One hour of sleep, a one-lane road, and coffee – my co-pilot

I remember when I wrote that lyric. It’s emblazoned on my brain.

It was in the fall of 1996, and Native had been steeped in a period of heavy creativity. But, I had not contributed anything more than the three-year old Barefoot Girls, and I was bound and determined to rectify that situation.

Now, a cursory look back over the sheer number of new songs we’d recorded demos of in the previous year, is daunting. We had more first-class material with which to make an album than we needed. Rover, Digging Holes, Restless, 155 — pretty daunting competition, especially in light of the fact that I’d not brought a new song in during all the tumultuous period stretching back to John Epstein’s reign of benign terror.

Actually, my most recent composition was from ’94 — Missionary Man. A beautiful song, but preachy, and there turned out to be a big hit song with the same name by The Eurythmics. Native dutifully learned it, played it one or two times, and it was quietly dropped. In my embarrassment at that failure, I had foresworn to do better.

All through the next year, I regaled the band with a series of tunes that showed great development in the songwriting department, but they missed the mark in terms of being right for the band. Some were very pop-oriented, some hearkened back to the hard-rock Native of the Anthony Ballsley era, and some were just plain strange.

No wonder that my newest creation was met with a bit of skepticism and poorly-masked dread. I’ve often joked that a band’s worst fear is a drummer who writes, and that joke stems from this period. Nevertheless, I soldiered on in earnest effort. I had a lot of music in head, and it needed to come out or I was going to go crazy. Or, maybe I was crazy and was trying to work my way back to sanity, and music was my medium. I became fixed on the idea of coming up with a song that would put my yearnings into a palatable package.

Suddenly, I did just that. So, surprised was I at my breaking through the ice-field of my creative impasse, that I prematurely presented the new opus to our lead singer.

Mat Hutt was sat in the living room at Marmfington Farm, our loft on W. 26th Street, enjoying a bit of telly with his girlfriend, Rebecca Lyons. His initial reaction, upon being assaulted with this half-formed ditty, was non-committal and rightfully so — there had been a fair few clunkers already from my pen, and my scratchy guitar stylings coupled with a singing technique that could be likened to the sound of a chalkboard being massaged with barbed wire, didn’t help.

In desperation, keyboard-tickler John Watts suggested I demo the song on the trusty Tascam 8-track and try to hone the performance into something that doesn’t make people want to throw themselves off the nearest tall building.

This is precisely what I did. In the process, the song went from being called One Track Mind, to the more metaphorical-sounding One Lane Road. But, that didn’t work very well in the chorus, which required a repetitive rhythmic string of word-things. Suddenly, in a moment of clarity (or super-stonedness) I hit upon a unique combination of adjective and noun, and the chorus was in place. Matt Lyons did a session, laying down a bass track. And that was it. I mixed it with a ton of reverb, and that was that.

Hearing it again, after all this time, I’m struck by the things that are exactly the same – the guitar chords & its rhythmic pattern, the vocal melody & most of the harmonies; and, I’m equally struck by the things that went through a transformation into something better.

When John Watts heard the demo, he laughed heartily and said, “Here’s what I think you’re trying to do,” whereupon he played it on his piano with exactly the feel that I was shooting for. Mike Jaimes later added the distinctive roto-vibe guitar part that I can’t get out of my head to this day, such is its brilliance. Matt Lyons had a chance to build upon the structures of his bassline, adding the bomp-bomp, bomp-bomp that sends a shiver to the spine, and the mysterious driver of the song down that barren stretch of lonely highway.

When Mat & John Wood’s voices aligned with my lyrics, the rehearsal room erupted in smiles all around as they miraculously recreated the good parts of my vocal performance, and improved the less-than-good parts.

I had achieved my goal. The iceberg impasse was broken. And the demo I’d made was quickly set aside without benefit of Messers. Watts, Hutt, or Jaimes’ contribution. It lay dormant and forgotton, until today.

What you are about to hear is the very-rough demo that sparked Mr. Watts to leap into the fray and help it become a Native standard that graced every single gig we played in the aftermath of that hallowed, feverish period of late 1996.

I’ve made a lot of demos since then, but none more momentous for me personally than the one where I learned a bit of performance craft, and found that if you take two words that don’t go together, you might come up with a title that has some magic in it. Something like —

Sweet Intensity

Cornbread Wednesday

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