BRETT: What does it mean? The title comes from a moment on television my brother, Greg, caught one morning. He was watching one of those morning programs where one of the hosts goes outside to give the ordinary people their fifteen minutes of fame. In this instance, amongst the people with signs saying things like "Hi Mom" or "We Love the Philly Eagles", Greg noticed an old lonely-faced man quietly standing behind all the rest. On his neck hung a sign that simply read "Cowboy Poems Free". When Greg told me this I happened to be looking for an album title, and I knew this was it. In a remarkable way it fit beautifully with the theme of the album we were working on...Accounts of 20th Century Americana. What was the old man trying to say with his sign? I don't know...I still think about it though.
BRETT: After stumbling around for a week or so, this opening riff was the first thing we latched onto that marked the first song we had written together in four years. It's an account of the apocalyptic dust storms in the early 1930's that overran Texas and Oklahoma. It has a very Steinbeck "Grapes of Wrath" vibe for me.
CHRIS: If I'm not mistaken, this was the first song written for cowboy poems free with Paul behind the drumkit (Jordan was behind the kit for three other songs written for the album: Human Lottery, AVT & Grey Flannel Suits). I remember reuniting with Brett, Paul and Ray and driving to the studio with my keyboards in the backseat for the first of many writing rehearsals for the new album. I had not written anything at home for this first rehearsal (as I usually had done in the past) to present to the band, but I had this catchy riff running through my head in 7/8 - 7/8 - 7/8 - 4/4(8/8) time. I kept singing it to myself over and over in the car so I wouldn't forget it. When I got to the studio I immediately sang it to Brett so he could play it on his guitar while I was setting up my keyboards, and thus was born the opening guitar riff to Texas Dust. I actually incorporate the riff on keys at 3:42 into the tune, but it is truncated into 7/8 time on my Wurlitzer. Bringing the original riff full circle I underpin Brett's ending guitar line at the very end of the tune on my Hammond organ. Incorporating musical riffs/ideas like this throughout a tune, in a way that they fit and are seamless to earlier incarnations of the same idea, is a very classical approach to songwriting. It has also always been an "echolyn" way of approaching songwriting. Making such musical connections "fit" and "work" in a tune in a new and varied way than we've done before are some of my personal favorite moments when composing with echolyn.
BRETT: For me the lyric songs represent written accounts that we were lucky enough to find and put to music. The instrumental tracks like Poem #1, Poem #2 and Poem #3 represent the unwritten accounts that, even though they weren't documented, nevertheless still occurred. In this instance we took the chorus chords of Human Lottery and improvised over them. It's odd that the first song written, Texas Dust and the last thing written, Poem #1 ended up back to back.
CHRIS: 3 pounds of backwards guitar, 4 cubes of new hammered dulcimer purchased on e-bay, assorted random keyboard choir sounds from Yamaha blue keyboard, 3 light sprinkles of Moby & Enya, 1 small sprig of Magnus table organ. Mix well to conjure up musical Poem #1. When writing these little soundscape snippets Brett and I were back and forth on what to call them, but I remembered how we had titled the musical intro to Letters "Prose" on as the world, so "poems" seemed like the right word choice for these musical vignettes. Each one captures a small musical moment in time, cleansing the palette of sound from each previous track while properly setting-up the mood for the tune coming next.
BRETT: I had the opening riff we called The Stevie Ray Vaughan Lick that inspired the track. The rest we wrote as a band off the cuff. Ray's lyrics deal with Depression Era moments.
CHRIS: Classic echolyn at its best. Multiple musical sections, vocal parts that overlap, changing meters, riffing keys and guitar, and dymanic passages that catch the listener off guard. With a dose of ther techno keys that preceeded this tune in Poem #1, this tune makes for great driving music. Borrowing from the "fashions and fads" idea from the song and album as the world, the intertwining vocal section at 3:21 in the song brings a trademark vocal moment full circle with our reunion to make this album. This song also uses what I believe is echolyn's first "shuffle" drum beat - carried out by 18 year-old drum whiz Jordan Perlson - a student of mine from Abington Friends School who graduated from high school in June of 2000 (when this album was released) and is now pursuing (quite successfuly, I might add!) a Percussion Performance and Business of Music degree at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass. Check him out in the December 2002 issue of Modern Drummer - he's already making, and leaving, his mark!
