Way Out West
First uploaded (to Reverb Nation): 1st April 2017

Images from my past, with captionsApart from one, the lyrics for this project were written over the course of about three years, which for me isn't unusual, though a few were written while the project was being recorded.

I'm not sure that there was any one Eureka moment when the idea of doing north American influenced material occurred to me as the basis of a project. It may have been that I gradually became aware that despite my detestation of the majority of pop music as tedious and even insultingly dull, there were odd songs by other people that had lodged in my mind. Around the same time that I was working on this project I was also collecting other artists' songs for wedding music for Canada, and it may have been this that made me think of a north American influenced project. Indeed in some of the lyrics you can hear mention of logging mills etc., so the influences on this material at times are specifically Canadian.

From October 2015 to January 2016 I recorded around 300 guitar loops on the (new and fairly expensive) Taylor acoustic guitar, and these partially formed the basis of the music. Because of the nature of the material I could play, this did inevitably tilt the resulting music in a particular direction, and I was always clear that it would need to be what the loops would work with. Having said that I don't think the material is any the worse for it.

Recording sessions for the vocals took just over five months. They started in February 2016 with (I'm only) killing time, and finished in mid July with the heavily Sinatra influenced Don't you worry 'bout me. Orchestration of instrumentals then continued until October, and no less than eight honestly somewhat gruelling rounds of editing followed until late March. There were a lot of changes during the editing, and I have no doubt that the finished products of it were often enormously better than the initial rough cuts. Vocal settings for example were changed, and in a nod to the man who influenced several of the lyrics I set up a "Sinatra" vocal setting which I felt gave my voice a richness and resonance that I hadn't heard in it before.

Two of the instrumentals, Corey's wedding and Morning after, weren't strictly part of the project as they were written to accompany slide sequences, but I have included them especially as Corey (Ellen's son) is Canadian himself, and the slide sequences were taken in Canada.

You may be wondering about the first and last of the tracks as not being particularly north American. My intention was to bookend the collection, so after having gone to north America (at any rate musically speaking) the listener would come back home at the end.

Elsewhere - Although the majority of this collection was intended to feel vaguely north American, I also wanted as a contrast to include one that was definitely not north American. Elsewhere seemed like a pretty good title. I think my first thought was for something that felt British, but when I realised this would be an opportunity to have another swing at a really good rabab piece, I thought that was a much better idea. This makes this project a bit of a departure from recent ones that have usually begun with orchestral sounding instrumentals. I tinkered a bit with the effects on the animal sounds, and ended up taking them off at the end but leaving some on during the rest of it.
Instrumental. Orchestrated 3-5 August 2016.
Edited 18, 24 December, 5, 22 January 2017, 25 February.

Wednesday kinda guy - This is clearly Charlie Rich influenced. His wife apparently wrote him a song called A Sunday kind of woman; hence, Wednesday kinda guy. While thinking about Charlie Rich's song and wondering what sort of song like it I could write, it suddenly occurred to me that since there were seven days in a week and not six, two per verse for three verses would leave one out. After that it was easy. I did think about which day to leave out, and thought about Monday, but it was supposed to be a day he could still live with. I thought about Friday, but that was too obvious. The weekend was too easy. Plumb centre of the week, a nondescript sort of day, felt right.
Lyric written 7-9 September 2014 with the usual hacking around when it was applied to the backing.
Orchestrated 5-15 May 2016.
Vocals recorded Thursday 19th May 2016 (on an early finish), session finishing around 6:30pm.
Total takes: 17, of which 8 were for the lead vocal.

Edited: 30 November, 5, 22 January 2017, 11, 19 March

The (other) guitar man (I'm not the one) - this was a frustrated complaint about how difficult it is to learn the guitar, and believe me it is very, very difficult. I've told my guitar teacher more than once that I never would have started if I'd known how difficult it was going to be. He didn't really have me playing Voodoo child after lesson three, though he did ask me to play Jimmi Hendrix (Hey Joe). I'm afraid the spoken vocal at the end is pretty much a verbatim. Sorry Matt.
Lyric written 12-14 September 2014
Orchestrated 24 January - 5 February 2016
Vocals recorded 28th February 2016.
Takes: 21 of which only 5 were for the main vocal (which was basically take 5).
Edited: 18, 22 March, 16, 19, 29 October, 5, 22 January 2017, 25 February, 11 March

Ballad of Clint and Joe - This was a deliberate attempt to write a 1950s style song, probably mainly influenced by 'Papa was a rolling stone'. That earlier song had a bit of a strange story. It was written by Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong for an obscure experimental psychedelic band called The Undisputed Truth. It didn't do a lot for them, and it wasn't until later in 1972 when it was remade for the much better known Temptations as a single lasting all of twelve minutes that the cash tills started ringing. I think it was that phrase that I was mentally chewing on, without (fortunately) remembering exactly what it came from. I wanted a sort of vaguely trapped in the ghetto type of feeling. I was picturing a girl of maybe ten, who was almost an afterthought in her parents' lives. I wanted the lyric to be cyclic, so I deliberately had it lead back round and into the first verse again. I wanted to suggest that her life was going round in circles and nothing was being achieved. I particularly liked the part about Jesus must hate her as the priest got mad. He did of course, but she misunderstood what he was cross about. I also liked the backing vocal - picking up on the line that "Talking don't bring change, it's always been the same" it's "Blah, blah, blah blah" - endless talk that doesn't achieve anything.
Lyric written: 10 March 2016
Orchestrated 14 March
Vocals recorded Monday 11th April (following early finish, before dinner. Ellen was drowsing.)
Edited 20 November, 6, 22 January 2017, 26 February, 19, 22 March.

