“hit or miss” is the middle track on the july ep (itunes) in the yearbook series.
i think i’ve proclaimed this before, but (unfortunately for those closest to me) i am a very impatient person. no matter how hard i try, i am just not a fan of waiting for things.
the opening lyric, “hurry, hurry up and wait” is the heart of this song. in the middle of yearbook, that concept was at constant play in my head. i would rush, rush, rush to meet the monthly deadlines and when i finally hit the finish line, as soon as each song left my hands, i’d have to do more waiting. so even though the whole idea of yearbook was born in the spirit of impatience, making the gap between writing, recording and releasing disappear, i was still impatient with the whole thing. so i wrote this song to remind me to cool it.
musically, a lot of this song’s shape and heart was written several years before this song became a song, in a hotel of all places. a while back i got a new keyboard, and as is tradition with each new instrument i buy, i write something and play around with recording it with no aim, aside from seeing what i’m capable of doing with this thing. so while on tour way back when, i spent an evening in my hotel room messing around with my new gadget. usually those try-out-my-new-toy recordings don’t turn into anything more than a bit of fun, but i always liked these particular little odd melodies. so i kept this song on the back burner until it made sense within one of my projects… yearbook felt like a perfect fit for this sort of exploration.
once i decided this piece of music belongs on this ep, i decided to approach this song without any specific intentions aside from having a lot of fun playing around further with it, keeping it in the spirit in which it was written. in most cases, i have a very clear picture of how i want a song to end up and exactly what i want it to say, so i really enjoyed a less pressured approach for this one.
musically, i liked the idea of taking some of those descending sparkly melodies and have different instruments take turns playing them. bells turn into wurlitzer turns into banjo, turns into several other types of keyboard sounds. instrument evolution of sorts.
lyrics… as i mentioned, are all about me venting my impatience, while pretending that i appreciate the importance of patience. (i do, of course… it’s a virtue after all, but just not my favorite one…) this song is obviously very much about time.
i liked the idea of expressing patience (and impatience) through a lot of common expressions, like:
“a watched kettle never boils, a watched tree never grows”
“hit or miss”
“may we reap all that we sow”
i’m not sure why, but i generally tend to like the use of idioms in songs. there’s a familiarity i suppose that i like when in contrast with (hopefully) new ideas. so for this song, i wanted to include as many as i can. it was a lot of fun to make those odd little connections.
“much too tired to try, much too stubborn to quit.”
that lyric always kicks me in the butt in the right way. i find myself feeling like that, often. a state of limbo. that lyric is a good reminder and overview of the ridiculousness of letting myself remain in that place.
on a visual level, i was really excited when this line came about…
“every cloud above’s full of splattered paint”
it has two meanings: on a totally surface level, i just liked the idea of there being clouds above us that are full of multicolored paint. and the actual meaning behind the line is probably obvious: rain is what gives our world life = color. when a line works on both levels, intent and surface visual, it makes me super happy. so i was grateful when that little line appeared.
overall, “hit or miss” was such a fun song to write! because of the less pressured approach and lyrically it’s a lot of me venting and discussing my obsession and struggle with patience, it was quite enjoyable to write.
total side note: as i mentioned in the “wilderness: how it was made” blog post, i aimed to make that song in the vein of some of my older material from my “ghosts” album… i aimed to make this song have some instrumentation similarities to music on my “keep no score” album, AND on the next song of this ep, “aperture” i built it similar to songs on my “storyboard” record (when i began writing and recording my ukulele) so there’s a fun little sleeping at last history concept at play on this july ep.
thanks for reading!
much love, ryan
click here to read other “how it was made” blog posts!
(why does that have the wrong artwork? no clue.)
HIT OR MISS
hurry, hurry up and wait is how the waiting game is played. a thousand moving parts keep score inside the watch we can’t ignore.
so let’s hurry, let’s hurry up and wait.
much too tired to try, much too stubborn to quit, on an island in between the coasts of hit or miss. are we settlers or are we natives of this land? only time will tell on which pedestal we were meant to stand.
so let’s hurry, let’s hurry up and wait. so let’s hurry, let’s hurry, hurry up and wait.
every cloud above’s full of splattered paint, every seed below lies patiently in wait. but a watched kettle never boils, a watched tree never grows. may we have our tea in the forest, may we reap all that we sow.
so let’s hurry, so let’s hurry, hurry up, hurry up and wait. so let’s hurry, hurry up, hurry up, hurry up and wait.
