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Youth, some important golden ember of it, can be held onto, at least in the confines of a Balsa Gliders album. Life is lived within these songs. Cars are driven, sneakers are worn thin, beaches are trampled, waves are plunged into, loves are found and lost. But time, remarkably, is captured in a jar and preserved.

- Allí Marshall, Mountain Xpress

 

Years ago The Balsa Gliders stopped just listening to indie rock and started playing it.

NATIONAL TELEVISION Is HEre

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THe Gliders' seventh Studio album is out now and available on all digital outlets. 

Scroll down for songs and origin stories. 
 

 

The Balsa Gliders are at various times and in chronological order: Charles Marshall (vocals and guitar), Russ Tisinger (guitar, vocals), Layton Croft (bass, guitar, drums) Michael Pearce (drums), Chris Roberts (drums/bass), Bear Bashford (piano), Ben Davis (guitar), Greg Jones (bass), Chuck Price (drums), Mike Ferguson (vocals, keyboards).

 

 

 

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National Television

by Balsa Gliders

Check back every week in November for a new track.

And on iTunes, Spotify, Pandora and all digital outlets November 14.

ORIGIN STORIES

Golden Too

“Still just a little bit camera shy...”

I wrote and played the first part of this song for my daughter in our living room when she was four years old. She’s now 12. So, yes, for eight years we sat on this song, searching in vain for a chorus that packed as much energy as the verses and pre-choruses did. It proved to be very elusive, so much so that I just gave up on the song for good about three years ago. Then one day we started playing around with it during rehearsal out of sheer boredom. When I got to the part where I always got stuck, I quit playing altogether and sang an impromptu melody into the microphone: “you, you were golden too …” The rest of the band perked up, ran back to their instruments, and told me to keep singing that line. We began playing the chords very quietly underneath and then figured out how to build back up into the verses. We realized immediately that we had finally “solved” the song, and we knew right then it would ultimately be a centerpiece for this album.

This is one of those songs that is so much fun to play, we wanted to perform it as soon we could, even though I didn’t have lyrics for 80% of the song. So we put it on the setlist for our very next show, which was an outdoor show in Raleigh at the North Hills amphitheater (produced by our good friend John Martin). I had driven from a work conference from Tampa that day, and so we didn’t get to rehearse it, and even after 11 hours in the car, I still didn’t have lyrics for about 75% of the song. While we were performing it with made-up lyrics, I saw Layton Croft on the lawn, and I remembered he was going to play bass for us a few weeks later at a show in Southern Pines. So I made up a lyric to send a message directly to him in the moment, something like, “We are going to play this song on August 7.” The rest of band mocked me about that for a long time, how ridiculous it was be talking to someone, literally, through made-up lyric in real time, so I was determined to keep a reference to “August 7” in the final lyrics. 

I was very territorial about how this song should be produced, and I didn’t want any keyboards on it until the very end of the song. So I reminded Ferg of this over and over so he wouldn’t waste time writing keyboard parts that would be shelved. But he wrote them anyway. And when he tracked them in the studio, I was still opposed to using them and told him so, but of course I was wrong once I heard the rough mix. The opening synth line provides so much color to the guitar line that I can’t imagine the song without it anymore.  
The song used to be about two brothers who were fighting over a recipe. That got shelved with the new arrangement, and now it sets the theme for the whole record – small stories scattered through all corners of the country – with a happy, long-loving couple launching from the west coast. The lyrics are much brighter than usual, and sets a positive, buoyant tone for the record. This is a song to be played loud in the car with the windows down with the knowing smile of a co-conspirator.

– Charles

Married on a Monday

"A ticker tape parade on Sunday..."

“Seriously, who gets married on a Monday?”  That was the very real question posed by my buddy Robert Marshall several years ago.  To be sure, he had a big plan for that Monday and he wanted all of his mates to be involved.  When he learned that one crucial member of the crew would not be participating because it was his wedding anniversary, the most gloriously ridiculous question was born. 

