Every Song Tells A Story: Something New

The Story

I work from home most Wednesdays, at least at the time of this writing. I also use those days as music days, where I can work on my original material. I have my work computer dialed in to my left and my Mac all set up with the interface on my right. So when I’m taking breaks or in between things for work, I just roll my chair over and record a track or something. Wednesdays are usually great days for getting work done in both cases. There are few distractions. I can knock out a lot of my work (for my day job) in half the time I normally would. I can also get a lot of music written or recorded.

As far as the music goes, those Wednesdays are spent in different ways depending on my mood. Sometimes, I won’t feel motivated to do anything at all. Sometimes I’ll work on four songs. Sometimes I’ll experiment. Sometimes I’ll just record a vocal track. Sometimes I’ll just mix things. It’s all quite random. This song was written while experimenting.

The theme of the song is fairly obvious so there’s not much to explain. When you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, sometimes you have to try something new or something different to keep things interesting. Do something crazy. Do something you’d normally never do. Get in the car and drive somewhere without a plan. Get out of the familiar and into the unknown. Change some routines. Make life a little interesting. It’s a simple notion that can make a big difference, even if for a day.

It could be something as simple as trying a new restaurant or something as drastic as going hiking in a foreign country (if that’s something you don’t normally do). It really depends on the people involved. Trying something you’ve never done before is almost always the way to go. If you’ve never been on a roller coaster, give it a shot. Try switching sides of the bed, maybe. Get a pet. The list is endless.

That’s really all I’m trying to convey in the song. When you’re bored and sick of the same routines day after day, try something new.

The Recording

The song “Something New” was written completely by accident on one of my “experimenting” days. Even the title was a bit of an accident, as you’ll see.

One random Wednesday I decided that I was going to experiment with loops. I was only using them as stand-ins at that point. Actually, I was using them as faux click tracks for recording drums. Since then, I’ve used a few here and there, but sparingly. This time, I wanted to just sit down and experiment with some drum loops and see what happened. Maybe I’d come across something I could use down the road. Who knows?

While paging through the plethora of loops, I came across this fairly straight beat that caught my ear. The kick was pretty heavy on the one and three, yet it was complimented by a nice rim-shot on the two and four. I liked that contrast. It didn’t have that huge accompanying snare hit I was expecting. I made a track in a new project and stretched that loop out to eternity.

Keep in mind that I was not composing or even thinking about writing a song. I was simply going through a sort of musical “stream of consciousness” exercise. I was taking paint and throwing it onto a blank canvas to “see what stuck”.

Around this time I thought that I should probably save the file. We’ve all lost files to power outages or disc errors from time to time, haven’t we? Saving often is always a good thing with computers. I needed a name so I called it SomethingNew, because it was something new I was working on. For all I knew at that time, it would have ended up in the trash later that day.

Enter the clavinet. I’ve always been a big fan of “the clav”. When I think of clav, I immediately think of Stevie Wonder who really mastered the way to play that thing like no other. I also think of Christine McVie and the way she played left-hand clav on Fleetwood Mac’s “You Make Loving Fun”. What a great sound. Of course there are tons of other great records that make use of the clav, from Led Zeppelin (“Trampled Underfoot”, etc.) to The Band (“Up on Cripple Creek”) to Sly Stone, Pink Floyd, and prog-rock bands like Yes to name a few.

So of course, while rolling through the keyboard sounds I had to stop on the clavinet sample. I was hitting octaves on the low D notes and stumbled upon the rhythm you can hear in the beginning of the finished song. I tracked it and stretched the loop out as I did with the drum loop. Now things were getting interesting.

Flipping through the bass loops, I came across something that sounded deep and fat and started tapping away on the midi controller. I wasn’t thinking about key or progression. I wasn’t composing. I was just experimenting, remember? Within five minutes, however, the bass line was born, tracked, and looped across the rest of the song.

It was at this point that I realized something was happening but I wasn’t quite sure yet. Did I have something that might make good background music in an elevator or did I have the makings of a new song? It wasn’t clear yet, but I kept going because I had a great little groove going on. It sounded good to my ears because it was simple (drums, bass, & clav) but yet it sounded fat enough to work.

I knew that if it was to become a song it needed some variation, and for that I turned to the piano since I was already working on the midi controller. Click a few buttons and you’re all set. The catch is that I’m not a good piano player. I don’t just sit and play piano effortlessly. I knew that I wanted something different, though. So I whipped out my handy piano chord book (much to my musician friends’ chagrin) and started experimenting some more.

If this was going to morph into a song, here would be the big test. I had two short-term goals. One was to put something over the existing groove. The other was to come up with a new part that would add some kind of variation. I had no idea what either might be, but I was in some kind of musical zone, so off I went.

I already had the D octaves on the clav tracked so I naturally looked to the pages in my chord book that listed the different D variations. This took a little while because there were two things I had to think about: Rhythm and Chord Progression. In the end, only three chords ended up being used but I had no way of knowing that at the time. I was looking at yet another blank canvas and trying all sorts of things.

