Music Story: Please (repost)
Current mood:inspiredAfter many months of writing, recording, erasing, re-recording, re-arranging, waiting for objectivity to return, abandoning, peaking at it and sharing it with friends overseas we've finally posted our best song to date: Please. Well best song is rather subjective so I'll let you decide which is best, but it's certainly the best one in my opinion.
Please was written in it's first draft back in January this year. We posted it for a while in that version but it started to grate on me a bit so we took it down thinking it just needed a better recording to make it work. I had Kevin over to track the drums at a slightly faster tempo than the demo, and then I figured it would just be a case of overdubbing the parts onto the bedtracks and we'd have our song. However it was anything but that simple.
Rather like our song Decay, Please took months of reworking to get it into the arrangement we now have. While we were over in England back in the spring I played it for our friends Barry and Ingrid (both of whom are brilliant artists) and got their feedback. Something wasn't right but I reckoned it was just a few tweaks to knock it on course. Baz and I had a last minute late night talk through on the final evening we were over there and he made a few suggestions and criticisms which a duly noted.
Upon returning to Canada I was more concerned with fixing Decay than Please so I set about retracking that song first. That was a long and hard road too, so I was out of ideas and energy to get Please finished. Which turned out to be a very fortunate thing, as the final version bares almost no resemblance to our first drafts.
I think it was at the beginning of summer that I came up with the idea to track the song in sections. I'd been listening to 'Good Vibrations' by the Beach Boys, which is a certified masterpiece, and I noticed the glaring edits in the recording. If you listen closely (actually you don't have to listen that closely at all) you can hear the splices in the original recording between the verses, bridge and breakdown. It's quite shocking how dramatic they are! That spurred on the idea to break the song down into extremely different sections, where each vocal part would have a unique background to really separate it from the others.
Where in the demo we had drums playing from the first verse all the way to the end, this time (at Barry's advice) we dropped out the drums until the accellerando into the first instrumental passage. Giving so much room to the vocals and piano seemed perfect and set up the next section wonderfully. The instrumental speed up has always seemed incredibly heroic to my ears. Perhaps it came from too much Tchaikovsky as a kid.
The next section, the fast little piano and the rapid vocal, just appeared from nowhere. I knew we needed to change that section because a few of our friends and family hadn't seemed to impressed with my first version. I heard comments such as 'haven't you done that before' or 'I heard you do that on the first album didn't I?' Sheesh, you only get one chance at trying something I guess. Anyway, I'm glad that I got pushed out of my comfort zone because what we have now is far better - if a bit hilarious.
From there is was a return of the instrumental part, which is the underlying theme and progression to the entire piece. Needed to make it heroic so of course there must be plenty of crash cymbals smashing through out!
The break down was the hardest part to conceive. I knew there needed to be something cool there, more interesting than just a dynamic shift, but it wasn't obvious what was needed. So I started walking one day, at first just to the grocery store to get some food. Part of the idea formed but I still didn't really hear it. So off to the post office to mail something. Nope still couldn't quite feel what was needed. Then, on the third walk of the afternoon it occurred to me to try something really simple. As the song was all over the map in terms of tempo, why not change the time signature too? Go from 4/4 to 3/4 time, and then actually slow it down to 3/2 time to really make it an extreme variation.
Armed with these ideas I returned home to finish the second draft. I played the entire song beginning to end without a click track in order to get the natural feel onto the computer first. Next I painstakingly tempo mapped the piano to Logic's grid in order to allow a drummer to play to it. (It got smoothed out a bit in the process, but it was wildly all over the place on that first pass). The piano part that's on this final version is the same one that was played as a guide for the whole song, but it was 'fixed' up a bit along the way. I tried to leave as many of the wrong notes in there as I could stand because I felt they lent the song more authenticity - and besides there was no way I'd ever play the part perfectly, ever! It's just not my style, never has been: I don't practice enough! hah.
From that point I called Kevin Jones over once more and we set up the mics, tuned the kit and had him pound the crap out of the old Ludwig drums until I thought we got all the parts. It was surprisingly fast to do. I think the sketched drum part I'd programmed was clear enough for Kev to understand my intent and he then just owned it. I set up my bass to play along with him as he was performing his part just to ensure he got more than enough excitement in his headphones. By far the best drums on the ep (though I will say his playing on Back In Style is very good too).