In case you haven’t noticed, the Gliders love a song with a storyline you can call your own and a musical hook that you can’t shake free.  For me, in the case of “Married,” they are one and the same.  The story is the hook.  To be honest, I wasn’t sure I really liked the song to begin with.  These days, I am almost always Charles’ initial sounding board when he writes a new song.  We will sit in his music room, his Taylor guitar in hand and me sitting at my dearly departed brother-in-law’s piano (now on semi-permanent loan in the Marshall household).  I record these initial sessions on my iPhone to reference them later.  We first took “Married” for a spin in October of 2015.  Listening back to that awful recording now, I know why I didn’t like it.  The chorus sounded like a bad Kenny Chesney reject.  “Somebody drank too much rum”?  Really?  But the more the story of the song unfolded, the more I grew to love it.  Of course that “somebody” (whoever they are, but you definitely know who they are) drank too much rum.  And of course somebody sang “Born to Run.”  They were at a destination wedding, with women from Wichita. The groom was wearing sunglasses and waffle trainer running shoes for God’s sake. 

As far as the recording of the song goes, I think instead of “who gets married on a Monday,” the question that was asked more routinely was “who the hell puts a trumpet section in an indie rock song?”  The answer: I do.  Just like a bunch of Lawrence Welk-ian blue ruffled tuxedo shirted dudes blowing it out at a night club wedding reception across from a beach-front salon with a panoramic coral scene on the wall.  As you can imagine, band members do not always agree. This was definitively one of those times.  We take writing our individual parts seriously and work very hard to make them work.  So when your band mates don’t really like what you’re cooking, it sort of sucks.  Sometimes it’s a kick in the pants to make something better. Sometimes it forces you to circle the wagons and stand by a part that you believe in.  This was the case for the trumpets.  So like it or not, my blue tuxedo dudes are playing loud and proud (just not on the first chorus. That was Charles’s brilliant negotiating ploy). 

So thank you Robert Marshall for your wonderfully idiotic question.  It spawned two years of amazing collaboration towards a finished product that I couldn’t be prouder of. 

Now pass the rum. 

- Mike 

Sing Dance Shiver

“I want to fly through the nervous sky...”

As a band member who is geographically removed from the Raleigh nerve center, I rarely get to participate in perhaps the most fun part of being in a band – the organic, in-the-moment instrumental “conversations” that happen as a song is originally taking shape.  Thanks to practice recordings and modern technology, however, I am able to create and integrate ideas from afar.

The process for “Sing Dance Shiver” was different. I was in Raleigh for a show the weekend of January 22, 2016. The show was canceled due to an ice storm, but after a day of walking around in the snow, Charles showed me some ideas he was working on. He played a few ideas for songs that didn’t make it on the album (but still had names): “Summercakes,” “Chinese Cars,” and the beginning of “Snow Day.” I recorded all of them on my phone.

Then he played “Sing Dance Shiver” (although I think it was called something different then) and guitar parts and arrangements flooded my head. I wasn’t surprised at the first line “I wanna live in Pasadena”; Charles is frequently pegging songs with geographic details, but when he kind of softly said “I want to fly through the nervous sky,” I was in.  The next day, I went home, input the audio of the song from my phone into Garageband, and for two days straight did nothing but work on guitar parts, sounds, and arrangements. I settled on a multi-layered arrangement and sent the file back to Raleigh.

Fast forward to fall 2017. I flew back to Raleigh on a September afternoon, huddled with Ben to finalize guitar tones, spent the night at Ferg’s house, talked to Greg J about the arrangement, and then recorded all the guitar parts the next day. I first put down the acoustic part on the click track, then worked with Ben to dial in the electric tones. I laid down the electric atmospherics and additional guitar parts that transformed it from an acoustic song on an iphone to a full-blown electric ensemble.  However, the break still needed something and Ferg came up with a “whistle” chorus idea. Chuck then had the genius idea of military-band-style marching snare. Finally, what I call the “whistle-break team” (Ferg, Greg J, and Greg E) had many spirited conversations and created a much richer – and in my mind, perfect – arrangement.

I only have one small complaint about the song.  It’s just one phrase – “she’s always staring through the neon sign.” The line actually occurs during my favorite moment in the song, when Charles has already created, through the music alone, a sense of longing for something. He then introduces a “she” into the picture, which suggests someone a sense of romantic yearning, but in the most unromantic of places – a big box retail store. I thought, even in a Barnes & Noble, the moment deserved something more poetic – neon “light.” I thought she should be bathed in light, suspended in time. But practicality won out. We ended up using the scratch vocal track that had neon “sign” in it because in that very first take, Charles hit just the right tone.