I started playing different D variations/inversions to hear how they sounded against the groove that I kept on a constant loop. I didn’t want to be boring and just slap a plain old D major in there. I wanted something a little more fun and full. Major 7ths are beautiful chords to my ears but I tend to use them a lot and try to save them for when I really need them. At some point I placed a D11 before a D9 and noticed that while the chords were very similar, I could still tell them apart even with a D hammering away on the bottom.

The D11 that I used consists of G-A-C-E (with a D in the bass). The D9 that I used is the exact same thing but with an F# instead of a G – and what a difference that F# makes! This whole thing intrigued me so much that I had to keep it. The fact that one note in all that mess really made the difference was key to me. I loved it.

I still had the problem of variation to solve, though. For that, I went the boring route and moved up to the IV (Gm). For color I hammered in a quick F to G thing (one finger) at the beginning of the G minor chord just to give the illusion of movement but the solution to the variation problem was, in essence, just a G minor chord banging away in a Latin style, rhythmically. I altered the bass line beneath it to match but left the drum pattern pretty much intact.

Something just worked there and it was at that point that I knew I had crossed the line from experiment to song. It was funky, yet jazzy. It was simple, yet groovy. But how was I going to finish this thing?

The file name I was using stuck in my head and while I was composing I was humming vocal melodies in my head and making up words on the fly. Some were nonsensical but others seemed to work. I used the words “Something New” in there and began to build lyrics around them, putting them down in a text file as I went on writing the music.

I had a pretty good thing going. I knew I could put a jazzy piano solo in there somewhere over that groove so that was no problem. I felt the song needed a bridge of some sort though. Even with the short Gm variation, it wasn’t enough to keep the song from being too boring. It needed a good third quarter after halftime. What I didn’t want to do was keep the same groove going so I went back to the drum loops to try out some other things.

I found this funky part that I thought complimented yet contrasted the rest of the song and went with it. I didn’t want to dwell too long in drum loop city. The part I chose seemed great, so I was happy. I threw it in the timeline where I thought it would fit best. I then added some bass that kept the pocket tight and solid. If you listen closely during this bridge, you’ll also hear some triangle action. To lead back into the main groove, I added a drum fill that was a loop but sounded a lot like something I would do on drums.

At that point, the song was pretty much set up and all of the main tracks were done except the piano solo, vocals and guitar. I will say that I was VERY tempted to not have any guitar at all on the track. I liked the way the song sounded as it was and was not hearing any guitar in my head at all. I decided to plug the telecaster in and see what happened, though. I found a sound that seemed to fit and just let the song loop for a while. I kept noodling but soon realized that overplaying on this track was not going to work. It needed simple accents and hits and that’s what I ended up doing. I went high up the neck for the funk factor and it seemed to work. I left well-enough alone.

I did want a guitar solo over the bridge part though because it was so different from the main groove. If there was going to be any strong guitar in the song, that was the spot for it. I threw on some distortion and made it work. Then I went back and added a very long piano solo which came before the guitar solo. I enjoyed very much but I knew it was way too long. One of the joys of digital editing is the ability to pull measures out of a song and have it all just fit back together in seconds. I pulled out some of the piano solo (mostly the stuff in the middle that wandered a bit) and gave it another listen. The length was much better. I re-recorded a piece at the end of the solo with some high triplets to make a nice segue into the guitar solo groove and that was that.

Then it was lyric time. This was odd for me because many times I have the lyrics all finished before this point. I already had a text file open and in progress. The words just flowed from there and all came together. Looking back, it’s funny how the file name became the song title and a whole theme of spicing up a relationship came about. It just fell together and made sense in some weird, cosmic way. I love when that happens.

In any case, the vocals were simple and easy to sing because they’re very talky, for lack of a better term. It was almost like talking instead of singing. When we play it live, the band might come up with some fun backing vocals if they choose, but on the recording it’s just one voice. Again, the simplicity of the song really made it work for me. I could have filled it up with a lot of “Ooooohs and Ahhhhhs” but decided not to. I went with what felt right to me at the time.

“Something New” was actually an experiment that turned into a song, and one that I admire a lot. I learned a lot in the process and had a fun time putting it all together. Starting the day with a blank slate and ending it with a full song a few hours later is a great feeling that doesn’t happen too often in our busy lives. I’ll always have fond memories of writing it.

 

Lyrics

Baby baby we’ve been together
Baby baby a long long time
Going through the motions just ain’t doing it no more
We need a little excitement tonight

Baby don’t you think it’s time that we try something new
Don’t you think it’s time for something that we never do
We gotta find a way to make it work for me and you
Don’t you think it’s time for something new

Let’s get the car and drive until the morning light
Let our thoughts take us away
Feels a bit unnatural – like going back in time
When you feel that freedom – you’ll wanna stay

Don’t you think it’s time for something new

Baby baby we’ve been together
Baby baby a long long time
I know I’ll go crazy if we don’t bury this routine
We need a little something else tonight

Don’t you think it’s time for something new
Something new…

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