“wilderness” is the opening track of the “july” EP in the “yearbook” series.
this song is a bit of a time capsule.. while working on writing yearbook, i knew that at some point in the project, i wanted to return to my young roots as a songwriter and write a song that would have fit in stylistically with my older albums, like “ghosts” or “keep no score.” as i was playing around with different ideas in that vein, i remembered a demo i had made sometime around my “ghosts” album in 2003. at the time, i got distracted with the songs that made it onto that record, that i never had time to finish it. when my next record “keep no score” was being put together, it didn’t have a home there either, so it was left unfinished.
so i brushed away the cob webs on this song and i was so excited to have new ears for it because the entire direction and concept suddenly made perfect sense to me, and was exactly what i was hoping to achieve with a song inspired by my musical past.
the music in that old demo, was fairly arranged musically.. but the lyrics and vocal melodies weren’t working.. and though there was a general arrangement in the song, it had some holes there too. so i went to work right away and discovered all sorts of directions and ideas that i would have never thought to try back in 2003 when it was first demoed. it was so fun to hear those old sounds in tandem with my new, current sounds and ideas.
i ended up keeping several of the recorded elements from the original demo in the end – some of the electric guitars remain, a few little keyboard bits, etc. but i knew that a key instrument here would be drums. so i called up my good friend, jacob marshall (mae), and invited him to be a part. he kindly accepted and with engineer help from mark padgett (mae) jacob recorded his drums in NC and it sounded fantastic right out of the gate. was so pleased!
lyrics for this song were tough to write. if i remember correctly, i caught a pretty bad flu virus right around the time of writing these words… so the process was a little slower than other yearbook songs. i wrote this song about my new little niece, who was born shortly after this song’s release.
these words are about the sacredness of new life. about the importance of welcoming it into our world. in spite of how wild and broken life has made us, as adults. this brand-new, fragile, beautiful life rests on the shoulders of that overgrown wilderness in us. in this song i wanted to examine the contrast of new life being entirely helpless and delicate, and some how is entirely dependent on the selfish, rough edged, dangerous world we call home.
when i write “dear wilderness” – i am talking directly to the parent, who represents the most important the role in that little ones’ new life.
all in all, i really enjoyed writing this song (in spite of getting the flu in the middle of it!) – it was incredibly fun to visit the past for a bit! feels good to pick up that electric guitar from time to time.. on my next project, perhaps you’ll hear a little more of that sort of thing. we’ll see.
much love, ryan
dear wilderness, be at your best. her armor is thin as the fabric of her dress. i know the rules: the weaker trees bend. but make her immune when your temper storms in.
when she gains her balance, be as still as you can be. when she’s climbing branches, be the feathers underneath.
when she regains her balance, be as steady as she needs. when she trusts you blindly, be her worthy lock and key.
though it goes against every grain of your sand, like turning wolves into lambs, be your best for her, your best for her.
when she holds her balance, be as gentle as she needs. when she shines her brightest, let no dark cloud intervene.
wow! i can’t believe it’s already december. i think i say this every year, but 2012 has been the fastest year i’ve ever seen. is it possible for years to have variable speeds? if so, i nominate this one as the quickest yet!
though it only seems like a few months ago, exactly 2 years ago today, my “december” ep was released. since it was written, i’ve been working my way through writing blog posts about each of the 36 yearbook songs, and how they were made. to learn how each of the 3 “december” songs came to be, click on the titles:
this particular EP features my first ever original Christmas song, “snow.” when it was released, i asked you fine folks to send in video clips of winter/holidays near you.. and we got videos sent from around the world, which turned into the community-made “snow” music video. i thought today, on the birthday of the “december” ep, it’d post it for those of you that haven’t yet seen it! this fun video project was made possible by wonderful friend of mine named bob davidson, who helped me out in compiling all of these videos together.
