Tuesday, May 24, 2011

From Yeats to Janis...a new solo record is in the works!

This blog rises from the dead once more! I've begun work on a follow-up record to Seven Years Now. Working again with Tom Eaton up in Newburyport, I hope to have a finished record by sometime in the Fall. It is looking to be a collection of nine original tunes, plus a version of "Wandering Angus," a folk song based on a poem by William Butler Yeats. I first heard this tune at a David Gray concert, as an encore song...and it was one of those songs that I immediately fell for. I had to know everything about it: who wrote it, who had recorded it, etc. The lyric concerns a fisherman whose newly-caught trout shapeshifts into a woman, sporting apple-blossoms in her hair. Catch of the day, to be sure. The woman calls his name and runs away, and he spends his entire life searching for her, in vain. Beautiful. Fruitless wandering? Endless searching? A life optimistically devoted to searching? A fish turning into a woman? This was a song I needed to learn, perform, and share.

"Wandering Angus" fit right in with the other tunes I wanted to record. Overall, it's a very different collection of songs from Seven Years Now. Where that record was more introspective, and concerned with the twists and turns of the interior life, this new project is all about other people. Some of them real, some not. But the binding thread is interactions between people. Connections made and lost. In "Wandering Angus" the Other flees and becomes a vision of beauty and meaning, for which the searcher embarks. Other tunes spin similar tales of searching: a landscaper who quits his job to sail the ocean with his wife. A female poet toasting existence in a crowded bar with her new love. A soldier en route on a dangerous mission dreaming of his lover. A man alone in the winter forest, trapped under a fallen tree, calling out to a bird for help... All kinds of desperation and determination, a reaching out, a recognition of the need for another.

I mentioned that some of the songs are actually about real people. By "real," I guess I should've said historical. This includes a country folk ditty I wrote about the author Gerard Nerval. Also, it includes a song about (or for...) Janis Joplin. The Nerval tune ("Crooked Line") isn't entirely new...in fact we used to play it in my old band, The Jody Grind. You can check out a video of that here. (Please forgive how my guitar is slightly out of tune in that video...yikes...)

But the Joplin tune is only about a year old. I was in L.A., April before last, attending the ASACP Expo in Hollywood...trying to build up some professional development skills in this here songwriting pursuit. Anyway, I did not stay in the official conference hotel, as it was a bit pricey. Instead, I opted for a cheaper room nearby at the Highland Gardens Hotel. After having booked a room there for four nights, I was suprised to learn that Janis Joplin had died there, in room 105, of a drug overdose in 1970. Holy rock trivia, Batman! While I didn't stay in room 105, I felt like this was an interesting experience...further compounded by the fact that I visited the Grammy Museum in downtown L.A. only to find a special exhibition on Joplin! It featured her painting and personal letters to her family. Reading her letters, she was filled with such excitement at her success. As if the world was just beginning to understand her...

So anyway, during my stay there in the hotel it occurred to me that I would probably end up writing a song about Joplin. It just seemed like the thing to do. Or more accurately, it just seemed like a song was something that was going to happen. A song would arrive, and I would need to jot it down. I just needed to be open to it. All of my internal radio stations needed to be getting good reception, at the very least. And, wouldn't you know...my last night there, after hitting the town and partying it up with a friend, I found myself in the 4am hour, alone, with bits of lyrics and melody falling into my head. I grabbed the guitar and wrote out five verses in about 30 minutes or so...then I passed out asleep.

The next morning, I looked over the verses expecting to cringe at some mindless drunken nonsense, but all in all it looked pretty good. While I tweaked the order of the verses a little bit, it looked like they had all arrived, safe and sound. I had me a new song. Strangely enough, it was actually a song to Janis, like a calling out to her ghost. I had expected something different, something perhaps more like my Nerval tune, where I am describing aspects of a life. But I was pleased with what I got. The best you can do is to bait the hook and drop it in the water. What you catch is a curious mix of chance, luck, fate, what-have-you...

The last session saw us record "Song for Janis," and I look forward to being able to share it with you when it's finished. In a few days it will be back into the studio for a mammoth session with Steve Bankuti on drums and Tom Bianchi on bass. Hopefully that will finish most of the basic tracking. Knock wood, it's all coming together.