Back in February of 2006, Jefferson Pitcher, J. Matthew Gerken, and I set about writing and recording the original demos for these Presidents songs as part of the February Album Writing Month challenge (www.fawm.org). We wrote and did demo recordings of 42 songs (all but G.W. Bush) in Februrary–28 days and 42 songs. Sheesh.
In any case, as part of that, we wrote little texts to accompany each new song as we got them up on the FAWM website. I like looking through them now as they seem part of a crazy, crazy time.
Burr Settles, a fine songwriter in his own right and the FAWM-lord, was kind enough to get me an html backup of all the original texts we wrote, and it includes the comments other songwriters wrote on the demos as we got them up. I’m including those as well.
06 Quincy Adams (Death in the Speaker’s Room)
little time to write. this year for christmas, a friend of mine gave me a set of brian eno’s oblique strategies. as i struggled with how this song would come together, i pulled a card that read, “ghost whispers.” which i suppose that should explain it well enough.
difficult to mix, but with limited time, this is what we get. i feel strange about this song, and didn’t like it at all when i finished it last night, but it has grown on me some. i will say, that i believe one of the greatest strengths about this project (fawm) is that it potentially forces us to experiment and try new things, so in that way i must commend my efforts. i also felt it should be shorter, and tried to trim off some of the intro and outtro, but had technical difficulties.
anyway, a few facts about John Quincy Adams: 1. he watched the battle of bunker hill from his porch as a young boy. 2. he used to often skinny dip in the potomac before sunrise. 3. in 1848 he had a stroke in the house, was carried to the speaker’s room, where he died two days later.
i was writing from the perspective of a ghost telling his forthcoming life story. off to work on harrison. cheers~
- Burr Settles | 2006-02-08 @ 12:30am (EST)this *is* long… but i don’t thing that’s so bad: it works. in the end, it might depend on the context (monroe/jackson songs) in the final project.feels quite ghosty… though the whispery vocals bug me a little. the melodies during those parts are cool, the 2 voices is a nat way of doing it, but this particular execution is a little jarring… i keep losing focus on the narrative, i think. just my $0.02. the electronic textures here and there are great, and the piano is, too… especially toward the end. the dissonance and such.
- jroberts | 2006-02-08 @ 02:05am (EST)This is a beautiful song. Very Radiohead-esque, which is quite a compliment. Lovely piano. And I like the lack of narrative, the wandering. It feels like a nighttime stroll through woods.
- lindy | 2006-02-08 @ 02:13am (EST)hi, jeff. i liked this piece. i liked your piano work a lot. did you notate it on paper, note for note, or did you improvise most of it?
one thing that was jarring to me (and it may just be because of the limited time you had recording) was whenever the guitar came in. it was too abrupt, like it didn’t quite fit the piece. maybe it was the wrong instrument. i’m not sure. in any case, kudos to you, big time, for even attempting a piece like this. i appreciate the difficulty of writing music of this nature because i’ve tried.
- jeff pitcher | 2006-02-08 @ 12:27pm (EST)burr and lindy. i know the chorus is abrupt and the verses long and strange. i have been increasingly interested in experimental music of late, and while i woudn’t define this as experimental music, i would say perhaps that it is influenced by such. the fact is that i have written so many songs over the years that just work. the chords all work together, the melody fits, the voice is good, etc., that i’ve grown somewhat bored with the predictability. therefore, with fawm this year i decided to try to push myself. to be entirely honest, i’m not sure that i like this song either, but it may function as a pathway to something new for me. ultimately an experiment. therefore folks, it is jarring on purpose. quite effective i suppose. as for the piano, i did write it out. as a matter of fact, i’m taking lessons (i’ve had 3) and just learning to read and write notation. cheers~
- Eric Distad | 2006-02-08 @ 02:26pm (EST)The piano work is great! Very mood setting… In fact it might be fun if you cloned the piano track and added some delay, so the percussive chords sort of echoed off into the distance. I actually like the contrast with guitar vs piano, though I agree it is a bit abrupt. A fade up ringing guitar chord might help there.Just thinking out load really. Very interesting track! I look forward to more! (Man what are going to do for Harrison, other than he died 30 days into office…) (=
- Ben J. | 2006-02-08 @ 05:25pm (EST)Interesting piece. The unconventional stuff kind both works and doesn’t work for me. When you come out of your first vocal/guitar section (“Close my weary eyes”), back into the randomness, that’s really beautiful. It really feels like sleep closing in and the thought patterns kind of ramping down.The only part of it that doesn’t work for me is the intro – I feel myself “hunting” to make sense of what I’m hearing, to find the centre, and I find that difficult (I realise that’s kind of what you were going for, so in that sense I guess it’s successfu). When the main vocal finally comes in the first time my brain goes “Aha!” and from latching on at that point, then you got me emotionally for the rest of the song. But until that point, I’m hanging in there on the edge of my fingernails…And a great vocal – I’m listening to the other stuff on your website too Jeff – “Georgia” gives me goose bumps. A real pleasure to listen to.
- jeff pitcher | 2006-02-08 @ 06:03pm (EST)great comments (and compliments) ben~i tend to agree with you about the song in its entirety, especially the beginning. i attempted to remedy that by cutting off the front, but had technical difficulties and ran out of time…..thanks for your words~
- Steven Wilson/Plasticsoul | 2006-02-12 @ 11:28pm (EST)”who knew bunker hill would grow such legs?” is a beautiful lyric. I know you said that you wanted to trim the intro, I quite enjoyed it. It set a nice mood. The transition between the ghost whispery vocal and your normal vocal is very cool. The ghostly voice at times almost sounds like a muted flugal horn.
- Mike Debenham | 2006-02-14 @ 06:24am (EST)Jeff, I’m very impressed by these songs. Epic sweep.For now, I’d just like to pay respects to your lyrics, here and in your other presidents. There’s a bare, weathered poetry that opens up the strangeness of it all. Uncanny.