are no more demons to be slain and no more catharsis is necessary. So, ergo, nothing really left to write about and where the older material is concerned, what is done is done and thats that, going back and revisiting it and raking it over isn’t really a good idea, on reflection.

36 hours later and not a huge amount has changed; there still doesn’t appear to be any real fire and I cant deny that I appear to be at a bit of a crossroads.

Do I stop writing full stop and just accept it that the whole thing of it was not so much the realisation of the goal but the journey to try and get there…?

Or do I try a different alternative… namely still have a goal of writing/producing/playing an album’s worth of material (meh, maybe even two, who knows), but dropping an awful lot of the material that while I am proud of it, by the same token is just too damned complicated, just too damned time consuming, energy sapping and to be frank, just too damned dark. Yes, I did just say that. So stuff like Let It Go, Stars, Never Be Mine, Stay, Manhattan Lullaby and others may well end up being canned and replaced by FOMO, Castles In The Sky, Doesnt Matter Now and others.

And writing different stuff instead that isn’t primarily for therapy. Who knows, maybe even starting with the music first and then seeing where that leads….?

What I do know is that if I continue to do nothing and stay stuck in this torpor of overthinking, thats exactly what will happen; Nothing. And that isn’t good.

So. KOAS and No Expectations and London Road may end up getting either put on ice or binned altogether or they may end up being completely different to what I planned them to be six months ago. At the moment, the direction hasn’t really clearly formed. I’m allowing myself no later than the start of August to make a clear decision one way or the other. And then to start acting on it.

Time will tell, I guess.

Latest Developments

The trip to the US is over, the two big gigs that I was hoping to draw inspiration from are now only memories, albeit very fresh ones. Essentially, I am one month and a week or so into the 3 month timeframe that was allocated for the KOAS project and I did say that I would post an update.

So, how is it going? What has been done? What is to be done?

The answers to that being: “Not bad“; “Some very good progress has been made so far” and “still lots and lots!

Firstly, the New York trip. I made a start on the music for The Fear Of Missing Out, but havent got as far with that as I would have hoped. There is something starting to emerge but there is a lot of work to do on it yet.

But where the most progress was made in the US was on The Last Dance. This was the one that I wanted to work on more than any other over there with the help of the family of musicians and although it came about in rather different circumstances to what I figured it would, it did come nonetheless. My uncle Angel played me an old Intensive Heat jam from 1975 called Elia from a rehearsal session which was written by him and one of my late father’s best friends, Paul Oves who was a vibraphone player.

It is difficult to describe and probably more difficult to believe that the tune that I had in my head for the last three years was more than close enough to a track that I’ve never heard before for it to be viable for me, with the permission of Angel to use for The Last Dance. Singing the vocal melody to him while the wav file of the track was being played proved that it was a viable chord structure to be used. So, all I have to do really is build the rest of the track and put down the vocal melody or find someone who can. And, I have someone in mind, if I’m not up to it. *grin*. All I’ve had to do is change the arrangement slightly. Its bordering on serendipitous and somewhat spooky that a song I’ve never heard would end up being 95%+ what I heard in my head three years ago and that wont go away.  I’m absolutely not complaining though and believe that it will be a great track. I have 12 guitar takes from Angel at various stages of the track to be included in the finished song and it will be listed as a collaboration between Angel and I.

As I say, I would have liked to have achieved more in the time I was there but there was a lot of family duties to be done, including the Puerto Rican Day parade (1.4 million watching from the streets and 100,000 of us, including yours truly, marching down 5th Avenue for 30+ blocks. Surreal….) and other matters. So, all in all, two good steps forward, all things said and done.

On the return to the UK, it took me longer to decompress from jetlag than I’d thought after a particularly disappointing flight back from JFK. So, not much if anything done last week but the two big gigs that I hoped would bring inspiration did so in spade loads.

Firstly Heart – Apart from learning why I dont drink sodas any more (long story), the gig was a total pleasure. Ann’s voice is still in great shape and the Albert Hall, as ever, is the perfect venue. Even when you’re closer to the ceiling than the stage, the sound is still great, the view, though distant is still perfectly adequate. And her voice filled the whole hall.

And as for Carole King and Don Henley yesterday in Hyde Park in London – apart from a really annoying contingent of people who just wouldnt stop talking during Henley’s performance (my pet hate, I’m afraid. Cant understand people who spend lots of money buying tickets to an event and then figure that their own conversation is more important than the artists performance… it drives me nuts) – this was an unforgettable show. Carole, at 74, one of the greatest songwriters of the last 50 years, was so full of energy and passion and as my closest friend remarked, honesty – its impossible not to love what she does. I did figure that when I bought the tickets on Artist Pre-sale that this would be a one off and the last chance to get to see her at all, let alone to hear the whole of the landmark Tapestry album in full – but it dawned on me very heavily that once the show was over, that was it.

This was something we were never going to get to see again, especially not in the UK.

It truly was a one off show and thats why I was determined not to miss it. And, the sights and sounds of 62000 people singing along, and when we were leaving Hyde Park, there were groups of guys and girls, just clumps of five or eight of them at a time, just all singing Will You Love Me Tomorrow or You Got A Friend, at the tops of their voices, singing their hearts out, filled so full with joy at what they had just experienced – I’ve never seen that in London before. I saw something similar in Wales about a decade ago, leaving the Millennium stadium after seeing The Eagles, but the Welsh are different in that respect, they always have a song in their hearts. London on the other hand… I’ve never seen this before and it is going to be one of the most enduring memories of the day. Wonderful and definitely inspiring.

Aside from that, my dear friend and collaborator Robert and I worked on a number of tracks for the KOAS project between the shows over the last weekend. Amongst these were Doesnt Matter Now (which I have been stuck on for quite a while and some progress was made there, but still a lot to do) and more significant progress was made on The Wishing Game (which has vocal and keyboard guides down on disk now – it wont take long for the rest of the track to come together) and also music that Robert had originally worked out for a song called Escape From The Shadows which didnt fit the original lyrics – these lyrics were used to great effect by David Barnes in a totally new track which worked very very well. This version shares the same name, but that is about it. All the lyrics that I’ve been writing for it are completely different and the track is anticipated to have quite a New Order/Talk Talk kind of feel – sort of 80’s/electronica. They’re great chords so I hope my lyrics can do it justice.

The 2016 BASCA Songwriting Camp in Monnow Valley is coming up next long weekend, so its now a case of building up and maintaining momentum now. There is still an awful lot to do and time is slipping by.

I need to do more… I must do more. And I will do more.

I will keep you all posted. Its an interesting journey, thats for certain.