Deadlines can be good. I might not have finished college if my papers hadn’t had deadlines. For my final thesis, failing which would have kept me from graduating, I stayed up all night to write it from scratch. It was due at 1pm the following afternoon and I began writing at 11pm. Twenty-two pages later, the thesis was complete, as was my undergraduate career. Like I said, deadlines can be good.
While it’s easy to naysay about being forced to finish a creative work within a limited timeframe, deadlines can also inspire us to make (or at least attempt to make) something we wouldn’t have otherwise. Case in point: the AbsolutePunk.net Forum Compilations. Approximately once a month, users on the site decide on a theme for a free mixtape (usually cover songs from a particular artist), then record and compile the tracks for the collection. One user does most of the dirty work, giving everyone else deadlines, accepting contributions, and posting the set to the Bandcamp page (linked above). I’ve had the pleasure of participating on a few occasions, but in recent months I’d lost track of the group. My negligence was remedied about a week ago, when I revisited the forum threads and saw that we were a week away from deadline for a compilation of user originals. I took this as a challenge and began working.
My new original song can be heard below or downloaded here as part of the free compilation.
“It Takes a Long Time (Homeland)” was actually one of two songs I’d meant to contribute, but recording just the one took so long–nearly nonstop from 1pm to 10pm on March 12, 2016–that I never had time to record the second song I’d written, tentatively titled “The Wolf & Bookshelf” (…coming soon? perhaps?).
My aim had been to write and record two brand new songs to submit, although I didn’t start either song from scratch. After deciding to place this challenge upon myself, I sorted through notes I’d recently written on my phone. I found two promising sets of unfinished lyrics. Both of these songs came from lone verses I’d been wanting to finish writing, both closely linked to my recent relocation to Nashville. The first verse of “Wolf” was written during my first week here in February, when my brother and I visited the bar/venue called The Crying Wolf. The other note was written in early November, right after my brother and I had taken a road trip to Nashville to scope out apartment complexes and decided whether or not we were actually going to move here. That verse, in its original state, read:
It takes a long time / To do something right / Like making new friends / Or fighting the good fight / It takes a long time / To call a new place home / Just make your feet stand still / And lose the urge to roam
Obviously, these lyrics contained potent nodes of my impending move to Nashville, written as an attempt to encourage myself about starting over and making friends in a brand new state and different culture. However, this autobiographical lens wasn’t the perspective I really wanted to write the song through; instead, I was wanting the lyrics to harness some inspiration that had been coming in from a friend of mine in France.
So, in it’s final version, which I will now expand upon (along with detailing some of the writing and recording process), the song “It Take a Long Time (Homeland)” is about two things: a logical fallacy that is currently running rampant in most peoples’ philosophies (my own notwithstanding), and a world event currently making headlines, in which I believe this flawed way of thinking has taken root.
The logical fallacy I’m referring to is that there is ever any correlation between something’s age and its quality or correctness. This occurs on both ends of the time spectrum. Some people will believe something simply because it has, as the saying goes, “stood the test of time.” Others will hop onto a bandwagon simply because it’s the newest trend. In “Homeland,” the lyrics are mostly directed toward the latter issue, but I do want to be clear that the issue goes both ways.
This problem might be most horridly evident in America’s bipartisan political system, where the predominant positions taken by Republicans or Democrats can be characterized as either “conservative” or “progressive,” respectively: in other words, keep things the way they’ve always been or seek change for the sake of change. Both options are logically invalid. There are times to conserve and times to progress; what matters is the reasoning behind whether or not to change. To poorly paraphrase author C.S. Lewis, there’s nothing wrong with being progressive; however, if a man is going in the wrong direction, the most progressive thing he can do is to turn around.
Another notable offense concerning this way of thinking is the common assumption that humans have never been smarter than they are today. Yes, we are more technologically advanced than ever before in history, but that doesn’t mean humans today could learn as much by looking at the stars as the Aztecs did. We mistakenly consider today’s scientific discoveries to be as sure as gold the very day they’re announced, even though much research from the 2000’s has debunked research from, say, the 70’s, giving us no reason not to assume that research done in 2040 might debunk what’s being discovered today. It all comes down to the fallacy of assuming, “It’s newer, therefore it must be truer.” As spoken word artist Propaganda has said, modern academia in its arrogance would “rather credit the pyramids to aliens than admit we aren’t the smartest civilization to ever exist.”
All of this ties into a current world event going on in France. As described in this article from The Guardian, the French education system has decided to adopt easier spellings for over 2,000 French words. Many are enraged by the idea of “dumbing down” the language, some accusing the education system of bending down to gratify the lack of effort from the youth to simply spell words correctly. Even for people who support the change, the whole situation just seems sad–as if the younger generation is being allowed to change the culture however they choose to, despite the complaints or warnings of the elders who should be leading and guiding the youth.