We had our song instrumentally all figured out now. Isabelle came into the studio and recorded her verse really quickly. I added my bits but we had nothing solid for the break down or the outro. As the weeks rolled by we focused on the other songs and just kept Please sitting quietly in the background hoping for another inspiration to hit us. Pretty soon everything else was finished and we still hadn't found the magic dust for the other sections. So, instead of forging ahead I obsessed on the opening verse instead (that makes sense right?). I pushed Isabelle quite hard to really nail her part down. We did it quite a few times, but when I came back to listen the next day I realized she's actually performed it wonderfully on the first three takes: a natural. We had done several more than that, but it was all there in the first three. I re-tracked my harmony to her vocal parts and that section was done. The guitar part was a pain in the ass as usual - anyone have a pill that helps one play guitar better? However I did manage to struggle long and hard enough to get something that sounded musical on hard drive.
And then we waited.
Until one night we were listening to all the songs we were considering for the Disagreements ep and we finished with the semi-complete rough mix of Please. I looked over at Isabelle and said, 'Wouldn't it be great if we could get Ingrid to sing on this?' Her eyes lit up and she started doing her little excited dance and just kept saying yes yes yes! I mailed Baz and Ings the rough mix that night and pleaded our case with them. 'Can you hear something for the breakdown, and maybe the outro?' A few weeks went by, as they were busy, but we got a rough mix back from them that was pretty amazing. (Okay, I'll confess at first I didn't know what to make of it, but Isabelle LOVED it on first listen). Not only had Ingrid (Schroeder - look her up: incredible vocalist) put this delicate and superb vocal part in the breakdown, but Barry (Flynn - he has a long history of UK pop hits but they're all under crazy names I can't remember right now) had put down a vocal part too! So now when you listen to the song, you can hear Ingrid's vocals first ('waiting for a wave to break...') and then Barry's vocals as we hit the build up in the outro ('it's okay, we made it through today...'). It's quite something having four different voices on one song, makes it so enjoyable as you never tire of any one singer.
They sent us the vocal files and I started to put a mix together. It might have taken a while as now I had two other sets of ears to bounce things off of, but we got it together rather quickly. Of course I had to mess with the mix endlessly until I thought it was correct, and even had Todd Simko remaster it three times! (And then went so far as to cut between sections of two of the masters until everything felt right - but sometimes that's just what it takes!)
Lyrically it's an interesting tale. I think the words mean something completely different to Isabelle than they do to me. And Barry and Ingrid's lyrics are another mystery. So now there are four voices and four slightly different perspectives to each section of the song. This is something I'd like to explore again in the future; the possibilities are quite intriguing. However the song is meant to be about hope and not giving in to the depressing and cynical mantra of the consumerist age we live in. There really is a great deal more to life than just buying things or owning big houses. Perhaps you'll agree?
waking up, still tired
feeling down, uninspired
draining out, the hard work washed away
giving up, so heartbroken
all the dreams left unspoken
see them smile as we become the same
Don't be scared of what you're seeing
just realize there's more to being
than what you buy or steal or break
it's how you live and what you make.
I think it's time to disagree
with what we've learned for centuries
'cause never in our history
have we been more in debt to GREED.
waiting on a wave to break
riding on the chance you take
to a better place, someday
might not be that far away
It's okay, we made it through today
we'll beg we'll steal we'll borrow
to make it through tomorrow
Hope's not gone, it's still on
You may be out of favour
but you could be your savior
It's okay, we made it through today
we'll beg or steal or borrow
to make it through tomorrow
©2008 Combine the Victorious (p)2008 Boutique Empire
Henning, Dunlop, Schroeder, Flynn
Thanks for reading this long blog, I wanted to share the whole thing a bit. Hope you enjoy the song, and if you do please tell everyone you think might enjoy or need to hear it. We want to get going for real next year, so your help is immeasurably important to us! Thank you and stay well.
Mark & Isabelle