let me preface by admitting that i've dropped the ball on these "how it was made" blog posts! i wish there was more hours in the day, but due to tight schedules, i've had a tough time being able to give these blog posts my full attention. i do however intend to post about every "yearbook" song, so bare with me! let's pick up where we left off: "from the ground up" from the "december" EP. in the spring of last year, a good friend of ours named samantha lamb asked me if i'd be willing to write a few short instrumental pieces of music to accompany an upcoming project (which is gorgeous, by the way!) she had been working on, entitled: "the perpetual picnic."
sam is a great friend, a fantastic photographer (she's responsible for many of our press photos, in fact!) and she's an endlessly creative artist who makes really, really beautiful things. needless to say, i gladly accepted the invite and got straight to work.
right around the same time that sam asked me to contribute to her project, the concept of "yearbook" had just begun floating around in my head. we decided to keep the "yearbook" idea quiet for a little while, in order to really think it through before making such a huge commitment... so, when sam's project came along, i figured it'd be as good a time as any to jump head first into writing new music.
"from the ground up" was one of the first pieces i came up with. the version i had sent over to sam was completely instrumental... but very much resembles the overall shape and spirit as it now appears on the "december" EP of "yearbook." as i was writing it though, i had intended to eventually expand on it, with the hopes of using it on "yearbook" collection as a full song, with lyrics... so it was a "two birds with one stone" situation (what a horrible phrase... i like birds.)
the base of the song began with a very simple ukulele part that i written. rather than spending time constructing a fully thought out arrangement, i felt like it would be fun to just jump right in and press record and see what happens! after recording a semi-blind arrangement of the ukulele parts, without overthinking anything, i played a bit of my mcnally strummstick over it. then added lots of keyboards and such... and hours and hours of trial and error, "from the ground up" took shape. (which is an appropriate title for a song built in such a way!)
(random fact #1: i recorded the entire ukulele with only this digital handheld recorder)
(random fact #2: there are several small piano melodies that we were recorded with a very old micro-cassette recorder, giving it the warble and dirty sound. this is a trick i used a TON on the "ghosts" album. i have a small micro-cassette recorder collection. was fun to fire one up again!)
a few months went by, "yearbook" had already been a couple months underway, when we were putting together plans for the "december" EP, this song just felt like the right fit for the EP, as well as the feel for the month... so we ran with it.
we knew we wanted real strings, so we asked our very good friend jeremy larson to perform a small arrangement that we had written for it. he did a fantastic job, per usual and his performances definitely gave it the human touch we were hoping the strings would. in addition to strings, dan added some bass and we both added all sorts of little misc. bells and whistles. (well, no whistles, i guess.. mostly just bells)
it's hard to write vocal melodies to something you get used to hearing instrumentally. this is a truth i have stumbled upon many times in my years of writing songs. thankfully for this song, i had a few tiny melody ideas that i had kept around from when i was first putting this song together, so that gave me a little head start.
when it came to writing lyrics for this song, i knew i wanted it to be very image based. simple, but rich with imagery. after writing out a few general ideas, i began to realize that it was a song about renewal. not in the general sense of the word, but a specific story in which the character is putting his/her world back together, after losing their home, in a very challenging chapter of their life. it became clear to me, that i was writing part 2 of the song "bright & early." so that gave me my direction for the lyrics - the ending of the story i started in "bright & early" so if you listen to "bright & early" and "from the ground up" back to back, it tells a single story.
here's the song and lyrics:
FROM THE GROUND UP
one by one, the knots we’ve tied, will come undone. like picking locks, we’ll sow our seeds beneath the sun. our accomplice is the rain, with patience, that of saints
it grows and grows, our home sweet home.
it took me 27 years to wrap my head around this- to brush the ashes off of everything i love. where courage was contagious, confidence was key.
right as rain, as soft as snow, it grows and grows and grows, our home sweet home.
we’ll try to document this light, with cameras to our eyes. in an effort to remember what being mended feels like.
we’re home sweet home.
thanks for reading! more of these "how it was made" posts soon!
update: several months after the release of this song, the FOX television show BONES used this song in the season 7 finale episode.