(side note: there will be many more projects like this, requesting contributions from you, in the very near future! can’t wait! lots of fun ideas to come!)
i hope your december is absolutely wonderful!! thanks so much for listening and reading!! happy december.
“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.
“atlantic, the sea of atlas” is the 25th & 26th song in the yearbook series, as the opening 2 tracks of the “june” ep.
so although “atlantic,” and “the sea of atlas” are technically 2 songs, they were written as one, broken into halves. the first half “atlantic,” is an instrumental piece (continuing the instrumental ocean series that was started with “pacific”) and “the sea of atlas” is the more lively, vocalized counterpart. so i’m going to write this blog post about both pieces. cool?
pt. 1 “Atlantic,”
about 44 seconds in, there’s a piano bit that happens – that piano part is really the foundation of the entire piece (songs 1 & 2) and everything else was layered on top of that small piece of music. it’s actually a piano idea that i wrote and demoed many many years ago. in those older versions it never quite fully developed. right around the time i was writing for the “june,” ep i stumbled upon those old, failed demos of that piano idea and decided to see where i could take it now, after all these years. i had assumed that it would lead me down a similarly failed path as before, so i wasn’t holding my breath that it would turn into much. just thought it might be fun to mess with. to my surprise, a few hours of playing around with it, i felt like i turned a key and uncovered all sorts of new directions and ideas for it. so not only did it end up working to revive this idea, but i felt like it needed to span over 2 tracks. it was a pleasant surprise to say the least. (usually, if an idea doesn’t work, or come close to working after spending a TON of time on it, it’s because the idea isn’t great, or least isn’t a right right. so, i was shocked that i hadn’t found these directions many years back.)
after playing around with those new directions, i decided that i wanted to make the first half (song 1) a gentler, moodier instrumental, using the choruses bits (the piano part i mentioned above) as the nod to what’s to come in song 2 (halve 2). after i wrote the final full arrangement (both halves), i finally had my foundation built and began to layer and layer and layer.
(sidenote: just like in the track “pacific” … i tried to write all of the melodies mimicking waves and the movement of the ocean – melodies that sway a bit. enjoyed writing with that idea in my head.)
soon after, i reached out to my friend and incredible violinist, laura musten (who recorded strings for several yearbook songs!) and asked if she’d want to be a part of this song. i sent her some ideas and she sent me back these brilliant performances (layering her violins) and misc. parts and it was perfect. i put the string pieces together, shaping each of the string parts to the song structure and it all fit together like… bread and butter? or maybe like cinderella’s slipper? like something that fit really well.-
while laura was recording her parts/ideas in nashville (using only garageband and a small usb mic!), i wrote a cello line that i asked my good pal, jeremy larson to record/perform. he was kind enough to get right to it and did a fantastic job as usual. (i expect nothing less of jeremy.. he’s one of my favorite musicians!) – right around the same time, both jeremy and laura sent me the recorded string parts and i was so excited with how it all fit together. couldn’t have hoped for better.
(never mind the creepy mannequin… just found this youtube link as an easy way to post the track! close your eyes!)
pt. 2 “The Sea of Atlas”
musically part 2, started to take shape with that banjo bit that starts it off. it directed the energy, which is exactly what i was hoping it would do. that banjo was purchased a few weeks before i wrote this, at a lovely music shop in seattle. it’s a mini “gold tone” banjo and it’s super fun to play. i was really pleased with how it turned out on recording – especially since this was the first song to feature it. you never know how an instrument will translate on recording. thankfully it fit right into the track.
the last musical bits that were added were drums, performed by aaron mortenson and bass by my good pal, dan perdue. i’d say this track has my favorite rythem section of “yearbook.” love how the tones fit into the mix and love the energy and weight both bass and drums add to the overall picture.
the lyrics for this song came together fairly smoothly, if i’m remembering correctly. i wanted to write a song about want vs. need. the line that defines this most:
there’s a fine line, a fine line in between our progress and our instability. we can’t help ourselves but hunt for more. a design flaw? or the olive branch that proves the shore- the catalyst we’ve waited for.
so the song explores both paths, crossing the wires of want and need and seeing the positives and negatives of both, which greatly affect our faith, absence of faith and our general daily lives. in every area of my life, a theme has been surfacing over the last year… “balance.” that word has become a bit of an accidental obsession for me… i hear it in every area of my life, whenever i’m thinking through ways to fix things. so in a way, this song marks the beginning of me noticing the importance of balance, in relation to faith, fear, want, need, age, etc. this song operates as a scale in a lot of ways – tipping back and fourth constantly as i hunt for balance.
