Hourglass & how it was made.
“hourglass” is the 3rd, final track of the June “Yearbook” EP.
this song came together very quickly in the writing process (something i’m always grateful for!).. but it ended up being one of the hardest songs to record in the entire 36-song yearbook project! as soon as the song was finished being written, and i pressed the record button, it had ‘troublemaker’ written all over it. but as i listen now, i believe the struggle in recording this song is actually what makes it work. the song itself is about struggle… about coping after unimaginable loss, so i suppose it makes sense that it needed to be a challenge.
this is the first song of mine that features the harp as a main instrument. i loved the idea of having such a heartbroken song be nearly entirely carried by the most angelic and heavenly instrument there is: harp. harpists being hard to come by, i asked a few friends if they new of anyone who might be interested in recording the parts i wrote. my good friend, ryan francesconi came through and suggested his californian friend, diana rowan. i reached out and she graciously accepted the invite and headed straight to a studio in her hometown to record her gorgeous performance. the first round was absolutely gorgeous, but i had forgotten to mention a few technical requests for the harp parts. diana was kind enough to head back into the studio right away to record again from scratch, with the updated parts. a few hours later, i received the perfect and beautiful performances you hear now. i was ecstatic! real, live harp, played beautifully by someone as gifted as diana rowan… is truly a treat!
i recorded the vocals right away, but it didn’t feel quite right. sometimes when songs are brand-new, it takes a day or two to really get a handle on how the song should be sung. to adjust to the tempo, cadence and overall feel of the track. most of the time, it’s a very quick process to feel all snug and fitting. but, as i said, this song needed to be a struggle in every part of the recording, so it took quite a bit longer. eventually, the melody and my voice made peace and got along quite well. after finishing up the vocal, i had the foundation.
when i wrote the first few chords of this song, i knew right away this was going to be a song about being entirely broken. about the heaviness grief. i often write about this subject, but when i do, it is usually scattered supporting different themes. for “hourglass” i wanted to stay there. not just mention grief, but write entirely from the perspective of someone experiencing it fully. this is a snapshot of the moments right after loss, and right before the funeral. it’s the thought process of someone wrestling with the not only the weight of such loss and grief (losing someone so dear), but also at the same time, wrestling with the strangeness of all of traditions and rituals of a funeral (dressing up, greeting cards, keeping things together and civilized.. etc.)
the final lyric is the sliver of a silver lining, of clarity:
but i once heard honest words:
‘though nothing may ever be the same,
the heart keeps widening for change.’
that final lyric was tough to come by, but i was rather grateful when it arrived. i wanted to write a song about grief, but at the end of such a song, i was getting worried that this song was going to collapse under the weight of all of that sadness!
after adding some layers of piano, electric guitar detailing, etc. the song was completed. it’s a sad one, but i’m very proud of how it all came out. even if it was born out of struggle and grief.
we’re taking turns
at shattering apart.
at least we’re taking turns.
how did we get so good
at dismantling these hearts?
how did we ever get so good?
we dress our best
to receive their sympathy.
at our worst, we dress our best?
“time heals all”
according to these greeting cards.
oh how we’d rather time resets.
if we could turn the hourglass, we would.
if we could move a grain of sand, we would.
if we could find our way back, we would.
our minds keep spinning webs
of question marks and of regrets.
will our minds keep spinning webs?
i once heard honest words:
“though nothing may ever be the same,
the heart keeps widening for change.”
although “turning page” was not a part of my “yearbook” project, i wrote it right in the middle of working on my “june” yearbook ep, so as i make my way through all of these yearbook “how it was made” blog posts, it feels appropriate to write about this song now, in the sequence in which it was written.
i had never seen any of the twilight films previously, or read any of the books, but i have always loved the twilight soundtracks. thom yorke, bon iver/st. vincent, grizzly bear, iron and wine? come on. they always have incredible, exclusive music and i always looked forward to hearing who was going to be on it next. in the back of my head i thought it’d sure be amazing to be a part of that incredible list of musicians myself, but for whatever reason (more than likely the fear of not making it in!), i didn’t submit anything.
in a random conversation early 2011, a close friend of mine gave me the nudge that i needed, suggesting that perhaps i should try to write something for the new twilight movie. a few months later, i sat down and gave it a shot and wrote “turning page,” my submission for the twilight saga: breaking dawn – part 1.
