Overture II is the opening piece of music for Atlas: Year Two.
This short piece of music is intended set the stage for not only all of the music to follow in Year Two, but to represent life forming. The inanimate becoming animate! It starts with a single note. As the strings swell in and the simple chord progression develops, the music gets slightly more complex as it moves along. As I thought about what instrumentation could best represent the sound of life forming, I could think of no instrument more beautiful and delicate than violins and cellos. So I called my good friend and incredible Cellist, Sharon Gerber. She plays with so much soul, that I knew she’d be the perfect fit. I needed Violins as well and invited her 12-year old daughter, Anya to record the Violins. (I can’t believe how gifted she is and can only imagine her talent as she gets older!!) I loved the idea of a mother and daughter being the first thing you’ll hear in this collection of songs about Life. They recorded so beautifully and I couldn’t be more thrilled with how it turned out!!
In Atlas: Year One, the final song was “Arctic” (as part of the “Oceans” EP.) At the very tail-end of “Arctic” you can hear the young heartbeat of my daughter, Lily many months before she was born. (The idea was to foreshadow the theme of “Life” in Year Two!) I thought it would be nice to carry over that idea into Overture II, so if you listen closely at the beginning of the song, you can hear my daughter’s heartbeat which was recorded just hours before she was born.
Life is the opening song of Atlas: Year Two. (iTunes)
I became a father last Fall. It was the most beautiful and scary and meaningful experience of my life so far. I completely recognize how obvious and cliche that is to say, but it’s true. I’ve been looking forward to being a dad since I was a little kid, so leading up to the day our daughter Lily was born, I knew this would be a game-changing experience. It sure was... times a trillion. My amazing wife was in labor for 38 hours. It was terrifying and intense, and only made the moment of finally meeting our daughter that much more incredible and perfect! Needless to say, as I wrote the lyrics for the first song in a collection of songs about “Life,” and for a song actually called “Life,” I knew this song had to be written about this experience.
Life is such a massive theme, so originally I thought I should write something more abstract about all human life forming. Maybe find some middle ground between biology and poetry. But then it occurred to me that I just experienced the forming of a life, first hand, in a way I’ve never experienced or understood it before. So as Mr. Twain says, “Write what you know.”
“it began with a whisper in my ear, ‘i think its time.’"
This line is very literal. My wife woke me up early in the morning, the day she went into labor and said “i think it's time…”
Also, on Year One, the very first lyric of the project was “It starts with our eyes well acquainted with the dark” - I liked the idea of the opening track for Year Two having a similar entrance and shape. I don’t know why but those little symmetrical details matter to me! So in the future, on Year Three I’m fairly certain the opening lyric will start similarly.
"suddenly all we held dear was on the line as your heart, measured in mountains, fell and climbed."
When my wife was in labor, we stared for hours and hours at these monitor screens that measured our daughter’s and her heart rates, as well as the contraction intensity. These two lines of lyrics reflect that.
“'you're okay, you're okay, you're okay. we’re okay.' amen."
During some of the more intense moments of the labor, I tried to say anything I could to be encouraging.. and found myself accidentally repeating things over and over. Sometimes all I could come up with was… “You’re okay…” and “You’re doing so great.” Though those words sure aren’t big, but “You’re okay” represented an experience of closeness and connection that my wife and I had never had before, so I knew I had to write it into the song. The “amen” is meant to represent the feeling of making peace with letting go of control. Labor is a real good practice for letting go of control. As “Amen” is commonly said at the end of prayer, I liked the idea that singing that lyric in that space transforms the lines before it into prayer.
"as she drew her first breath, i learned what love meant"
The Doctors told my wife and I that when our little girl was delivered, if she was crying it’s a very good sign. If she’s wasn't, they would need to rush her to the NICU. So right as she was delivered, she gave us some wonderfully loud cries. And we felt a relief that we’ve never felt before. I had my audio recorder on and captured her very first cry. So if you listen closely, right before the lyrics above, you’ll hear my daughter draw her first breath and cry her healthy cry.
