Friday, April 17, 2009

It Came From Garageband

At the tail end of practice the other night, while Edz and Christine hightailed it for the long slog back to Manhattan/Queens (respectively), Karl, Shaun and I took a few minutes to try to nail down a new arrangement for a song that's been formalizing itself for the last few weeks. In P.C.M.A., the full democracy rule is in effect, so no song is really done until everyone has signed off on it. In the case of this new song, there was a pre-chorus riff that Shaun hadn't liked (it went to D, even though that wasn't in the key), and the instrumental bridge that was initially added at Christine's request wasn't quite where anyone was 100% happy with it.*

It always seems to be in the tiny details that these songs take the longest to be settled - generally, every song on the record was borne from a very quick jam, a lot of very good ideas thrown out all at once that just seem to work. But invariably, every song that we've considered worthwhile for completion has had one small thing that we can't quite solve - a riff, chord change, etc. Usually we all agree (or a majority agrees) that the part isn't working, so everyone sits back and coughs up a new change that we try and discard. It's a testament to the democratic nature of the band that even if only one member feels that a certain part isn't working, we take the time to try to solve it to that member's satisfaction. Admittedly, sometimes in a begrudging fashion, but it's a band, and when one idea is questioned, it's usually a case of one person's contribution getting exchanged for another's.

Anyway, we finally got a nice new pre-chorus for (and from) Shaun and worked out an instrumental break that we all felt good about. I say 'finally,' because it probably took the better part of an hour - again, it's in these little details that we get the most bogged-down. The entire band is like a musical representation of Zeno's Paradox.

A small problem of these changes is that there are sometimes three to four fairly different versions of one song with multiple combinations floating around, so getting our small battalion of memory-deficient players properly chugging along in unison is no mean feat. Often, Karl will play the first end of the bridge, I can't get away from the pre-chorus riff that we'd disposed of and end up playing a just exactly wrong combination of the old riff and new one, Shaun will leave out the bit that we all liked and Edz will finally remember to play the thing from four arrangements ago that we couldn't seem to get him to play when we wanted, but is no longer in the new arrangement, etc. And, of course, the big problem is getting everyone to remember the final arrangement the next time we get together to play and record, when it suddenly reverts back to an earlier, precambrian version of the song.

To avoid that problem this time around (and getting back to the first paragraph of this Rambler), Karl, Shaun and I were working on the new little bits. And just to prove my point that we're a band that can generate a million neat little raw ideas from nowhere but have an almost unimaginably hard time writing one specific one for a song that's almost done, Shaun started playing one of his irresistible Shaun-y riffs (the man doesn't write chord changes but riffs that sketch out a number of possible harmonies), and Karl and I laid down the usual instantly appropriate counterriff accompaniment. Sort of an after-dinner mint, except on two guitars and bass. Gossamer in the best way.

No wonder I think that this band could play live tomorrow with no pre-set material whatsoever and still give an amazing show. It's just our actual set that we'd have a hard time remembering.


P.S.: I say, PCMA Gods be damned! I will hereafter blog about PCMA!

*It should be noted that the song in question is really a perfect illustration of the strength of our writing method. Based on a chorus idea of mine - a melody and two chords, E and Amaj7 - and a vague idea that the verse should start in F#m - that I'd fucked with and hacked away at for about six weeks on my own trying to find the song that I knew for sure was hiding in there.

Finally, I threw my hands up and brought what little I had in about a month ago, after calling Edz and asking him to work out some kind of hooky beat without having heard the music. Once Edz played the beat (I refused to play the chord change for him in advance), Karl and I were able to lay down the chord change for the rest of the song depressingly quickly, with Christine conducting the flow. Christine later went home and worked out the rest of the melody and all of the lyrics, her first complete with the band.

Shaun was absent for the initial session, which meant that it was harder for him to get his feel in there (a good 70% of our material starts as a Shaun idea, and his harmonic and rhythmic feel is fundamental to our sound), but thankfully was able to transform the little lame bits into bits that worked, so it now feels 'right,' as all our material finally does. Like something we found, rather than wrote.

Will the after-dinner mint eventually be another song like that? You never know.

1 comment:

shaunian said...

Next time remind me to tune my guitar.