but before i began writing “turning page” i bought all 3 twilight films on iTunes and watched them for the first time, back to back. after taking it all in, i did a little research on what was to come next in the story. it was obvious that the wedding would be up next, and in essence, the entire twilight saga is, at it’s heart, a love story. so, i decided to write a love song.
i set up my ipad on my piano and let a couple scenes from “eclipse” play over and over on mute while i played piano over it, to see what worked, what felt right. within an hour or two or playing around, i found the beginning chords of “turning page.” i was looking for something with a sweet tone, but also with a touch of somber in it too. (after all, it is a vampire love story!) when i played/found those first few chords of the song, it felt like the right direction so i moved forward with it.
lyrically, my goal was to subtly include some visuals inspired by the films but at the same time, write a love song that meant something to me first and foremost.
“i’ve waited a hundred years,
but i’d wait a million more for you”
in a literal twilight translation, the character “edward” is over 100 years old in the story, so i liked the nod to that… and this lyric sets the tone of the song being written from his edward’s perspective. unrelated to twilight, i really liked the idea of the extremity and exaggeration of waiting “a hundred years” for someone… when you’re in love, nothing is too dramatic or overstated.
sidetrack: funny story behind that lyric “a hundred years“… my original submission title for “turning page” was actually “a hundred years.” why is that funny? well, because christina perri‘s absolutely gorgeous single, from the same soundtrack is titled “a thousand years.” crazy, crazy coincidence… a little while before the film released i got a phone call asking if i’d consider a different title because there was another artist on the soundtrack that had nearly the same title… so i came up with a few more title ideas and landed on “turning page.” to make things even more bizarre/coincidental… remember the friend i mentioned who gave me the nudge to try and submit something for the film? well, his name is david hodges and he co-wrote christina perri’s “a thousand years”! so not only was it absurdly crazy that we both talked about the idea of having music on breaking dawn, and both ended up getting a song on it, BUT we both named our songs nearly identical to eachother’s without ever having a clue. crazy. i suppose great minds think alike?
back to the lyrics…
it’s easy to write love songs. that’s in part why there are 100 trillion of them in existence right now. but i knew that “turning page” shouldn’t just be a collection of pretty words… i had to really mean it. so having gotten married just a year prior to writing this song, i had a well of inspiration to draw from that made this song very personal to me. i knew i wanted to try to write something with the breaking dawn wedding in mind, so i went back to my well and went through my wedding pictures.. and little ideas started coming together that hit both marks: personal to me and my own love story, and made sense within twilight’s epic love story. example:
“your love is my turning page,
where only the sweetest words remain.
every kiss is a cursive line,
every touch is a redefining phrase.”
on the theme of books: i liked the nod to the twilight books series… and as i did my research to write this song, i was constantly cracking open the twilight books. and since this song is essentially a love story, i liked the idea of highlighting the importance of story. on a more personal level, my wife is a very talented writer and for her whole life has been in love with books. so i really loved the idea of pulling in the theme of books/story in the visuals of this song.
musically, this was so much fun to piece together. i knew pretty quickly after writing the base (piano) for the song that it needed to be a mixture of very intimate sounds and also, swelling and climactic sounds (twilight is a blockbuster after all!) so i decided early on that i really liked the idea of this song being less traditional in it’s structure… there aren’t really obvious verses and choruses per se, it’s more of an evolving, unfolding piece of music. its tempo slows down, speeds up and each part always leads to something a little different than the part before. that allowed me to make some sections of the song more intimate and sweet, and others more swelling and driving. it was a fun way to work.. that approach made it feel a little more film-score-y than pop song-y.
after recording the foundational piano and voice, i went on to add layer after layer… percussion, guitars, banjos, background vocals, etc. it was so fun to play around with… especially since the song is always changing a little, it was neat to add little detailing along the way.
i knew i wanted strings to play a big role here. so sat down for a day or two and chiseled away at the string arrangement. i called up an ultra-gifted friend of mine, laura musten and asked if she’d be kind enough to perform, embellish and record the violins for this song. within a few days she sent back the most gorgeous performances ever and i couldn’t have been more pleased. she performed and recorded all of the violins herself and it turned out so amazingly… (side note: laura performed much of the strings on “yearbook” as well! she’s a-mazing.)
