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“