On Monday night I visited the open mic night at the Store, one of my favorite venues in Chicago (not least because the sound is so good). Another reason to love it is that Garrett, the audio tech, records everyone's sets. Here's The Climate Change Song, as played on Garrett's guitar. You can't quite hear the audience's echos of "fucking twat!" but you can definitely hear me laugh in response.
Just posted a new demo, "One Two," over at ReverbNation. I already know that a couple of lyrics are going to change, but...fundamentally, this means I'm done with the songwriting part of Highway Gothic.
Since Charlie's already starting on some drum tracks for the studio version of "One Two," we're getting pretty close to done with the recording part as well. Current track listing:
Lost in America
White Flag [end of side A for the vinyl version]
The Age and the Ache
That's front-loaded with the dancy stuff, and I can see a couple of other likely problems with flow, so the order will probably change a bit. (Like, almost certainly, "Bender" should be on side 2, and "The Age and the Ache" on side 1. And then we move "One Two" after "Teflon." Though...hmm.) The only thing to do is to put it in a car stereo and listen to it a few times through while driving around.
Most of these songs are posted in demo form on ReverbNation. Some have changed a lot in their studio versions (for "Teflon," Charlie created an amazing percussion texture out of modem noise); some, like "White Flag," just got a bit more instrumentation. Anyhow, it all means we are zeroing in on a summer release date, and that is flipping terrifying and great.
When the wind off the lake is slicin' through your ribs
And every curb is crowded with the chairs calling dibs
A tall dark figure comes stridin' through the snow
A mean ol' varmint, name of Roasty Joe
I wrote a joke cowboy ballad yesterday, which started me thinking about influence and whatnot, and why joke songs are so much easier to write. Last one first: it's because the pressure's off. A parody cowboy ballad doesn't have to be anything but a parody cowboy ballad. It doesn't have to anchor the album or be submitted to a prize jury. You're also, whether you acknowledge it or not, limiting your audience to people who will get the song's first few jokes—and audience specificity can be an immensely helpful tool.
Parody also means you have a blueprint: other people have already done this. "The Ballad of Roasty Joe" cribs from the Simpsons' "Canyonero" commercial (which itself cribbed from "Rawhide"), with a bit of early Johnny Cash, via "Walk Hard," and "The Ballad of Davy Crockett." (I'm sure Derek Thompson would have something to say about the familiarity of the genre predisposing listeners to like your contribution, but that's a whole other discussion.) (Also, holy WOW is that Crockett song problematic, in ways of which I was completely ignorant as a kid.) Because we already know what a cowboy ballad should sound like, you probably have a sense of it just from reading these lyrics, without even listening.
Gatherin' the lawn chairs, pilin' up the wood
Pourin' on the kerosene, burn 'em up good
Til there ain't a dibs called on the whole North Side
Just a big ol' bonfire a city block wide
But blueprints don't write lyrics (unless, I suppose, your blueprint is for a dance song about waving your hands in the air like you just don't care, in which case: you're done; proceed directly to the bank). There are a lot of answers to the question of what does write lyrics. For me, it always comes down to meaning. I don't like empty songs, and I usually can't finish a set of lyrics unless the song has a firm central meaning. So "The Ballad of Roasty Joe" would likely have remained no more than a joke between friends at a bonfire a few months ago, had Joe himself not made a separate joke yesterday about burning dibs chairs. That's as Aristotelian as you can get: suddenly the character had a purpose and an action, and that gave the song enough meaning that I could complete it.
Who can make a fire with a single spark
Blazing to the edge of Winnemac Park?
Who can play Jenga with a burning log?
He's a coal-kickin', smoke-breathin' bonfire dog
GarageBand also deserves so much credit for making it ridiculously easy to put together things like this. (Again, the fact that this is a parody for a small audience removes a lot of pressure; I was never going to spend ages correcting pitch or mastering in Pro Tools.) The fact that I can do in an hour on my laptop what used to take my college group a thousand dollars and a full day at a studio (with a reel-to-reel!) still feels nothing short of miraculous.
And if you go drivin' in the frozen snow
If you gotta leave a parking spot, just let it go
Don't leave your chairs out sittin' by the curb
There's a certain pyromaniac you're gonna perturb
Here's the final thing. It's pretty silly.