- Russ

Military Cutoff

“There’s no one listening in your head...”

This song is a story of the tricks that time, mind, and memory play on all of us.  I wrote the opening melody in Wilmington while I was literally turning right on red off Eastwood Road onto Military Cutoff.  I came home and wrote the “Oleander” chorus before it dawned on me that Military Cutoff turns into Oleander.  That’s when the idea for the story—of hunting and pecking for the past down the wrong roads—came into focus. 

The narrator is accompanying a friend on a return trip to Wilmington in search of a house that holds a very particularly and intensely personal memory to him—the pitch of the paved street, the tint the shrubs, the knot on the back of a boat, the scent of the intercoastal.  It might have been a childhood home for a brief snippet of time, a relative or friend’s house, or the site of a first date.  Whatever it was, the protagonist is retracing his steps, somewhat desperately, to try and recapture the setting and the emotions it stirs. 

He mapped his route from a faded and overconfident memory.  The geography tricks him over and over again.  A street name sounds familiar, but after he turns down that street it becomes immediately unfamiliar—dead ends, low-level apartments, hairpin turns he doesn’t remember.  After several wrong turns down several wrong streets, he questions his assumptions.  Why does the main road change names?  Was this gas station always here on the corner?  (I had this very sensation earlier this year hunting for an old home in Houston without a map. I found it, but the neighborhood pool and my friend’s house were in the “wrong” places.)

This song didn’t actually take off until Chuck came up with the dropped drum beat that became the signature hook.  During rehearsal we would make Chuck play the beat, solo, just so we could hear it over and over and laugh at how much we could love one little drum beat.  That’s why we left that brief interlude with just the guitar and the drums.

None of our lyrics are ever literal enough, complete enough, or accurate enough.  They are never supposed to be.  But that doesn’t stop Greg Jones, the so-called “man’s man” of the band, from telling me that there is never “less torque in the front” of a vehicle: 

Greg: “You’re not making any sense.  There’s either torque in the front wheels or torque in the back wheels or torque distributed evenly among the front and back wheels.  So there can never be “more” or “less” torque in the front or the back.  No one who knows anything about trucks and torque would ever say that.”

Me:  Ok.

- Charles

27 Songs

“The words we say through Echo and the Bunnymen...”

Balsa Gliders is a musical family where creating, recording and performing original songs, together, is what bonds us. Like most healthy families, we don’t always agree, but there is a magical creative tension that keeps every practice session, every recording session, and every gig fresh and compelling. I am gratefully blessed to have been a member of this brotherhood since the band was launched in 1999. Living and working overseas for more than two decades made it impossible for me to be regularly and consistently involved in the band for many years. I played on the first three records: Undefeated in Apex (1999), Cookout (2002) and Summer of Tank (2005). But I sadly missed more practice sessions, recording sessions, and gigs over the years than I'd care to remember (which I would struggle with anyway as my “memory is sore, from years in Ulan Bator”).

I have gratefully benefitted from the band rule that once a member, always a member. So after relocating back to Charlotte in 2015, I was warmly welcomed back into the fold. In August 2017, Charles asked me to work with Chuck in Charlotte to arrange and record the guitar, bass and drum parts for a new song, tentatively called “TDK.” The song is about a mix tape given to a young man from a young woman he had been dating. But this mix tape is more than a a custom collection of 27 songs. It’s a break-up letter. It’s proxy for sharing the most intimate and difficult feelings. It’s a vehicle for saying words that need to be said. And bands like OMD, Wilco and Belle and Sebastian are the messengers.

I first met Rob Tavaglione in late 1998 when Charles, Russ and I recorded Undefeated in Apex with him at his Catalyst Recording studio in Charlotte. Rob is a brilliant engineer. We decided to work with him on 27 Songs (the new title), and it was a rich collaborative experience. Chuck and I recorded drums, bass and a handful of guitar parts over a couple sessions. We channeled influence and inspiration from blink-182, the Cars, Daft Punk and My Bloody Valentine, and also threw in a nod to “Students Against” from 1999 and even to a song by the Aggressive Pedestrians, a short-lived band that Charles and I were in before the Gliders. Ferg recorded the piano and synthesizer parts remotely, which we imported into the mix. It’s not easy collaborating remotely, and Ferg’s parts really enhance the musicality of the song, giving it inimitable Balsa Gliders flavor.

