today i'm going to be write about the 2nd song on the "october" EP, entitled "next to me."
it didn't take too long to realize that it's probably the cheeriest, toe-tappin' song we've ever written. i'm excited about that! every musician has a type of music that is challenging for them to write and for us, it's "happy." not to say that our songs are terribly sad or grouchy sounding... but even when there's lightheartedness in the music, usually the lyrics aim in a more serious direction.
"next to me" is the first song i've ever written fully on the instrument, the "mcnally strummstick." (pictured below) my wife got one for me right at the tail end of making our "storyboards" album last year and it only made a very small appearance on that record (it's on "unmade") - it's a super fun instrument to play around with, as it's tuned to a scale and technically there are no "wrong" notes. (but i have to admit, the strummstick isn't half as fun as the ukulele. fyi.)
i wrote the main chords of the song and decided that, rather than spending time figuring out a vocal melody, or even an arrangement for the parts, i'll just record the strummstick and see where it goes from there. so, i spent a little time heading down that road, and piled instruments on top of it to see where it would lead; mellotron vibes, harp, tons o' background vocals, you name it. after the heap was recorded, it was all about the process of elimination.. going through each piece and seeing what works and what doesn't and editing it down accordingly.
so, when gathering up the song possibilities for "october," dan and i decided that "next to me" would be a fun addition to our first EP. so, we took a closer look at the song and finalized the arrangement of parts (verse, chorus, etc.)
eventually, the vocal melody started to appear. then dan wrote some piano chords which filled it out really nicely and then in my usual get-really-close-to-the-deadline fashion, i began writing lyrics...
certain songs are very welcoming to words and seem to fit with singing just about anything... and some are not so warm and welcoming and require a lot of tweaking to get words and their shapes to fit correctly. fortunately, "next to me" was the kind and generous sort, and almost immediately the lyrics worked. within minutes of writing, i had a pretty good idea as to what i want the song to be about. in fact, writing lyrics "next to me" was one of the easiest songs i've ever encountered! things just worked and new ideas flooded out all over. i probably finished 85% of the words within an hour or two (which is crazy fast for me..) BUT that last 15% was completely uncooperative and took me nearly a week to finish. literally just for a few lines. so, the process was too good to be true. it's okay though, it gives a sense of accomplishment to finish it with a struggle!
i recently got married (last march) to the love of my life, cayt. so, the lyric direction for this song naturally tied into the lovey-dovey hearts that have been hovering since the wedding. i wanted to write a love song for my wife! and rather than "umbrellas" which is certainly a love song, but it's more of a prayer for my future family and a promise/reminder to do my best as a future father, husband, etc. "next to me" is a straight up love song... no obstacles to overcome. it's a love song, inside the theme of childhood and the pure carelessness that can/should be a part of it. when we grow up, our worlds become much more intense and complicated. and at any age, when you fall in love - it feels a bit like reconnecting to how it felt to be a kid again... to have feelings, trust and emotions run so deeply, that force caution to take a backseat. so, this song was written from that place.
when i recording my vocals for this song, in between takes i cracked opened an old photo album from my childhood (which, thanks to my amazing mom, my childhood was wonderful!) as well as my recent wedding pictures. it's easy to get stuck focusing in singing a good take, rather than remembering what you're singing about. so those pictures helped a lot.
the main downbeat rhythm you're hearing (sounds like a kick drum) is actually my foot. so this song is literally a toe-tapper! i laid a mic on the ground and stomped away.
dan came up with the very cool piano parts that are soaked with delay in the chorus parts.. it's got a nice rhythmic pulse, but still very pretty and melodic.
and dan's bass line for this song is one of my favorites. it gives the song a bounce that I like a lot.
the duo tremolo violins throughout were played by me, which is pretty much the extent of my violin skills.
dan played the tambourine and the maraca. not 'maracas' mind you, but a single maraca. in fact, it's a special maraca... i bought it earlier this year in walt disney world! in the "mexico" pavilion at EPCOT. so, if you thought to yourself, "gosh, I feel like there's a disney flavor in this song..." - that's why.
once the song was near finished, i felt like it would be a nice fit for a female background vocal, so we asked the incredibly gifted, stacy dupree (of eisley) to be our guest and lend us her voice. she kindly accepted and soon after, we exchanged recordings via email. she sent over what she come up with and it sounded even better than we had imagined! such a lovely fit. she was even gracious enough to record the 3 part choir section that i had in mind for her as well, to combine with my existing choir. (you can hear our little 6-part choir in several different sections - the intro, middle verse and towards the end of the song) she did such an amazing job. a huge thanks to her for such a lovely contribution to the song!
i should wrap this up, otherwise, there won't be time left to finish the "november" EP!
thanks for reading! "watermark" is up next.
p.s. now that you've read all about it, you can listen to the song here (& please feel free to embed this youtube "video" anywhere you'd like!) :