Very directly, this news event inspired the lyrics for the second verse, which becomes more like an exaggerated fable or fairy tale rather than part of a pop song:
There was a country where everyone wanted to change everything all the time / Till fate came ’round, the language turned upside down and no one left could read or write / Except for one girl, learning was her whole world, she knew enough to teach them all / The thought of leaving the land seemed appealing, its downfall would not be her fault
But she stuck around / Went town to town / To tell the future of its past / She took the time to make things right / And let her homeland know the truth will last
Writing this part of the song came easily, almost intuitively, and I stuck with the first melody that came to mind, which in and of itself sounds to me like a lullaby or nursery rhyme. While editing this portion of the recording, I decided to throw in piano and some heavy reverb on the vocals, to really do my best to transport the listener into this strange little minute-long world. This verse is bookended by choruses that essentially act as the song’s theme: “the new can be easier than staying true to the old.” This little nugget of advice is particularly apt in terms of what’s currently happening with the French language, but I wanted the lyrical fable to be vague and malleable enough to apply to other situations as well.
As I was writing this song, I came up with a cool and unusual chord progression for the bridge, only to later come to the conclusion that the song didn’t need a bridge at all. On paper, having no bridge makes the song look extravagantly simple: verse 1, chorus 1, verse 2, chorus 2. That’s it. I didn’t want to lose that chord progression though, so after some experimenting I realized I could still sing the chorus over that new progression, giving the chorus melodies a whole new texture. This became the song’s new ending, but I had an itch that even more change was needed. After some thought, brainstorming, and arguing with myself, I ended up with a third chorus with these altered lyrics: “the new is easy to follow but what’s true can’t grow old.” I’m very happy with this new lyrical distinction because, as I discussed earlier, the logical fallacy works in both directions, the old and the new. And if I’m being honest with myself, the original chorus sounds like it’s committing this same mistake, of favoring the old simply because it’s old. With this revised ending, there’s clarity that the true point of the song is doing the right thing because it’s the right thing. Truth can be newly discovered, but truth doesn’t retire, either; and nothing could be more newsworthy than that which is accurate, regardless of whether or not it’s been said a thousand times before.
It surprised me to end up with a song so philosophically intentional when it also came together so quickly. Part of what made this conclusion easier for me was a focus on the lyrics, while simultaneously toning down my usual demand for odd progressions, key changes, and time signatures. When I play this song acoustically, it’s one of my simpler songs in recent memory. I had a feeling this would change, though, when I started adding percussion to the track. A drum beat had entered my head a few days earlier that I couldn’t get out of my head, one that matched the vocal melodies in a unique way in spite of starting on the upbeat instead of the traditional downbeat. The drums only appear for the final few repetitions of the chorus, but a groove is added that I think really makes the song feel like nothing else. It also accomplishes something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, namely, using simple drum beats in complex ways instead of always trying to make complex beats. As my brother (who helped mix and master the track) pointed out, the drums have a very Reign of Kindo-feel to them. Nevertheless, I’m a sucker for a good emotional payoff, so for the final run of the chorus, the drums switch to the downbeat, allowing listeners to rock out for the remainder of the song.
Trying to be a perfectionist while recording this one track, though, ultimately ruined my original plan to record two songs for this compilation. All the pieces of the recording were put into place around 4 or 5pm in the afternoon, after a solid few hours of work. I had good, not great, vocal takes for the whole song. (On a side note, some of these melodies were hard for me to sing, and in a way that gives me confidence that I’m still coming up with fresh ideas. If I can immediately sing a melody with ease, that’s probably because I’ve sung it somewhere before. If I have to carefully train myself how to sing the melody I’m trying to write, I’m assured that this is actually a new melody for me.) I took a break, going to the gym and getting some dinner. By the time I got back, I’d decided that getting better vocal takes and some harmonies would be more worth my time than having two songs “done” but probably sounding unpolished and rushed. It took me another three-plus hours of singing and editing, but ultimately the takes I got added new layers of excitement to the song, along with some harmonies that make the song more dynamic than I imagined it could be.
All in all, it’s crazy to wonder how long that original verse lyric might have idly sat in my notes on my phone. If I hadn’t written this song this week, it may have never been used at all. Even so, it surely would have ended up as a very different song. That’s one of the most exciting and perplexing things about art; one of the primary facets of humans creating things is not knowing exactly what’s going to happen. We can have a goal in mind of what we’re trying to achieve, but we almost never recreate that “perfect picture” inside our heads. Yet sometimes, what happens instead is we accidentally create something even better.
Thanks for reading! Be on the lookout for more songs and blog entries soon, and feel free to subscribe via email in the field below if you want updates on new posts.