This Friday we release our latest record Building The Sun with our new friends at BFE/The Orchard. We are thrilled to have this new crew to help us get the music out. I figure what better way to christen the new release than to pull back the curtain on the meaning behind each song.
We recorded this record with the amazing producer Matt Wallace at his place, Sound Delux, wedged smack dab in the middle of the famed Sound City complex in LA, CA. More on Matt in a minute—but this is his record as much as ours. We gave him full reign to make the calls, and he tightened us up as a band and me as a songwriter on many fronts.
My fave rock records make a little film in my mind. Every 9 to 12 songs is a snapshot of where the band was at for a year or two. It will take 35 to 45 minutes of your time to see this whole photograph, and you get to see it whole, and not just one tree off in the corner of the frame. Those are the records I love and hope to make myself.
Here’s the engine room of each song in order of their appearance on the LP and some notes about the record as a whole.
1.“Because It Hurts”—Wrote this in the same night as a flurry of other song ideas back at Clark Street in Woodland Hills, California, circa 2014. Other songs that night were “Forget You” (solid) and “Killer” (total turd). If you know songwriters, you know we aren’t always sure what we are writing about when we are trying to beg the ideas from the muse. The more we play this song live, the more it reveals itself. The Austin line is, I’m sure, coming from the days I walked around Barton Springs when we first toured down south, when the world was new and everything was possible. It’s still all possible; you just sometimes have to go down roads you never expected.
We have opened a lot of shows with this song ’cause it’s funky, minor, and bluesy, three of my fave things. It has what Jesse and I call Utopia—the ability to play the same changes for minutes and just jam and try new things. Erin kills her solos on this live. Every. Single. Time.
2. “House Is Not a Home”—This was written in a flurry of other folkier/Americana-type songs when I first moved to Nashville mid-2016. (Most of those B sides just got sent to our Lil Red Army subscribers). This was the only one that made the cut for the record, as it sounded less country, more Tom Petty-esque. Sometimes I go down rabbit holes and start wearing weird hats, listening to artists that don’t sound like anything what the band does, and it informs my writing, for better or worse. 🙂 When I’m listening to Dylan, Willie, Cash, et al., things get a little too stripped down for a band coming to town to tune big drum heads and turn up a bunch of tube amps. I guess this one had just enough tempo and energy to slip through my identity crisis. 🙂
How’d I get this head
full of demons
How’d I get his heart full of machines
I swam the river to a dirty ocean
And got everything that I want, and nothing that I need.
3. “Bring the World Around”—One of my fave memories was showing Matt what weird tuning I used on this one, though slightly out of tune with a cheap capo I was using (for nonguitar players—a capo is the thing we put around the neck of the guitar to change keys). Matt gets up and goes across to a building next door (a metal shop) and comes right back with a capo that is cut in half to bar over only half the strings and help me out. What a beast.
Matt cut out a lot of fat out on this tune. It’s a lot poppier than the demo, which isn’t really good or bad. I don’t think of pop as a bad word if the song gets to the listener. It’s cleaner than we ever sound, for sure. We groove this a lot harder live, but that’s the oldest story in the book. Band tracks a song, and after playing it 100 times live, likes their new-and-improved version. Boo-hoo. I’ll leave it to the listener as to what the lyrics are about. It’s more vague than many of the others. (Oh, and all the lyrics can be found here.
4. “Down to Ol’ Mexico”—I wrote this in a little sunroom at our house back when we lived in LA. It started as a Springsteen loud folk/rock thing and became something else entirely. Matt helped us capture the little Spanish guitar sound we use so much live (it’s a Yamaha Silent Guitar that lives up there on one of Jesse’s old cymbal stands with the Home Depot clamps on it). In the studio, I believe I used an old classical of Matt’s. The lyrics deal with a theme running through half this record—greed, justice, not forgetting the least among us. No idea what Mexico and that river have to do with anything, just a metaphor for getting to a new place and staying in the fight. Seems something about traveling south ends up in half my tunes. This time we just left the country altogether. 🙂
5. “Caught in the Rain”—This is one of the very first songs I wrote when I moved to Nashville. I was pacing around my deck (in the rain of course; cheesy but true) and angry about several things I was seeing in the news as we further lose sight of how much we all have in common and how easy it gets to forget those who struggle when we don’t see them right in front of us. The lyrics are heart-on-your-sleeve on this one, for better or worse.
Must be meant for something
Someone shouldn’t lose for me to gain
A few have more than they could hope for
And there’s too many of us … getting caught in the rain
Sometimes it don’t shake out
A world on fire where the wrong feels right
And a window closes with every sin
The face of the angels saying please let us in…
Thanks to one of my fave songwriters on the planet, Carter Hulsey, for pushing me to submit this in the demos that went to Matt and the band. I didn’t think it was a fit at first, and Carter really fought for it. It turned out to be one of the things on the record we were all proudest of.
This was also our first YouTube video to really take off. Thanks to Lonny Quattlebaum for this beautifully shot, sparse recreation of the song:
(Please subscribe to us here on YouTube.) 🙂
6. “Horses of War”— This was written for a record that got scrapped called The Majestic, right after the We Are the Dark Stars tour cycles. We were in the studio a ton between tours of the UK, Canada, and short runs of Colorado/Kansas, while getting the charity Funding The Future off the ground. We were writing fast and furious, and it was an insane but productive time. The end section with the gorgeous screaming vocals and some of the verse vibes were brought to us by Wichita’s own Jenny Wood, a great and committed songwriter. We are shooting a video for this track with Mr. Quattlebaum here shortly. It’s gonna be a fun one. If Erin can’t have a horse in this video, she is going to flip over all the tables she sees. 🙂
7. “King for a Day”—Ohhhhh, buddy. Stick with me for a minute here, even if you don’t agree with this one. 🙂 I’ll still play my heart out for you, I promise, and I’m sure we agree on more than we disagree.
