Writing About Songs: Flicking the Switch


(This is part of a series of posts about releasing some early music via Bandcamp.)

Our drummer, Bob, loves to play music, and he would love to write songs. So, he often sends out reams of lyrics (he’s the king of the double entendre) with hopes that one of us will work some of it into a song. This one — Flicking the Switch — began with a few verses from Bob, as I was working on a funk song for the band (Sofa Kings). In the end, about half the words are Bob’s and half are mine. It’s a love/lust song in which the relationship is clearly heading south, and the narrator is pleading for another chance. (He’s not going to get it.)

Our keyboard player, John, is the lead singer, and I was able to layer in some saxophone in the studio (I used a tenor and soprano) to create a pseudo horn section. Live, this song was a hit. The opening riff gives off the funk and when Bob kicked the beat, it got folks dancing. The studio version is fine but doesn’t quite capture the energy of performance.

Peace (in the funk),
Kevin

Writing About Songs: Beacon in the Night


(This is part of a series of posts about releasing some early music via Bandcamp.)

There some songs where I hear the lyrics years later and I shake my head in agreement, wondering where in the world those words came from. Beacon in the Night is one of those songs. My friend, Don, is the lead singer on this one and my friend John wrote the music.

The words are all mine and I just love the turn of phrases that are in this one, capturing a real uncertainty of the world. It’s about the idea of finding faith in who you are, and with the person you want to be with, even with the criticism of others around you. The beacon is the idea that there are true lights shining. Finding those lights is what makes life important, and being the beacon for others is at the heart of a full life. I remember this was one of those songs where the words just came, flowed and spilled out, as if I were removed from the act of writing.

Don and I had some arguments over a line — I’m locked and loaded — which he did not want to sing because it sounded too military for him. I really wanted that line in there. Not just for the alliterative element, which is important, but because it symbolized strength and a willingness of the narrator to beat the odds. Don did sing it, reluctantly. I don’t often fight hard over phrases or words. I did on that one, although years later I am not sure why it was so important.

Soundwise, the piano (another John) really adds a layer to the song. It would not be the same without his keyboards because those notes fill in the gaps left by the guitars. On this version, my role is merely backup singer. I don’t think I played an instrument here but the song remains powerful for me, and it is one that I often pull out on my acoustic and play by myself.

Peace (in the light),
Kevin

Writing About Songs: Gravitational Pull


(This is part of a series of posts about releasing some early music via Bandcamp.)

I’d be remiss not to mention that one of my guitar-playing friends, John Graiff, has also been one of my songwriting partners. He often supplies the riffs, and I then work with those riffs to add lyrics, and then together, we convene, argue and hammer out songs that whatever band we’re in then works on. Gravitational Pull is one of those songs that we wrote together.

Here, the music is almost entirely John. It’s based on a blues pattern, but he has an off-kilter rhythm to it that the drummer latched onto and drove home. I’m not sure where the idea for the song came from but the phrase of “gravitational pull” came early and I realized I could use a science theme to write about romance, as if the person is an object of such admiration and beauty that you just fall into their gravitational force field, whether you are ready or not. You know, love.

This one was always a blast to play live because it has a frantic pace to it. I’m not so sure we (Sofa Kings) nailed this song in the studio as best as we would have liked. It doesn’t always click right to me, as I listen years later. But you can’t help but feel the fun here.

Peace (in the pull),
Kevin

Writing About Songs: Katrina Blows In


(This is part of a series of posts about releasing some early music via Bandcamp. In these posts, I am trying to shine a light on the writing of the songs – where inspiration comes from and how it manifests itself in music.)

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I realized that I needed to try to express my anguish (at the devastation) and anger (at political incompetence) through song and out of those mixed feelings emerged Katrina Blows In, which became a standard song for my band, Sofa Kings, for a number of years. My attempt was to catch a feel of New Orleans with the sound and tell a story of survival from someone in the midst of the approaching storm.

There’s also the political element — of how the system failed people in the time of their greatest need, and how we need to rely on each other as much as possible.

