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Behind The Song Let's Build An Airport EP

Behind The Song: [Everything Is] Broken

A Break

At the tail end on 2010 I had quit leading worship at my church, planning to spend a year recharging my batteries, learning about songwriting and writing every day. [Everything Is] Broken was one of the first of the new batch of tunes, though the basic lyrics date back to 2004.

At the time the concept ‘if a good God make the world why is it so messed up‘ was to me little more than an ‘apologetic’ device – an explanation for ‘non-churchgoers’ that might persuade them to sign up. But in the years since I wrote the song it’s given me a frame of reference to understand the ever-present darkness in my world, helping me deal with it in my own life and allowing it into in the art I make.

All These Broken Things

From the start the concept was that the structure of the song itself would reflect brokenness (something I call madrigalism), musically I decided to write the verse in mostly 7/4 which gives an impression of a missing beat. I wanted to use a string trio, or rather, a ‘broken’ quartet with the second violin missing. (This is why I ended up using a trio on Brother Bull and Better For Me too). There are no drums for the same reason. The song breaks down towards the end interrupted by ‘random’ samples and the vocal degrading and the last word missing.

In the lyrics there are 18 broken things

Shattered frame
Torn photograph
Broken home – his daddy doesn’t live here anymore
Wedding vows – unmade
A mug that’s chipped
Broken skin – cuts her lip
Broken sentences – staccato, each incomplete
Stillborn baby
CD player
Broken peace treaty – torn up
A hairline fracture in the universe
Broken Earth – cranky and she’s getting worse
Broken city – split by an earthquake
The church boiler
The church heating pipes
The choirboy’s voice
The communion bread
Christ’s body

Development

The song was written as a distorted solo rocker in Am – imagine if If Billy Bragg joined a discipleship group led by Derek Webb, or if CS Lewis secretly hankered after playing in Iron Maiden. On the demo, the distorted guitar, my amp crapping out and my voice cracking as I screamed my head off all seemed to reflect the subject matter, but my producer friend Mark pointed out that the song didn’t sit with any of the other material on my EP. So I dialled back the mayhem, transposed it down, played fuller chords capoed at the 3rd fret. When I tracked the guitar I did what I call a ‘Lennon Extension‘ by accidentally adding an extra beat into one of the prechoruses. A happy accident.

I agree with Chris Cornell from Soundgarden when he says he likes writing in odd meters because it feels like there’s only one melody that it can possibly be.

Wachowskitarianism

Observant Christians might wonder what’s up with the weird church service. It has real bread (not wafers) like a pentecostal church but has a Priest and an old building (like a Catholic church) and they have the wine before the bread (like no church I’ve ever encountered). I guess that’s what they called poetic licence. In my mind it’s church as imagined by Frank Miller or the Wachowski brothers. (I do not attend a church like this).

The concept of a fracture in the universe comes from a 2009 Easter sermon by Matt Chandler, “red wine burning in my chest” came from a journal entry about taking communion in an Anglican church and “the earth is cranky” came from somewhere else that I can’t remember.

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Live Video

Brother Bull on Trent Sound Live

“…to make her a dress pure as milk…”

Brother Bull appears on the Let’s Build An Airport EP – Download the studio version here

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A Blog's Life Let's Build An Airport EP

Let’s Build An Airport – The Demos

Last chance for demos!

I’m getting very close to releasing my EP Let’s Build An Airport. The single will be available from Feb 14th and the EP goes on sale on Mar 18th. At the moment you can hear demos of all the tracks on my Song Vault page but I’ll be taking them down forever at the end of next week.

So whether you’re a Matt Blick completist or just a cheapskate here’s the direct links

[Everything Is] Broken – original ‘heavy metal’ version
I Got Lost – original FAWM demo
Let’s Build An Airport – 2nd demo
Better For Me If I’d Never Been Born – home demo
Brother Bull – ‘Live in the studio’ pre-production version with deleted verse and original coda.

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Best Posts Let's Build An Airport EP Recording Songwriting Writing Songs With

Steve Jobs And The Rewind Button

I got the biography of Apple founder Steve Jobs for Christmas. I was hoping for some insight on how to be a creative thinker but it’s actually a pretty depressing read and there is little in the way that Jobs is portrayed that I’d want to emulate.