Gray Flannel Suits
BRETT: I got the lyrics from a book about a book by Sloan Wilson. It deals with the 1950's suburban explosion that occurred after WWII. I'm really happy with the vocal melody in the verses. It pretty much wrote itself.
CHRIS: A sort of Jellyfish meets Squeeze blend of sounds and styles....quirky, rhythmic and lots of fun to play and perform live. I loooooove my new Wurlitzer electric piano purchase, as it gets prime billing on this tune. I found it for sale at a Peach Bazaar/Yard Sale at a church parking lot on day one of a 2-week summer vacation while vacationing with my wife's parents in Fenwick Island, Delaware. The people selling it were asking $80 for it and I talked them down to $60....what a steal! I had to put it in the trunk of the car and drive with it for 2 more weeks all the way to Hilton Head, SC and back home again - to the chagrin of my wife!. Needless to say, it is currently my most prized possession in my keyboard arsenal. Paul's son Brendon talking at the end of this tune is also a neat personal touch, as it captures that precious moment in time.
BRETT: This was a song that never came about but ended up being a cool jam that was the same key as the end of Gray Flannel Suits and the beginning of High As Pride.
CHRIS: 2 tablespoons of e-bow guitar, 4 parts alto saxophone, a dollop of Fender Rhodes with heavy chorus, 3 teaspoons of orchestra bells, assorted percussion, spice with hammond organ. Serve warm - makes 4 adult servings.
High As Pride
BRETT: The end jam in this tune is my favorite moment on the album. The lyrics deal with the Jazz Age from an F. Scott "Fitzgeraldesque" point of view. The bridge into the end also came out beautifully. This is the first time we ever used a "Lo-Fi" drum sound as the main rhythm in the tune. What the hell were we waiting for?
CHRIS: A good example of less is more in composition. We worked very hard to "say" a lot in this tune with minimal instrumentation. The song grows from a sparse vocal-keyboard intro into a full-blown roaring tune by time the end solos arrive. I believe the effected drums are actually Paul playing his drumset into a mic going into a set of headphones, which Brett then re-miked and ran into Pro Tools to create a loop....a very cool effect, indeed. The Magnus table organ makes a return appearance here on the bridge melody lines - this little electric organ (which I also purchased on ebay) is a neat little addition to our ever-growing and changing palette of keyboard sounds. This electric table organ is retro, yet modern, in its own way. One of my favorite sections in the tune is the 3/4 instrumental section at 2:38. It really works as a push to the addition of the real drums and the big solo ending. This song also has one of my favorite keyboard solos as well - sort of moog-like, but one I improvised on the spot, keeping the best of 4 or 5 takes. The drum outro is actually leftover drums from the previous take which we did not use....it was left on the tape and we thought it was pretty cool how it was still "in time" with the actual drum take we did use for the track...so we left it there...because we could! ;-)
American Vacation Tune
BRETT: Jordan wanted to do something in 11/8. The intro is what we came up with. My brother, Greg, wrote the words. They have a very "Kerouac" flow to them.
