As you probably know by now, we’re writing a new record. So far, many people have asked me how it’s going and aside from my obligatory ‘good’ I didn’t really know how to answer. Mainly, that’s because writing a record like this is hard to explain. It’s very involved. Even a close producer friend messaged me: ‘yeah, that’s a daunting task.’ We had a dry erase board up at rehearsal, and quickly realized that one wasn’t enough, so we put up another, bigger board. We have homework every week. Yeah, you read that right. I really wanted to take a minute to think of an applicable analogy…as you might remember, I’m an analogy machine. So here it is…
Our goal is to make 14 yummy pies. Each one has our signature, secret ingredients so you can tell it’s one of ours, but each one is a different flavor. When you think of it in that way, it’s pretty zoomed-out. Make 14 pies. What’s the big deal? Well, let’s zoom in. What ingredients do we have? What ingredients do we need? What kinds of pies do we want to make? What kinds of pies do we think you’d like to eat?
We started with some basic ingredients: great riffs. Christina said in the documentary we did on the last record that some songs come easier than others. Well, she’s right. If you’ve already got some tasty apples, juicy peaches, and some perfect cherries, it’s easy to tackle the first few pies. That’s what it’s like when you have a half-dozen really strong guitar riffs, bass ideas, groove concepts or vocal melodies with compelling lyrics. We record several versions of everything we’re working on during the writing process. We add nutmeg to this one, and then take it out after tasting it. We realize there’s too much cinnamon in that one, so we reduce it but add a pinch of brown sugar. Before we know it, there’s a half dozen pies in and out of the oven, but a lot of them end up in the trash. Along the way, we’re writing down the recipe to each pie once it tastes great to all four of us. But even after that, we all keep nibbling during the following days. One person suggests that using organic eggs could make a difference, while someone else is convinced the crust on another could be better.
Now we have to move on to the pies we know we want to make, but don’t have the ingredients for. I mean, we’ve played around with pecan, pumpkin, chocolate silk and lemon meringue but now we’ve really got to find the right stuff and rock it. Sometimes you have a riff that stands alone but something’s just not right. Maybe it won’t connect to something else, or maybe it’s in the wrong key, or it’s the wrong tempo, or it’s too tough to sing over, or who knows what. Even after that tenth try the lemon meringue is not happening. You make it fluffy, and then the flavor is wrong. Then you make a tiny adjustment and the flavor is perfect, but the fluff is flat. Pretty soon the trash can is full of failed pies. Some days we’re the bakers and some days we’re digging in the trash. We still have recordings of all the stuff we’ve tossed. Our Dropbox folders swell with countless versions of songs in various stages of development and it’s often in the mistakes that we find the inspiration of ‘what if.’ Conversations like this happen all the time:
A: “Go to the version of that song from three weeks ago.”
B: “What? Do you mean the version that’s six minutes long because we don’t know how to end it?”
A: “Yeah!! In the middle of the second fake ending we mistakenly slid into a cool part.”
B: “Oh right. Are you talking about that dun-dun-boom-dun-boom-boom thing??”
A: “Exactly! What if that was the…”
B: “We could make that the…”
A & B together: “THE BRIDGE!!”
A: “That’s it! Problem solved. Cool! We can try it tomorrow.”
That’s basically like one of us texting to the others: “I was digging through the trash from three weeks ago and fell in love with the crust we burnt….well, the part we didn’t burn.” Then we’re all digging through the trash to see if we agree. We all put a piece of that crust in our mouths, start to chew, then look around at each other’s face. If we all smile, we need to figure out how we made that crust. After a lot of trial and error, we write down the winning recipe.
Every once in a while someone will walk into the kitchen and suggest making a pie they like, that some of us aren’t familiar with. Who really digs mince meat pies, anyway? Well, as it turns out, LOTS of people do. So after any suggestion like that, we all get an email with links to different YouTube clips or MP3s that represent that vibe…tasty little toothpick samples of that pie flavor. Like anything else, we’re down to try it and we all usually have some input. One person might suggest it’s good but one ingredient that would send it over the top would be the addition of fresh lemon peels. Most of the time, suggestions like that are something the other three had not thought of, so we’re surprised and excited when they really do make the pie pop with flavor. We all have that look on our face like ‘this tastes amazing’ before we write down the recipe. Stylistically, that’s why being in a band with people from differing musical backgrounds is such a gift. One person was taught to make meringue in Paris while another practiced slicing apples in Brooklyn. We have the joy of coming together to share all that in the kitchen.
So when people ask me about our progress, it can be tough to answer because we’ve always got pies going into the oven to bake for a bit, or coming out of the oven for a taste. After the taste, each of those pies is either photographed for the menu or tossed into the trash. And let’s not forget about those dry erase boards or our homework…someone’s always walking into the kitchen with a grocery bag full of new ingredients.
The main reason our producer friend used the word ‘daunting’ is because of how many pies we are attempting. As you can imagine, that’s a busy kitchen. If we set out to bake four pies, and they were all pies similar to what we’d baked before, this would be far easier. If you know any of the four of us, then you know the easy way has never been our favorite. Each of us loves a challenge, so four big cheers for the hard way!
Geez, is anybody else hungry for a slice of pie?