(side note: for a while, i’m not at all sure why, i’ve wanted to try to fit in the word “connoisseur” in a song. seriously i don’t know why. but i was pleased when i was able the find a home for it in this song… even managed to squeeze in “vocabularies”! in your face, 5-syllable word!):
“we once felt safe, like no cure was needed. our vocabularies had no room for “defeated,” but we grew up quick and became connoisseurs of it.”
thanks for reading!
THE SEA OF ATLAS
through wires and waves, our voices carry. such careful words that we can barely speak out loud. we found an ocean when we needed land. we drowned in words when we needed a hand. so we plead for night, and the sun keeps on spilling light.
there’s a fine line, a fine line in between our progress and our instability. we can’t help ourselves but hunt for more. a design flaw? or the olive branch that proves the shore- the catalyst we’ve waited for.
we live and die under the thumb of fear, as though the finish line will merely disappear if we take one less step, even to catch our breath.
we once felt safe, like no cure was needed. our vocabularies had no room for “defeated,” but we grew up quick and became connoisseurs of it.
there’s a fine line, a fine line in between our progress and our instability. we can’t help ourselves but hunt for more. a design flaw? or the olive branch that proves the shore- the catalyst we’ve waited for.
“silhouettes” is the 24th song in the yearbook series, the last track of the “may” ep.
over the past couple years i’ve had the privilege of being invited to perform at several To Write Love On Her Arms events across the country. (if you’re unfamiliar with TWLOHA, please take a moment to learn more. It’s an incredible organization dedicated to helping young people struggling with self-injury, addiction and depression. hope is their message, and it’s something i deeply believe in.) the founder of TWLOHA, jamie tworkowski tours around the country, telling TWLOHA‘s story at different universities, inviting local counselors to introduce themselves to this wonderful and brave audience as well. it’s a really great thing. i get the incredible honor to play a few songs right before jamie speaks.
as if getting to share my songs with such a special group of people isn’t an honor enough for me, i also get to meet these amazing people and hear their stories first hand. a privilege to say the least. hearing such painful histories is always saddening of course, but it’s incredibly inspiring too – to hear that they are unwilling to give up. honestly, it’s bravery and vulnerability like i’ve never seen it. i wrote “silhouettes” based around those conversations and stories.
in all of our histories of pain, it’s not uncommon that the source is deeply rooted within our family relationships. which saddens me to no end, considering that “family” should to be a relationship that safe and sacred above all else- it’s meant to be where you turn when the world is unkind to you, that builds you back up. so, “silhouettes” is a story about someone navigating the waters of hurt and pain from their broken family, struggling to see the simple truth that they are worth love and deserve so much better.
“when it’s too much to bare, memories erase. a disappearing act, deserving of our thanks. when it surfaces, just hold your breath and swim. just swim.”
that lyric refers to our incredible, but dangerous human ability to shut down the things that hurt us so deeply- a defense mechanism that goes back through our darkest memories and covers them up from our consciousness. which is perhaps, in someways, a gift that we are able to turn off those unspeakable things and build up strength in order to process it in a healthy way.. but it’s so dangerous too because those swallowed memories build and build without us knowing, which can take a serious tole on our health and wellbeing.
it takes an absurd amount of bravery to face darkness, to pick up the pieces and keep moving forward… the TWOLHA event audiences were a perfect example of that bravery.
“it seems only by the hand of God or death, will they truly change their silhouettes. for a miracle or a consequence, you wait and wait…”
that idea is very cynical, yes- it’s a very dramatic statement to say the least, and i can’t fully say that i entirely stand behind it, but as i was writing this song and really thinking it over… it occurred to me that there’s more truth in that statement than i realized. people do change, yes… but it is rare. perhaps not rare enough to be considered a “miracle”.. but i kind of believe that every day someone wakes up and decides to be a better human being and makes an effort- that is a miracle. and on the other end of the spectrum, completely outside of our control, there is persuasion to see life a little differently when death is near to us. whether it creeps into our lives through someone we know, or in health scares… or even in masterfully told stories, death motivates like nothing else.
