This blog contains multitudes. There are words about a song, there are words about the human condition and there is also News, (which contains CLUES about EXCITING SECRET THINGS). AND, as if that wasn’t enough, there is also the first, (and potentially last) competition on JamesRadcliffe.com. Are you ready? Then let’s begin…
Songs and pieces of music begin in a myriad of ways. There are no hard and fast rules about the how, there are just stories after the fact.
I’ll give you an example…
A few years ago my core practice was to set up my live rig and just play around, in order to get used to navigating in an amplified world of sound. I’d play my own pieces, other peoples songs, crazy ideas that came to mind, whatever. One day on a whim, I decided to tune all the strings on my guitar down to one chord, drench the whole thing in reverb, and see what happened. One vocal idea kept repeating. I looked up and 3 hours had passed.
That’s how the chorus for BrokenHearts was born.
Over the next wedge of time, the same idea cropped up in practice again and again until I figured out that it wanted to be a song. All I had was the main chorus and an idea, but sometimes that’s enough. The prevalent image for the piece was of a great column of people from all walks of life; the full gamut of human diversity, traveling across a landscape, from one shore of the ocean to another.
If the song is saying anything, it is saying that we are all the same. That, all the things which we perceive as differences are really only surface deep. It is true that we are all unique, but it is also true, in a deeper sense, that we are all the same. We are unified by our experience of life. We are all human, we are all born, we all die, we all experience life, and we all have our hearts broken, again and again and again.
To me, there is a redemptive quality in knowing that your heart will be broken by life. To accept that, to know there will be pain, sorrow, grief and loss in this life, and yet still make the choice to remain open and embrace the entire experience with joy, is true courage, in the most fundamental sense of the word. To me, this is what it means to be fully alive.
I tried getting the verse lyric in a variety of ways. Writing at my desk, listening to the instrumental version of the song, long walks, but nothing felt right. Nothing fit.
It was one and a half weeks before album release and the piece was still unfinished, so I was thinking of benching it. Around 3:00A.M. in the morning, at the end of a particularly mammoth recording / editing session, I decided to go for a walk to decompress and hunt down some late-night pizza. As soon as my feet hit the pavement, the main lyric spooled out of me, one effortless line after another.
I walked around for a while to let the new arrangement settle in my head. Then headed back to my flat, set up my vocal cage of microphones, and laid down the vocal that you hear on the album in one take, just as the sun was coming up.
A lot of what I do is like that. There is a definite component of discipline, of making oneself available to the process, but the jewels, the flashes of light are unpredictable by nature. The core of every piece, is inexplicable.
I have a great affection for the finished piece. Each time I hear it, it stops me in my tracks. To me, it is a little slice of magic.
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