Anatomy of a Song

Songs don’t start out as full-fledged entities; they go through numerous changes and tweaks along the way.  The process usually starts with a rough demo of some sort.  Many of my songs are written first as a piano or guitar idea, and then arranged in some sort of order (i.e.: intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus, tag).  After that, I add lyrics and a melody.  Then it’s brought into the studio where we do basic tracking where we re-play the basic tracks (i.e.: drums, guitars, keyboards, etc.).  As we move forward, oftentimes the song changes; for instance, adding “big” guitars can make the song harder than the initial demo, or vice versa.  I’ve often said that a song “reveals itself” in the studio; it <i>tells</i> you what it wants to become.  Such was the case with “After Words.”

It started as a demo track that Wyatt wrote in his home studio.  When he brought it into my studio (our main studio, PFD) I added a scratch track title of “Two Way Battle” since it sounded like two different songs fighting each other.  Here is Wyatt’s original demo:

It is a very hard-edged song.  It starts somewhat quiet and certainly rhythmic, and then grows quickly with addition of some big guitars.  Around the three minute mark, it goes into an extended “quiet section” that slowly builds into a crescendo of the big guitar part again, then “bookends” by reverting back to a quiet piano.  We cleaned it up a bit and started to give it some structure, and that yielded this version:

Mostly gone from this version are the out-of-control guitar tracks about three minutes into the first version.  This version also starts to form the structure for us to start tracking; the process of turning a demo into an album song.  I added lyrics and a melody, and these lyrics dictated the new title, “After Words”.  Keeping the hard-edged feel of the original demo, we added lots of big guitars (and feedback from those guitars) as well as a heavy bass track.  This is version three:

This version never felt in control; that is, it seemed angry for the sake of being raucous.  We kept ignoring the song and worked on other songs.  After a couple of months, Wyatt took it home to his studio and came up with an idea of slowing it down.  This also worked with the lyrics, turning it from a rant into a reflection.  He added some deep percussion to it as well.

It felt right slowed down, but we decided to try a version without percussion and make it even “quieter”.   One late night in the studio alone, I added some huge, spacy guitars to match the new, “other worldly” feel.  And with the loss of percussion of any kind, we gave it a “hot start”.  I also added a chorus of “ahh’s” and the “bum-bum” part in the tag.  The bum-bum’s were supported by a plucked guitar in unison with the voices.  It came out like this:

The hot start didn’t seem to work, so we moved some of the guitars to create an intro and it all fell together.  Once we balanced the tracks into a final mix, we mastered it, which brought out the highlights in the tracks. Here is the final, mastered version:

We worked longer and harder on this track than on any in the album.  There is certainly validity in the earlier, heavier versions, but it seemed to us that it wanted to be a more contemplative song.  It also became the album title, as the lyrics reflect the emotions of the other songs as well.