"It" Is Not So Simple
Nice little story to share. Steve and I were working hard last night on some of the vocal harmonies for Climbing Trees. We had tried doing this a few weeks ago but it just didn’t pan out the way we had hoped- they just didn’t sound very good, don’t know if it was the ideas or the performance- I guess, really, it was both. So Steve called me about a week ago and said he wanted to scrap all of those harmony parts we had previously worked on- in his words, “It’s just not there”. “It” is the operative word, but is no simple task to define. Simply, you know when “it” is there.
We tried to take a different approach, leaving alone for a moment those parts that were posing such a challenge. We decided to take a crack at the last part of the second chorus, leading into the outro- a pretty signicant part in the song in terms of the energy that has been established in the song. It actually comes right on the heels of the apex of the song- so its pretty loud and proud in its purpose of showing the listener to the way out of the song.
We had already found a harmony that sort of worked, but it lacked a drive or kick, or whatever you want to call it. The part itself is fairly high in the register, so I was using a falsetto. We agreed to try the same part again and see if it worked. Well it didn’t work. We knew it had to have a different attack, so I suggested maybe singing it full-throat (no falsetto). So I go back in, the track starts and I start to sing…and I sing for about three seconds and I stop and I say I can’t do it. It doesnt feel right for some reason- Im just not able to open up my voice.
So when I go back out and talk to Steve and start telling him, it’s not working, he looks at me funny and says “well, let’s just listen back to these first three seconds”. We hear it back and as soon as we hear it, we both KNOW that is the sound that is required- but Im too chicken-shit right now to do it! But the thing is, we both KNOW- so I go back inside in a hurry and Im literally calling myself every name in the book to snap myself out of it. Im telling myself, “Stop being such a wuss. Sing the @%$@%$ song!” For a singer there is a time to be wispy and floaty and soft, but there is also a time to completely let go and wail. Let me tell you it takes a lot of confidence to wail, and have it sound good. Last few times in the studio, I just havent been able to do it like I know I can. So I give a final “$#%@# it. Im doing the thing”, the track comes on, and I belt it out. It’s a small part, but the significance is enormous. I go back in and Steve looks at me in that same funny way with a big smile on his face and says “Where the hell has that guy been?! Where has he been?! That’s what Im talking about”. So I nailed it, and I cant tell you how good it felt. Most importantly, it set the tone for next four hours as we motored through all of the harmonies for that song. Right about now, Climbing Trees is basically done, ready to be mixed.
Sometimes it takes just a simple, seemingly insignificant moment like that to return inspiration and get you back on track. It also takes a special producer. We took advantage and enjoyed a nice moment together and good things happened. “It” was there. Just goes to show you, with the creative process, if your heart is not in it- it will always come up dry. But when you dig deep, sometimes anyway, you are witness to a tiny bit of magic.