Since we started work on our last CD, Oily Little Rainbows, and really since Louder Than Dirt got together, I have been in a creative frenzy. Two factors account for this circumstance, I think: first and most important is the stimulation and support I get from Adam, Joseph and Julian; second, I made a conscious decision to give my imagination free rein. That is, I tried not to censor my creativity with considerations about, primarily, public appeal. My formulation has been, “to write the songs my imagination gives me.” So, for example, “For Certain” is the only pop song I’ve ever heard that mentions the Crimean War—the joke being that one doesn’t know something about it, namely, its cause. Similarly, “Bacteria” mentions mitochondria, spirochetes and “saprophytic workers.” So I have a big vocabulary. So kill me. “He Ain’t Here” originates in a Biblical reference, although I am an egregious unbeliever.
I often write songs while I walk, and once the image came into my head of the women coming to the tomb of Jesus on Easter morning. Now, I certainly don’t have the New Testament memorized, but I seem to recall a certain sarcasm in this episode. The angel at the entrance to the tomb says, “Why have you come? The One you seek is not here.” Which is sarcastic: we have come, a-hole, because we thought the One we were seeking was here. So, I will divulge that while I am familiar with certain aspects of Christian scripture and doctrine, I do not regard myself as a Christian. And the joke then becomes, he ain’t here because he ain’t here, not because he is the Son of God on the third day arisen. I then, in the obsessive way characteristic of artists of a certain stripe, began to think of every possible way to say “He ain’t here.” The bridge then is the sneering speech of the angel:
Honey what you hanging around about here for
He ain’t coming round about here no more
Is the audience supposed to get all this stuff about the tomb and the angel and whatnot? Of course not: they’re not mind readers. Nor I’m I chortling at having come up with a riddle that nobody will get. I’m talking about where the song comes from, not how it might affect people. How am I supposed to know that? I have heard some song writers claim that they write lyrics from sound only: the “Semolina Pilchard” school. I see some merit in this approach, and I attempted it myself early on. I would say for me there’s a range from trying to express my thoughts and feelings very precisely to just throwing out hints and impressions. “He Ain’t Here” is in the latter category. As the listener, I identify not with the speaker of this poem but with the dramatized hearer, the one who is looking for “him.” So the feeling the song expresses (precisely enough, I reckon) is partly the sarcasm of the speaker and partly the frustration of the hearer.
Both of those motives, I think, come through in Joseph’s vocal performance. But before I get to that, I want to talk a bit about the instrumental component. We recorded this song “the new way.” That is, we recorded just the drums with a rhythm guitar part and later overdubbed all the other parts. Just to be clear, the rhythm guitar part on the basic track was a “scratch track,” i.e., disposable, and I did in fact replace it with a different performance of the part. So we built the song from the drum tracks (eight of them) outward. (Eight drum tracks? What am I writing here, an encyclopedia? Um, yes. 1. kick 2. snare 3. high hat 4. left tom 5. right tom 6. floor tom 7. & 8. stereo overhead (for the cymbals).) And then we started adding instrumental tracks. First the bass. Louder Than Dirt works efficiently and we work. So right after Joseph laid down the drum part, Julian laid down his bass part. Julian then assisted as engineer and indeed as arranger in my laying down of the lead guitar part over the bridge using the beloved Soviet fuzzbox. I guess Lord Erudite took the night off. Later, I think it was the next day, I redid the rhythm guitar and laid down some little lead guitar licks over “Stop your wishful thinking.” Then Adam added two piano parts, a “rhythm” part that runs the length of the song and his very nice solo.
The Beatles, if memory serves, used to reserve at least one cut on every album for Ringo to sing, and LTD likes to do the same with Joseph. And his voice is, IMHO, ideal for “He Ain’t Here.” Like his brother, Joseph has a rather clipped delivery, unlike my own vocal legato, which verges on schmaltz. So it’s perfect for these short, repetitious lines, each of which begins with “He done . . .” I don’t remember where the idea of the double-tracked vocals came from, although I’m pretty sure it did not originate with Lord E. It may have come from Joseph himself; singers generally don’t like the sound of their own voices, and they often ask for retakes. In any case, I do remember some dissatisfaction in some quarter with Joseph’s first take: it didn’t come from me, I can tell you. And so the decision was made (note the passive voice) for Joseph to redo the vocal part. Well, now I remember quite clearly that while Joseph was singing Lord Erudite announced the decision to use both parts. Well, the results speak for themselves. I added some BG vox, very little, badda-bing badda-boom, just like a bank robbery, in and out, nobody gets hurt.
Let me emphasize that I don’t discuss with the band the sort of stuff I discuss in these pages, the Bible and nineteenth-century poets and that crap. As I have said before, what I think it all means is just one listener’s opinion. The members of Louder Than Dirt hang out with each other a great deal, and we have great communication together. I’m not going to school them in my interpretation—if any—of the songs. Besides, we have our hands full talking about music and girls and stuff. I appreciate, dear reader, that you read my blog, precisely because it gives me the opportunity to reflect upon what we (the band) have done and eventually, where we’re going.