"as her hands held tight and her eyes met mine"
Right after our Daughter was born, I got to spend a few minutes alone with her while my wife was in recovery. Those moments were pretty life-altering for me. I said a few things to her and she immediately turned her head toward me and made eye contact (though I don’t think she could really see me, I think she recognized my voice!) and she held on to my finger tightly as I talked to her. I know this sounds dramatic, but I felt like I could feel my heart expanding. Like its capacity was being upgraded. Honestly, every since she’s been here, I feel like that's always happening.
"i saw the future unfold in silver and gold. and i’m already proud."
This line is special to me because the day we found out that Lily was a girl, all of a sudden I imagined all of these huge milestones ahead in the future… It was like that whole "your life flashes before your eyes” thing.. but like a really beautiful montage of things that haven’t happened yet! It felt like seeing a glimpse into the future. The line about “silver and gold”… our Daughter has blonde hair, so it's a subtle reference to a time hopefully in the future where we'll be old and grey and she’ll be golden blonde.
"in our reflections of one another, we will start something new.”
My friend Bob told me that children are one of two things: A reflection of their parents, or a reaction to their parents. I couldn’t agree more and love that idea. Neither is wrong. So I wanted to work that idea into this song… a prayer or hope that whether Lily is a reflection of us or a reaction to us, we will learn from each other. Regardless, we already know she’s a better version of us!
"there is so much to tell you. there is so much to see. we will show you the oceans and everything in between. what a privilege to love you, to teach you all that we know, to watch you build a collection of dreams that you can call your own."
These lines mean a lot to me because one of my favorite parts of being a Dad is showing Lily my favorite things in this world. Sort of my best-of collection! Aside from the lyrics, this section of the song is particularly meaningful to me because my wife sung harmonies with me on this verse! It’s the first time we’ve ever sung together… and I totally manipulated her into doing it. I told her that this part of the song needs both of Lily’s parents to sing. So she did it and sang so beautifully! This moment of this song will forever mean the world to me as a result.
Musically, I had so much fun recording this song! I knew that this song needed to have everything I could think of thrown at it. Most songs only benefit from adding very specific instrumentation, but this song, right from the start, was a “the more the merrier” type of song! And I loved that idea - life is so diverse and big that I made it a rule: Try everything. And I did… I recorded pretty much every instrument I own… banjos, guitar, violins, pianos, drums, bass, flutes, timpanis, tambourines, glockenspiel, harpsichord, organ, ukulele, you name it!
But I kept hearing Marimba in my head and I don’t have one of those! So I called my friend Jordan Kamps, who is an incredibly gifted percussionist. He dragged his massive Marimba over to my studio and recorded brilliantly! So you’ll hear that all over the place on this song. I love it so much! Definitely planning on using more Marimba in the future, if Jordan will oblige!
Sharon Gerber recorded all of the gorgeous Cello throughout.. it was one of the last touSches put on the song and I feel like it breathes so much life into the story and music. I could listen to her play on loop for all of time.
In the middle verse, you’ll hear an almost electronic-y type of kick/snare drum sound. That kick is a sampled version of my wife’s heartbeat. The snare is mine.
I recorded some of the monitor beeps and blips in the delivery room. You’ll hear them (sounds like a little sonar-like ping) throughout the song. Side Note: I used a submarine sonar ping in the last song of Year One, so I liked the idea of a similar sound carrying over into the first song of Year Two.
it began with a whisper in my ear, "I think it's time." suddenly all we held dear was on the line as your heart, measured in mountains, fell and climbed. “you're okay, you're okay, you're okay. we’re okay.” amen.
we were changed in an instant, we became so much more. our definition of perfect was written when she was born.
as she drew her first breath, i learned what love meant and my heart reconciled all the darkness and light inside my chest.
as her hands held tight and her eyes met mine, i saw the future unfold in silver and gold. and i’m already proud.
beautiful like your mother, you are grace. you are light. a better version of our best from your starting line.
we will learn from each other, as you grow up, we will too. in our reflections of one another, we will start something new. we were changed in an instant, we became so much more. our definition of perfect was written when you were born.
there is so much to tell you. there is so much to see. we will show you the oceans and everything in between.
what a privilege to love you, to teach you all that we know, to watch you build a collection of dreams that you can call your own.
you are beautiful like your mother, you are grace. you are light. a better version of our best from your starting line. we were changed in an instant, we became so much more. our definition of perfect was written when you were born.