“… maybe distance is the only cure? far away from hurt is where healing occurs.”
that lyric probably means the most to me in this song. it’s a realization i have had these last couple years- if hurt is something stationary (wether that’s destructive family, a town that is a constant reminder of a hurt and brokeness, etc) i believe it’s our responsibility to do everything we can to get away from it. an incredible simple idea – far away from hurt is where healing occurs. and somehow i think it’s very easy concept to overlook.
the entire writing process for “silhouettes” remains one of my all time favorite songwriting experiences. i’ve talked before about how sometimes songs come together out of great struggle and others (very rarely however) form more effortlessly and depend on as little “fight” as possible. this was definitely one of those rare occasions… granted, it’s a simple song, but sometimes those are the hardest to work on. this was a very enjoyable song to put together, every piece made sense. the lyrics were some of the quickest i’ve ever written, and musically too!
i knew i wanted the song to be very simple, very intimate musically and in the production. i wanted it to feel very natural and unprocessed.. so i recorded the vocal and ukulele live, together without any sort of tempo.
after the song was recorded and just about done, i felt like it needed a new instrument, and for some reason got it in my head that clarinet would do the trick. so i called my friend paul von mertens.
i met paul a couple years earlier, who i hired to record some woodwinds for a song called “clockwork” off of my “storyboards” record. it was an unusual song, in that i had the privilege working with van dyke parks on it, who wrote the insanely intricate orchestral arrangement for that song… so paul was highly recommended for the job and we kept in touch. (side note: paul is a genius. and he’s the bandleader for brian wilson of the beach boys, in addition to having played with wilco, paul mccartney, etc. pretty rad stuff)
i gave him “silhouettes” and told him what i had imagined. i carved out a section in the arrangement of the song to make room for a “solo” of sorts for the clarinet and let him have at it. he did SUCH a beautiful job putting those dueling clarinets together, playing off of the vocal… it was even better than i had imagined it. i love me some sad clarinet.
and that’s how “silhouettes” came about. thank you for reading!
you wrote your name in invisible ink, for you were so afraid of what they might think. but the scars they left, they were loud and clear, weren’t they? weren’t they?
when it’s too much to bare, memories erase. a disappearing act, deserving of our thanks. when it surfaces, just hold your breath and swim. just swim.
you begged and begged for some kind of change: maybe they’d wake up tomorrow and regret the pain that they’ve passed down to you like DNA, but no luck, no luck.
it seems only by the hand of God or death, will they truly change their silhouettes. for a miracle or a consequence, you wait and wait…
… maybe distance is the only cure? far away from hurt is where healing occurs. but all you really want to do is make them proud, don’t you? don’t you?
it must be so hard, in the mess you’re always cleaning up, to believe in the ghost of unbroken love. but i promise you, the truth is that you’re loved. so loved.
“segue” the 23rd song in the yearbook series, the middle track of the “may” ep.
this song was entirely born out of blind exploration. i jumped into this one head first, following miniature idea after miniature idea, never really having any clue what the final picture was going to look like. when i trust in the process enough to let myself write in that way, it’s a lot of fun. i often find myself roadblocking ideas in early planning of a song, due to over-thinking things. analysis paralysis, i think it’s called. but “segue” was the result of much play. and in a project consisting of writing 36 songs, “play” was a very, very welcome tangent in the process.
the beginning sound is a reversed piano melody i recorded a long, long time ago on a very cruddy old tape recorder. (micr0-cassette) over the years i’ve fallen in love with old micro-cassette recorders. i have a small collection of them. i call them mellotron makers… because they give everything you record with them that lo-fi, vintage, warble-y type of sound that i love and that makes mellotrons sound so rad. so that little piano bit was my starting point… reversing it and abruptly changing it to forward felt interesting. so that became the foundation of the song.
next, i played around with french horn sounds… which in turn lead me to the chord changes and guided the overall mood of the song. i love french horns… they remind me of batman for some reason. so any chance i get to add them, i’m for it.
