When a friend of mine glanced at the CD cover and noticed the song "Ibiza", she asked me, "Have you ever been?" I said "No, and that's what that song is all about".
First a short geography lesson for those unaware: Ibiza is an island off the coast of Spain, and is known for it's lush Mediterranean beauty, and it's nightlife and club scene It is described as "the birthplace of Balearic beat music and it's trance derivative"… essentially the origin of a large portion of the EDM (Electronic Dance Music) genre.
After several different approaches and some less-than-satisfying ideas for what to make this song about, I began to look into the world for ideas. I had lyrics that were leaning towards a party-atmosphere kind of story, which matched the jubilant feel of the progression. Then one day I discovered Ibiza. It was a picture I found. It was beautiful. I dove into the information waters and wanted to learn more. Soon, I decided upon this title and "setting" of Ibiza to be the backdrop of the song, and the title. I chose it because of the natural beauty of the island I'd seen (of which at this point I have only seen in pictures), it's (in-)famous nightlife (of which I have only seen and read about) and music (of which I am really not that familiar)... I felt like these aspects of this place paralleled the texture and groove of the music. But I couldn't write about a place I'd never been to. It was my lack of experience and familiarity with these things and places, and my desire to know more, to one day travel far away from certain present-day places, situations, and in some ways, my life in general (at times)... this is what I wanted to write about. And on top of that, I wanted to symbolize this seemingly fantastic place as a representation of a larger idea, a fantasy of sorts, so for all intents and purposes, this song is about an Ibiza that may or may not exist, an alternate reality version perhaps, one which existed first in my mind, and now in this song. But first a little more information to explore the origins of our "destination":
… From the wikipedia page :
"Ibiza is considered to be a popular tourist destination, especially due to its legendary and at times riotous nightlife centered on two areas: Ibiza Town, the island's capital on the southern shore and Sant Antoni to the West… During the summer, the top producers and DJs in dance come to the island and play at the various clubs, in between touring to other international destinations. Some of the most famous DJs run their own weekly nights around the island. Many of these DJs use Ibiza as an outlet for presenting new songs within the house, trance and techno genres of electronic dance music. The city has achieved renowned worldwide fame as a cultural center for house and trance in particular, with its name often being used as a partial metonym for the particular flavor of electronic music originating there, much like Goa in India... The season traditionally begins at the start of June … and finishes on the first weekend of October with the Closing Parties. A typical schedule for clubbers going to Ibiza includes waking at noon, early evening naps, late night clubbing, and "disco sunrises." Due to Ibiza's notable tolerance toward misbehavior from young adult tourists, it has acquired the sobriquet "Gomorrah of the Med." Also well-known is Café del Mar, a long-standing bar where many tourists traditionally view the sunset made famous by José Padilla, who has released more than a dozen eponymous album compilations of ambient music played at the location. That and other bars nearby have become an increasingly popular venue for club pre-parties after sunset, hosting popular DJ performers."
Now, to preface, I was never really crazy about EDM. I don't hate it either. But as time goes by I find myself appreciating it more and more (depending on quality, of course). As a musician I haven't always had the largest amount of regard for it, and I admit to being a bit snobbish about it in the past. I guess I generally prefer actual musical performances versus the dominate force of automation in electronic music. I have come to understand it better though, and recognize it's place in the world and have been able to appreciate a lot of it. I don't expect an award for this, I am just acknowledging and admitting the difference of my attitude over the years.
One thing I've realized, is that there is an intelligent, creative performance in understanding the programs and gear necessary to make this music, and the and the finer details of the creation of the music and beats. One advantage I've noticed about anything produced electronically is that you really can't easily replicate the extreme clarity and the consistency of tempo in EDM, and there's something to be said about that, even if it's not an actual musical "performance" in the purest sense.
To break it down for a minute, all musical recordings, (with the exceptions of the ones actually recorded live or recordings that attempt to maintain the spontaneity of a live performance), are manipulations of sound The are artists working to capture an idea in it's entirety, one which might be difficult to replicate easily in a live atmosphere. I'm talking about track layering, sound effects, etc. that only really work in a studio setting. For example, a lot of Led Zepplin's records are layered and overdubbed, and their live performances, while amazing, are often a little more chaotic and messy, and Jimmy Page would have to try and play parts that, in the record we are all used to, were actually comprised of several different "performances", layered tracks, etc.... so it would be impossible for one man to replicate, with the requisite number of hands and fingers. In many cases the live performance might not hold up to the record, and vice-versa. Sometimes the live show and the recording process are just different presentations or art-forms all together.
