There’s a fellow user on absolutepunk.net who embarrassingly always seems to catch me when I’m late to the party: whether I didn’t get a chance to vote for a poll or I didn’t record a cover song in time for a submission date. When AP.net started taking dibs on which users would cover which Thrice songs for a free online compilation, I was, once again, late. A lot of Thrice’s most famous songs has already been called, such as “Artist in the Ambulance,” “Of Dust and Nations,” and “Anthology,” which are all songs I enjoy covering and cover often. Thankfully, it occurred to me exactly which song I should choose.
The finished product above came to be after at least 20 man-hours of experimenting, trying out different chord progressions, playing around with different synthesizers, and figuring out how to make a great ending that somehow matches the beauty and perfection of the original without being a straight copy.
If you read my blog post The Evidence for Our Opinions, you’ve seen that “Disarmed” actually holds a spot in my top five favorite songs of all time. Along with simply being a well-crafted song and one heck of an album closer, there are also a lot of closely personal reasons as to why I hold this song in such high regard.
In the pre-release to Major/Minor, what would be Thrice’s final album prior to a 3-year hiatus, the band began releasing a song a day. Each day was more exciting than the previous day. My best friend at the time, Trey, and I began meeting up each day so that our first time hearing each song could be together. (Our friendship over the years was often defined by circumstances heavily related to Thrice.) I still recall sitting in his car hearing “Words in the Water” for the first time as we tried to keep the Soundcloud app from glitching. And I still remember sitting on my dad’s couch with Trey and my brother Taylor as we heard “Disarmed” for the first time, putting a cap on the song-a-day experience. At that point in time, my brother didn’t like “Disarmed,” but Trey and I were entranced.
In coming months, Trey and I frequented open mics together, performing both together and separate, including a dual-guitar, dual-vocal version of Major/Minor‘s penultimate track, “Anthology.” Playing the song at house parties and posting a video to Facebook, our cover became “friend-famous” in our little circle. I will never forget performing at an open mic called Stay Wired; the venue had only one mic for vocals, so while playing guitar, we’d swing the mic stand back and forth throughout the song depending on who was singing next.
Trey and I learned a few other songs to cover together, too, including “Down, Down, Down” by Charlie Simpson, “Before the Throne” by The Modern Post, and “Disarmed.” When Trey, Taylor, and I went to see Thrice at the Prophet Bar in Dallas on the Major/Minor Tour, there was a palpable disappointment concerning the songs not performed: “Blinded,” “Cataracts,” etc. But we quickly discovered that lead singer Dustin Kensrue had plans of coming outside to play an acoustic set and do a meet-and-greet with everyone. (And I’m not talking about you getting to pick between a handshake, a photo, or a signature; Kensrue actually had a conversation with everyone.) During the acoustic set, after just about making me die by performing “Please Come Home” and looking at me after the song to say, “Nice harmonies,” he proceeded to play “Disarmed.” My life was fulfilled.
A few months later, in late 2011/early 2012, Thrice announced their hiatus and I had begun making plans to spend the entire summer of 2012 at the Grand Canyon. It was around this time that my brother came around to liking “Disarmed.” So many emotions were wrapped up in that song, as the closing track on an album that, as far as we knew, would be the band’s swan song. The potential end of Thrice carried a special weight in our friend group; you see, Thrice wasn’t just a defining factor of my friendship with Trey (as well as a few others). Thrice was also the key factor in transforming Taylor’s and my relationship from dueling brothers into best friends, back in 2004-06. Now, after getting used to spending nearly every day together, we were about to spend three months apart. Meanwhile, Trey was about to leave on his first of what would become four or five mission trips to Haiti, the longest stint being five months. Eventually, this would evolve into a year-long stay in Canada. We could tell that we were all separating, becoming more independent people. And yet, we could sing along and proclaim directly to Death that “now that you have been disarmed, we will cross over unharmed.” I hope Taylor doesn’t mind me telling this story, but, as my departure for the Grand Canyon became imminent, he began listening to “Disarmed” every day, and every day, the song would bring him to tears.
This song carries both history and power. So when I began approaching my own cover of this song, I wanted to tread carefully. I knew where the lyrical power of this song came from: passages of Scripture such as Colossians 2:13-15, which reads, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”
Not only did I desire to do justice by the song’s meaning, but I also wanted to do justice by the song’s music, which I knew would be impossible with the quality of recording I’m capable of achieving on my laptop. My initial plan was to record a piano-led version, but after experimenting with some jazzy guitar chords on the verses, I knew I needed to hand the track back over to the acoustic. I used the piano instead to take the place of the bass guitar and lead guitar riffs from Thrice’s original.
None of these solutions helped me plan for the song’s ending, though, where I knew I’d need to have pretty dense layers of vocals and electric guitars. After a few hours of recording and experimenting, I had my final breakthrough idea. During the song’s climax, I began piecing together a guitar solo comprised of guitar riffs from Thrice’s most iconic tracks, transposing them to the correct key and organizing them in a way that flowed naturally. If you listen to the final minute or so of my recording of “Disarmed,” you’ll hear guitar riffs from the songs “Broken Lungs,” “Deadbolt,” “To Awake and Avenge the Dead,” and “Of Dust and Nations.”
Pretty cool, huh?
Needless to say, I feel fairly accomplished by this recording. I do feel like I did right by this song and its legacy. And I hope that maybe this song can continue to be as meaningful in the lives of others as it’s been in mine.
My dearest regards go out to absolutepunk.net and the other users who submitted recordings to the Thrice compilation. Cheers!