then i began to experiment with sounds via an incredible iphone/ipad app that i’ve mentioned many times before — soundprism pro. truly a favorite of mine. soundprism was used all over the place throughout yearbook, and for songs like this, it was an essential part of my writing and recording process. (for those of you that don’t know what soundprism is, learn more here.) there are several “flute” trills throughout the song and i just love how that little character came out – which was made entirely possible by soundprism pro. same applies for those french horn chords.. in fact, most of the elements of this song were written/played using soundprism and it’s unique note layout. love. it. if you’re a musician, or would like to be… buy it!
percussion came next and was a lot of fun to mess around with. the result of a lot of adding and subtracting percussive layers. really enjoyed playing around with that.
right around 1:35, a little piano “breakdown” section begins… that whole piano bit came together in an interesting way. before that part was written, the song just kind of dropped off there… like a half-painted canvas. but i knew i wanted some sort of quiet bit to break up the song and to begin a new mood/feel for it. so, again in the spirit of blind exploration, i decided to sit at the piano, hit record on my iPhone and just see what happened in that section and just played whatever came. usually, the best-case scenario for that type of situation is that i’ll land on a couple ideas that i like, but will need to dissect it and arrange it a bit better to fit/make sense, and of course re-record it. but in this case, i was fortunate enough to like what came out, exactly as it was, iPhone recording and all and left it in as is. every time i hear that section of the song now, it makes me happy. one of those rare musical moments that benefited from less “work” to make work.
after that layer, the full picture of the song came into view. so from there, it was just a matter of playing around with more detailing and layers. the icing on the cake.
the title “segue” was a nod at being the middle song of the EP, but it was also named after the “segues” that were going on in my life at that time. plans of moving across the country, family transitions of all sorts, etc. it felt immediately like the right title.
the incredibly talented chris bethea mixed this track, along with the entire “may” EP and did so with absolute brilliance. i cannot say enough about his quality of work… professional, easy and extremely gifted. true story: not only did chris mix this EP under crazy tight deadlines, he also mixed this song during an insanely dangerous and deadly tornado that ripped through alabama last year. he wrote a blog post about it… read it here!
huge thanks to chris for an incredible job and for risking his life to do it! (yikes.. still feel bad about that!) chris and i have decided that “sleeping at last” might be bad luck for him, because every time we work together some type of emergency arises. including: a dinner together, where a very nearby car spontaneously burst into flames, an emergency hospital visit for his wife, during the mixing a previous song of ours… and now, a tornado ripping through his neighborhood. sorry, dude.
thanks for reading, guys. “silhouettes” is up next.
much love, ryan
ps. not sure why there is that photo in the video… kind of creepy. feel free to close your eyes while listening. ha.
“pacific blues” is the 22nd song in the yearbook series, track 1 of the “may” ep.
a couple months before this song was released, i reached out to an incredible company called GForce software from the UK. they specialize in sampling vintage keyboards and synths, preserving their unique characters and incredible sounds, converting them meticulously so as to be played on modern gear. in other words, they do awesome things. (learn more about them here!) anyway – having been a fan of theirs for nearly a decade, i decided to write a note to tell them so, spilling the beans about my adoration of their work. they responded with much kindness and shortly after, to my delight and surprise, we partnered up a bit.
i was honored when they sent me a brand-new super secret set of sounds they were preparing to release, for me to play around with in advance. that “secret” set of sounds has since been released: the “ChamberTron” set for their m-tron pro software. if you are unaware of what mellotrons or chamberlins are, read here. a brief history about the “chamberlin” instrument:
in other words, these little beauts are my favorite sounding instruments ever. i’ve been a fan for many years – it was love at first listen. so when GForce sent me their brand new chamberlin set, which was sampled with surgical precision, i couldn’t have been more excited!
i was just about to begin writing the “may” ep, when these sounds arrived at my doorstep. i decided right away that it would be incredibly fun to write and record an entire song using ONLY this gorgeous chamberlin set of sounds. so with the immediate inspiration of playing around with the set, “pacific blues” started coming together.
the rule for this song was to ONLY use the chambertron pack, with only one exception – my voice.
