In December of 1997, I sat down and wrote a song called "Take Me Back". It was the first song I'd written since the silly and simple "Birmingham Song". This was different, it was a ballad. It was a soft, melodic piece reminiscent of any George Harrison song from the late 60s or early 70s. I played an early version of it for Ellen in my car. She loved it. It was partially about my parents getting a divorce. I felt for my Dad and I think I wrote it for him. When I went back to school, I sat down with Quinn Loggins and pushed him to write a bridge for it. We worked out an arrangement together and recorded it on his home studio. That was, I believe, the 2nd time it had been recorded. The next morning I got a phone call from an engineer at school who absolutely had to have somebody come in and record a song that night... this was for a class project and the band that was to record that night had just backed out. I told him I'd do it and called Quinn.
When Quinn got to the studio that night, he was ultra hyper. He'd rewritten half of my lyrics on the way there. I liked my lyrics and objected just to keep my favorite lines. However, what he'd written was no less than brilliant, so I decided to just go along with him. We had a fun time recording the whole song by ourselves. It was a great session, and it became obvious to me that Quinn was more than just a bit talented, he was great. The recording came out fine, except that the engineer faded the song in (thus missing our nice intro) and faded it out (missing the last word of the song).
When that semester was over, I returned to Montgomery. Eric was anxious to work on some new stuff. During the last couple of months, I'd been working on something entirely different... a door had been opened by "Take Me Back". My friend Akil Thompson had looped a drum intro to an Imperial Drag song, "Spyder". It proved to be much more inspiring than working with a click track or a drum machine. It was a meaty little drum loop and I liked it. First, I used this very strange riff over it. I wrote a whole song where that was the centerpiece. It was for a class. I believe I had to put a psalm to music... I had the most unusual project in the class! Fuzz bass, 12 string acoustic and distorted vocals over a big drum loop. It was so surreal. I then came up with a riff while using Akil's excellent Les Paul (i didn't have one at this point). The guitar just lent itself to Jimmy Page style playing and A-Chords. I went back to my loop and combined the earlier weird riff and the A-riff. I decided to use part of a song that I'd tossed to make the Bridge and Intro to the song. I realized quickly that I'd done something pretty darn cool. All I had to do was write lyrics.
Through the whole recording of the instruments in my dorm room, I had to be VERY quiet. This was because my roommate had a case of severe depression. He stayed inside all day, putting up blankets to shut out the light. Then at night, he'd play video games and philosiphize about his condition. Don't think that he was always like this... it was (thank God) a passing phase that lasted a couple of weeks. It was the result of a breakup with someone whom he really cared for, and the hot-cold relationship he had with another girl who he'd only just met. She kept him dangling more than a few times and was happy to do it. He didn't love her, but he sure thought he did. This rebound relationship happened within days of the big breakup. And in turn that breakup happened within a week. It was all too much for him, and I could see the shutdown coming. I should have helped more, but I wasn't in the best of shape myself. The lyrics for Something New came entirely from that. It wasn't until the summer of 1999 that he heard Something New on CD. I had to tell him. It is rather vague at first, but to my old roommate it's crystal clear.
I sent this looped demo to Eric to learn. I wanted to record it at our practice place, Millstone. No sooner had he learned it than I added a complicated, thrashing intro to the song. It was actually fairly simple, it's just that Eric had never been pushed to do something like that before. It took maybe an hour for him to get it down. I didn't get impatient, I just tried to help him learn it. The minute he had it, we set the 4-track up and recorded the whole song. I went back and put bass, acoustic, vocals and solos on the song, which was no small feat. Suddenly, we had a REAL song on our hands.
The rest of that summer was an amazing time, I would work at 7 Bridges most of the day, I would go and hang out with Ellen until 9 or 10, and late at night Eric and I would go to Millstone and record. For the session for "Magnificent", we used the whole house. The bedroom was used for guitar, the bathroom was used for vocals, and the main room was of course for drums. I got better and better at recording as the summer went along, especially the drums. That main room is the perfect sound for our recordings. With wood floors, wood walls and a big window looking out over a pond it's the perfect place to write and record songs. And record we did; in the dark with candles burning or in the hot sweaty daytime we pounded out enough songs for an album in about 6 weeks.
Sometimes, I'd go to Millstone during the day and record a song by myself, using a click track to play to. Then I'd play drums and leave. Eric and I would get there hours later and I'd play the demo for him. He would overdub himself playing over my drum track and then we'd record it again together. It was a great way to learn the song.
One song almost didn't make it in time that summer. I believe that it was my last day in montgomery before I left that we recorded my favorite song, "Home". I felt totally lost, my Dad's wife was making life very difficult and Ellen was very very upset because she didn't want me to leave again. Oh, "Home" is personal alright. It's written to comfort myself... and I've put like 5 different sets of lyrics together for it. Eric and I recorded its basic tracks and I headed back to Nashville. I completed the demo later that night. I think it's the only song whose completion I almost wept over.
Back in Nashville, I mixed all the demos and made a few CDs of them. I gave one to Eric, kept one, and gave one to Ryan Gill. I had recently decided that Ryan was to produce us in the real studio. After all, these were demos, not a finished product. We intended to make an album. Ryan gave a listen to "Something New" and liked it a lot. He agreed to record us, using Belmont's free recording studio. However, he wanted one more rock song and I played "Come Inside" for him, my newest song. It was melody driven and not exactly the smartest of lyrics. But it was so glam, so cock-rock that it was actually catchy and funny at the same time. He liked it so much that he wanted me to demo it. The next time I went to montgomery, Eric and I did the demo for it and that was the end of the demos. As the seasons changed, so did our outlook on what we were doing. As did our outlook on life. Our whole future began to cloud up, reform, and take shape as something new.
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