Charles and our first-ever female vocalist, Jessica Borgnis, recorded the vocal parts together. She was the perfect choice for this song. The male-female call and response was not only a first for the band, but also questions the conventional role of what is a lead vocal and what is a backing vocal. A memorable part of the the mixing process with Rob was our internal band debate over how to end the song. One idea was for it to abruptly stop in the middle of a musical phrase, unnaturally, just the way cassette mix tapes we grew up with often ended. But a more traditional fade out, with the twist of diminishing vocals underneath crescendoing instrumentation, won out in the end.

For me, the best part of arranging and recording 27 Songs was deepening my brotherly relationship with Chuck. While I have known and loved Ferg and Charles and Russ since as far back as 1988, I haven’t been able to spend as much time with other band mates over these 19 years. Contributing to making 27 Songs come to life for this new album gave me the priceless opportunity to get to know Chuck like never before. And that is the greatest gift this song has given me. Chuck is an amazing man, someone I am forever blessed to be friends with. My opportunity to connect and create with him through 27 Songs is proof positive that the Balsa Gliders brotherhood is alive and kicking, after all these years.

- Layton

Park City

“It’s too late. We’re past Park City. You should have told me.”

Life is lived within these songs. Cars are driven, sneakers are worn thin, beaches are trampled, waves are plunged into, loves are found and lost. But time, remarkably, is captured in a jar and preserved.Alli Marshall, Mountain Xpress

One of my best friends growing up, Eric Johnson, was the guitar player in a pretty notable indie rock band in the ‘90s called Archers of Loaf.  Whenever I asked what one of the band’s songs meant, he would just shrug and say, “I have no idea.” I didn’t get this at the time. How could he be in the band and not know what all of the songs meant?

But now I get it. It happened to me on our last album when someone would ask me “what is Black Tahoe about?” or “What’s does The Shadow?” mean? I realized that though I was in the band, I had no idea what most of the songs were actually about, but I could see and hear the lives being lived in it.

How these songs come to be in Charles’s head is still a crazy mystery to me. He swears that only two Gliders songs across seven albums, both very old songs, are autobiographical. The rest tell very vivid and descriptive tales of lives of their characters - tall girls who won’t settle down, Darlington rapture, lunch counter sit-ins, lacrosse players who listen to WHFS, pool parties by candlelight, hiding out in Easton, Maryland.  And yes, cars being driven all the time. National Television has a song called “Pensacola Nights” and Charles has never even been to Pensacola.  But still, you can hear lives being lived within these songs. 

I believe it’s the thought wrapped into a phrase and put to a melody that makes it a song. In Park City, it’s in the phrase, “you should have told me.”  The line is repeated twice in a row, once at the end of the introduction and then again once the drums kick in as if to make sure you heard it.  Do you know anyone who’s been dumped on the way to  a ski trip? I don’t. But you definitely understand how it happens. You know the feeling: “Why didn’t you tell me this before? Why now?”  Whether you’re 15, 35 or 75, you get it. It’s not that it could have happened to Charles, it could have happened to you. It could have happened to me.

And so while I don’t know exactly what the song “means” – Charles never annotates the lyrics – we can all see and hear the story being told: the feeling of time lost, the sense of being in upstairs halls and minor league parks, wrestling with back-up plans and second thoughts.

“Park City” came about the usual way. Charles played us his first take on the guitar and we just started our parts. Ferg tapped out a few piano notes (which became the hook). Ben started fiddling with a lead and then an outro. Greg and tried our best to lock in as a rhythm section.  The first versions always have an innate rhythm from the strumming of the guitar. As the drummer, this is a double-edged sword. The natural rhythm of Charles’s acoustic guitar is easy to build on but hard to deviate from. In some ways, it’s simple to lock in a beat. It gets harder when you want to add your own ideas. 

