To recap: a drum machine, a keyboard, and a wannabe songwriter walk into a bar.
“What’ll it be?”
“The usual. Confusion. Frustration. Elation. Disappointment. Fear.”
“How about a shot of selfishness? While you’re at it.”
“Good call. Line ‘em up.”
“My Cake” is about selfishness. It’s made of a bunch of tracks I recorded using instruments I don’t play. I arranged the beats, keyboards, and vocals in layers and then wrote a couple of quasi-verses and a bridge that currently functions as a coda because this whole thing has been done in the most ad hoc possible fashion and the end was the only place to put it. The bridge/coda sounds completely different from everything else because I recorded it quickly and mindlessly the other day just so I could remember how it went.
Gary Smith helped me make a beginning, patched in the bridge/coda, and made the whole mess more listenable. Think of it as a scratch pad, or an underdeveloped snapshot, or six parts in search of a song.
Everything about writing “My Cake” has been hard and thrilling. I’ve got a melody now, thanks to Gary, who pointed me to “Actor Out Of Work.” The song had fallen off my radar, as songs will do. If you’re trying to wrap your brain around how to write a melody for a groove insteading a string of chords, it’s a real education. Plus, she wrote the whole Actor album using GarageBand. Here’s to code-cracking and inspiration and keeping going.
The slaying dragons tweet from a couple of days ago was about this song. Everything having to do with “My Cake” has been hard, which is funny because it’s a breezy little thing. The whole enterprise feels more like code-cracking than songwriting. Now I have six parts: drum machine, two keyboard parts and three vocal parts. I have no idea where I’m going from here. Neither does the drum loop, which rolls on forever because my Garageband to MP3 conversion skills are a wee bit limited. Just hit stop when you’re ready. Headphones, by the way, make it sound an awful lot better. Sorry about the pitchiness. It’s hard to sing in tune.
I went to Kidder Farm last week. Usually when I visit I politely listen to and then ignore Gary’s suggestions for fresh approaches to songwriting. That’s not to say he doesn’t have good ideas, just that they haven’t worked for me. Taking a walk didn’t work. Coming up with a melody first didn’t work. I think I’m too inexperienced. Maybe strumming guitar and staring into space is my method. But this time I was desperate or tipsy enough to agree that starting a new song on a drum machine would be an excellent idea. Here’s how it went: Gary unearthed the drum machine, plugged it in, and left.
I spent half a day scrolling through the preset patterns: Rock 1, Rock 2, Rock 3, Rock 4, and so forth. Hard Rock 1, 2, and 3. Rockabilly. Various Technos. Some Funk and Latin. Reggae (as if). Dixie. Polka. Jazz. R&B. Fusion. You’re thinking, as I was, wouldn’t Country Rock or Ballad be a smart choice for the newbie? But no. The beat that won my heart was Rap 3. It’s sharp. It swings. It’s not like me. Beyond that I really don’t know and I really don’t have to. My choices don’t have to make sense. It’s not like I’m searching for a sound or strategizing a career. I’m exploring, pure and if not exactly simple then definitely agenda-less. And there was something titillating about being so far out of my comfort zone. Which leads to my next choice: a keyboard. I don’t play keyboard. Not a bit. Never took lessons as a kid and never fooled around as a teenager. But the keyboard is where I and Rap 3 wanted to go. So we did. Gary unearthed a keyboard, plugged it in, and left.
I found myself in another world of preset sounds. I scrolled through a lot of them. I’m vaguely embarassed to say that I chose Voice Ooh (39), which sounds like a capella singing and is pretty cheesy when you play it on the middle and higher notes but on the bottom of the keyboard it sounds less humanoid and pretty cool. The most number of fingers I seemed to be able to use simultaneously was two, so I poked around with my thumb and pinkie in the key of C, because I know enough to know that I could avoid the black keys. I poked and poked some more until I found a pattern I liked. I spent a long time figuring out the names of the sort-of chords I was playing, for no reason other than it seemed like a crime to not know. I spent a very long time playing with tempo. Fast felt frantic and technically prohibitive. Slow felt slow-jammy and totally faux. Midtempo seemed the only option. And then it was time to, what? I wasn’t writing a song, at least not in the narrative, intuitive way I’d done previously, so much as making components that would later be sliced and diced and fashioned into a song. How fashionable.
Beats, check. Synth-poppy chords, check. Some kind of simple melodic line ought to come next, partly because that would balance the busy rhythm and staccato chords, and partly because I could do it with one finger. So I chose a new sound, Vib Pad (87), and made a little melody. A very little melody. Dear reader, here it is. In fact, here is a lot more of my three humble parts than you would ever want to listen to because I don’t know how to edit in GarageBand, so it goes on and on and on. Just press stop.