Notes on "Until It's Over"
With the release of my new EP called “Until It’s Over”, it’s time for another album diary.
What’s the idea?
This EP is special. At least to me.
My chronic health issues (since I was a little boy), the way I was forced to waste my whole youth (in pointless schools, forced by my parents to do even more pointless shit), it never stops frustrating me. Basically my whole life has been a series of unfortunate events, no matter how hard I tried, and worked, and forced myself to become a good person.
Each year, my voice grows worse. I’m training it, taking care of it. Boy, I’ve been training my voice for over 15 years now, but it merely slightly delays the inevitable. It’s getting harder and harder to record the other songs I’ve written. At least, without torturing myself, and sounding like I’m being tortured in the recording.
That’s what chronic health issues do to you. And never being allowed to actually solve or soften those, while you still had a change to do something about it.
So what is this EP? It’s a collection of songs all about this rage, and frustration, the wasted youth, the ever-declining health. Written in a way such that I can just play and sing it, record that, and it doesn’t need to sound polished or “radio ready” or whatever. I just want to scream the message out there, with whatever voice I have left.
It basically tells my story, from an innocent dreamy boy to a man twenty years enslaved, but in the most musical way I can imagine.
So that’s the idea. I’ve written the songs. That was the easy part. Then I practiced them, until I was reasonably sure I knew the lyrics/chords/melodies by heart.
Then I put a microphone down and played through the whole thing, sometimes repeatedly, until I had something acceptable. Where necessary, I added extra guitars (double-tracked, to prevent the whole thing sounding small and distant), or perhaps edited a few things, but that’s all.
About the songs
One look at the album will reveal its special structure: it only has “two-part” songs, placed like a mirror image. (So the first song has its part two as the last song.)
Why? Because many of the songs just turned out to be two-parters, and once that pattern was (accidentally) established, I’ve learned to just lean into it completely and make that something unique about the album.
In the end, I think it turned from a gimmick into something that actually really helped finish all the songs and make them much better than I could’ve hoped for.
As such, I’ll talk about all songs both parts at the same time.
All That I Needed To Hear
The first songs I wrote for this album. Part 2 came to me while lying in bed, part 1 came the day after (as I was recording a demo of the idea for part 2).
They are obviously inspired by some Neutral Milk Hotel songs I was listening at the time. Hopefully they are different and unique enough to not annoy people who know those songs.
These songs are amazing to just get the frustration and energy out. I tried to allow that as much as possible. (I tend to overthink things and try to be very balanced/nuanced, so I wanted to introduce a completely different bridge for “variation” and to prevent the whole song from being “shouty and angry guitar strumming”. But it just felt wrong.)
I imagine Part 2 being the soundtrack during the climax of an emotional movie. Maybe one day …
Careful Not To Dream
While recording and editing the previous album, I stopped in frustration, when everything just sounded shit and my voice wouldn’t cooperate. I didn’t know what to do. And when that happens, ironically, I just start making music.
Part 1 rolled out just like that, standing in the living room awkwardly holding my tiny Spanish guitar (without a strap), playing and singing as loud as I could. (Our dog was lying at my feet, but he didn’t seem to mind.) If you listen to the demo I recorded then and there, it’s remarkably close to the final song.
The title and content has a dual meaning, and I considered putting the “not” between brackets: Careful (Not) To Dream.
That’s why this song switches to a much slower, more “dreamy” section in the bridge. I also used that to connect part 1 and part 2, because I had no inspiration at the time for any deeper connection. (This did come later, though, as creativity always seems to wait a little too long, then jump at you at the last second.)
Also, you can thank “Foy Vance - Signs of Life” for the mystical chord Am/E :p
As the verse melody is very simple (and a bit repetitive), I did decide to switch it up a little at the end. Used the old “invert the melody” trick.
I Miss Seeing Your Face
You never guessed it: part 1 was the result of being frustrated after sitting in my “bedroom studio” for hours trying to make my body cooperate and record something that was somewhat decent. (Wasn’t even my voice this time, my health issues can also prevent me from playing the guitar properly.)
That’s partly why this song has a slower strumming pattern with more pauses. Because I just couldn’t do better at the time.
