Track 5: Need Some Sun

Anchor Blog Series:  Entry #5

Need Some Sun

Track Notes:

I must have been a baby when first heard Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’.  I can’t remember not having that groove in my head.  It was the best-selling jazz single of all time, which is counter-intuitive on a number of levels.  The most salient feature of the song is its odd time signature, 5/4. In fact, the whole record (‘Time Out’ - from 1959) is in odd meters, and is definitely worth a listen.  As a kid, I knew that the flow of the song was very different than anything else I had heard, but it wasn’t until my prog-y ‘Rush-y’ freshman in high-school days (admit it, we all had them) that I figured out how it worked.
I don’t know why 5/4 isn’t more popular, but I love it because it’s EVIL!  It has a disconcerting cosmic quality, like that falling feeling you get when you look up into a clear sky at night.  Pentagons don’t stack well and they take up space in an uncomfortable way… they aren’t square enough and they’re not circle enough.  They are irrational… in fact, my second favorite irrational number is buried within them… the golden ratio (phi) is the relationship between a pentagons diagonal and its edge.  I think it’s the touch of evil that ‘easy listening’ has always needed that helps explain the popularity of ‘Take Five’.
I’ll spare you the lecture on the golden ratio’s strong sway on the structure of the living world, but suffice it to say, I like working in 5/4 because it conjures existential drama.  My dad used to tell me that it is the WILL that comes first, and logic and reason are a distant second.  And, furthermore, he’d say one should be weary that logic and reason are usually just backhanded ways of justifying what the WILL has mandated in the first place.  I love my dad.  (like I love pentagons ;)
I often sing spontaneous nonsense words over tracks in progress to find interesting vocal rhythms and melodies without having to worry about singing specific words.  Sometimes the patterns of consonants and vowels that come from these nonsense lyrics leads to interesting word combinations that feel right in the track even if they make no sense, and have the power to precipitate a larger idea.  Jeff Tweedy told me one time (when I was visiting the ‘Loft’ on a Books tour) that ‘good lyrics settle on a song like dust on furniture’.  I’ll never forget that advice.   In this case, none of my vocal takes sounded that interesting so I reversed them against the track and to my amazement the reverse melody actually worked much better… and this is how I got the transition to the bridge and chorus.  I re-recorded them in forward time and the rest followed naturally.  Here are the lyrics:
Don’t you always say I need some sun,
Need some daylight, set the high-beams on,
Driving out,
Driving out,
Going to California
Gonna see the teacher,
The charismatic leader.
Three days Northeast/Southwest,
Where the time and space is,
Starving body, starving soul, starving head,
Pay no mind, the road erases.
gonna sit, sit, sit…
Driving out,
Driving out,
Stay awake in these cornfields,
Stay awake in these cornfields,
Heaps coals,
Of fire on my head,
Stay awake for days,
And move things with our minds.
Inner monologue says I need a crutch,
To keep from tripping on the crooked cross,
Where the continent divides.
Whoever painted this double line,
Left the piss-mark of the true pioneer’s son.
Gonna see the teacher,
The charismatic leader,
Stay awake in these cornfields,
Stay awake in these cornfields,
Heaps coals,
Of fire on my head.
I think this song is about me (and probably many others) when I was in my twenties.  Making the transition from an environment of ‘higher education’ to a world of mundane rat races was soul crushing.  It’s really a story for another time, but in my twenties I found myself in a place where I couldn’t imagine a future, and was frantically searching for someone to tell me what to do to fix my life.  That person didn’t exist, but the search for them did lift me out of my predicament.  Generally, I feel like if you don’t deal with your existential shit in your twenties you’ll probably end up taking it out on the other people in your life until it becomes a midlife crisis later on.  At any rate, I was determined to get my crisis over with so I decided to drop everything and hike the Appalachian Trail in 2001.  I walked from Maine to Georgia in 129 days, and after that my internal compass was much stronger.  This song became about that moment of dropping everything and ‘lighting out’ for a new frontier.

Sound-wise, one thing you should never do, I’ve been taught, is hard-pan bass (because it will throw the needle out of the groove).  I started the instrumental part of ‘Need Some Sun’ by ignoring this advice.  The bass-line consists of synth bass on the left and picked electric bass on the right.  The synth is one of those classic Nord samples with a nice clicky attack, and the bass is Mikey’s prized Kramer from the 70’s with the aluminum neck and flat-wound strings, picked and record direct through the Tech 21 Sans-Amp.   I find the wide bass effect to be exceedingly enveloping (almost uncomfortably so).  I used midi to automate the synth side and ran it through a lot of different effects at different octaves to get most of the supporting textures.  Then i slowed it down by 1/2 and offset it to create a cannon through certain sections.  I also used the Ipad synth ‘Sunrizer’ which is incredible and can’t recommend highly enough, especially if you’re on a budget.  I put my Ipad in an Alesis dock (with midi in/out) and trigger Sunrizer with the Nord etc.  The kick drum came from an old Korg sample I had from somewhere.  There is a bit of acoustic guitar and acoustic hi-hat/ride in there, too.

Ok, tomorrow is Track 6 - Don’t Be a Tool: a short instrumental that starts side B.

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