Superchunk’s drummer, Jon Wurster, wrote he often thinks “first try, best try,” where your initial, natural inclination around the beat is often the right one. With “Park City,” under the guise of being creative, I told myself I wasn’t going to hit a single cymbal during the song. And I don’t until the outro (which is simply twelve measures of looped hi-hat fills and crash cymbal, cribbed from U2’s “Bad”).

And this outro was really road-tested and planned. Ben did a great job identifying and preparing the various layers of sound. There’s a lot going on, but Greg Elkins kept it tight so that it sounds more like the wall of sound we are trying for. Then there’s that whole other strange, outer-space-y vibe going on in the song, with the references to “humans” being “out here” (as if signaling for help), the intro that sounds like it’s all coming from the AM radio in the car being driven through the desolate valleys of Utah, and the helicopter that sounds like it’s coming to rescue someone.

But, like my friend Eric, I have no idea what any of that means.  

- Chuck  

Pensacola Nights

"Double blinking lights. Must have been the EDM by the water."

The greatest rock stars of all time were in bands. There, I said it. And if that’s not entirely true, then I will say it this way: The people I admire most in rock and roll were band members, not solo acts. Certainly, Tom Petty was in a band. Gregg Allman was in a band. And while either could have been a solo star, what was best about them was that they were in amazing bands. Bands of talented people who played with one another, off one another, and for one another. It’s what I love about the Balsa Gliders – it’s a band. And because the band is based on an ethos of guys who admire what each other contributes and who each other is in the band, we create cool songs that sound great. At least as far as each and every one of us is concerned.

Which is why Pensacola Nights (the seventh song on our new album National Television) doesn’t represent a total tragedy for me personally, even though somebody might say this is the song where I got robbed. You see this song was not originally about a few moments spent in the Florida panhandle in which lyrical elements of beaches and bedrooms and weekends and summers are tossed together in a cole-slaw of references barely intelligible to me.

No, see, this song used to be called King’s Motel, and it was a song based around the fact that there’s a cool hotel in South Raleigh by that name, which I once told Charles Marshall looked like a compelling place which would not only make a great subject for a song, but also be a cool album name and the ready subject of bad-ass cover art. And indeed, all of that was the case until some point this year. The song King’s Motel … which I have audio recordings of … was going to be on the record King’s Motel … the cover of which would feature the King’s Motel against its industrial wasteland backdrop just below the rising skyline of downtown Raleigh.

None of that happened though – because the band stole it all away from me. The song shifted lyrically away. And then the record took on a new name. And then the cover art centered around a television, a thing barely mentioned in the entire record but fleetingly in the last song, Bookshelves.

So Pensacola Nights could be said to be the pivot point of a triple betrayal.

But I wouldn’t say that.

The rhythm on this song is so righteous - thanks to Chuck’s drum line and Ben Davis’ sweet opening riff, both of which conjoin to beget that big bass line. And to be sure, the story it puts in the palm of your hands is far more pleasing to the mind than anything my hotel song might have been about. After all, who doesn’t enjoy indie rock reveries about beach jaunts near the Floribama?

Yes, this song is why I am grateful to be in a band, where what comes to be is far, far better then what I had once thought was a good idea…King’s Motel.

- Greg

Half Marathon

“ …in other directions…”

In the summer of 1990, Russ and I lived in an apartment on Hilton Head Island. Neither of us knew how to play guitar, but we both had guitars lying around the apartment. We listened to The Sundays a lot because their first album had just come out. Russ was getting slowly competent on the D and G chords, and he ended up coming with a riff off of just those two chords that sounded very much like The Sundays – I am thinking of “Can’t Be Sure” and “Joy” in particular.  After a few weeks of his playing nothing but this riff, over and over, I told him, “that’s going to be the first song in whatever band it is we end up forming.”  I tried to write a vocal melody and lyrics but had no luck at all.

Fast forward to 2001. Now we’re in DC and in the Balsa Gliders’ original lineup. Russ has been playing this song by himself for 11 years, and I can’t imagine how many times he’s played it by now. We decide we’ve got to use it as a real song, so he adds some new sections. Again, I try to write a vocal melody and lyrics, but it holds itself up so well without them. We decide to call it “Half Marathon,” but we never play it live or put it on a record.