as i was writing this one, the melodies and tone felt in some unusual way related to the previous yearbook song, “pacific” – so the writing process went along, i decided to lean this song musically and lyrically even closer, with the idea that both songs should be related. they might sound more like distant cousins, than brother and sister but for some reason, i always hear the two songs as being immediate family in some way.
those slightly odd trombone sounds in the beginning are the origins of this song. those types of sounds aren’t usually a favorite of mine, but i just loved these… they sounded slightly goofy, but also had this perfect contrast of sadness. so, i started there and began building the song around those quirky trombones.
next came that constantly moving upright bass line. again, a bit unusual for a sleeping at last song, but i loved how it fit. since the chamberlin instrument is a semi lo-fi vintage instrument by nature, there isn’t a ton of low-end bass in any of the sounds. and i didn’t want to artificially add bass, so i decided a fancier, more active bass line would do the trick.
after playing around with chamberlin “vibes” (bells, etc) sounds and some other horns and strings, the shape of the song began to surface.
the vocal melody for this one took a bit of time to find. it was the trouble child of this song… took several days if i recall. but thankfully, the lyrics for this song came together very quickly… so it made up for it.
this song is very much about wresting with faith. i wanted to write about the struggle directly, without any fabrications. so the opening verse felt right:
“if i could rearrange my words, i’d say what i mean. if i could learn to count the cards, i’d risk everything. imagine how brave i’d be if i knew i’d be safe. if i could only know the end, i’d be a prodigy of faith.”
which is all obviously a bit absurd on the surface, but in my head that’s exactly the math that goes on. if i could know the answers, then i’d trust so much more easily. i liked the idea of uncovering how silly of a concept that is… how it directly negates the definition of faith and trust. it’s childish logic, but at the same time, for me writing this down honestly was almost like taking mental inventory. when i talked, or even thought about faith in any measure, i would clean all of those ridiculous ideas up and make them feel more presentable. less absurd. which is what inspired the next lyric:
“if i had a treasure map, oh the answers i’d find. i’d dust off the artifacts ’til i made ‘em all shine.”
it made me happy that the words for this song came somewhat easily… like i had tapped into some very honest part of me that i haven’t worked through yet. it felt like these words were in a hurry to come out.
this entire “may” ep was mixed by the very, very talented chris bethea, whom i’ll talk about in more depth in the next post or two, but chris did a fantastic job! as a mixer, it’s extremely challenging to work with a song made up of sounds from one instrument – especially a vintage and very lo-fi sounding one. it doesn’t leave a lot of room for dynamic or definition or even variation. but chris tackled this song head on and did an incredible job!
thanks for reading! oh and the kind folks at GForce software did an interview with me about my experiences using their instrument for this song – check it out here.
much love, ryan
if i could rearrange my words, i’d say what i mean. if i could learn to count the cards, i’d risk everything. imagine how brave i’d be if i knew i’d be safe. if i could only know the end, i’d be a prodigy of faith.
if i had a treasure map, oh the answers i’d find. i’d dust off the artifacts ’til i made ‘em all shine.
everything i know is borrowed, broken or blind, and what i’ve seen of beautiful feels merely implied. is it the treatment of symptoms or a touch of divine? i guess the truth is that the truth is of complex design.
how i ache to know.
God knows that i know we’re little boats in the great big sea. setting sail after sail in the hopes of finding a breeze.
every compass i have followed i’ve trusted and denied. so it goes with an ever-changing definition of right. is it the treatment of symptoms or a touch of divine? i guess the truth is that the truth is of complex design.
if ignorance is bliss, then i guess i’m in heaven. but this hesitant kiss sends me back to the grasp of the sea.
setting sail after sail in the hopes of finding a breeze.