This is a protest song for sure. The words flew out as an apocalyptic blues number, and then I realized quickly where the song was headed…
I won’t listen to a
word that you say
You’d burn the whole world down to be a king for a day
I think that the majority of us, regardless of religion or political stripe, can agree that if either party in this country consolidates power to the degree that it threatens the rule of law and our basic institutions, there is a real danger. We are attacking these guardrails daily, and we must get awake and active to protect this amazing and rare country. I’ve been sooo lucky to get to travel outside of the US, and there is simply nothing like what we have here anywhere. We have checks and balances for a reason—our forefathers understood that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Democracy is not self-sustaining. It takes each one of us to do the heavy lifting.
I didn’t realize it when I wrote it, but this song (much like our old standby “Jesus Comin (and he knows the mess you made)”) is also addressing the environment. Science doesn’t care if we are left or right—the numbers are the numbers. Temperatures don’t change whether we like them or they inconvenience us. I’m afraid our political divide only profits those of us who are work to weaponize the rejection of science through misinformation.
OK, rant over. 🙂
8. “Troublemaker”— This may be the most fun song we have ever played live. Partly ’cause of the tempo—but it’s just something in the way the band grooves this that makes it a train about to fly off the track and grow wings. We almost, almost, almost started the whole record with this one. 🙂
9. “Last Train Out”—This is another one that is revealing itself the more I sing it. For the most part, it is about running out of time. Getting to a place where if you don’t decide to reinvent yourself, to become, to shake off your demons and find out who you really are, then you will be locked into a life that does not fit you whatsoever.
Musically this song probably points to where the band is headed next time around as much as any of them do. This Latin sound and darker chord changes are my favorite things in the world. We have been closing the set with this one, and it’s a blast to play every time.
Jesse’s tom fills in the break that builds up right off the cliff into nothingness … one of my fave moments on the record.
Wade Hampton shot a beautiful, simple video on an iPhone in a field in Wichita (our first video to get 500K views too!). The budget for this video was a trip to Village Inn. Check it out here:
10. “Love Is Not”—This one, much like “Bring the World,” turned out very different from the demo. Much cleaner and tightened to the grid. When you record with Matt, you better bring it ’cause you can hear a pin drop in the track, no matter how many tracks that genius layers on. Sometimes I miss the dirt from the demo, but that’s typical—”temp love”: You get used to your first version and can’t let it go.
I remember getting to try all of Matt’s guitars to build up the clean, metallic-like chiming ring of the track. Six- and 12-strings, acoustic and electric. Matt is a great guitarist himself and knows exactly what tones work where. He crawls around on the floor hooking up different stomp boxes, and you know you gotta burn ’cause you might not get that sound again. Lovely. Almost all the guitars for the record were tracked in a couple of days, and then some overdubs later. There is a lyric video for this coming out in the next few weeks. Stay tuned, sports fans.
11. “Rose and Thorn”—I had this written down as a potential title for years; I’m glad it finally got its due. I wrote this and “Love Is Not” at a Motel 6 in Lincoln, Nebraska, over a Halloween weekend. The band went to Wichita, and I stayed behind and got a bunch of food from Target, shut myself in, and wrote four or five songs. Sometimes that isolation works, and sometimes it just makes you crazy and everything goes in the round file. Of all the songs I wrote for this LP (35 or 40), these last two were written in the same city and ended up on the same record right next to one another.
I doubt there is anyone who doesn’t know the feeling that set this track in motion. Got someone in your life that prefers the sky upside down rather than right side up?
Nothing makes you
Than a brand-new blade
Bleeding out your loved ones
Nothing makes you happier
Than a night that won’t quit
With you in the center of it
Nothing makes you happier
Than to make all the chaos
Brighter than the sun
It’s not gonna matter what you say or do if someone would rather suffer than heal. They have to find their own help and their own bottom to ask for help. If this person is in your life and making you miserable, there is a choice to be made—either let it seep in and destroy you and those around you or weed your garden. Use the experience as fuel to become something different and better. You gotta decide, and saying no to someone you love is almost impossible sometimes. But I believe you gotta shut it off and burn this stuff out of you before it eats through your health and your other relationships.
Guitar nerd note: We actually used my guitars I tracked at my place in Nashville for the final mix. When Matt Wallace likes your stems from your own studio enough to use ’em, it’s good for the soul and for your confidence.
Again, Jesse for the win with a tom fill big enough to eat Cleveland. Erin’s layered vocals at the end are the perfect way to take us to the end. Really proud how this one turned out.
All right, that’s it!
A couple quick notes of gratitude:
Huge thanks to Matt, to Wade Hampton (creator of Lil Red and all our record covers, many of our videos), and to the WOMEN WHO ROCK, Sacha Millstone and her crew of brilliant, fearless friends who lent us the belief and the capital for us to work with a producer of our dreams.
If you took the time to read this rant, I hope you will pick up a copy of the record and help keep us out on the open road. We want to show the distributor we are worth building with too—Jason Burger and the team at BFE are fabulous, and we want this to be the beginning of a great partnership. Grab a copy right here and listen along with the rant :-).
See you out on the road and thank you! You are the reason we get to make this music!
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