then i asked my best pal, dan perdue to play bass, which he did brilliantly. i’ve said it before and i’ll say it again, dan’s my favorite bassist of all time.
then, lastly, but certainly not leastly, i invited another of my closest pals, jeremy larson to play cello. i sent him the simple cello arrangement i wrote, and in typical jeremy larson fashion, it was finished in no time at all and was flawless. the cello was the final piece to the musical puzzle.
i sent the song off to seattle to be mixed by the phenomenal mixer (and human being), john goodmanson. as usual, he hit it out of the park right away. (even as i’m typing this, i’m just amazed at the privilege of getting to work with such talented folks. seriously honored.)
after all of that, i sent the song down to my publishers who in turn sent it down, along with thousands of other of hopeful twilight submissions, to the music folks at twilight. that was spring of 2011… a whole season went by and i didn’t hear a peep. late summer, about 2 months before the film’s release i got an incredible phone call, informing me that the song would indeed be a part of the film. twice! i didn’t know exactly where or how, but i knew it’d play as an instrumental and then again as the vocal version. my mind was blown. i was working on the last (of 12) “yearbook” Eps and i couldn’t have hoped for better news.
close to when the film released, i had the incredible privilege of being invited to be a part of a mini twilight-tour with a couple of the other artists on the soundtrack (aqualung and lucy schwartz), as well as some of the actors from the film. it was so so much fun. my good friend matt mugford, came with me and played guitar like the pro he is – i consider that short period of time one of the most fun experiences i’ve ever had. (side note: we got to travel in a private plane, along with the twilight actors… so absurd and awesome.)
then, i had the incredible honor of attending the hollywood premiere… never in a million years would i have thought to be asking folks to teach me red carpet etiquette! i got through that the best i knew how… surreal. then, we all sat down inside the nokia theater to watch the film for the very first time. i was absolutely blown away by the placements given to my song… the instrumental played in it’s near entirety as “bella” walked down the aisle to marry “edward.” and then, on a more steamy note, the song replays, this time with vocals (again nearly in it’s entirety!) as bella and edward… well… enjoy their honeymoon. ha. i couldn’t believe it! often times, if your song gets the be a part of a film or tv show, it’s very much background music, so you can never know how it will turn out until you see it for the first time. and for twilight, i was just utterly blown away. so so very privileged to be a part.
this post is getting quite long, so i’ll wrap it up here… all that to say, i so enjoyed writing “turning page” and never imagined that it would have the life that it has. i am so grateful to the folks at twilight who let this song be a part of their film, and to each of the many folks whom have let this song be a part of their lives, to those who record cover versions on youtube, to the lovely folks who played it at countless weddings, and more recently to the kind people at “so you think you can dance” for letting it be a part of such beautiful choreography twice in the 2012 season. to see the ways in which people have allowed this song into their world is absolutely overwhelming and means so very much to me. i am beyond privileged.
thanks so much for reading!
much love, ryan
Written by: Ryan O’Neal
i’ve waited a hundred years.
but i’d wait a million more for you.
nothing prepared me for
what the privilege of being yours would do.
if i had only felt the warmth within your touch,
if i had only seen how you smile when you blush,
or how you curl your lip when you concentrate enough,
i would have known what i was living for all along.
what i’ve been living for.
your love is my turning page,
where only the sweetest words remain.
every kiss is a cursive line,
every touch is a redefining phrase.
i surrender who i’ve been for who you are,
for nothing makes me stronger than your fragile heart.
if i had only felt how it feels to be yours,
well, i would have known what I’ve been living for all along.
what i’ve been living for.
though we’re tethered to the story we must tell,
when i saw you, well, i knew we’d tell it well.
with a whisper, we will tame the vicious seas.
like a feather bringing kingdoms to their knees.
“Masquerade” is a bit different for me… it’s a Halloween love song! It was SO fun to write and turned out to be my most lighthearted song ever – a fun departure from the more serious tone of most of my songs. Could it be the next “Monster Mash” or “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah“? Who knows! But it was written for the upcoming Paramount/Nickelodeon Film, “FUN SIZE,” a Halloween teen-comedy, releasing in theaters this Friday! If you check out the film, be sure to keep your ears open towards the end.
Hope you like “Masquerade“!
Happy Halloween Early!
Much Love, Ryan – Sleeping At Last