“If we all pull together
we might find a way to weather the storm …”

I really like how my bandmates brought their own ideas to this song, shaping it into a full-blown track instead of the dirge-like demo that I had in mind. There’s life in here, just as there was still life in those who made their way out of Katrina, even though their world would never be the same. I was hoping to honor those people as best as I could, from my perch in the Northeast.

In live shows, the opening riff would often bring people to the dance floor, although I am not so sure they were listening to the lyrics. I think they were moved by the beat and the mandolin. I’m playing guitar on this one, and singing the lead. It’s one of those songs that I can listen to, and nod my head, and know that we pulled this one off pretty well.

Peace (in the storm),
Kevin

Writing About Songs: Send Me Out a Sign


(This is part of a series of posts about releasing some early music via Bandcamp.)

Of all the songs on this album, Send Me out a Sign packs the most emotional punch for me. I wrote it during the heady days of courting my (now) wife. This was a songwriting phase where I was often writing three to four songs every single week, and using a little Tascam recorder to record demos. I first brought Send Me out a Sign to a friend, who played bass, and we did a version of the song. Later, I brought it to a new band I was in — Big Daddy Kiljoy — and when I played it for the band, you could see that everyone recognized it for a good song that we could work with. This version, recorded in a real studio, does a fair job of capturing our version, with a powerful harp solo and a nice easy groove.

There’s a certain feeling you get when you share a song that is close to your heart. On one hand, you don’t want to let it go. It’s so personal that it feels like a child that needs protecting. On the other hand, some songs come out nearly perfect (or so it seems) and the only way to breathe real life into it is to share it. I’ve been fortunate to be in bands where I can bring in songs that we will at least try (and we abandon as many as keep, it seems).

Send Me out a Sign is about waiting for that special person to know that the next stage of a relationship is ready and waiting, and that you are too. There’s a real uncertainty about where a relationship will go, and the song is positive and yet, there is a yearning to it, too. The Romeo/Juliet metaphor of standing under the window, waiting for a sign … that’s universal, right? This song reminds me of the strength of my marriage, and is a musical testament (sap alert) to love.

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

Writing About Songs: Using Bandcamp


Some of you know that I play and write music as a hobby. Over the years, with various bands and friends, I have recorded music here and there, and many of the tracks have sat electronically for years. Time to set them free and see if anyone likes them. Over the coming days and weeks, I am going to be reflecting and writing about the songs that I have recorded and sharing them out. I decided to use Bandcamp as a place to host and share, and maybe sell a few songs here and there. I have no expectations of striking it rich or anything, and any proceeds will get divided up with friends who helped make the music.

I’m playing an assortment of instruments here — some rhythm guitar, saxophones and even keyboards on some of the tracks.

You don’t need to buy the music to listen to the music. You can listen right from Bandcamp. If you like a track and buy it, I offer you deep appreciation. I chose songs from our recordings that I wrote, co-wrote and mostly sang lead on. A few songs have other bandmates singing, and I have noted that in the liner notes (such as they are).

Today, I want to share the entire album (see above) and in the days ahead, I will break it down track by track as best as I can remember about the writing and recording. As a sort of bonus sharing today, I also dug up an old video from my band, Sofa Kings, as we went into the studio. The sound is awful because it is a first generation Flip Camera (remember them?) and the microphone was tinny. But it captures some of what we were doing in the studio and a few of those tracks are in the Bandcamp collection.

Sofa Kings: in the studio from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Thanks for listening.
Peace (in the songs),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Musical Notes

(This is for Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers)

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There’s a been a lot of music happening in the past week, so here are three musical slices from my end of the world.

