In 2016 I started recording an album of instrumental pieces, which I knew I wouldn't finish until the following spring. To stick to my goal of releasing something every year I decided to make a demo album of all the songs I wrote in 2016. Even though they were written throughout the year, most of the actual recording took place over an intense two-day period the week before Christmas - not by choice, but because I'm such a terrible procrastinator!
I wrote, arranged, performed, produced and the recorded the whole thing myself on my laptop using only a microphone, a keyboard, an acoustic guitar and a kazoo! It was a grueling experience, but I'm quite proud of what I managed to achieve with the songs, even though the recordings are a bit rough. Like with my other demo album "Out With The New", I intend to re-record it properly one day (hence why the album is called "Ten Tracks Early"!)
(You can download "Ten Tracks Early" for free by clicking 'download' on the widget on the left, and entering '0' in the amount box. Although bear in mind that I'm a self-funded artist, and any support you can give is greatly appreciated)
1. Long Hellos Short Goodbyes
This song was inspired by when I was a kid and we used to have visits with family friends. The lyrics in the verses were taken from the kind of small-talk these visits would normally be filled with, and the bridge and chorus lyrics reflect how I often felt as the day would drag on. A simple song, but I think the subject is quite a universal childhood experience.
2. Cereal Bar
There used to be a place in Kingston called The Cereal Bar where you could eat cereal and play retro video games all day long. Sadly, I only got to visit this wonderful place a couple of times before it closed down, so I wrote this song as a tribute to it. The clarinet solo is backed by several layers of kazoo, which marks the first time I've used the instrument on a track since 'Grumpy Old Man'.
3. The Great Con Of 2015
In October 2015 I attended Comic-Con for the first time and I loved it. I've always been a big fan of geeky pop culture, and being around thousands of people with similar interests was amazing. Because it's such a colourful, chaotic place I tried to come up with a tune and an arrangement that recalled the circus - the proper version I'll record someday will emphasise this even further. The lyrics gave me a chance to refer to a lot of the stuff I saw there, and to make some truly bad puns! (i.e. 'Marvel-ous', because play/cosplay')
The melody for the Middle 8, where I name-check a bunch of different films, TV shows and pop culture figures, originally came from a song I wrote for musical I never finished called 'Scroungers' (the bridge of that song became the Middle 8 of 'Safety Net Sue', and the chorus became the Middle 8 of 'You Can't Be Bad', so it definitely didn't go to waste!)
4. What We Do In The Studio
I wrote this song as a tribute to my producer Joe, and it's a pretty accurate description of a typical day in the studio for us, as well as our general approach to recording. I had to rely on inventive double tracking in the verses to make the vocals work as the melody I wrote stretched my vocal range a bit too much, and if I had more time I would have done a better job of the harmony in the choruses. Still, I'm proud of the lyrics and the chord patterns - one day Joe and I will record it properly in the studio, which will be a very meta experience!
5. Ritzy McCain
In May of 2016 I read an article in the paper about how to the Ritz hotel in London apparently served plain old McCain french fries in their fancy restaurant. From that I came up with the idea of a character called Ritzy McCain who ruined the reputation of his family establishment by selling overpriced food, and I based the structure and kooky mood of the song on 'Rocky Raccoon' by The Beatles. Like that song I envisioned it being a folksy little acoustic guitar ditty, but when I recorded it on my keyboard at home for the demo album it ended up having an echoey vaudeville feel that I never thought of, but which I kind of like.
6. For Hours
2016 was full of difficult times and divisive issues, and during each of these periods time seemed to drag on until it was over. The verses of this song refer to four specific events: the time our cat Lenny went missing for four hours the day we got him(!), the tragic shootings in Orlando, the US presidential election and Brexit.
I wrote the tune on guitar at Joe's one day while he was busy setting up a drum kit in his living room, and even though the tune is sweet and the lyrics are quite melancholy, somehow it works - I particularly like how the harmonica compliments the acoustic guitar.
7. Tell Me All About It
I got stuck on a train going into London one evening, and there was a woman sitting opposite me who described practically every detail of her unhappy life to her friend on the phone. It can barely be called eavesdropping as it was impossible not to listen to her, so I decided to make the most of the delay by writing down what she was saying so that I could turn it into a song later on. Here are the notes I took...
The melody on this song is one of the ones that I'm most proud of, and I think the coda has the potential to be something truly haunting when I record it properly (it sounds good even with just piano and keyboard strings!) Actually, the coda only came about because I wasn't sure how how to end the tune so I decide to just repeat the last two chords over and over again.
8. Another Scrawl Upon The Wall
I originally wrote the tune for this song back when I did my music GSCE, and the reason it took 13 years to add lyrics to it is because I always pictured it as an instrumental piece. The song's title was inspired by the tune's similarity to 'Another Brick In The Wall' by Pink Floyd, and the lyrics were inspired by my experiences with Facebook - i.e. how people react to tragedies by briefly changing their profile picture, how people get into self-righteous debates, and how a lot of people only interact by posting 'Happy Birthday' on each others walls once a year.
The solos in between the verses were performed by me on my keyboard, and they took a long time to perfect - I look forward to them being performed by professionals someday when I record the track properly, especially the saxophone solo.
9. August 9th
This is a song about birthdays in general, but the title was inspired by two friends of mine who have theirs on the same day (on August 9th). The lyrics and tune are both lively and positive, and the key change from A major to C major in the chorus was inspired by an Elton John song called 'I Never Knew Her Name', which modulates in the same way.
10. Gold Rush
Even though I admire Olympic athletes very much, the actual Olympics themselves have never really interested me, and this song reflects how I felt when they were happening and you couldn't get away from them. Several events from the 2016 games are referenced, like when the swimming pool turned green, when one of the runners fell down and when one of the judo team refused to shake hands with his opponent. However, I also left the lyrics vague enough so that the song could also be interpreted as being about the modern obsession with earning lots of money.
Even though the arrangement of this song is almost moronically simple, I think it really works well, and I can't imagine the final version will be much more elaborate when I eventually record it.