Back in high school, I started writing and playing music, specifically because I heard Nirvana’s In Utero and wanted to learn how to play guitar. I got a cheap Peavy with a starter amp and taught myself to play. I dabbled playing in bands in high school, mainly with friends. However, once I made it to college, I joined a band and started playing shows. While in college, I was in three bands. After college, started to record my own music, eventually working extensively with my brother-in-law on multiple projects.
It’s been a little over ten years since I recorded anything, and every time I go back and listen to what I created I sometimes cringe. However, for the most part, I think about the aspects of the songs I enjoy and carry with me, wishing I could remember how to play half of what I wrote. I remember the late nights writing, recording, and hanging out with friends. Today, I want to take a moment and share some of these songs with you. They aren’t the best music you’ve ever heard, but they capture, like any art, a time and a place that I still hold dear.
One of my favorite songs that I have ever written has to be “Don’t Wait.” It’s a straight-forward song, yet there are moment where I listen to the recording and go, “Wow!” When we recorded this song way back in 2005, I only had a Tascam four track tape recorder. We ran everything through a sound board and recorded the tracks from there. In post-production, I ran the recorder into a computer program (I don’t recall the name) and added effects. Yes, I overdid the reverb on a lot of the early stuff I recorded.
Musically, I like the way the song starts, this kind of mellow dreamy guitar with a bass. On top of this, I added Russel Crowe’s speech from the beginning of Gladiator where he speaks with his troops about Elysium. At the apex of his rallying cry, “Brothers, what we do in life echoes in eternity,” the drums and distorted guitars enter. Along with this, I like the dynamic shifts from soft to heavy, reminiscent of Smashing Pumpkins, Sunny Day Real Estate, and Mineral, all of which were influences.
At the end of each chorus, the ways that the instruments drop off with “Don’t wait” and the feedback leading into the next verse gets me every time because it feels like such a dynamic moment. After the second chorus, the dual vocals, which Mineral did a lot, fills out the song. Along with these aspects, I’ve always enjoyed using delay, and the tape delay on the lead guitar on the verses is always something that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.
By the time we recorded “Crash,” and the rest of the songs on this list, I had a digital sixteen track recorder. So, things started to sound a little better. Looking back on these songs, I’m, again, always struck by the simplicity of the song structure. For the longest time, I always wanted to do too much in songs, making it difficult to add vocals because finding a melody to sing over the instruments proved hard. My brother-in-laws stripped-down approach helped me with this shortcoming. Instead of having my guitar do everything, I used it to compliment the vocals.
I think “Crash” shows this aspect pretty well. It’s really only an acoustic guitar and an electric for the verses and chorus. I change up the lead line, and the harmonics and slides work, in the second verse, in the spaces where he isn’t singing. I like the interplay here. For the end, where he just sings “Ah ah ah ah,” I remember having his record his vocals in the shower. For the instruments, I layered more electric guitars, one on top of the other, building as the song progresses until everything ultimately reachs a crescendo and fall off into the atmosphere.
This falling off, in many ways, sums up the emotions of death and loss that a lot of these songs convey. Looking back, I realize that a majority of the stuff we wrote around this period focused on aspects of death and birth, the loss of those close to us and the coming of new people into our lives. “Crash” serves as a reminder of the fragility of life and the fact that we need to cherish every day we have with one another, never forgetting that we may not have tomorrow. This fleeting time is summed up with these lines, “I don’t regret a thing, except not telling you everything.”
“Streams Down Your Window”
Out of all of the songs I have written, both musically and lyrically, this has to be the most personal. The first verse focuses on my wife and brother-in-law’s grandmother. She had just passed away, in 2007. She had a daughter named Geniece who died at three, and she lived the rest of her life remembering the three-year old who passed away. The chorus, “Geniece my dear, I’ll see you again. Geniece my dear, I’ll hear you again. Geniece my dear, I’ll rock you again. Geniece my dear, I’ll laugh with you again. “
The second verse focuses on the birth on my own daughter, who carries Geniece as her middle name. The connecting of my daughter with the three-year-old Geniece, and even with my wife whose middle name is Geniece, creates a linkage across space and time, tying them inextricably together through a shared name. “Streams Down Your Window,” to me, serves as a link in that chain.
As a connection between he past, the present, and the future, I added my daughter to the track. If you listen carefully at the end of the first verse at about the minute mark, you can hear a faint “Chad” before the chorus begins. That is her, calling for her uncle. At the end, I brought back the rain and nature sounds, symbolizing the cycle of life, adding my daughter’s cooing to the ambiance, pointing towards the fact that life continues.
This song, musically, has to be one of my favorites. It is heavily influenced by Radiohead, specifically with the delay on the drums, the bass, the acoustic guitar, and the distant vocals. Lyrically, it’s the most political I would get at that point, an oblique critique of America’s involvement in the Middle East.
Again, this song isn’t really structurally complex. It’s two verses and two choruses, but it works. I think what I enjoy most, again, is the layering of different sounds and the removal of sounds at various points. The end sounds like an alarm, grating against the final chorus, as if warning the listener about the dangers of military involvement in the name of imperialism and capitalism. I made these sounds with an M-Audio MIDI keyboard that I found at Target for like $30. They marked it wrong.
I did this song with another friend of mine. I didn’t write the lyrics, but I wrote the music. To me, it’s heavily punk influenced, using strictly power chords except for the opening and start of the second verse. Unlike the other songs, I didn’t record this one myself. I do, however, like the reverb on the drums. Perhaps my favorite part of this song has to be the pre-chorus. I don’t really know what to say about this one except that it still gets me excited.
Jeb, the lyricist, states, “I think conceptually it was about a potential love interest but also it was about a loved one that defies labels who saw something special in me or whatever when the rest of the world saw an outsider because she herself was an outsider.” Seeking a place, amidst a world seeking to constrict individuals with labels, is something I struggled with for the longest time, and that feeling breaks the surface every now and then, When it does, I look back to the connections I made via music and through the creation of art. That is part of my identity that no one placed upon upon me. It’s part of who I was, and still am.
Stay tuned next post for a look at Willa Cather’s Sapphira and the Slave Girl. Make sure to follow me on Twitter @silaslapham.
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