First, I recently dug up an old son that I had written back when my oldest sons were little, capturing that feeling that the world was pulling them away from my influence. This is natural, of course, but as a parent, it’s one of the most disconcerting things when you realize that peers and media and other elements are beginning to influence your children in ways you had not yet comprehended or understood, or planned for. This song — Innocent Boy — has been around in my guitar case for years, but I pulled it out recently and recorded it in Garageband if only to make sure I have it around as a legacy song for my three sons. <sap alert>

Innocent Boy

Second, two weekends ago, with my wife and kids out of town, I grabbed the guitar and wrote a quick song. After sharing it out a bit, I thought: I should send this to Luke and see if he has any interest in adding some trumpet to it. His #nerdlution resolution is get back to his horn. He agreed and wrote and recorded the horn track, and then sent the file back to me. I have not done much musical collaboration like that. We may keep working on the song together. We’ll see. But my bandmates in Duke Rushmore are interested, so this one may become a full band song soon.

Lift You Up (with guest horn by Luke)

Finally, speaking of Duke Rushmore, the other night, at practice, we began working on I’ve Got My Anchor in You, which was a song I wrote a few months back and used as a remixing and reflective activity for Make/Hack/Play. It’s one of the better songs that I have written in some time, and to listen to it come alive with my bandmates – with a real singer, and the coming together of many instruments — is quite a feeling. This video reflection from a few months ago of how I came to write the song is still powerful, I think. If the band records our version, I’ll get that out, too.

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

Open Up the Heartstrings — Considering Music

Three events have me thinking deeper about music this week. Though separate, they all connect.

First, I finished reading Rob Sheffield’s Turn Around Bright Eyes, which is a wonderful rumination on the power of music (and in Sheffield’s case, Karaoke) to create meaning in the phases of our lives. Second, I have been culling together a bunch of old recordings for a site I am creating at Bandcamp to share out some of my music. Finally, my friends Luke and Joel were musing on tracks this week as Luke wrote about ballads and Joel responded with a look at Smashing Pumpkins.

Sheffield’s book is the second of his that I have read in the past six months (the other is Love is a Mix Tape — another keeper). I read Sheffield all the time in Rolling Stone magazine, but I wasn’t sure if he could sustain a book. He can (at least three books, even), and I am grateful for the way he brings his pop culture lens and thinking about music to how he views life. You’ll have to read Sheffield’s book to get the whole story, but he married young, had tragedy and found love again when he thought it would never happen. Through it all, Sheffield uses his love of music as the lens to see life, and even when he is talking about bands that I don’t know, I am right with him, nodding my head and knowing what he is talking about. Music is one of those things that connects us to the past, he notes, but also connects us to the present moment while still guiding us into the future.

The past is what has been present in my head this past week as I have been culling through tracks recorded with two previous bands over the last 10 years. I’ve been pulling aside songs that I wrote or co-wrote in hopes of bringing a little light on them. A few of them I consider to be gems, captured nicely in the recording studio. A few had been gems that got lost and muddled in the studio. A few surprisingly became gems in the studio. But listening to the tracks is like walking down the path to where I was in time. I’m still writing songs for my current band, and maybe some day we will venture into the studio (although both of the former bands broke up as soon as we were done with recording — so the few of us still left from those previous bands are a little studio-shy, to say the least). But putting on headphones and listening to music I wrote, performed with bands from another time, has been a reminder of how music is, and was, a fabric in my life, weaving the stories of who I am together over time. Sometimes, I forget that and have to be reminded.

Finally, Luke blogged the other day about ballads as a sort of emotional anchor, and then he shared out the tracks he was writing about, too. I am always interested in what songs are other people’s lists, and I was surprised to see Radiohead right at the top. I’d quibble with a few of Luke’s choices (Not a huge fan of Red Hot Chilli Peppers, for some reason, although I could listen to Flea any day) and love that a few are new to me. It’s interesting that Luke’s lens here is ballads, which tug at our heart in ways that stories and words don’t do.

