"January White" & how it was made.

"January White" & how it was made this was a fun song to write. writing a "happy" song in the dead of a chicago winter requires a lot of wishful thinking. so this song was a fun escape from the cold, un-"happy" winter in which it was written.

it was one of those songs that didn't require too much chasing down- it unfolded fast and presented me with the always-welcomed problem of there being too many parts, rather than too few. sometimes that ideal situation can go... less than ideal. it's easy to get distracted by the "editing" process where you begin to lose touch with what you were excited about in the first place, BUT yearbook's schedule is always a firm reminder to keep moving along!

i got married early last year and as a wedding present, my beautiful wife, cayt, gave me a mini KALA ukulele. yes, ukuleles are already "mini" but this one is really, really small! it's called a "pocket ukulele" from the incredible brand, KALA ukuleles (who SO kindly assisted my wife in this gift!). so aside from being a really wonderful and special gift, it's always a fun thing to have nearby to play around with. it's actually very playable, compared to most "pocket" instruments. so around Christmastime last year, i found myself messing around with it, not to "write" anything, but just to keep my hands busy and suddenly the main chords for "january white" came together.


after the gist of the arrangement was developed, i decided to bump this song up to the big leagues - a tenor sized ukulele. so although i didn't record the song with my pocket uke, it's super special to me that it was written on that little guy!

pretty quick after the chord structure was set, i knew i wanted to have more playful rhythm for this song. so i tried out a few ideas, by looping the ukulele part and playing drums on my lap and stomping the floor. to "document" the idea, i tossed a mic on the floor and recorded my make-shift percussion, intending to have a full-on drum kit to eventually take it's place.

after sending it over to a very talented friend, he spent a few hours and recorded a beautiful performance of drums for the song, but something didn't quite feel right about that direction for this specific song, so i went back to the drawing board and decided that i still liked the patterns from my floor-stompin', lap-slappin' drums, so it wasn't completely off the mark... but, i eventually i realized that the sound i was looking for was exactly what i already had - non-drum-drum sounds. so, the rhythm in this song is just a bunch of knee-slaps and floor-stomps.

to make the percussion even more "organic" - the shaker sound you're hearing... well, that's a bag of organic coffee from my friends at "land of a thousand hills coffee company"! it had the perfect sound i was looking for! AND it's wonderful coffee from wonderful people doing real, tangible good in this world (learn more about a thousand hills, here)

lyrics... this song was a treat to write! it only took a 3 days to wrestle into shape. and overall it was quite an enjoyable process.. lots of ideas, and most of which fit the melodies like a glove. usually, there's a bit of wrangling, but this song was very kind to me.

i knew right off the bat, i wanted this to be about wiping the slate clean, starting things new again. being the first yearbook song of 2011, released on january 1st, it felt like a rather fitting direction.

the last song of 2010, "snow" wraps up with the lines:

like fresh plates and clean slates, our future is white new year’s resolutions will reset tonight

so when i wrote that, i knew right away i wanted to pick up where that new year's theme left off, with whatever song came next in the "yearbook" sequence. so "january white" was written as the answer to "snow."

we could paint our walls a lighter shade of blue, or we could pack our bags and change the entire view to january white.

that line has double meaning... the first of which is: throughout the last year my wife and i have been discussing plans for our future - where we want to build a family, who we want to be as people, etc - and i liked the idea of writing about the choice between changing something subtle in your life, verses changing it more drastically when necessary and how a new year gives new perspective on decisions like that. my wife's and my bedroom walls are painted blue, so that felt like a fun and personal way to get that meaning across. (especially since we've been doing a lot of talking about home decor, etc. these days!)

meaning 2: i also chose the color blue, because of the sad, down connotations with the color, and i liked the idea of making decisions in life to either be sad in a different ways (shades), or to aim towards something else entirely - happiness. we could settle for a little change, or we could work hard for something more drastically good.

well, we could let our guards down a little easier this time, we could trust that when there’s joy, there’s nothing dark behind in spite of history, hope is january white.

that line is a nod to an incredible author, speaker named brene brown. recommended to me by my friend, tim jackson, i checked out some videos of her speaking. and in what i think was a TED talk she gave, she warns of the dangers of what she calls "foreboding joy" - which is essentially not trusting when good and hopeful things appear in our lives. this is something that i constantly struggle with... always trying to beat disappointment to the punch is very tiring. it's such dangerous behavior and so her talk stuck with me and i wanted to lace that message into this song... (probably mostly as a reminder to myself to not let "foreboding joy" enter into my world!)

so there you have it - a little background on this ukulele-driven new year's day 2011 song!

love, ryan




so let’s press undo. rearrange the old and call it new- january white.

every calendar is playing the same old trick: a year will disappear, replaced with counterfeit but we’ll never really mind.

‘cause if nothing else, we're given a little time to change the game, a chance to redefine everything we are, in our january white.

this year is a sealed envelope, a culmination of hopes, the lottery result that we’ve been crossing fingers for.

we could paint our walls a lighter shade of blue, or we could pack our bags and change the entire view to january white.

if nothing else, we're given a little time to change the heart in which we change our minds; our hourglasses turn.

this year is a sealed envelope; with apprehensive hope we brace for anything. i swear, i understand that nothing changes that, the past will be the past, but the future is brighter than any flashback.

well, we could let our guards down a little easier this time, we could trust that when there’s joy, there’s nothing dark behind. in spite of history, hope is january white.

this year, we’re starting over again letter openers in hand, a chance to take a chance. i swear, i understand that the past will be the past, and nothing changes that, but the future is brighter than any flashback.