EDM is no different. It depends on how complex and simple you want to make it, though, and what kind of atmosphere you are trying to achieve. Overall, I prefer the smoother, mellower, hypnotic type, the more lounge-sounding and soothing type of EDM, as opposed the heart-palpitating loud, in-your-face, serious ecstasy consuming rave and night-club genres. At this point I feel compelled to remind the reader that I don't claim to know a lot about the genre. (By the way, if anyone reading this is a serious EDM fan and thinks I don't know what I'm talking about, it's because I don't and I am) I am just kinda digging it now, I guess better late than never, and I would appreciate any suggestions on what and what not, to listen to.
So, it turns out that after listening around and sampling the offerings of EDM, the type that I find most appealing happens to be the music born of and in Ibiza, known as Balaeric beat. This is kind of a coincidence that I realized during my research into Ibiza, the coincidence being that it was purely the visual and physical aspects that had attracted me... the beaches, the yachts, the clubs, the women... I imagined being on a rooftop at sunrise with a beautiful woman, new friends, reclining after one of those really special night-adventures, watching the sun present itself and it's gift of the day to us, our consciousness open as wide as the sky before us, everything still humming inside... This is what I saw, but I had not realized how similar the electronic aspects of the song I was recording actually shared qualities with the Ibiza sound. Not precisely or authentically, but enough to let me know I was on the right track.
I had written the song on guitar. You can hear this as the rhythm guitar track in the song, with the harmonics and jazz chords. This part was written along with the basic vocal idea. When I came up with it I thought it was cool, but it needed something different… different to me at least. The issue is that I have been trying make a conscious effort to not write like anyone, and I always like to avoid writing in any specific or single genre. As soon as a song sounds like a certain band (or if someone mentioned that it did) or if it drifted into a particular genre as a whole, then I would reel it in and really try to add something or change something and persuade it to go in a different direction, to give it another coordinate. I didn't do it to be deliberately weird or to crowbar in some wild contrast for the sake of experimentation... I just wanted to step back and try to pick from the other wings of my musical library.
I tell people, "If you want to make real original music, listen to everything, and play none of it."
I want to make music that is different and new, and you just can't do that if you are trying to sound like your heroes. Of course you can not entirely escape or mask your influences, and you shouldn't want to. But I think it's good, for me at least, to stay out of any one genre, since the world is filled with so many different and wonderful styles of music made for all sorts of reasons, it seems counterproductive to limit oneself to just one or two. My desire is to bridge gaps, mix waters, travel a bit within the sonic landscapes. The farther apart the cultural divide, the better, but only if it works and is not forced.
In this case the song was leaning in a direction that I didn't really want to go, for various unimportant reasons. It was maybe leaning a little too far into my earlier jam-band influences (The Dead or Phish for example), which is where I had come from, historically speaking, but I didn't want to be home. This was a song about strange, new, and different places and perspectives. So, for the sake of keeping things balanced I needed to search for another triangulating coordinate, something out of character for me. In the past, I had flirted with the idea of incorporating an electronica element into the music I was writing, but had nothing that required it, and I had no no way of knowing how to create it at the time... so no real reason other than "just to do it", which seemed kind of patronizing to the genre. So when I was kicking ideas around for this new direction, it seemed like a good time to give it a try. I was familiar with the computer software necessary to create it, so I had the tools, why not build something?
So I experimented. It was not long until I had the beat that you hear in the song now. The really nautical and bubbly sound you hear. It was almost sort of accidental. But the result was magical. It had a sound that was danceable, fun, and changed the feel of the song… not drastically, but just nudging and tempting it away from a more predictable rhythm I may have settled on in the past. What was cool was that the song itself is in 6/4, but the electronic "beat" I had created was in 4/4… so the bubbly drum-rolls would happen in different parts of the song's structure, sometimes in the beginning of the measure, sometimes in the middle, sometimes the end. It was elliptical and didn't repeat in any obvious sense. This kept it interesting to me, as opposed to the usual repetitive thing, which was always my ultimate criticism of EDM (at least to my unfamiliar ear). I added another drum machine beat that I had previously created with a different instrument on another track and that filled it out a little more. Things were sounding good.
A few months later, I took the song up to Jake Morelli's studio. He listened to it and offered a suggestion. He heard something and wanted to add a live drum track. I honestly wasn't sure it could handle more rhythm. But Jake said "trust me" and sat behind the kit, and we pressed record. What he added was perfect. He played this really cool laid back march rhythm, which gave it a festive Mardi Gras, Rio/Carnival type of sound and feel. It really locked it into the place I wanted it to be. Now, there was something from every point in time: something the "past" (the Rio Carnival march), something from the "future" (electronic music). The song was growing, on it's own, and without a predetermined course. It strengthened my belief that in art or music, you have to be willing to let go of your original intentions (to a point, never lose focus), and let the song (or story, painting, whatever) go where it wants to. As long as it has it's own identity. And this was definitely something different than anything I had heard.