But in one passage Steve talked about the moment in the development of every great Apple product where they realised something was wrong and felt the temptation to just ignore the alarm bells and plough on regardless. But in each instance they ‘hit the rewind button’, missing deadlines and delaying launches to fix it, and in doing so lifted the product to the next level.

I’ve hit 3 such points that I can identify during the recording of the Let’s Build An Airport EP. First, after getting the mix I realised Brother Bull dragged towards the end. I felt tempted to say “never mind, it’s just the weakest song on the record” but I realised that cutting a verse and chorus (something I’d been fighting ever since I wrote the song) made it move along at a much more satisfying clip. I did a mock up of the edit in Garageband and then Mark my producer did it for real. I lost some cool xylophone and steel drum moments but gained a tighter final track.

Next a cello part wasn’t working. Tuning wise, tonally and it lacked expression. Rerecording the part helped, but not enough. I’d run out of ideas and we ran off mixes with and without the part. But then Mark started copying over snippets of violin and viola from other parts of the song and layering them. The section of the song is really striking now thanks to string parts that I never would have composed.

Finally one little cluster of pitchy notes at the end of the record, almost inaudible when mixed is now sadly very noticeable now the track are mastered. To fix them means going back a step and remixing that portion of the song, then adding it into the mastered track and remastering. But I’m hopeful, like the previous examples that the whole track will end up noticeably stronger.

Download my free single Let’s Build An Airport

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Let's Build An Airport EP

Studio Diary #7

Here’s another behind the scene studio diary. Except this one was in a house. When I told them I was going to put a sousaphone on a hard rock ballad they sad I was mad. But now? They know I’m mad.

The EP is coming. I can feel it in my bones. Or is that just the sousaphone…?

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Let's Build An Airport EP

EP/Mini Album Update

 

The EP/Mini Album Let’s Build An Airport is finished as far as my input is concerned so now I’m waiting on mixes and album artwork, so now I have time to catch up on a few studio video diaries that I never got a round to editing.

A lot of the fiddly little instrument stuff (three seconds of glockenspiel here, two seconds of bell tree there) was done at different schools I teach at and then flown into the master tapes.

The fact that we neither fly in or have tapes anymore is neither here nor there…

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Best Posts Songwriting

A Classic Song Finishing Tool – The ‘To Do’ List

In the realm of personal management it doesn’t get any more basic than the humble to-do list. But for me this little fella has made all the difference between a song getting lost in development hell and actually making it across the finish line.

What I’ve come to realise is this –

First we get inspired. Then we have to work hard. Things that don’t work are big and obvious and we give it all we’ve got to find solutions. We work on song vision, we fit the parts together. Finally all that’s left is to tidy up & smooth the rough edges. And that’s where we can easily get bogged down.

When I’m inspired, I’m mostly writing ‘by feel’ – sensing this chord or that phrase feels right. And eventually what remains are the few minor parts that bug me. It’s tempting to wait for inspiration to strike again. But it probably won’t. I’ve come up with every alternative there is and I just have to pick one. The song is 98% there. Whatever I decide won’t affect the song that much. But waiting to lightening to strike a 3rd time will. I’ll get bored, lose interest, lose perspective and then lose my faith in the song completely.

That’s where to to-do list comes in. I’m learning to create an inventory of all the decisions left to make, and then one by one MAKE THEM. By a process of elimination, drawing straws, asking your people to vote, doing ‘eeny meeny miney mo’. Whatever. Just make a decision already!

For example, here was my to-do list for my song Brother Bull –

1) Stick with the original structure, drop the 5th verse or move the 5th verse and drop a chorus?

I just played the options through. I knew the original was too long – that’s what was bugging me. But I didn’t want to lose a verse I liked and the narrative shape was nice.

So I turned v5 into verse 3 and dropped a chorus. I played it all the way through and it felt OK.

*Update July 2013 – during the mixing of the Let’s Build An Airport EP I hit this issue again and for the sake of not letting the song drag I cut the verse 3 (aka the verse formerly known as verse 5 and another chorus). Read about the process here.

2) soft as her skin/cheek/face/neck/breast/thigh/back/arm/throat/smile?

