Music Story: Blue Kitchen(repost)
The Story Behind Blue Kitchen
Current mood:amusedIt's been a while since I've written about any of the songs so I thought today might be a good day to record the backstory behind Blue Kitchen. This song was the very first song that Isabelle and I wrote for our project. After the initial idea to write an album was born, a few weeks later we decended to the basement to see if we could write anything worthwhile. So armed with nothing but a concept, we booted up the G5 and sat down to write. Hmm.... I picked up a guitar and played a really silly riff: something like a Rage Against the Machine meets Extreme kind of riff - very ridiulous. However it did provide us with somehting to sing over and the first draft of Blue Kitchen was born.
That initial draft had some very dodgy lyrics to it: I seem to recall my lines being sung in an incredibly awful psuedo bluesy manner, which, if anyone were to ever have heard it, probably would have been enough for them to convince us to forget about our little dream! Thankfully those words and melody were left behind and something closer to the final version emerged. The only thing that's stayed the same throughout the entire writing and recording process was the story of the song. The concept of the lyric is very direct: we were writing about our friends Barry and Ingrid and the amazing times we always had at their flat in London.
Those two are amoungst our most favorite people in the world: both artists, both fantastic musicians and both incredible people. When I first met them five or six years ago they seemed to be the most sorted and generous people I'd ever encountered. They have an awesome apartment in Islington, a three story walkup with the most comfortable layout and design possible. In their flat we've had some of the most humorous and entertaining nights and afternoons (none of us are morning people you see) of the last ten years. And, of course, their kitchen is in fact blue; a lovely ocean blue, like the Mediterranean.
Over the summer of 2005 Isabelle and I worked on our new songs and started to build up a sound and collection of music. At one point we'd flown back to the UK to go to a couple weddings and managed to sneak away to Roma for a week between the family events. Baz and Ingrid came with us. The four of us had such a brilliant time walking around that gorgeous ancient city (really you've got to see it to believe it) and one night we sat in Villa Borghese Park, drinking cheap wine and chatting freely while the sun set over the Vatican in the background. Isabelle mentioned to Ingrid how we'd started writing an album together and was pleasently surprised by the enthusiasm with which our idea was greeted. When we told them that we were writing a song about their place they were both rather charmed. It was Ingrid's suggestion to call the song Blue Kitchen, because up until then it had only been titled "The Kitchen." Well Blue Kitchen reminded me of Blue Monday ( a favorite of long ago) and I reckoned 'hey you can't go wrong with a New Order reference can you?!' So after that trip we returned to Canada and when next we worked on the song I'd retitled it "Blue Kitchen."
The words are very literal. When the first verse says:
Standing under the street lamp talking
Waiting for you to pick up the phone
Can see you smile through the third floor window
Open it up as you throw down the keys
That's exactly what we'd do each time we visited. Their buzzer doesn't work so you'd call them from your mobile and then wait for Baz to chuck the huge skeleton keys down. He'd always warn you not to try to catch them as the clump of them together consisted of some fairly weighty pointy metal. After that is was a three story walk up the narrow stairs until we were at their door.
Coming to you floor
Knocking on your door
Always room for more
Pretty obvious isn't it. That's always been my hesitation about this song: it's so damn literal and simplistic. However everytime I threatened to drop it Isabelle would defend it very strongly so we continued to work on it, get it into the shape it's in now.
The chorus is almost embarrassing in it's elementary rhymes and message:
Everyone is here in Blue Kitchen today
Everyone is here
The second verse is basically a retelling of an average evening after the pub, sitting around their table having a laugh and drinking a few more tins of beer.
Gathered here in the ocean blue
and we're laughing as things all stop making sense
No point in trying to hold it back
'cause the after midnight party lasts and lasts
what's better than this, what's better than this, what's better than this?
It's all very obvious isn't it? So the lyrics are nothing more than a very literal transcription of our visits to our friends house in England. The middle eight has Isabelle's lead vocal lines:
Can't wait to hear from you,
Can't wait to see you all again
And then I bring the original chorus melody underneath and on the second repeat add in a counterpoint line that grabs words from Isabelle's part and stretches them around the two. Harmonize everything, double track it, and start adding more and more voices until it sounds a bit like a boys choir and you've got our song!