In the past I have described my music as "Tropical New-Wave Jazz-Metal", which is a fair description, although perhaps a bit obscure. I really say it to turn heads, because putting things under a "Jazz-Rock" or "World Music" heading would just serve to point things in a singular direction...I am looking to disseminate the clues, rather than narrow them down.. So this description could work... Other times I might describe it as "Progressive psychedelic yacht rock, but if the yacht were captained by Hunter S. Thompson, crewed by the Merry Pranksters, David Foster Wallace as First-Mate, and the yacht can travel time." This one I would say only if I felt the audience would get the literary and cultural references. Descriptions like these are both a way to convey my musical philosophy, and also a way of getting around pinning things into categories or doing a "sounds-like…" sort of comparison (Steely Dan meets Soundgarden is my go to, if someone insists). The hope is that it might pique curiosity and open up an interesting discussion. And even in these convoluted fabricated genres, I still feel like I miss something. But it's just a gentle nudge towards the real deal. No sense in giving away all the spoilers at the gate. But it is fun to see what catches peoples ears. The Steely Dan/Soundgarden always gets some raised eyebrows. Jazz Metal also gets looks, but I feel it's the least honest. The one I love is "Yacht Rock"
For those who don't know, "yacht rock" is a term used to describe the soft rock of the late 70's / early 80's that had a smooth sound and slick production. I grew up with this shit, and I love this shit, =and I don't care who knows. Yacht rock is a mixture of jazz fusion, rock, with sometimes a folk under/overtone, and sometimes there is actually a nautical theme (see the Loggins & Messina album cover for Full Sail, or Christopher Cross's "Sailing")… but the moniker really refers to they type of music one might have playing on a yacht, particularly in the 70s-80s. We're talking about bands like The Doobie Brothers (particularly the Michael McDonald era), Toto, Steely Dan, Chicago, Kenny Loggins, Journey, and some of those one-hit-wonders like Ambrosia, Pablo Cruise, Firefall, Player, etc. (to name a few). The term was coined by these guys, Channel 101, an online comedy troupe, in their hilarious online series, which is worth watching in a so-bad-on-purpose-it's-good kinda way. The series is a fictional account of many of the aforementioned bands having a smooth-music gangland war in the marinas of Southern California. It is framed like a late night infomercial, of the TIME-LIFE or Freedom Rock variety. It's hilarious. It was a joke that was made with a certain amount of respect and love for the music, but nonetheless takes a jab at the music's obvious lack of bite or danger. It reflects the overall popular feeling about this music, that it's just not "cool" or that it doesn't "rock, that it's sappy music for old dads to reminisce about when they had hair and disco, and cocaine was socially acceptable. All of this may be true, and yes some of the sounds and looks are awkward, over-sentimental, and hard to listen to. But I have to admit that I like it. And I'm not alone. There is a sort of ironic reexamination of this music happening now, an almost underground or cult resurgence. But for me it's really about the music itself, not the nostalgia (I was very young when this stuff was on the airwaves). A lot of it is just really good music, at least it's good from a musician's point of view. This era/genre of music had really great production, strong arrangements, written an played by master musicians, using really cool chords and rhythms, slick harmonies, shimmering horn lines, crisp guitars, etc. Go ahead you can admit it if you want to, it's ok to like it... we don't judge here.
Anyway, I find it worth mentioning because it has to do with the story behind the song, and it is a musical influence for the song, alongside the EDM element. Just as this song is not a great example of Electronic Dance Music, it is also not exactly a good example of yacht rock, in it's classic definition. But maybe this is a re-definition of Yacht Rock. The bubbly feel of the electro-beat suggests a nautical theme... the reggae/afro-beat/jazz chord structure and guitar rhythm, over the festive march, suggest a tropical locale. But it's the chorus that really has the feel of a good yacht rock song though. I kind of leaned into it with a bit of a Kenny Loggins or Michael Jackson. It just sounds to me like it should be played on a yacht. But in the future. If anyone owns a yacht and wants to help test my theory, I am available.