Fast forward to 2006. We play the song live, for the first and last time, at our first show since reforming in Raleigh.

Between 2008 and 2015, Russ and I try desperately to finish the song and add a vocal melody and lyrics.  We can’t do it.  We finish three more albums without “Half Marathon.” We don’t play it live.

On December 5, 2015, I get a text file from Russ with an updated version of the song. There are additional overdubs and there is a slightly different cadence. It sounds more like Explosions in the Sky, and now I like it even more that I used to. We decide it absolutely, positively, has to go on the next record. But still no vocal melody or lyrics.

Then the song gets lost, literally. Neither Russ nor I can find it for a year and a half. In May 2017, Russ finally retraces his text steps and finds it. He agrees to put down all of the guitar tracks in the studio by himself – and there are 6 of them. There is no bass, there is no keyboard, there are no drums.  And by now, we’ve accepted the facts there will be no vocals.

In the final weeks of our recording sessions, and for no reason at all, I started humming a short melody on my way to my car. It wasn’t intended for anything, but it grabbed me, so I turned around and went back inside and tested over the end of Half Marathon. Then came the lyrics.  Nine 9 words total. That’s 18 years for 9 words, or one-half word per year. There first line was too high for me, but I sent it to Ferg and he made it sound majestic.

Some people have told me that their favorite song on the record is “Half Marathon.”  I love those people.  I wish we could play it live, but we don’t have 6 guitar players.

- Charles

Bookshelves

"Think fast. Talk Slow. Drink Less. Stay Low."

As has been alluded to by others in these "origin stories", the Gliders are constantly working on the "starting lineup" for the next record and songs are constantly jockeying for position over the months and years leading up to the next release date. It's literally a game of musical chairs -- when the music stops (or in this case, when the recording deadline hits) the most promising 7 or 8 or 9 songs will be escorted into the studio and transformed (hopefully) into a lasting sonic monument of Glider-osity.

This piece is about the 9th song on National Television: Bookshelves. (Note that our last two studio albums, Courteous Americans and Photographic Friends, had 8 and 6 songs respectively.) A few months before we went into the studio for this record, I told Charles I thought 9 songs was insanely optimistic --- there's only so much time, attention and studio time available to the band for each record, and investing those in too many songs could backfire in a big way. The harsh reality is there are songs written for each record that end up on the cutting room floor -- never to see the light of day and only mentioned in wistful, half whispered remembrances. "Frank Lopez" was scrapped for parts to make Ottoman (it still has one of the best choruses we've ever written and may yet make it to the big leagues from AA ball). "Houston '77" is probably my favorite Gliders song ever -- but it's stuck where "Golden Too" was for years -- missing a crucial connecting piece that will transform it from a spare part in the Balsa Gliders' junk drawer into a living, breathing song with its own track number. Another song --- "Manteo" --- even managed to have some parts recorded in the studio (during the Photographic Friends sessions) but couldn't turn the corner in time.

Different songs have their start in different ways. Pensacola Nights started with a guitar riff I brought to practice one day. Upstate (from our last record, Courteous Americans), started with a keyboard figure Russ Tisenger had put up on dropbox for the band to hear. Bookshelves, like a lot of our songs, started with Charles singing a solo vocal part backed by his acoustic guitar. He was really taken with the idea of having a lone vocal in the introduction accompanied by just two notes on the acoustic guitar. "That's not going to work," I confidently told him. "It's going to be too thin sounding -- it won't be enough." So we decided to have his intro vocal accompanied by some sort of electronic tone to replace the guitar.

The intro, verse and chorus were strong enough that we decided to start tracking it in the studio and then flesh it out once we were closer to the finish date. This was unusual, to say the least. We usually show up in the studio with a finished song, even though all the individual parts aren't written yet. (Married on a Monday is a good example of this --- the intro, verses, chorus, etc. were mapped out and tracked, but then we went back to drop in specific guitar lines, percussion, trumpets (?!), etc.) Here, the actual structure of the song was still up in the air. This is a recipe for disaster. Greg Elkins on at least one occasion pointed out (and rightly so) that we are not Fleetwood Mac in the studio in 1976 spending a year and millions of dollars to make a record (i.e., do not write in the studio). This is eminently sensible advice that we followed assiduously for every song on National Television. Except Bookshelves.

