"Accidental Light" & how it was made.

it's fun to see how a song can go from literally nothing more than a rough idea, and then turn into a fully formed, mixed and mastered song, that often hardly resembles the original idea. and with "yearbook," that process is shrunken down to just a week or so, from idea to completion.

"accidental light" is unlike many of our songs (which generally take shape out of more substantial ideas) - because it was mostly born out of only one chord on the piano.

i have a small library of musical ideas that i've recorded (with my little digital recorder) and right before "yearbook" officially began, i narrowed down this library into a best-of list. from time to time i'll open up the little collection of ideas and see if anything hits me in a particular way - with the hopes that a new song might suddenly appear. in fact, several of the "yearbook" songs have begun in this way. (ie. "watermark," "homesick," etc. all of which began as a tiny recorded idea from this collection) for accidental light i kept working away, unsuccessfully on one of these small ideas... trying to twist and bend it into a song i'm excited about, but i couldn't quite get it there.

after being frustrated and feeling like we needed to move onto another song, i went back through the library of ideas again and there, in one of the short recordings was this one chord that sounded a little unusual for me. (i think it might have been an accidental chord i played in the recording) but for some reason it stood out and all of a sudden, it became the core of "accidental light." with it, i wrote the versus, which made perfect sense with the parts i had been trying to bend into submission (which eventually became the choruses.)

it was a lot of fun to hear a song start with a such a different musical direction and watch it make a u-turn and turn into something entirely different, all because of one chord.

for this song, each instrument we added drastically changed the feel of the song. which is uncommon for us... usually, when we try to add something, it either blends in as support, makes the part a little better, or just doesn't work at all. with "accidental light," every addition shifted the direction of the song somewhere else entirely. we really enjoyed that.

after we signed off on the arrangement and tempo of the song, i began recording my upright piano. it was a very quick process, which i'm always grateful for. i believe dan had the general outline of a bass line that he was working out... but when drums are planned, we try to wait to until drums are finished to nail down the exact bass parts. then i wrote a general outline of vocal melodies and recorded a scratch track of them (when i don't have lyrics i sing anything that pops into my head... which i'm told is fairly passable, which makes me a little tempted to just keep it and not write actual lyrics... but i won't, don't worry. no cut corners 'round here!)

after all of that, we asked our pal jason toth to play drums. jason is from chicago and is a supremely talented drummer... a very tasteful and simple player, whom we love working with. (in fact, he was our drummer for the entire "storyboards" record.) we sent jason the rough recording of the song and a few days later, he swung by our studio to record his parts. unfortunately dan was sick at that time and was homebound, so jason and i worked at it alone. jason set up his kit in our very cramped studio room, showed me a few ideas, which were fantastic. so we took a little time to carve out the placement of his drums and quickly started tracking, which was smooth sailing.

sent the drums over to dan, who began working out the final bass lines as well as exploring some keyboard stuff, while i began writing the lyrics.

lyrics for this song went fairly smoothly - some moments of stress and fear of not finishing, but it's all par for the course. for some reason every lyric that came into my head, had to do with racing. maybe it's because subliminally in my mind yearbook's constant deadlines are there... we're always racing the clock. not sure! but the line "heals lift..." came first and i liked it, so i "ran" with it. (see what i did there?)

i'd be willing to bet that pretty much every songwriter out there has reached a point where they have either referenced, or wrote a whole song about the challenge/process of writing songs... and "accidental light" is full of references to my songwriting process.

for example "my heals lift at this imaginary starting line" - that's me acknowledging that the deadlines i've created for myself, only exist because i put them there. i created the race that i'm stressed out about. it pokes fun at that.

the lyric that probably most clearly references songwriting is:

"though it's all been said,
and this empty dictionary is all that's left,
i'll try to change the world in a single word.
my hands are shaking, ready or not...
invisible ink well it's all i've got.
so, i'll concentrate and pick from these barren trees.

all of that references the feeling that probably creeps inside of every creative person's mind at one time or another: everything has been done already. every melody has been sung... every lyric has been written... every painting has been painted. it's daunting to realize how little our ideas can seem sometimes. but i try to remember that people aren't creating just for originality in itself, they are creating for much more than that... for themselves, for the hope that their art could move someone else in some way too. originality is a byproduct of being genuine. so those lyrics are me wrestling those ideas out of my head. we don't know how something we create will effect the world, if at all, but it's worth creating because clearly, each of us were given the tools to do something, and i believe for a lot of us that something is to create.

at some point during my lyric-writing frenzy, dan worked out some great, new keyboard sounds for this song. very spacey and i'd say they're a bit different sonically for us too, so it was a real treat to hear those sent over. it yet again, took the song into a new direction, giving the song a more lush and full sound.

i asked my friend, david hodges to sing on this song, and he did such a fantastic job. truly a professional by every measure of the word. looking forward to doing more together!

in retrospect, i find it very interesting and significant that david was our guest for this particular song... because one of the first times i hung out with david, he and i had a conversation about writing songs - (if you don't already know, david is an extraordinarily gifted songwriter, who has accolades coming out of his ears - grammy and the like!) it came up that he writes upwards of 50 songs per year... which totally blew my mind. i told him that (this was pre-yearbook) that i'd be lucky to write about 6 or so songs a year. literally. so we both discussed our processes a bit, intrigued by each other's polar opposite song count. i was envious and in awe of the diligence and creativity required to write so many great songs in a single year... and david, was no doubt perplexed by my sloth-like speed as well. so i just love that david is our guest on a song that touches upon the writing process - it feels very appropriate!

a HUGE thanks to david for his beautiful contribution! here's david's website, if you'd like to know more about him.

david's vocal was the last piece to be added to "accidental light." then it was off to mixing, followed by mastering, followed by being released!

thanks for reading these "how they were made" posts... hope you're enjoying hearing how these songs came about. i will write about "From The Ground Up" soon.

love, ryan


on your mark, get set...
a million miles past the finish line
my heels lift
at this imaginary starting line.
the trigger slips;
my heart was racing well before it’s time.
time’s running out, it’s always running out on me,
as the road up ahead disappears.

though it’s all been said,
and this empty dictionary is all that’s left,
i’ll try to change the world in a single word.
my hands are shaking, ready or not.
invisible ink well it’s all i’ve got.
so i’ll concentrate and pick from these barren trees.

time’s running out, it’s always running out on me,
and every road i discover disappears under my feet -

some call it reckless, some call it breathing.

have i said too much or not enough?
is it overkill or is it giving up,
to measure out the distance of an echo’s reach?

if it's all broken mirrors and a chance roll of the dice,
then i'll risk everything for a glimpse of accidental light.

time’s running out, it’s always running out on me,
and every road i’ve discovered disappears under my feet -

some call it reckless, i call it breathing._