"Emphasis" & how it was made.

the music and vocal melody for much of "emphasis" came all at once. it's a rare situation when that happens, but when it does i am very grateful!

originally i had imagined the direction of this song to be a bit more rhythmically stiff, full-band and more musically complicated. but the more i played around with it, the more i realized it was a very lyric-focused song. it felt more suited for a stripped down, folk-like song arrangement rather than a full band situation, allowing the lyrics to be the focal point.

over the last few months, i have rediscovered my appreciation for randy newman's catalog of work. in the tiny moments in between working on our music lately, randy's were some of the only songs that i felt like hearing. the structure and approach of "emphasis" was definitely inspired by mr. newman's ballads. he has a way with simplicity that i've always appreciated. when i wrote the very simple parts for this song, it was an obvious place to look for affirmation that some songs just weren't born to be anything but simple. and that's a good thing.

after some time of refining the verses for this song, it became clear that yes, simplicity was key, but at that point, i only had one part of the song written and quickly realized that it needed a chorus too. so, after much trial and error, the chorus was finally written and we realized that all of the ingredients were there and the last step was to spend time writing the lyrics.

i played around with a few themes lyrically for this song... at one point it was going to become a subtle, but very optimistic love song (that direction ended up becoming the song, "next to me") but after trying some different words over the parts, once again the direction defined itself in spite of my plans. the theme ended up following a lyric i wrote early on for this song, but tossed away several times because it wasn't the optimistic love song theme i was hoping for...:

"death is promised to the bee
who's sting protects the colony.
was its life worth nothing more
than honey for the queen?"

so, the entire theme was born out of that question. (as you can see, it just did not want to become a love song from the very beginning) whatever our beliefs or non-beliefs may be, how do we answer the many incredibly difficult questions that life unapologetically presents to us? this song is my attempt at wrestling with some of those questions and ideas. to be honest - heading down that road as a songwriter on a deadline, was a rather scary thought. not exactly a topic that cam be whipped up quickly and i feared that the song would just be a sad series of difficult questions without any answers or reasonable resolution. every answer i could come up with was extremely complicated and unsatisfying, so eventually this lyric came about:

"the smartest thing i've ever learned
is that i don't have all the answers.
just a little light to call my own"

it may not be a particularly satisfying answer to such big questions, but it is a sincere one. it felt freeing and right for this song to resolve with such a simple idea.

much like our song "watermark" (and a few previous songs from other records) i decided that recording the piano and vocal together live, without a click track, made the most sense for this song. i've become pretty fond of recording gentle songs like this in that way, because it tends to make the songs feel more real and unforced, rather than rigid and over-processed. every song is different, but songs like this really depend on the piano and vocal playing off eachother, so recording them separately can come across a little less... believable sometimes. also, recording without headphones or anything really in the way, just makes me feel more comfortable playing. (i get easily distracted and discouraged when gear gets in the way!)

i felt like this song could easily benefit from a standard string arrangement (violins, viola, cellos, etc), but that felt a bit obvious and unnecessary for this one. almost indulgent in a way. so, i took a different route and decided that a single cello, playing almost as a duet to the vocal would be a more interesting route to go down. so, i asked my friend and incredibly gifted cellist, melissa bach to perform on this song. (melissa performed on "storyboards," which is where we first met her) melissa was chosen for this song because she has a very solid, soloist quality to her cello-playing and i felt like she would completely understand the direction right off the bat. i didn't want something specifically written out or pre-planned.. i wanted it to be freer than that, so she was game for just recording takes and seeing what happened. dan and i drove into the city with a small recording set-up and melissa was kind enough to let us swing by and record in her and her husband's home. we spent an hour or so letting her just improvise with the song and it was gorgeous straight away and clear that it was the right direction to go with this song. she played beautifully and was just a perfect fit. looking forward to doing more with melissa soon!

mixing and mastering were smooth sailing and before i knew it, "emphasis" became the 2nd track on the "november" EP. real proud of it!

nearly a year after its release, the kind folks who select the music for ABC's Private Practice tv show placed this song on an episode, late 2011.

thanks for reading!

love, ryan



Death is promised to the bee who's sting protects the colony.
Was it's life worth nothing more than honey for the queen?
Life is a branch and it is a dove, handcrafted by confusing love.
Sign language is our reply, when church beels make no sound.
In hollow towers and empty hives, we craved sweetness with a fear of heights.
Was it all just a grain of sand in and hourglass?

The smartest thing i've ever learned is that i don't have all the answers,
just a little light to call my own.
Though it pales in comparison to the overarching shadows,
a speck of light can reignite the sun and swallow darkness whole.

Death is a cold, blindfolded kiss.
It is the finger pressed upon our lips.
It puts an unwanted emphasis on how we should have lived.
Life is a gorgeous, broken gift.
Six billion+ pieces waiting to be fixed.
Love letters that were never signed, sent to where we live.

But the sweetest thing i've ever heard is that i don't have to have the answers,
just a little light to call my own.
Though it pales in comparison to the overarching shadows,
a speck of light can reignite the sun and swallow darkness whole.