Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Music Story: Dafty (repost)


The Story Behind Dafty


Right, well I'll be honest and give everyone a "long story" alert right away. Haven't been writing much lately so thought I'd give the background on another of our songs.

I guess the first thing to explain about our song Dafty is why it is even titled that. When we began this song, well over two years ago now, it was a strange little number with no live drums, no chord changes, just a programmed electronic beat, a bass synth line and Isabelle singing "Dance - you have got to dance" over and over. Our idea was just to try and write a simple little dance song, no pretense at pop music appeal, just a track to put on and dance to. It was alright and few of our friends heard it and thought it had potential. Of course when you're writing songs with no lyrical direction you need to come up with working titles, and considering how the keyboards reminded me of Daft Punk I just put down Dafty, thinking we would one day change that title when we firmed things up.

Isabelle's cousin Tom came and stayed with us back in 2006. He'd done some DJing back home in Britain and therefore Isabelle was curious to get his take on this track. His first impression was that it actually needed a chord change. Imagine that - how extreme! So with a bit of noodling around we put in the chord changes in the chorus section and it sounded more like a real song. Then, in a fit of inspiration I had him help me drag the Rhodes piano into the room and I ran that through a delay pedal into my little fender amp to create the crazy noisey effects that fill up the breaks. The songs was starting to become properly interesting.

Fast forward about six months and we were in Mushroom Studio recording live drums. On the first day we had Jonas Fairley (ex-Upper Levels, Black Betty) behind the kit. He'd done some fantastic work on our songs The Hours, All of the Love, No Problems, and Twist of Fate already and as we still had a few hours left in the day I brought out the demo of Dafty and played it for him. Luckily he got it and said, "sure, let's give it a go, I think I can do something with it." So he walked out to the kit, put his headphones on and started to drum pretty much what you hear on the record. It was great, the song took on a new direction and I started getting really excited about its potential. I could hear a Stone Roses inflection coming through that I'd have never thought to put in there on my own. We did three takes, with me standing in the live room giving direction on where the stops should be and when to come back in. Jonas did a great job, he saved the song, injected it with life and subsequently forced me to rewrite everything, as what we'd had initially was so lame compared to his drums! (Well that was pretty much true of all the songs really).

Once home I listened through the three takes, chose the best one (can't remember exactly which one, but I think it may have been parts of the second and third cut together) and decided to throw out pretty much all of the original instrumentation. I kept a little bit of the synth bass line, you can hear it come in during the second verse, the quirky ascending line that plays counterpoint to the rhodes piano. Other than those two elements everything else you hear was part of the rewrite.

Our home studio isn't much more than a room with some acoustic baffling, and a computer in it. I did build a guitar coffin the previous year to make it possible to track guitars on the February March's "City of Glass" cd, but other than that one concession, there ain't too much to brag about. In addition to a few mics and outboard gear I've managed to collect a very very modest amount of instruments to record with. The problem was, the one guitar I had just wasn't working on this track. Therefore, just as thousands of Canadian musicians before me, I popped down to our local Long and McQuade (the largest music retailer in Canuckland) and rented a groovy 60's reissue telecaster guitar. It wasn't all that fancy and in fact had one of those horribly dull neck pickups that didn't allow any top end through at all. However, the neck was great, and the bridge pickup sounded exactly like what I wanted to hear. I will confess that in the past I've always laughed at guitarists that insisted on having scores of guitars lying around; I mean how different could they be right? Well after hearing the sound change from a Les Paul to a Telecaster I will say it can be very inspirational. Essentially the very first thing I played with that guitar was either the funky chorus part in Dafty or the funky guitar part in the middle eight of For the Glory - either way, it made me want to play cool little funky guitar riffs, which certainly wasn't the case with the Les Paul.

Once that was in place I started to think about the bass line, to be played on real bass rather than a synth. After messing around for a while I hit upon the bassline as it is now. Kind of like a "House" bass line, playing only on the "ands" of the beat (you know... one and, two and, three and, four and...). It worked to give the song momentum and kept the dancey feel. It was coming together but I wanted it get even bigger in the chorus. So I started looking through some of my old vinyl collection and pulled out "Welcome to the Pleasuredome." If you listen carefully you might be able to hear a pounding loop that plays in the chorus and outro sections. It isn't from the Frankie Goes to Hollywood album but it was very much inspired by it. Sort of my take on "Relax" with a drum machine loop, a bass note tuned down to low D hitting on every quarter note, and a few shakers to give it a more exciting feel. Resample that and I had the sonic impact the chorus needed. It gets busy in the chorus but everything still fits together. I think it was around here that I came up with the idea to put a "lead bass solo" into the song. Not a very obvious choice but when you struggle to play guitar as much as I do, any chance NOT to have to sit in front of the computer for days replaying the same thing over and over until something musical appears is a good choice! So I plugged the bass into a cheap Boss distortion pedal and went direct to tape with it. A nasty buzzy aggressive sound came out and I loved it. We've had a few humourous complaints about that "guitar" sound being too abrasive, how we should have used a proper amp for it etc, but it still makes me smile whenever I hear it, and that's alright isn't it?

The music was pretty much complete now and we were faced with reworking the lyrics. Neither of us had any strong ideas so we left it. The song sat idle for a while, I worked on everything else, hoping to find a break-through on Dafty that would allow me to put a better lyric to it. That occurred one afternoon when Isabelle and I went swimming. Sometimes I get very perverse and swim until I have a clear idea in my head what I want to achieve. I guess sports minded people would say this is visualizing your goal. Well that day I swam probably close to three kilometers, and finally, exhausted, I had the lyrics, the verses, the choruses, the way the vocal switched between Isabelle's vocals and my own, and even the outro vocal part figured out. Sometimes you can do your best work far away from the desk, with only the ideas in your head to fill out the accompaniment. So after that long swim we got back to the house and I turned on the gear and began putting the vocal ideas down onto "tape" (harddrive, but you know that sounds so lame).

Lyrically it's very self exposing. Which is why I liked the idea of it having two distinct voices, to have a banter between, sort of confessional and pragmatic ideas battling it out. The chorus came from Isabelle's original vocal ideas, but it worked together with the verse lyrics and lead to the outro vocal very well.

Straight out of highschool and I thought I was cool
The problem was did you know how to use it?
The time will come when I'll realise my dreams
That days approaching and we hope you're awake

Dance:
don't let life get you down
don't let things push you around
you've got to be yourself
turn down the lights and dance.

(bass solo)

Almost thirty I was too scared to do it
You're only problem is that you never tried
I thought my best days were already behind me
But you should know by now that you don't have to lose it

Dance:
don't let life get you down
don't let things push you around
you've got to be yourself
turn down the lights and dance.

(instrumental break)

Dance, you have got to dance
Dance, you have got to dance

You've want more life, and you know it
You've got more fight, and you should show it
You need more time and you should make it
You want more life, reach out and take it, take it.


Once again, a bit like Blue Kitchen, the lyrics aren't a masterpiece but fairly straight forward, just simple narrative. I guess that's the challenge of writing pop music: you have to keep things fairly direct but then you also leave yourself open to ridicule from the more erudite of your listeners. I will stand behind that fact that the song is called Dafty after all!

So that's about it, can't think of anything else to say about this song. I like how dry it seems compared to our other songs on the album. We did that to make it more like a club track: you don't hear a lot of reverb generally on dance music (well except Trance of course). Anyway,thanks for putting in the time, I certainly appreciate it! Perhaps the next bit of writing will be about our NEW songs, more on that soon enough I hope.

Ciao,

Mark    


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