Every Song Tells A Story: Tonight I Ride

The Story

From my late teens to my mid-twenties, I was fairly busy in a musical sense. I was in a few bands (mostly on drums) and had begun to explore songwriting. At some point, life happened and more serious issues started to arise.

I had finished college with a degree in what Rutgers (the Newark campus) called “Theater Arts and Speech” which is a fancy way of saying “Communications” – and to boot, I had a specialization in TV Production. As you may well know, this degree will get you next to nowhere. It’s almost as good as a degree in music. 🙂 Unfortunately, it was the only thing that interested me at the time, outside of my first major which was Psychology. I was a lazy student and that major was way too much reading and writing. If I could go back, I would have stuck with it but alas, the past is gone.

Things were moving quickly and I soon realized that I would not be able to support a family while working in the wonderful world of retail, which is where I ran back to at full speed after realizing my college degree was pretty useless unless I wanted to intern (aka work for free) for a year or three somewhere in the hopes that it “might” lead to some kind of paying job. I had bills and other things to worry about.

So I went to a computer school, being already quite computer savvy, and started to make some life changes. Marriage, kids, and so on. Before I knew it, about 15 years had gone by and I was completely removed from the music scene. I had done absolutely nothing. No writing, no bands, no nothing and it was slowly eating away at me.

Eventually things settled down a bit and the itch became to annoying to ignore. Music is in me. It’s a part of me. When I’m not being musical somehow, I just don’t feel right. So I started to ease my way back into the scene. A cover band here, filling in for a friend on drums there, writing some new material, and so on. It was time to get back out there. I reconnected with a lot of my musician friends, some of whom were still playing, and they inspired me. I also met and networked with a whole host of new musician friends and that inspired me even more.

I decided it was time to start writing songs again. The next thing I knew I was staring at a bunch of lyrics, melodies and ideas. The song “Tonight I Ride” was one of the first of this new batch and it basically signaled how I felt at the time. I had been away far too long and it was time to come back.

“Tonight I Ride” is a song about returning to something. You can interpret it as returning to anything you like, but for me it was strictly about returning to music. I had been away so long that there were friends and new family members who had no idea that I could make music. When they eventually saw me play they were quite shocked. It was a fun feeling.

I promised myself when I wrote that song that I’d never take that huge break from music again. It became clear to me that there’s really no reason to. There’s always room for music.

 

The Recording

The first thing I remember about writing this song was the chorus. I had it clearly in my mind. I had the lyric and the melody/chords all in my head. From there it was a matter of just writing the rest of the song. I’m not sure where I heard the phrase “Tonight I Ride” but it must have gotten into my head at some point. I always picture some kind of Wagner-esque Viking on an armored horse marching into battle, but I digress.

After I had the chorus mapped out in my head, the next thing I thought about was the song’s opening drum beat. I could also hear that clearly in my head. All the lyrics flowed from there and then it was time to record. As usual, because I’m alone when I record, I tracked the drums first. I used that little beat I dreamed up and then just built upon it, bringing the dynamic up or down when needed.

I played it through on guitar just to make sure I had all the chords I needed and tracked the bass. I laid down some distorted guitars and a wobbly guitar solo which I’m not very proud of. I always figured the solos would be better when played live by more capable musicians.

The vocals were my first accidental experiment with double tracking. Many bands have done this. You basically sing in unison with yourself on another track. I didn’t really mean to do this. I did a vocal pass, and then did another on a different track because I wasn’t sure if I was going to keep the first one or not. During playback, I forgot to mute one of the vocal tracks and they both played through the monitors. I was about to mute one but listened a little longer and the sound began to grow on me. They’re not perfect vocal tracks but they sort of work so I kept the two in there. So if you’re listening to the song, you’ll hear me singing along with myself and the two takes sort of stray from each other a bit here and there. It’s a little weird but I can see the attraction and how it can be effective when done right.

Lots of times, when I’m writing songs I’m actually not near any instruments. It sounds odd but sometimes they just jump out at me and I have to quickly write stuff down or else it’s usually gone forever.  So when it comes to what we call in rock music the “bridge” or sometimes the “middle eight”, I will sometimes say, “I’ll come up with something later.” Sometimes I’ll have lyrics for the bridge along with a vague melody but it’s pretty fluid. I remember not having lyrics or a melody for this bridge when I sat down to record.

While tracking the drums, I just played a bunch of random fills that felt right and then brought myself back to the chorus somehow. I listened to those drums a few times and they sounded a little raucous to me.  I decided to forgo the lyrics and just try some guitar stuff instead. After experimenting with a few things I settled on the bridge you hear which is basically a series of “D” shape chords moving up the neck with an open D ringing above them. It reminds me slightly of The Who, which is why I kept it.

I was still not well-versed in the art of compression or mastering/mixing. I still don’t know if I am, actually. So all of the mixes from those early songs aren’t panned well (or at all). There isn’t a lot of “space” there. One of these days I’ll go back to those old tracks and do some remixing with some of the things I’ve learned since then. I think this song can sound a lot better with some TLC.

It was a quick job but the song is fun and I’m finally getting around to playing it in my live sets. The band seems to like it and it does make me feel a little wistful in many ways.

 

The Lyrics

All my life I’ve been waiting
All my life I’ve been saving up
All my life I’ve been holding back
But tonight I ride

All my life I’ve been hungry
All my life I’ve been ready
All my life I’ve been so determined
But tonight I ride

Tonight, tonight I ride
Perpetual motion is on my side
The links are broken, the chains are dead
I’ve got to move ahead

All my life I’ve been sitting
All my life I’ve been lying down
All my life I’ve been static
But tonight I ride

I look at you and you’re flying
I look at you and you’re in the air
I look at you and I’m jealous
So tonight I ride

Tonight, tonight I ride
Perpetual motion is on my side
The cage is open, the bird is free
I’ve got to get release
I’ve got to know release
I need to be released

Tonight, tonight I ride
Perpetual motion is on my side
Unleashed and I won’t be denied – Yeah

Tonight, tonight I ride
Perpetual motion is on my side
I’m strong and I won’t take my time
The world is mine tonight
Yeah it’s my prize tonight
Stay out of my way tonight, tonight, yeah tonight

I ride tonight

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