Instead, Charles asked me to write a solo section and outro to put after the chorus. In the meantime, we laid down rhythm tracks for the verse and the chorus along with vocals for the chorus and I asked Chuck to lay down some rim hits and a basic drum track we could loop for the solo/outro I was going to write. Then I went into my home studio (more "home" than "studio" I must say) and put together the guitar solo section. Then --- well, then I still had a few minutes left on the recorded drum track Elkins sent us and the idea occurred to me to do a more ambitious outro --- so this "second" solo section sort of tumbled out. It was moody, atmospheric, unmoored -- more space jazz than guitar jam. To my surprise, Charles seemed OK with it. The problem was how to integrate the new sections into the song.

For one thing, there was too long of a gap between the end of the chorus and the beginning of the solo -- just a series of rim shots taking up valuable sonic space. Also, at this point we still didn't have the intro recorded, or the vocals for the verse. We were seriously considering getting Russ to sing the intro and the verse (because he has a great voice and because Charles didn't think he'd be able to hit the high notes on the verse he had written), but Russ was back in D.C. and would have to remotely record his vocals and send them in. Then Russ got a bad cold. Did I mention we were running out of time before we had to mix, master and ship the new songs to the CD manufacturer? Did I mention the other songs on the record were beginning to shimmer and bloom and come alive as their final parts were tracked? Did I mention what happened to Manteo?

So about two weeks before mixing began (and the axe fell on any unfinished songs), Bookshelves (unlike all the other songs, which were at this point getting the equivalent of a last coat of wax on their shiny new paint jobs) was basically disassembled Ikea furniture crammed in a couple of Piggly Wiggly shopping bag shoved in the trunk of a compact car. You have a vague idea of what it's supposed to look like, but it's not clear you have the parts or tools to ever put it together in time.

By this point, Charles and Ferg gone to the studio and laid down keyboard parts to go along with the rhythm track -- along with the two-note keyboard figure that was going to replace the thin guitar notes in the intro. Charles had the idea of having that figure play underneath the verse -- we could then bring the verse rhythm track back after the solo section(s) with the figure playing under it for a nice little fade out. After listening to the rough mix of this arrangement at some ungodly hour on the weekend, it sounded to me like the fade out was the most compelling part. That little figure was actually the hook! Charles agreed. It was great to find the hook -- but it was a least partially terrifying that it had taken this long.

We had time to for one last shot before the clock ran out. Charles started furiously drafting a new verse and vocal melody to go with the new hook -- it was catchy (even catchier after Ferg added some harmony) and even included a mention of "National TV" (until the very end, it looked like the title of the album would not be reflected in any of its lyrics -- which would have broken a semi-established Gliders tradition). Once we had that tracked we still had to decide how to assemble all the song sections. Should the second solo be an outro and fade out, should we bring the verse back in after the first solo, would this be our first song to break the five minute barrier? Charles had done all he could do. He literally clutched his head in his hands in the studio and told Ferg and I that he was done and we needed to finish the song. This was an entirely sensible thing to say --- I wished I had thought of it first.

So I went home with the latest rough mix and frantically assembled and reassembled the various sections in multiple ways. I ended up trimming the post-solo verse, cutting out the long interstitial parts between the solo sections, cutting a proposed outro and fade out, and generally trying to tighten up the song from epic length to semi-epic length. (The final arrangement, it must be said, is at least as controversial within the band as the trumpets on "Married".) The last piece we needed was the intro. Now that I could see the whole shape of the song, it was easier to help craft the intro. What drew me to the song originally was an iPhone recording Charles and Ferg had made with Charles just singing alone, with his guitar, about growing older. After we had put together these sweeping, soaring parts and sections for later in the song, there was an intimacy and a directness to this approach. So Ferg recorded Charles on a iPhone singing and playing guitar -- just two notes. It was enough.

- Ben Davis

 

 

 

 

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Shows

Sat.  Sept. 8              Richmond, VA             The National

opening for The Connells

MORE INFO HERE

 

 

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