Listen to “Mother’s Day” and “Poppo!”.
Two very different but equally unfit-for-regular-public-consumption songs here.
I wrote “Mother’s Day” in September 2007 to send to my mom. She’d been diagnosed with an especially nasty kind of cancer the previous summer, and I’d spent time with her during her surgery and treatment. I was just depressed, and recorded this pretty quickly and sent it to her via the Web. She cried. When I went out to spend time with my father this last May before her funeral, I made some attempt at relearning the song to record a “real” version, but couldn’t easily figure out the chords again. It would have felt weird to play this in any form at the memorial service anyway.
I recorded this in kind of a unique (for me) way: I did one long performance of it with plenty of mistakes, but would just play the parts repeatedly until they were OK, all without stopping the recording. Then I removed the bad bits and put the rest together using a multi-track program, so that different phrases could have different amounts of reverb and things, and then overlaid a few harmonies to make the song move forward better. I’m still not entirely happy with some of the sudden changes in tempo, and overall it’s kind of disjointed, but it adequately expresses what I wanted it to. I don’t find writing for other people as easy as in my youth when it was pretty standard procedure for me to write at my current (or desired) girlfriend pretty much every passing sentiment I felt for her. Now, generally powerful emotion, when it comes (much more rarely), just knocks me cold rather than making me want to write about it. This song comes more out of a grim stability than any sort of overflowing sentiment.
On the flip side, “Poppo!” was a group composition between me and my kids (OK, I wrote most of it, but they fed me ideas and, along with my wife who I got to sing one phrase in the background which appears in most of the choruses, they had veto power over what I came up with). We presented this recording to my father (a well-known South Carolina storyteller and children’s singer) for his 80th birthday on 8/27/11, and he was very touched. It’s pretty fun.
To record it, I laid down the guitar and sang the whole thing, then had my 8-year-old daughter Mina sing the whole thing. Now, she took some voice lessons this summer (from her piano teacher; she’s been taking piano since a bit before she was 5), and also was in Girls Rock Camp this summer, so she’d been introduced to singing in a studio and was really a trooper with my making her do certain parts repeatedly. Then I had my 11-year-old son Abe sing the whole thing too. Now, when choosing what key to actually record the song in (i.e. where to put the capo on my guitar), I had Mina present, so it was nicely in her vocal range, but Abe was elsewhere, so what I ended up choosing ended up being amusingly either low or high for him, so he’s singing in a sort of rattly bass voice for him, i.e. in the same octave that I’m singing.
Mina then recorded a keyboard part that she made up herself (she didn’t want me to tell her the chords; she just did this single note thing). Abe then recorded the bass (which he’s never taken lessons on, though he took a year of guitar and so knows the notes; I tried to teach him a bit of bass this summer, though). In both cases, I corrected some rhythmic imprecision using studio magic and copied whole verses so they only had to play these parts for a few seconds rather than for the whole song. As an extremely side note, I finally figured out (having just gotten a new recording interface which should result in improved sound on my newest podcast recordings… i.e. episode 44, which won’t be posted for a while) how to use MIDI, which means I can use much better keyboard sounds now than my crummy 1980s Casio keyboard can produce. The part Mina plays through the whole song is one of the Casio presets (with plenty of effect added), but during the bridge, you may hear some high choir/string sounds filling out the sound sweetly; that’s my first recorded use of PC-based MIDI ever. This whole experience has whetted my appetite for further exploiting my kids’ musical talents and producing recordings that they can blush at when they’re adults.