And it occurred to me … what ballads would be on my list? Here are a few, although I am not sure they all fall under the “ballad” banner (see above for the video playlist of most of the songs here. Some are different versions than I remember but still capture the gist of the song):

  • Marc Cohn: True Companion (from his debut album). Years later, I can still listen to this track and the way the piano deepens with those low notes and the opening voice, and then how the strings swell in. And Cohn sings about finding that person who seems to make your life complete. I hear this song and my own heart beats a little faster.
  • Scott Hamilton — The Very Thought of You (from The Beginning) — Jazz saxophonist Scott Hamilton plays with such an easy and swerve of sound that he often becomes the background when I am cooking or writing. Background is not the right word, though, since his sentiment floats up and out. This track is a favorite because Hamilton floats over the sparse rhythm track.
  • Indigo Girls — You and Me of the 10,000 Wars (from Nomads, Indians, Saints) — There was a time … when I was deep into the Indigo Girls, particularly around a period of relationship breakups that seemed to be more 0f a norm than I would have liked. I sank into Emily Salier’s lyrics and voice to get me through, and even today, I can’t hear some of those songs without remembering …
  • Seal — Prayer for the Dying (from Seal) — I was stunned when I finally found this album, in one of those “where has this sound been all my life?” kind of moments. His voice and the production (sometimes, over the top, but mostly, just along that edge) gives a feel here that still has me stop in my tracks when the song and album come on. I need to listen. I don’t think Seal ever reached these heights again.
  • Chris Isaac – Wicked Game (from Heart Shaped World). One on hand, the slide guitar gives it a feel of too much country (or maybe that is my wife talking in my head). But we play this one my band, and I only do a little back up vocals. Listening to the lead singer belt this one out while I am in the room can give goose pimples because he mostly nails it (it’s hard to hit Isaak’s vocal range). This song, and the video, is forever etched on my mind from the first time I heard/saw it. It’s definitely one where the feel of the video (so sultry and sexy) matched perfectly with the feel of the song.
  • Jakob Dylan — This End of the Telescope (from Seeing Things) — I seem to be one of the only people I know who has enjoyed Jakob Dylan’s solo efforts over the years. This track muses on our place on this planet, and how perspectives shift over time. It reminds me of times of confusion and trying to find focus, and how powerful friendships can be during the times of personal turmoil.
  • Joan Armitrading — Everyday Boy (from What’s Inside) — I have no idea how I got my hands on a Joan Armitrading disc during a certain time period where I was deep inside myself, but this song and the lyrics stuck with me over time. Then, I sort of let it go. Joan had done her job for me. So, here, listening again as I write this post brings up a lot of the past, and that brings us back to how music does something for our hearts and minds that few other kinds of composing and performance do (Sheffield’s point).
  • And finally, every track on The Swell Seasons album, Strict Joy. I guess they have broken up (figures) but this collection of songs, sung with heart-breaking harmony is an amazing headphone experience. It’s not the same when I play it out on speakers — the richness of the language and the depth of the singing get lost in the air. But put this one with headphones, and you transported deep into the heart.

What songs hit your heart?

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

 

Playing Around with Bandcamp – two free holiday songs

Some of you know I write and record music, mostly as demos for my band (Duke Rushmore).  But I’d like to try to get more of music out there and I am playing around with Bandcamp as a way to do that. To get started, I posted two holiday-themed songs from the past and am allowing them to be downloaded from Bandcamp for free. I don’t see my songwriting as a money-making venture. If you enjoy the songs, I’ll be happy.

You can also access the songs at Bandcamp directly. Or just listen here with the embed files. Whatever works for you works for me.

Thanks for reading and listening.

Peace (I mean it),
Kevin

Gone Headless — The Rap

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Someone over in DS106 had created a rap for the Headless Course a few weeks ago, and I decided to give it a try, too. I’ve made the audio file of the Gone Headless song shareable and downloadable, so feel free to remix it and mess with it and do what you want with it. Can I just say that working in the phrase “tech ambidextrous” to rhyme with “go headless” was a triumphant moment for me?

🙂

Here are the lyrics:

If you wanna play the bass – you can always go fretless
If you wanna create — are you tech ambidextrous?
Something about the Make — that’s always infectious
Here on the web — Come on and go Headless

Write on the screen — the paths are endless
If you wanna get crazy — you can always feel reckless
Take a little chance — you’ll never be friendless
Here on the web — Come on and go Headless

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin