THAT'S WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO ME
It has been a bit difficult for me to be a musician, at least the kind of musician I am. I do not have the variety of skills to really make it as a bona fide session/gigging musician. I can hold my own, but I don't do well with normal, schooled or traditional kinds of performance. Even in typically "un-schooled" genres (I can't do the Hendrix licks or blues stuff)... That's not to say I don't have influences and my style of playing came from out o the blue. Jazz, rock, fusion, reggae, afro-beat, new wave, pop, country, folk, etc... I have a very specific style of playing that I extract from many different styles into a proprietary blend that exists mostly in the framework of the songs I wirtie, or maybe in free-style jams that allow for it. It's the corner I've painted myself into, one which I enjoy and call my own, but still a corner nonetheless.
So it's tough for me to fall into genre-based gigs, and I've really had to carve out a space for myself, to create the music I want to create. I often tell people that I try to write the stuff I want to hear on the radio, but either don't ever hear, or because it doesn't exist yet. This tends to fry people's circuits a bit, either evoking strange looks or piquing curiosities, because doesn't really answer any questions, or mean anything specific, in particular.
So, for the moment, I'm basically a solo musician that writes and records ideas as a whole, on his own... one who hears all the parts and lays them down without the help or input of others. This is not always the case, and I have relied upon friends to add things and do things that I cannot do There are some very noteworthy performances on this record by my friend Jake Morelli, to prove the point. But more often than not, as the record stands now, I end up playing what I am capable of, or utilizing the technologies at hand to replicate what I hear… most of the times it is just for the convenience and the imagined time-sensitivity of the moment... in other words I get impatient and lazy... but also because there are times when I want to reproduce the sounds, as I hear them… or as the muse explains them to me, as faithfully as I possibly can, without compromise. I believe that compromise and collaboration are important and healthy practices, but since I am here, without a band at the moment I often have no choice. The primary reason is that I hear all the parts, I hear a certain thing and I want to hear it laid down. I have no issue re-recording with other musicians down the line, re-writing pieces with another perspective. But for now this is how it is. And while this has yielded great results it has it's very obvious and crucial downsides.
I have gone to great lengths to externalize the songs, to make them separate of myself. I do not incorporate my name into the band name (“The Geoff Giordano Band”, for example), and I record the songs as a way of exemplifying what I hear and what I ideally want to hear in a live situation. Or a reasonable facsimile of this. The records are an parallel reference to a score or chart, to make it something that exists in the world with or without me.
When attempting to put together a true band, there is a delicate balance you must to achieve. You have to navigate carefully the requests made to the musicians, that they try to play things close to how I may want them to played, as demonstrated on the recording... and to not come off as an egotist and control freak who only wants his way all the time. You want to capture the sound you've worked on and want to reproduce, live, but you want to maintain an honest desire to have the players add or contribute their own personal styles without compromising the original sound, intention, or feel. I honestly believe in the idea that one must let go at some point, let the music carry itself and let others guide it too. I enjoy the free-form jam occasionally and I know the very special feeling that comes from collaboration. But at the start, in this period of my creativity, I want to begin the project with the original source, work within the parameters there, move around the framework and maps already drawn... and go from there. And the reason I go into this here is important and relevant to this song I am about to go into. It is also important to understand my insistence on adhering to the recording to start a base for the band's direction. I feel that it has less to do with what “I” want. Although, I do not mind being accused of being an egotist, after all is said and done... I also think most professionals would not take issue with direction, and perhaps this is a completely unnecessary internal struggle that I am conjuring up… but what it has more to do with, in my opinion and from my perspective, is what the "muse" wants.
The concept of “the muse” is an interesting one. The most basic interpretation of it would be that the muse is a woman (or man) that an artist "falls in love with", that inspires him/her to create. While the "Love Interest" may actually be a form that the muse may take, the overall concept is much deeper and more complex than that. As I understand it, and in my own definition, the muse is some sort of energy (mystical, if you will), that exists within and around the artist; in the world, in the mind, in the body, in the soul... this energy is an ambassador to the creative universe, a conduit to the subconscious well, a guiding voice and hand that not only inspires the artist at the genesis of a concept, but also directs the artist and urges him/her to go in a certain direction when we are lost or may need help, to lead us not into cliches, and deliver us from mediocrity... to light the fires when things come to creative dead ends or crossroads... when a new approach is needed, or when a breakthrough is necessary and the walls are thick, and nothing's getting through...
I am going into all of this because, for this song that I am about to detail, this story contains one of the best examples where the muse seemed to be, to me at the time, like a real thing, and why it may be important to maintain my confidence and not worry about seeming like a sound-tyrant at times. I know it sounds corny and self-important, and I don't care. I am not unique in this feeling, and the Muse speaks to anyone who listens. But truth is, I had some experiences on this record that were many parts “me” but also a few parts "something else", whatever that may be. I'm calling it the Muse, because I don't have a better definition or cultural view. Whatever it is, the feeling was palpable, a phenomenon that I invite anyone out there to try. Just start in one place, go to another, work hard but let mistakes happen, use them, listen to what's happening in the background, around you. Let the environment change. And if you have a question... ask.
I had been kicking around an instrumental version of this song for a few years. I even played it out a few times. Funny story: I had a fill in gig at a college bar one night. It was a bar that had a lot of original acts, so I was focusing on my original material. I played this song, this instrumental version. Afterwards, this young punk-rock looking kid came up to me. He was a frail looking small kid with a very high pitched voice, but his face seemed a bit older than his size implied. He was all black clothes, piercings and colored hair. He came up to me and said, “Man, that one song, the instrumental one… that was one of the chillest songs I’ve ever heard!” Considering his musical and fashion affiliations, which suggested something more aggressive and to the point... I wasn’t sure how to take it, but I thanked him. After a brief conversation, I knew that he was genuine. I felt at least one small divide in culture had been bridged, however briefly and thinly.
So at the time I decided to record the song, I had most of the musical phrasing and arrangement together, even some of the lyrics for the verses. This included the “That’s what it feels like to me” phrase, which became the title. I had recorded a drum-pattern I written for it on the BOSS DR-880... Then I recorded the guitar a few times, then another, deciding to double and layer it. Then I had an idea for the drums: Since the guitar playing was very mellow (or "chill" as the kid said) it felt like it needed a very dreamy atmosphere, and I wanted to create a sonic landscape for it to float in, some kind of embryonic dream-world. Then I remembered the old slow-mo trick I had been wanting to incorporate into a song for a while.
Here is the “trick”. I have this Yamaha 8-track digital recorder that has a feature that allows you to listen to a recording in slow motion. I had discovered this feature accidentally one night years ago, and I had made a mental note of it to maybe use it in a song or recording project. Of course listening to things in half speed gives everything a washed out narcotic effect, which would be perfect for this ambiance I wanted to create.
The only problem was that I had to account for the timing. I wanted to layer it over the existing drumbeat, so the tempos had to match. So I took the beat I had, sped the tempo up to double the speed and recorded it into the Yamaha unit. Then ran the playback to record onto my computer. I pressed play and applied the slow-motion feature, and recorded this. When I played it back with the original beat, the slow wash drums matched perfectly giving it the dream-like quality I was looking for.
After adding some hazy Wurlitzer-type keys and Jake's floating bass line, plus a few bubbling synths, this soft wash of sound was really starting to flourish, like some sort of warm sonic bath. So now I had the sound, the texture, and a few lyrics, and I sort of hit a soft wall. I felt like the song was incomplete, but I didn't know where to go with it. I wasn't sure it needed anything more at all, and maybe I was just over-analyzing. But I had been at it for a long time, and I just kinda figured that was all there was, and to maybe just let it stand on it's own for the time being, and move on. So I did.
Then, one fateful evening, I got home from work and I found myself bored. I didn’t feel like getting into any major production endeavors, I was finding nothing on television to watch, no movies grabbing me. I decided to get in the studio and at least work on something, or just kinda mess around on the computer. Then I randomly thought of a conversation I had with a friend about making loops. I had been wanting to try and make loops out of little sections of the songs I had recorded to sell or maybe use in hip-hop/rap recordings. It’s not really my thing, but I figured I could try it and maybe make some really cool loops out of one or two songs, and ultra-resource of the material. So I opened up Logic and randomly selected this song, with no intention of working on it as a piece.
I proceeded to go through and select short snippets of the song, loop them, and see if anything sounded cool. Total experimentation, random firing and testing. A few things sounded cool, but nothing note-worthy. A few more sounded like they could work and I recorded them, to save maybe for later. Then… I struck gold. But in a way I had not intended. I made a loop from a seemingly random part of the "chorus" (as it existed at this point). It had a melodic ring to it, and sounded really intense. The dual guitars were playing against each-other weaving in and out quickly. Little things you wouldn’t notice during regular playback began to stand out. There was even a sonic digital glitch I was hearing, a clipping that was happening that I hadn’t heard before, due to a phaser effect applied to one of the guitars. The thing is, is this clipping actually sounded cool, making it sound robotic or mechanized in some way. It was barely noticeable in the normal playback but here it stood out. I applied some to tone down the clipping noise so it didn’t actually distort the audio.
At this time I still wasn’t thinking of this loop in terms of the song itself, just a usable loop that I could make into a "beat" or a whole other song. But after thinking about it and listening to it (and loving it) I began to see that it could be part of the song. I had a thought about where it could fit. The chorus part between the verses, there's a section where it builds up, and , as it stood at this point in time, it just dropped down and fell back to the comfy dream-world. This is where it seemed like it could do something, but didn't and gave me the feeling that the song was going nowhere. But I had not thought to add anything there, and if I had, I didn't know what. But now I imagined splicing this loop right there and… POW!! It hit me like a freight train. Holy shit. That was it! This is how came to be the real "chorus" of the song, the part where I am singing "One Day, Maybe One Day...". Up until this single night, that part had not existed. It kinda felt like a miracle. Out of nowhere. It was perfect. I had to lay it down right then and there. I proceeded to spend the next 6 or so hours of the night editing it in.
Later when it was finished, and I had it in and decided to try and sleep for work the next day, I started to think. It really struck hard because I realized that I could have chosen to do a number of things that evening to challenge my boredom. I could have dug deeper into the on-demand movie selection and settled on something. I could have lost myself in Facebook or just did laundry. I could have picked another song just as easily. Thank God I decided to mess around in the studio that night, because if I hadn't, I can't guarantee that part would exist today, and it really makes the song, in my opinion.
I believe the subconscious guides us in ways we are unaware. I have dreams so complex: lucid dreams, dreams within dreams, dreams that contain their own memories... these are sometimes memories of previous dreams I've had or memories solely created within the context of the dream, recollections that are new to me, but old to the character I am inhabiting in that particular nocturnal universe (of course I am still "me"). I have outlined entire movies in dreams, ones which had complex plots that made perfect sense, at least until I woke up and realized they were flimsy at best. But are they? I don’t know, maybe things are lost in translation. The point is that I am laying there sleeping and my mind is burning the midnight oil and writing epics. No wonder I’m tired all the time.
But then, so, here is the concept of the muse again. Whether it was an energy isolated in my brain or the otherworldly guidance of some mystic hand, something lead me down to the computer, and seeded my thoughts with the loop-project. It selected this song for me, knowing somehow that within these choices, I will be meeting the solution to an old problem, one I wasn’t even aware of, and something that would really turn into the most uplifting part of a song I was not even intending to improve upon. I could say it was my decision and experimentation, but considering the magnitude of the discovery and the happenstance in which I stumbled across it, it seems at least a half-truth saying it was all me. Kinda wild, isn’t it?
As I listened back later in the week to this new part, this new song I had now, I began to think of Scott, particularly the guitars. There was something about how these guitars were playing in this loop that reminded me of him and how he timed and attacked things. It could have been his idea. I could almost envision us playing it, he would have killed it. I couldn't wait to play it for him when it was finished. Unfortunately, I never got the chance
This s a bit of a tough subject to write about. I have mentioned in a few previous posts, that my friend Scott Wardell passed away during the recording of this record. Scott was a really good friend and musical inspiration of mine. We were band-mates for a while and good friends for even longer. He made a huge impact on my life and the way I thought about music... playing it and listening to it. He taught me that it's possible to get over our own personal likes and dislikes, our preferences and our snobberies... and find something to appreciate in every kind of music. And his style of music taught me that it was possible to be aggressive, sentimental, complex, simple... all in the context of the same song. His sudden departure was a huge blow, and it happened right as I was writing and recording the lyrics for this song.
The song in question, "That's What It Feels Like To Me" is not about Scott or his life or death. I can't say it's about any one thing in particular. Maybe it's the muse, or the feeling one gets when she answers back. Or whether spirits can communicate with you through something like a bird's song, or a musical phrase. Maybe it's not about the facts, whether it's really there or not. But I do think it's about the confidence we can have in things turning around for the better, if we want it to be. It is definitely meant to evoke feelings of hope, love, anticipation, longing, empathy, redemption… really, as I write it, I feel can not exactly define it in words very well. Maybe it will come to me by the end of this post. So I’m just going to start at the beginning and let it unfold, and maybe, we’ll see… So….
In the summer of 2014 I had made plans to take a vacation, and to spend a week down at my family's beach house in Lewes, DE. The house is a pretty nice one, off the bay and adjacent to Cape Henlopen State Park. I am extremely lucky to be able to have a place like this to go and I am forever grateful to my parents for letting me enjoy it like this on occasion. My parent's, who are retired and pretty much live down the beach in the summer months, made plans to evacuate the house for the week so I could have some solitude, to write, and to work on the record. I foolishly thought that I might be able to actually finish the record. At the very least I was intending to get some serious work done. I needed to time away to reflect on this song, to get some lyrics and record them. This was the last song for me to really finish up (before I decided to add "Dawn Chorus"), so I was intent getting down there and getting to it.