“in the meantime” is the 21st song in the yearbook series, the concluding track of the “april” ep.
this song originated from a very small idea i had right before yearbook began – a piece of music that would be built around this particular rhythm on guitar… i liked the idea of having this frantic, and almost out of control type of acoustic acoustic guitar rhythm, while layering simple, gentle and romantic melodies over it. i liked the idea of that contrast.
when it came time to write the final song for the “april” ep, i remembered this fraction of idea via a small recording i made of the guitar rhythm, and began sorting out the chords and structure of the song.
it took many hours of me playing that rhythm on the guitar in order to play it sturdy enough to record. i’m not a very technical guitar player, so fast movement and many fingers picking at once definitely stretched me a bit. i loved it playing through it though… it felt like a good workout or something! it’s funny to play this song now, as i can pick and up play it with no trouble, but when i was first working through it – it was wobbly at best.
as i was working out the arrangement, i decided to reflect the subject of the lyrics with the music… (more on that in a minute) as i mentioned in the previous blog post (read here), this song was written as the 2nd half of the song “”intermission,” which was very much a song about the frustration and challenge of transition, being stuck between point a and point b. “in the meantime” was intended to be an answer of sorts to those feelings… a different and more healthy thought process… not necessarily a conclusion, but a more hopeful way to interpret those feelings.
“in the meantime” was written about the art of patience. especially in relation to faith and trust (since both of which require an immense amount of patience to fully understand)… so this song is very much about making the best of our meantime, our middle place.
in sorting out what it means to truly be patient in these lyrics, it felt necessary to address fear. in my life, i’ve been realizing more and more every day that fear is truly the most paralyzing emotion there is. it drives every negative reaction i have to the surface… frustration, confusion, sorrow, anger, doubt and of course, impatience. the lyric that best captures the thought process about fear that i’d like to have is:
“fear is illogical math- an impractical skill to have.”
so that lyric is a reminder to me that fear (when left unchecked) is rather impractical, to put it gently.
my answer to the challenges of being stuck, suspended in mid-air, are in the final lyric of the song… a prayer:
“here, in the meantime, in the gospel of nearsight, may we learn to live a nourished life.”
so the arrangement of the music was meant to represent all of these mood swings. i wanted the music to sound romantic and sweet in a way, representing ideals and hope but at its core, i wanted there to be a pushing, frantic feeling as well, to represent the challenges of impatience… i wanted the music to swell up and down, to represent the lack of control we have to tame our worries and fears.
after i finished up the lyrics and vocal melodies, i wrote to my pal brooke waggoner (who is one of my favorite artists/songwriters making music today!) an email and asked if she’d be up to singing some harmonies throughout this song. she accepted my invite and did such a beautiful job… really lovely to have her! mini side note: one happy accident that happened – i sent brooke an early draft of the lyrics to sing and there was one word that i ended up trading out for another, and after she recorded it the old way, i didn’t notice and sang the lyrics the new way… after i finalized my vocal takes of the song, i noticed that we were singing different words… but i left it because i love the double meaning… the word is “farsighted” and the brooke sang the older version which read “foresighted.”
“though our patience is always in short supply, we’ll leave our foresighted/farsighted worries behind.”
i sent another invite to another pal of mine (and no stranger to yearbook – she’s on a bunch of songs!) to contribute to this song, the incredibly talented laura musten. i asked laura to record some clusters of strings for this song, weaving in and out of the vocal melodies and honestly couldn’t have done a more lovely job! was such a delight to hear her tracks sent back… her playing is so gorgeous and her ability to overdub is just wonderful. i love the lines she played – she really understood the idea behind the arrangement of the music, mirroring the lyrical subject. side note: laura recorded all of these violins on her laptop with garageband and a usb mic, and yet they sound rich and lovely as ever. in your face, expensive recording gear!!
yet another side note: i met laura through brooke, so it only felt fitting to have them both be a part of this song.
and lastly, my bestie, dan perdue contributed some lovely rhodes piano throughout.
this one turned out to be a fav of mine… from concept to completion, i was very pleased with how it all came together.
thanks so much for reading!!
IN THE MEANTIME
maybe there’s no answer here, at least one we’re ready to hear. no string of words will satisfy. no simple equation to edify us
here, in the meantime, may questioning nurture life.
fear is illogical math- an impractical skill to have. still, we talk of our future ’til we have no voice; we’ll try to outsmart it with noise.
but here, in the meantime, may the unknown harvest life.
we’re conditioned to mourn our empty glass long before it ever poured out our past. though our patience is always in short supply, we’ll leave our farsighted worries behind.
here, in the meantime, in the gospel of nearsight, may we learn to live a nourished life.