With every single song that I have ever written, it is born of the music. The music always comes first. If a vocal melody or idea comes out of it… good, I chase it. If I think it deserves vocals I will search for them. If neither happen, then it stays as is. The music is the priority. Vocals are another instrument (sonically speaking). That being said, I have a high standard for lyrics and put a great deal of thought and time to come up with a good lyric or idea. I sing nonsense words (if nothing comes at first) and I try to write down some good words that sound like the sounds coming out of my mouth. If they are good they stay. If not I rhyme them and try to fit something.. and then I chisel, swap, cut, paste, reinvent, and manipulate them to get the perfect fit and cadence required to convey the idea eloquently and work smoothly with the music. It's amazing what you can do with language.
Because the mood of this song was very festive and celebratory, I wanted the lyrics to reflect that. I had a basic vocal idea that I was trying to match this feeling. I wanted to capture a special sort of state of mind, one that I used to get in when I was younger and maybe approaching a weekend or preparing for one of the many parties I used to go to or the many that I've thrown (I used to love to throw parties). It was a feeling that some real good shit was about to go down, an anticipation that beautiful and amazing things might happen, ones that you may never forget and that could possibly that could change you, for better or worse. The feeling like you are on the edge of an expanding universe, a certainty that the world might just open up and offer you the pearl right there on the spot. There would be drinking, there would be drugs, there would be beautiful women and flirtatious games... wild dancing, toasts and side-splitting laughter… and if the fates looked favorably upon us, love... kissing... sex ... there would be moments of pleasure and mischief waltzing between moments of glory and salvation, all wrapped up in the cloud of an ever expanding night or weekend, until it all would finally crash softly into a bleary eyed miracle of a sunrise and our minds and bodies just completely would be completely wrung out and exhausted with the goodness of life.This anticipation...This waiting for the curtains to rise. This is what I wanted to capture... that specific kind of optimism and naivete that these days, sad to say, I find hard to come by.
I'm not sure why, but I don't throw parties anymore. Not often at least. I rarely go to them. Sometimes this is an inevitable conclusion based on my local and social situation. Sometimes good parties are hard to come by. At least in my part of the world. Maybe it's because I value my privacy, and maybe just because I don't want to compromise the condition of my house and furniture. But for whatever the reason may be, internal or external, I haven't really felt this particular emotion that I speak of. For a while now. Call it getting old, growing up, jaded, out of shape, over it, acting your age, whatever. Give it a name. Maybe the world's just a little bit more fucked up than it was back then, and it all seems sort of ridiculous. I don't know. Could be just that my life's in a weird place right now because of **insert one of many possible reasons*. I mean, I am 42 and most of the friends I shared these earlier experiences are now married with kids, and I'm the hold-back, the odd man out. And I feel OK about this lack of anticipation, for the most part. Not worried about it. Just contemplating it's absence and value. It's not that it's never gonna happen ever again, that it's a feeling impossible to re-capture. Or necessary to re-experience. The jury's still out. But to be honest, yes, I would like to feel that a little more often. Maybe for different reasons. Shit's just little realer now. Were those old feelings of anticipation justified and redeemed? Yes, sometimes and in big ways. Was I ever let down? Often. Was I hurt? Yes. Maybe the let-downs made me a bit protective of my emotions, as in "don't get too excited, kid." But for the reasons of this song, the results are not as important as the ability to feel that again.
I think I wanted to honor this feeling as something good that I once felt, even if it's lost for now, maybe to inspire it in others. Maybe in myself. It would just be an organic/synthetic of the real thing, my musical representation of it. It would be a statement, declaring that "yes, I am going to seek it out, find this feeling again. I will travel anywhere, I will try anything, I will offer my soul to the possibilities." This song will be a vessel, to temporarily take me now, while I am stuck here where I am.
Parallel to this need for a adventure of salvation and a reclamation of faith in life, this song is also a celebration of another idea. The idea that there's a place out there that can wash away the dirt of the passing years and salve and sew all wounds that may have been making the trek a little harder. It's a kind of fictional tale based on this idea, narrowed down to a real place that seems to maybe have this healing property for some people. A real cultural ideal of music, elegance and beauty, one which is actually kind of foreign to me, yet it's concepts and precepts are something I wish to feel and know... even if it's something which doesn't actually exist in this world, as I would want it to be. This island of Ibiza, this Mediterranean paradise teeming with beauty and nightlife and music… it all sounds so good. And perhaps it is, even if the music is not exactly of my taste, or what i would want to hear; and my desire for wild nightlife as dissipated a bit these days. But still, there is something to it. So often our imaginations or fantasies of a different city or country (or time, dimension or world) do not match up well with what is actually there, the immediate reality. Any well traveled person will tell you that you have to leave your expectations at home. I have absolutely no idea how I would feel if/when I actually visit Ibiza. I do no know whether or not I would feel anything close to the exhilaration I imagine I might feel, or if I would feel desperately out of place like I often do in so many of these situations, especially ones with lots of people and loud music that isn't right up my alley. I guess I will have to find out eventually, I hope. But for now, this is an exploration into this idea. There is a bit of naivete going on here, I will admit… a bit of unabashed hopefulness and desire, a longing for an adventure to a place that may or may not exist… that archetypal tale of trying to find that lost (and mysteriously found) city, a city of legend and myth, a kingdom that seems to only exist in whispers, a city of gold, a city of lights, an island city of paradise… a confluence of all wonders, believers in everything, including nothing, are welcome. A place where one can find decadent pleasure and spiritual salvation on the same corner. This was my destination, this is where I wanted to go. I had the map. Now, all I needed is some way of reaching this place, something that can actually take me to this destination, real or imagined. And so with the tools I described above, I built the ship.