This was the moment I started bundling all these songs and creating this structure (of part 1 + part 2). It wasn’t there before, but now I was quite certain I wanted to use that. So as I wrote part 1, I already tried moving towards a part 2.
A few days go by. I struggle to keep motivation, look back at my old self and wonder how I can ever go back to being that carefree, healthy, positive kid.
I remember it was late afternoon when the melody for part 2 struck me, but mostly the starting lyric: “innocent boy, where have you gone, what have you seen, and now become” The chorus soon followed. I remember being so enchanted by this simple melody, that I wanted to expand it. So I kept thinking about it, tinkering with it.
That’s how the latter half of part 2 came to be: the melody switches to a minor key, then switches even further down, starts to vary more and more.
And then we go back to the melody of part 1! This also gave me the inspiration for the bridge in part 1: take this melody I like so much, invert it, put it on that slower tempo, and there you have it. (Although, to prevent repetitiveness, I decided to allow much larger jumps between notes in that bridge and go, well, basically as low as my voice can go.)
A Thousand Places I Don’t Know
This song … was actually written years ago! It was already a two-parter back then, which is why I immediately wanted to bring it to this album as soon as I had that structure.
Obviously, being an older song, being “written” basically meant I had a vague semblance of a melody jotted down in a notebook and some lines of lyrics. This was true for both part 1 and part 2, which are connected by the catchy intro rhythm on the guitar.
I quickly copied all those ideas from the notebook, wrote them down in a much cleaner/more consistent way (which are the tabs you see on this website), and recorded proper demos of the melodies and how I remembered them.
There were two issues:
- Part 1 had a bridge … but no transition towards it.
- Part 2 had a fun verse and chorus … but ultimately went nowhere.
So as I wrote lyrics for the parts I had, I started fiddling with that plucking pattern that connected both parts. And you know what happens when I start fiddling: several more ideas were born.
I mostly stuck these at the end of part 2. I wasn’t sure about that, as it made the song much longer and felt more like stitching two songs together, but I ended up liking it too much to not do it.
Also, I would like credits for coming up with the line “from whence it came” as an 18-year old (who doesn’t speak English natively), which I initially thought was fancy but completely wrong/meaningless (the way a teenage kid thinks lyrics are written), but it turns out it meant exactly what I wanted to say and fit the song very well.
All in all, these songs are just an excuse to play that funky intro pattern all the time, and they (especially part 2) provide the necessary more upbeat, uplifting, different songs in this album.
A general note
In some ways, I feel I’m gifted with this ability to just come up with an endless stream of simple but beautiful/fitting/fun melodies on the fly. Of course, I’ve trained, made music, worked on all the skills for almost twenty years now, which helps. But even then: it could have easily been different. I could’ve been the best guitar player in the world with absolutely no inspiration or new ideas :p
In other ways, it’s not as easy as it may sound now. Many lyrics start “bigger” or “fluffier” than the final product. I write many extra verses and choruses. I write lines that not really 100% fit the melody, but they say what I want to say, so I keep it for now. Later, when practicing the songs, I edit it down to make the lyrics fit as well as possible, and pick the best parts to make the final song. In that same way, many melodies/chords start really basic, but as I play them over and over, I start improvising, substituting the chords for more unique ones, and that’s how you get somewhere beautiful.
In that sense, almost the whole album did just come to me at random moments over a period of one or two weeks … but that was a deeply flawed “first draft”. So then I did version after version, edit after edit, to get it to where it is now.
What did I learn?
Nothing, really. This was just an angry album, hoping to get more (meaningful, emotional) music out there before I might never be able to do it again.
In some ways, it sounds better than anything else I’ve made so far. That’s because it’s just raw emotion, a real performance, giving it my all. And these are all new songs (other albums included many older songs, written when I was a kid), so the song quality is also higher.
On the other hand, it obviously all sounds the same after a while (as it is the exact same instrumentation and way of singing/playing), and you’re missing all the polish, excitement, variation that other instruments might bring to the table.
When your body is burning, has been burning so hot for years now, you’re glad just to live another day and make something.
Until, maybe, I don’t know, next time,