About two days before I was supposed to leave I heard the news that something happened to Scott. It wasn't a lot of information, but he had a heart complication, some kind of attack or stroke, and he was in a coma. Nobody was sure what happened, but he stopped breathing sometime in the morning and was rushed to the hospital. They had the best people working on him to help him but he had not been breathing for a while and no one knew what this would mean, but it wasn't good. I was absolutely stunned and didn't know what to do. It didn't seem real, a bad, bad dream.The diagnosis was not very hopeful and it looked like we were gearing up for a loss, despite every effort to remain positive and hopeful.
I wasn't sure if his family wanted a lot of visitors, and I really don't do well with these kind of things. I just couldn't handle seeing Scott in that condition. Since I lost my younger brother Mark many years ago, I don't really deal with death or sickness very well, and I kind of selfishly avoid it. There's deeper philosophical reasons and justifications for this, but it's still a self-centered avoidance of pain and any reminder of my/our mortality. Anyway, I was in contact with his brother James, and he was keeping me posted. I was at a loss as to what to do, but I kept praying (as much as a lapsed Catholic and agnostic/atheist knows how to pray). I decided I would keep with my schedule of going down the beach, setting up and getting started, maybe driving up to Philly mid-week to visit. It was really in the hopes that things would get better.
It was Fourth Of July weekend. I drove down on the 1st to be with my parents and some family, who were still there for the weekend, the 4th being Sunday and they were leaving Monday. On the 3rd of July I got the news that Scott had passed. I can't even go into the exact sadness I felt about this, but I don't really have to. Everyone goes through it at some time in their life. If you haven't unfortunately you will. But there I was down the beach. The 4th passed with fireworks, and things a bit subdued by this news. By the 5th my parents and family left, and I was alone. It turned out that Scott had put in his will to have no real funeral or wake, just a small service with just close family. So there was no use in going back, and I would visit James and our friends later. I was here with this beautiful quiet beach, an empty house, and a lot of sadness… all the time in the world to think and all the space to let it run. So I set up my gear and decided to put my energy into this song.
Up to this point, for lack of a better direction, I had been kind of treating this song as a "love" song in a more traditional sense, which I suppose is sort of appropriate considering the soft texture and mellow vibe. It could easily be sung from the point of view of someone in love, trying to explain the pleasure of their love for someone. But I wasn't really satisfied with this oft traveled path. I wanted it to be more, but was at a loss. Because of this I intentionally kept the meaning obscured, even to myself a bit. I know now why I had done it. With my beach house/fortress of solitude/studio set up, ready to record, and this pain to attend to, I began to write, line by line, recording what I wrote immediately. I would write a line, record it, record the harmonies, break for a while, write another line and repeat the process. I worked for several days like this.
What was coming out, what was coming to me were some of the most meaningful lyrics I had ever written: lyrics about life and death, mortality and immortality, destiny and fulfillment, afterlife and reincarnation, happiness, success, determination, reassurance, love lost and love found... love in the boldest and most comprehensive definition of the term, a love that encapsulates all things and relationships: Love for friends, family, lovers, spouses, children, parents, sibling... So, now this once-defaulted "love" song had found it's way, through my hands and through some sort of synchronicity and unknown guidance, to being a song about a greater love. The type of love is subjective, to be framed and determined by the listener. The sentiment is interchangeable.
And Finally we get to the end of the song... As the loop builds with the frantic drums and Bruce-Hornsby-esqe piano, and finally lands on it's final chorus and groove, it is cry for redemption, a determined hope that one day, after all is suffered and enjoyed, it will all make sense, that if we overcome the obstacles, solve enough problems, take enough chances, and follow our bliss with razor sharp focus and freight train velocity, into the darkest and most treacherous waters that may be ahead, through the night and into the next cycle… after all of this, if we are true, we will be handed the keys to the kingdom, given the answers to all of the deepest cut questions and we can take comfort in the fact that what lies ahead in the great and vast unknown will be amazing and will vaporize any problem that might be preventing you from living life to it's fullest potential, right now. And all of this will lead to a point where hope will not be necessary, where all will be given and forgiven, when time will be singular and without utility, and that horizon that we have been aiming for will be where we are. We will be the horizon. And this horizon in which we will ultimately reside, reconnected somehow with the ones we love, now/future/and past, this horizon will be the one that others may guide their ship towards, offering a new telos of hope for the remaining lost and living.