I envisioned a ship. In fact I borrowed a ship, from another tale. This concept of "The Ship" is an idea that I will be expanding on in a short story that I have been working on, and hopefully to complete in the near future, so help me God. It is a faux-journalist piece written from the point of view of a fictional music journalist who, while researching for an editorial challenge to discover a new band, discovers a fictionalized version of "Fourth World Radio" and embarks on an adventure with the band and it's entourage aboard a yacht equipped with alien audio technology, in an attempt to communicate with intelligent life (ancient or otherwise) in other regions of the universe. There's more to it, but that's a brief synopsis. But this song, and the story I envision behind it may serve as sort of a back-story or future destiny of this ship. And if this sounds vaguely like a banal or naive song of the sixties and/or seventies, that's probably because it is meant to be, on the surface. The idea borrows heavily on science-fiction and time-traveling mythologies, from H.G. Wells to Bill and Ted. The concept itself borrows heavily on the books Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, with it's psychotropic pilgrimage into the heart of a misunderstanding region, literally and figuratively, and further, darker perimeters of the minds capacity. It is also heavily influenced by the events documented by Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, the journeys and explorations of Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters, their story leaving the roads and cities and mountains of America in a day-glow wake, a trail of celebration and experimentation, externalizing the internal experience of psychedelic drugs: the extra-sensory perceptions, the stimulation of synchronicity, the synapse readjustments, the hilarity and horrors. These actual events, now written about and part of the American culture, now mythologies… I wanted to incorporate these mythologies into a single idea, but maybe with a little less emphasis on the drugs involved. To mix these ideas with a futuristic alternative reality, a flux capacitor spin, and kind of make a heroic comic-book tale out of it… like if Kerouac decided to write science fiction to escape the 60's after the Beat Generation faded.
So here was the ship. This ship will travel all exotic locales in all corners of the earth, all arcs of time and space, every alternate dimension, in search of beauty, music, pleasure and truth... and will take on board any one who was willing to spread the good word, back to the places where it was needed the most. And it would leave it's mark in every harbor, in any piece of history it could find, to remind us of it's quest, and to give hope of a return. The ship is anchored in the water below, the guests are returning, the crew is ready, awaiting orders...
So what I finally wrote was an invitation. To myself or anyone else out there who might need to be picked up for the ride. The invitation is offered by the captain. He promises to help you find the place where our expectations and reality can coexist, a promise of rejuvenation, a promise of adventure and an experience that will alter your perception of life and it's meaning. This is no superficial tourist agenda, no affected guru's journey or pretentious elitist expedition, no one-dimensionally debauched party cruise (just maybe several dimensions of debauchery). This is something that is able to strip away every contrivance that could be imagined or acted on by our human dispositions, however purposely or not. All anxieties and depressions obliterated in it's wake. Impossible to pin down or locate for anyone's gain outside of it's own velocity, only to be experienced if you are on board. You have to be on board and trust it's navigation.
And so this invitation we sing to the wanderer, the destitute soul who is either lost or has given up. Someone standing at the water's edge, the same water into which he or she has maybe tossed their dreams of achieving a certain thing, experiencing a certain feeling, or reaching a certain place that seems, at the time, out of reach. I think maybe I wrote it because I need the invitation too... I think I need something like this to show up and tie me to the mast. Maybe we all do. Just a glimpse, just a murmur even. Just a slight smudge, some cosmic wake, a small crack in the illusion of time to show us that there are good things ahead and that it hasn't all already been done before, and even if it has, there's a good chance you were part of it, and an even better chance that you can find it once again.
You have permission to come aboard. You are part of it now. Have a drink, take a look around. We are casting off, forget the land you used to know. It will be there when you return. The canvas can do miracles, as it's said in a song. Feel the wind, adjust your eyes to the horizon. You will not regret it. I promise...