Musically the song went through a lot more permutations. As I mentioned earlier, the song started out with a dodgy guitar riff that was axed fairly soon thereafter. I messed around with quite a few ideas until I settled on the way it is now. The intro was fun to do. One evening I was playing songs to get guitar tones and ideas and put on The Who. Now everyone who hears this song says, "hey it reminds me of the The Who." I smile at that, because of course it does! I was quoting them! However, most people seem to get the song wrong. Just know that the correct Who song we're quoting from is Won't Get Fooled Again! I'll confess, The Who has never been a big favorite of mine. Back in Blisterene days both Malcolm and Bash loved those guys. I went along with it, but never really appreciated what they did. So while we drove across Canada in our dodgy Ford Econoline, we'd listen to The Who's Greatest Hits and slowly the importance of what that band did sunk into me. When I pulled out that cd once again I was absolutely taken aback by the power and cockiness of the guitar playing. The keyboard work was clever but really it was Townsend's power chord at the intro to that song that blew me away. He hits the chord and it rings for almost 30 seconds! Sure there's a cool synth blipping away to keep our interest, but that initial chords rings and rings and he just holds it. How incredible, how bold, how ballsy. So I tried to do it too. Of course when I had it ring for even half as long as Pete does I grew restless and concerned about boring people. It really shows how ballsy that dude was. The keyboard arpeggiator part was very important to me though, it provided the listener with some clue that they weren't in fact listening to Won't Get Fooled Again but something that rather reminded them of it. At last we had an intro: well sort of.
When we went into Mushroom Studios to record the drum beds I had initally asked Jonas to do the drumming. We started the session with that song, me thinking it would be really easy to get, it was short and to the point. However Jonas doesn't really come from the Manchester school of drumming. While he's a completely amazing drummer in his own style (more Bonham than Stone Roses) he just wasn't nailing the part. So on the next day when Jesse was in the studio I asked if he'd like a crack at it. Well Mr. Smith was more than happy to oblige, and quite honestly it was a very different song with his approach. It suddenly had that youthful enthusiasm and rapid forward motion, it really sounded good. Blue Kitchen became Jesse's song. (I did however leave the tom tom break from Jonas's take, it just seemed more like Gene Krupa to me).
We brought it home and resang the vocals, replayed all the instruments except the arpeggiator and organ parts and sorted out the arrangment by changing the length of the outro a bit. After much deliberation I finally got a mix that sounded right but something was always a tiny bit off in my head. That was Nov. 2006.
It wasn't until January 2007, when we were rehearsing with a full band that I came to realize what was wrong with the track. My friend Paul Schroeder (a record producer from England) called from Denmark and offered his critique of the full length. He singled out Blue Kitchen as the song that didn't fit in with the other tracks. I guess it was defensiveness on my part but I decided to open up the tracks once more and rework them. Since Todd Simko had been playing guitar with our live band I heard his interpretation of the part and adopted a few of his ideas. It was his messing around that lead me to playing the vibrato guitar in the second verse, and the slashy impatient guitars of the intro. In the verses I stripped out the chording tracks and replayed a part that was a bit more youthful and petulant. I think it works.
In the end I still had my doubts about the song. I felt it was too plain, too simple, too obvious. Isabelle still defended it: her feeling was not everyone wants a complicated song all the time, there's nothing wrong with something being obvious. So it stayed. And now it's become a theme song to a television show, so that tells you what I know about music! Being snobby is dangerous, it came make you miss the best things about music: the joy and fun.
Sequencing The World Over was an interesting task. The songs are quite varied at times, and it was hard to make them all seem to fit together. However, once we put Blue Kitchen right at the front ( at Malcolm's suggestion) the album started to make sense. It's really just a welcome mat to the whole record, I mean it's a song about a kitchen party afterall! When we put the cd on it still makes me smile, hearing the initial power chords and then the manchester beat, the sugar coated melodies and the layers of vocals in the outro. It's a pop song for sure, but it's heart is really in the right place. Plus it's now the most lucrative of any Combine the Victorious tune, and that's cool right?
The other bonus is that it's very easy to play Blue Kitchen live, it's upbeat and the vocal parts aren't difficult or challenging to sing. It comes over pretty well and even when we performed it as a trio last July at the afterhours show, it went over the best of any song. I guess it's got a charm that works for most people (it's just English record producers that seem to object!). Cheers to humble songs and cheers to Isabelle for making us keep it on the album! Her wisdom manifests itself once more.
Thanks for reading, and hope you're all doing well! Cheers!