CHRIS: A slammin', aggressive tune that also is very characteristic of echolyn from years ago. Jordan had the original opening rhythmic riff for this one - we took it and jammed on it for a while until other ideas came out of it. I love the chorus - words by Greg Kull - as it is very uplifting and a great driving tune. I had fun writing clav parts for this one. I'm still on the lookout for a real clavinet on e-bay...although I don't forsee me getting one for $60 like I did with my Wurlitzer! Clavinets are also VERY sensitive and go out of tune easily. So for the album version and at live shows I'll continue to use my synthesized clav sound for now. The overdrive on the hammond organ was also fun creating in the studio - as Brett and I pushed the overdrive on my Leslie 147A as far as we could before it was breaking up - creating the almost "angst-ridden" sound the hammond on this tune achieves. Also, if you listen carefully, that is me counting consecutive beats of each measure of 11/8 during the second half of the spoken word-poem section (3:39)....I count "1" of the first 11/8, "2" of the second 11/8, "3" of the third 11/8, etc......try keeping count with that one for more than 8 measures....fun stuff, indeed! It creates a metric modulation of sorts as my voice places the feel of that section in 8 while the band plays in 11/8. Yes, I know, I know...I'm a poly-rhythm nerd.
Swingin' The Ax
BRETT: I wanted to come up with something using the lap steel as the main instrument. It has a cool Led Zeppelin feel to me. I really like Ray's Prohibition language in the lyrics.
CHRIS: Slide guitar, sleazy overdriven wurly, backbeat drums...this tune was our stab at a blues-like drinkin beer at the corner bar type tune. Classic echolyn slide vocals during the choruses - we had fun trying to come up with something that would work there. Finally we picked the word "now" and slid in with some Andrew Sisters-like cascading vocal lines....I guess it works?!? We also had fun with the drum-n-bugle corps-like fills. There's some nice Indian percussion before the guitar solo, adding to the tunes somewhat dissonant minor. That's all of us toasting, cheering and popping beer tops at (2:42) - something none of us have lost our touch at, yet!
BRETT: Ray did a great job with the vocal melody on this one. This is my favorite song on the album. It has a restrained intensity to it that is very mature sounding.
CHRIS: A very dark, brooding tune. I double my wurly in all the bridge sections with alto sax for a more reedy like effect. The hardest part of this tune is keeping it at the tempo you start it at...it really wants to speed up. Paul on drums is the ultimate in a timekeeper. He's like a machine and he absolutely buries the click track when we're recording - making songs like this breath with a controlled, deliberate pulse that not many drummers I know can successfully achieve. I love how the song opens up anthem-like at 4:40....releasing all the darkness from earlier in the tune and catapulting the track forward with Brett's uplifting guitar solo and a techno-like sound I manipulated on one of my new keyboards. The clincher is the way this track falls apart and returns to the beginning of the tune to close the same way it began.
BRETT: We threw every odd sounding instrument we could find to make a wall of sound.
CHRIS: 3 cups of "wow" earth bell, 1 acoustic guitar, a pinch of alto sax, 4 slivers of bass, 2 teaspoons of effected snare, 1 can soprano recorder, toms, thinly sliced, chopped melodian, 4 breaths of harmonica. Keep folding in ingredients until all are added but are not stiff and dry.
BRETT: These are some of my favorite Ray words, probably because I know his dad and can attach a face to the diary entries.
CHRIS: A whisper of an intro that reappears in multiple themes and variations throughout the tune. Again, an exercise in tempo and restraint. Space is the place...we worked quite deliberately to keep this tune sparse at the start, adding several new elements each time the chorus reappeared. At 2:19 the trademark echolyn 3-independent vocals make a reappearance ("Onto further seas, we'll travel on and on" - CB; "Back to sea again, now we're back to sea again" - BK; "How beautiful, the sun sets, this far out" - RW). My favorite contribution to this track is the pretty 3/4 section at 2:41...it's always nice creating lush chords that thin out a busy tune, and here is no exception. Putting 2-part vocals overtop of this simply helps to flesh out the tune even more. The recapitulation of the opening theme at 4:33 helps tie this tune into a compact, tight compositional package.
BRETT: The verses have a smooth groove that came out beautifully. The two-part harmony over it adds to the flow.
