We Breathe So Brief
As with most songs, I had a chord progression on the acoustic guitar and had yet to fill in lyrics. In my head, there was clearly a female vocal harmony that played counterpoint to a pair of urgent closely harmonized male vocals.
One afternoon I had Jessica Hathaway come by to drop some demo vocals so we splayed out on the carpet and scribbled down stream of consciousness ideas for her to sing. Those eventually became the lyrics to this track which is heavily inspired by my love for the early 90’s wombadelic period that included My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless”, Stereolab’s “Transient Noise Bursts and Random Announcements” and Dinosaur Jr.’s “Green Mind.”
The second half of the track is a classic Blue Dog Pict-syled “garden section”; a voyage into the subconscious – visceral, dreamy and typically more jammy – inspired by David Sylvian’s “Secrets of the Beehive” and all the luscious, impossibly melancholic warmth that it rendered on vinyl.
As with almost all the songs, the drums were laid down by Ryan (Brown) at the backyard tracking studio in Burbank, and the acoustic guitars in the sauna at my parent’s house in Toronto. Peter Devlin, a true guitar hero, tracked the funky strat stuff on my parents’ porch one sunny July afternoon, as well as the Pink Floydesque licks in the latter half of the song, but the rest was far from conventional.
Wes Styles came by the (Chemical Light Factory) studio in Hollywood with his huge guitar pedal board and laid down three bass tracks – one that is pure grindy bass fuzz with octave pedal, one that is through his wah and chorus and became the primary “clean” bass track, and one that uses delays and flangers and an old Coke bottle as a slide to toss out random bass fx and swoons.
Before she moved to NYC, I had Natalie John stop by to track vocals and a trumpet solo which was later redone by Stewart Cole (a horn prodigy). Natalie’s vocals are still in the track and sound slutty and surly as ever. Brilliantly rendered. So much charisma.
I later recorded some vintage 80’s keyboard pads and after that some Ebow guitars through some amp sim plugin to create controlled feedback (guitar feedback is an absolute BDP/KMS staple).
After a couple of months of letting the track simmer I returned to track the electric guitars. This is a track that is different than any other on the record, but for its particular early 90’s-ness it is perhaps my favorite – reminiscent of “The Cost of Admission” off BDP’s “Spindly Light und Wax Rocketines” which may be the best track I have yet released, in my opinion.
I conferred with Josh Joudrie via MSN and webcam over the progression of the track and discussed methods for completing the sound canvass of the song.
Finally over the course of a week (during which my dear support friend Misa Cohen presided with tea, humor and wine) I tracked all the electrics on my trusty, highly customized Fender Strat same one I used on all the BDP records – yes Johhny Camden’s “Watson”).
All in all the song has over 24 guitar tracks. L, R and center channels for clean JCM 800 clean, crunch, power chords, MBV bends, and Princeton Chorus jazz leads. I then ran stuff through the McDSP plugins to rebuild everything I had ever learned from using the true analogue gear at Number 9 Sound in Toronto during Spindly and at Tone King Records during the Project:Ribcage era.
Essentially I built a signal path that pushed the guitars through an SSL console strip then into a Manley VariMu compressor, using a Urei 1176 to shape their transients, and then into a Neve 1073 or Avalon just for the tube stage, and then squishing it onto Ampex tape with a 100hz rolloff with a 6db boost at 100hz. Of course, every single track required its own treatment, but the end result is pretty colossal in its approximation to the old school Spindly sound. Despite all the influences, it really does end up sounding like nothing more than post-BDP. I guess it’s just the fact that everyone involved came from that school.
At any rate the track sounds almost like what I heard in my head that muggy LA day almost a year ago. I am stoked about unleashing it on the public. This song, for me, is just an indulgent throwback to the days when music existed for its own damn sake – to uplift, to throw up its arms and say “I have no idea what the fuck to do, but it sure feels good doing it.”
I thank Jessica for her inspiration and truly instinctual input – she and I have an irascible bond and it can be felt in the end product of this track.
Manta ray, iolite
Here’s the test
What’s your best
Can you rest
It’s my turn
Have I learned
Do I care
Take the stairs
Or just breathe
Or just bleed
Or just leave
We breathe so brief
That kill me slowly“
With all due respect to those who have died in the spirit of serving some higher moral…
It weighs on my heart that despite my strongest efforts I was unable to get through to you, though it is not surprising and unfair to my own efforts when contrasted with the coercive mechanisms devised by the military to persuade you.
I have buried many friends for as many reasons – suicide, illness, overdoses – but yours will be the hardest to accept, because you trained for your own death. And you trained to take the lives of others. The saddest part is that you employed your greatest assets – tenacity, loyalty, dedication, intelligence to prepare for this tour through darkness, whereas you could have just as readily exercised these virtues towards the light.
What are you fighting for? What is it that you are being indoctrinated with that makes you believe what you are doing is for a greater good? Your responsibility is to yourself and you have defied that. With this decision you have made, you have also forgotten about those who love you. You counter that you are doing this to protect us; this only underlines the naivety upon which you have based your decision. Whatever sense of martyrdom you are carrying around in your heart is simply mislabeled hubris and selfishness – the ripple effect that harm coming to you through your experience will create is a function of your decision. When a person takes their own life they fail to respect what they leave behind. It is an utterly selfish act. I am not sure if you were playing a bluff – but they army is gonna call you out bud. They want a return on their investment.
Recognize that if you had filled your hours with other data then you would have arrived somewhere else. The sense of inevitability you now feel and face, is a function of your own creative power. But now you have surrendered that ability to choose over to someone else and there is a price you will pay for defaulting on your own free will. It is like walking to the front steps of prison and asking them to lock you inside for no reason other than having convinced yourself that you are not worthy of participating in the abundance of life. You gave up that bounty.
I am certain that you have been schooled to think that what you have been trained to do is to think on your feet, to take initiative, to steer your own course, to live the impossible dream, to explore the world, to discover your fullest potential. But you have been conned and that is what hurts me most. That I believed you knew better.
You were the kid who got a job so you could pay for your own singing lessons. Who aspired to set a Guinness record for tap dancing the longest distance – from the suburbs to downtown, who wrote incredible stories of marvelous lands, who aspired to be a nuclear physicist and gemologist.
But this is not fantasyland now, brother. Your mortality and your fragility are both very, very real. Whatever insecurities were preyed upon when that recruiting scout approached you on the bus home from school that day – memories of being teased at school, of being different, of being called weak – they are what has delivered you to this momentous decision you have made, and now it is your path – one that you accepted, that you fed with your own powers of manifestation. There is no destiny in it – only the legacy of choices you made. But you have relinquished that power now. Now you are someone else’s property.
There is a time and place to fight for what you believe in. But you have signed up for someone else’s war. It wasn’t a threat to your country. It wasn’t a threat to your family. You actively sought this fight out and decided to jump in for a piece of the action. To “prove” yourself.
There are many ways to defend freedom. Unfortunately a bigger machine than you are capable of perceiving co-opted the word and transformed its utility, just as it has your understanding of what other options and ultimately rewarding and significantly more self-empowering methods are available. I will, with the same tenacity and determination continue to support freedom, peace, love, understanding, wisdom and I imagine to greater effect.
The only thing we have is to choose how we think about things and from that we manifest the life we will live. I respect that, and I respect that you had the power to choose for yourself. We make our own beds, we dig our own trenches.
I miss you already.
May God bless your path.