Archive for August, 2014

Hammered Dulcimer“The Inner Life” is obviously inspired by the Beatles’ B-side “The Inner Light”. George Harrison took the words for that song verbatim from a passage in Lamps of Fire, a collection of religious writings by Juan Mascaró. That passage was a translation of Chapter 47 of the Tao Te Ching.

I got the idea for “The Inner Life” while in Florence, Italy in 2009. I was thinking about how contemplation must come more easily to the introvert than to the extrovert. I’m an introvert, and often have a hard time comprehending extroverts, so I wrote a verse from each perspective. I had a melody in mind also, but since I was traveling abroad I had no musical instrument, and I’m not musically literate enough to write down notes on a staff from my head. So the words were captured, but the melody was lost.

I had always envisioned the song as quiet, meditative, and with an Indian flavor; the drone of the tamboura and the bright, buzzing sitar were definitely part of my vision from the start. So I’m not sure what inspired me, in September 2012, to recast it in a funk mold. But it came to me that way, along with chords and a melody. I quickly wrote a final verse recognizing that we need both introverts and extroverts, and the song, which had languished for three years, was suddenly complete, as what I can only describe as raga-funk.

The recording of the song is notable for the strange instrumentation; I played not only an electric sitar, but a hammer dulcimer, a bowed psaltery, and an ashiko, while John contributed synthesized strings in addition to the bass. Years ago I had actually envisioned doing a sort of Indian-themed song using traditional western acoustic instruments, so this was a chance to give it a try.

Stories Behind the Songs: “Paragon”

Posted by on August 22nd, 2014

Sorry for the long interval since the last blog entry–it’s been a trying month.

Paragon BeardsJohn: The fact that Brian’s help turned “Revolving Door” from a cool chord progression into an actual song inspired me to try again with the Michael McDonald – style stuff. The chords in the verse, as in Revolving Door, just fell out of my brain into my fingers one day while sitting at my Yamaha C35***. After finishing it, I imagined it as interstitial music on NPR (i.e. the 20 second snippets they play between features on All Things Considered). I had sent it to the band as an MP3, and, one day Brian emailed me one day to say that he’d come up with lyrics and a melody, along with a chorus.

Brian: In August 2011, John sent me a demo containing the chords and a simple bass/drum accompaniment for what became the verse of “Paragon”. I liked what I heard, but wasn’t sure what to do it with it. Months later, in May 2012, I listened to it again and decided it was a verse in need of a chorus. I was taking a guitar chords course at the time, and wrote chords and a melody for the chorus, throwing in chords I had just learned. I alternated between keyboard and guitar when writing the chords. Soon after, I decided that there needed to be a different chord progression for a guitar solo; I based the progression on the chorus, using some chord substitutions to arrive at a descending progression. Finally, with some difficulty (due to the strange chord sequence), I arrived at a melody for the verse.

Sometime during the writing of the chorus, I came up with the title “Paragon”. I actually wrote a couple of descriptive paragraphs, trying to solidify the vision of what sort of paragon I wanted to write about. After a few days of effort, I arrived at the storyline of the high-society woman dating a waiter.

John is known for coming up with some funny mondegreens (misheard lyrics), and I couldn’t resist throwing a couple into the lyrics. One was “Awesome Zudokhan Love”, which was how he heard Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me”. The other was “dunder cheese”, which is how he heard “done dirt cheap” in AC/DC’s “Dirty Deeds”. I changed this to “thunder cheese” after I Googled dunder cheese, though. I sent a demo of the added parts and vocals back to John at the end of May. He suggested a few changes to the chords in the chorus, and then the song was complete.

We ended up recording two versions of the song; the first was at the original tempo and syncopated. John was dissatisfied with that version, so we recorded a new version at a faster tempo and with a simplified bass, drums, and rhythm guitar. I didn’t really like that version as well as the first, so we let it lie for a while before ultimately deciding to go with the first version.

The initial idea for the video originated with John; we sat around alternately brainstorming and horse-laughing until we had most of the details sketched out. Sadly—er, fortunately, the video came out almost exactly as we had envisioned, mostly thanks to our star actor and some fortuitous props. I threw in another Franjione mondegreen for good measure: “Bingo Jed and Lionel” = “Big ol’ jet airliner”.