CHRIS: Jordan, Paul and I were all playing hand percussion simultaneously for the intro of this tune. That's Paul and I making yelping sounds at the top of the tune....we needed several tries to actually get the parts to sync up, as it was so fast. Brett is playing an Indian sitar-sounding strumming instrument at the top of the tune....sort of like a detuned autoharp. I play 3 autoharp strums at the top of each chorus...adding a nice brilliance of top of each track.
I wrote the lyrics to this tune after finding a box of letters from my Great-Uncle Don in my grandparents attic. Don had been killed on the front lines in WW2 and these letters and all his belongings had been sent home following his death. In putting all the letters in chronological order based on the postmark I recreated his life from when he was drafted until his death. Most interesting is that Don's brothers (my great uncles) Stan and Walt are still living, while brother Al and his sister Eleanor (my grandmother) have since passed. I've since played the tune for my living uncles and have had some powerful conversations with both of them following them hearing the lyrics to this tune.
Other lyrical facts:
Verse 1: Tucky was the family dog; Don's older brother Walt was stationed in the Pacific during WW2.
Verse 2: Don owned a Model T Ford that was being watched after by his younger brother Stan back home - in the letter regarding that story I found 2 original gas ration cards; Walt was busy test-driving a Diamond T and Little Willy's Peep (some sort of a car) while stationed in the Pacific.
Bridge: I found a Hallmark card from my grandmother Eleanor to Uncle Don in the box of letters. It said on the front: "I miss you soldier boy, yes I really do" showing a woman looking longingly into her dresser mirror with a picture of a soldier boy in a frame next to her....and the inside verse read "and the whole darn family misses you too!"
Verse 3: "Reub" was Don's kid-brother name when he was growing up back home in Pennsylvania; "We've got the winning edge - we're red-blooded Americans" was the advice brother Al gave Don in a letter as he was going off to war. Al had flat feet and couldn't be drafted; Don was killed when he popped up in his foxhole twice in the same location - after he popped up the first time an enemy sniper locked him in his sights and shot him dead upon coming back up the second time in the same spot.
Chorus: Words from yesterday refers to the correspondence in each letter that talks about how so many things would happen between each letter sent and received due to the super-long delivery time by the US postal service - each letter's contents were basically retelling history each time they were read; Uncle Don is buried at Brittany Beach, France. I hope to visit his gravesite someday before I die.
BRETT: This poem was originally the bridge of Too Late For Everything but it wasn't really working for everyone in the tune. I decided to make something of it on its own. I got Paul and Jordan to play a groove together and made a loop up from that with heavy processing. We then recorded me playing specific notes with feedback throughout the song over and over again. We then "played" these notes on the mixing console at specific times to build chords. It came out great! The lead vocal was done with three passes too. One very distorted, one a little distorted and one clean. These were then layered to create a very cool effect.
CHRIS: 6 cups of backwards guitar, 1 affected drum loop, 4 people clapping their hands into mic via a compressor/limiter, 6 flutters of a hammered dulcimer, 2 sprigs of bells , several squeezes of accordian, 1 longing vocal line. Add multiple effects to flavor.
Too Late For Everything
BRETT: Chris and I wrote this one Saturday afternoon. The lyrics were from a soldier's journal entry from WWI. I think the fade out says it all.
CHRIS: A fitting closer to this album of Americana and true stories longing, wanting and needing to be told. A very acoustic venture for Brett and I as we set out to write the music for this tune with a minimalistic approach - changing the orchestration of the keyboard parts from piano to Rhodes and harpsichord for added musical flavor and timbre. The Hammond melody line in the 2nd and 3rd choruses is one of my personal favorites. Simple & melodic, yet effective. The middle section is very baroque sounding in style - one of the classical time periods I still love to explore with my writing. Even with retro instrumentation like the harpsichord, tenor and soprano recorders, and acoustic guitar Brett and I were able to create very individual lines that create a thick, yet moving texture not often heard in modern music, but one we still strive to bring into the music of echolyn every now and then. The end of this tune fittingly closes the album with a dreamy, forever never-ending simplicity.