I had brainstormed every possible body part for this line (plus a few others we won’t mention) and none were great. But I wasn’t going to come up with a better idea. So I sang the line with every possible word in turn.

The original line (soft as her skin) wasn’t very…well…original, but I liked the way it ‘sang’ and I figured that a song built on such a weird premise (A love song that consists of asking various animals to donate body parts) could stand one line that was too normal.

3) pockets are bursting with/pockets hold nothing but

The questions were “do I want to change the chorus the last time around?” & “will ‘bursting’ sing OK?”

Answer: Yes and yes.

4) Gm or Bb?

and

5) F or F/A?

all through the writing process I’d been switching back and forth between these chord versions in numerous places in the song. But now I was done and it was time to nail things down. Just make a decision already!

I was uncomfortable with singing a G over a Bb chord rather than a Gm, but, emboldened by the example of John Lennon I decided to go for it.

What’s preventing your current song from being finished? Try drawing up a list and working through it as cold bloodedly as if you were doing the laundry or servicing your car. Let me know how you get on.

Download my free single Let’s Build An Airport

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Let's Build An Airport EP Song Vault

Brother Bull

 

To pen such a sonnet that dry ink will sing
A twisted courtship song
Download     Buy mp3     Chords (pdf)     Lyrics (pdf)     Behind The Song :The ToDo list

Brother Bull could you lend me your skin?
Brother Bull could you lend me your skin?
For a belt of black leather to give to my girl
Brother Bull could you lend me your skin?

Brother Worm would you spare me some silk?
To make her a dress pure as milk
Spin a thread that’s as smooth and as soft as her skin
Brother Worm would you spare me some silk?

For I’m off to court my darling Christine
Whose eyes shine like crystal the bluest of green
3 rings on her finger, a gold trinity
My pockets hold nothing but promises and dreams

Brother Gander please give up a quill
Though your breast it may smart for a spell
To pen such a sonnet that dry ink will sing
Brother Gander please give up a quill

Brother Sheep please, your stomach for strings
And my guitar like a siren will sing
When plucked with a sliver of dear Turtle’s shell
Brother Sheep please, your stomach for strings

For I’m off to court my darling Christine…

Some things are given and some things must die
To give love the slenderest chance to survive
But there’s nothing I miss, and less that I mourn
I gladly gave everything the day I went to court my darling Christine
Her eyes shine like crystal the bluest of green
3 rings on her finger, a gold trinity
My pockets hold nothing but promises and dreams
My pockets are bursting with promises, promises and dreams

© Matt Blick 2012

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Let's Build An Airport EP

Studio Update #1

So here’s the plan for 2012. (Place “I’m going to attempt to” before ever phrase and “this is subject to change” after).Record a 4 track EP and 1 extra bonus track to give away
Title: Everything We Lost In The Fall Rootless/Artless
Base it around electric guitar and vocals with one or two eclectic instrument choices per track
Con as many friends and family as I can into playing, photographing, doing artwork etc
Release in early Mar (this is already feeling too optimistic)
Release it (download only) via CD Baby to iTunes, Amazon and probably Rob’s Record Mart  too
Con as many friends and family as I can into buying it
Learn a massive amount about putting together a project
Repeat until financial solvency or clinical depression occurs

Right at the tail end of last year I did some pre production at Old Library Studios, Mansfield with producer Mark Allsop, and a couple of weeks ago I laid down guitar tracks for 31/2 songs.

Here’s the songs I originally shortlisted

Let’s Build An Airport
The Weight Of Glory
Better For Me If I’d Never Been Born (demo of this will be up soon)
[Everything Is] Broken
Brother Bull (I never did a proper demo of this, but will post the live preproduction version)
The Morning After The Day You Saved The World
and two versions of I Got Lost

Having now dropped Weight of Glory and Morning After, five songs remain. The four that fit together best/turn out well will go on the EP.

Simples

I’m really benefitting from having another pair of ears go through the songs with me, and making some edits, subtle and otherwise! My pace of writing has been so quick last year, that some of these tunes were finished, recorded and then never played again!

Any questions let me know.

Here’s a sneak peak behind the scenes…

Other free songs by Matt Blick

[If you’re subscribed to this blog via email, you will have to click on the post’s title to watch any video content (the link will take you my site).