Be careful (what you wish for) - This was one of a number influenced by Frank Sinatra. This influence was boosted by a long bout of sickness around the time I went to Southend (resulting in my listening to him at night when I couldn't sleep), but that wasn't until late January 2016 i.e. several months after this lyric was written. Sinatra always made what he did sound easy, as if anyone could do it, and I know how hard it can be to make something sound easy. His style did seem to suit a kind of world-weary lyric, the kind that knows more than it says, and this was the sort of feel I was after here.
Lyric written 13-14 October 2015
Orchestrated 5-7 March 2016
Vocals recorded Thursday 10 March (from around 4:30pm, finishing around two hours later)
Takes: 8 for main vocal (of which one was abortive for technical reasons); 14 for backing vocal. Latest takes of each section were used.
Edited: 23 March, 6 November, 6, 22 January 2017.

Clarkson River - This has very clear Canadian influences. I had asked Ellen a lot of questions about what logging camps were like and how day to day life was, and you can hear some of this coming back out in this lyric. I wasn't sure what the name of the river should be. I wanted it to sound Canadian, but not be an actual Canadian river. There was a story in the news about a motoring journalist having a set to over a meal, there was a lot of talk about it, and I thought, that would be a good name for a river. I have to admit this was a bit of a mickey take with monsoons and snowdrifts... I suspect you'd have to be a bit unlucky to have all that, even in Canada.
Lyric written 7-8 November 2015
Orchestrated 5th February 2016
Vocals recorded Tuesday 16th February, while off work on leave and still getting over the last of a cough.
Total 20 vocal takes, of which 5 were for the main vocal (which was almost all take 5 with one part of take 4 substituted).

Edited 22 March, 30 October, 2 November, 6 January, 26 February, 11 March.

I couldn't say - This is another Sinatra influenced lyric. The idea was to write the sort of lyric he would have written if he'd felt inclined to explain why he left his first wife and three children (then aged around 3, 7 and 11) for Ava Gardner. Sinatra appears in fact to have co-written seven songs, but not obviously about his personal life.
Lyric written: 15th October 2015
Orchestrated: 13th February 2016.
Vocals recorded 16th April 2016 (while Ellen was hankering to go to Bluewater).
Takes: 5, plus one test and two abortive.

I dreamed (I'd say I love you) - I got the chorus first, all of it, the tune and the lyrics (though I shuffled them around a bit). If you listen to the lyric you can hear where I was personally at the time I wrote it - pivoting slowly from the aftermath of one relationship to contemplation of the next one. It was nearly five years later by the time I chose it for this project, but I still remembered. I very much wanted to record it, I felt very personally about it. I had to work backwards from the chorus because I didn't know what key it was in. I was then able to work out the verse that went with it. It's rare for a song to get written like this.
Lyric written 16th June 2011
Orchestrated 8th-12th March 2016.
Vocals recorded 3rd April 2016, despite a window catch breaking, the neighbour planing in his back garden and a thunderstorm.
Takes: 21, of which 9 were for the main vocal.
A B C# D E G# hence appears to be A major.
Edited 20 November 2016, 6, 25 January 2017.

Let your hair down - At one point this was going to be subtitled The autism song. It was the first lyric to specifically reference having ASD. It largely represents wish fulfilment. I can't walk away from having ASD, but I wished I could. I wasn't happy with the original middle section, so I scrapped it and rewrote it from scratch. I thought, if I'm going to do this I'm going to do it properly. When I orchestrated, it came out somewhat softer in tone than the initial concept.
Lyric written 24 April 2016
Orchestrated 15-30 May 2016
Recorded: apparently 10th July, around lunchtime.
Edited 5, 10, 11,12 June, 30 November, 6 January 2017, 31 January.

Messin' round - This was a vaguely Chuck Berry style lyric. I have searched, but I haven't been able to find any similar lyric. I still can't understand how this lyric managed to avoid getting written decades earlier - it comes across to me as archetypal 1950s. I tried to orchestrate it in something like the sort of style that it would have had if it had been written then, but the mix was tricky. It kept not feeling right. In the end I was content with it, but there are other ways it could have been mixed.
Lyric written 30th March 2014
Orchestrated 2nd-5th June 2016
Vocals recorded Sunday 12th June, in the afternoon, while Ellen was gardening. Takes: 9 for the lead vocal and the other 4 for the backing vocal.
Edited 30 November 2017, 6, 31 January 2017.

Corey's wedding - this wasn't strictly part of this project. It was written for a slide sequence shot at Ellen's son's wedding. This meant the process of writing was quite different. It was written in 11 sections, though some of them were as short as six or seven bars. The tone shifts near the end, because there was a band at the wedding and the last few slides show the band setting up and playing.
Instrumental. Orchestrated 14th-21st August 2016.
Edited 24 December 2016, 9 January 2017.

One two many mornings - This one is Neil Diamond influenced. I couldn't quite believe he'd never done a song called this - I checked, and he hadn't - so this (sort of) is it, the song he should have written but never did. I later found out that though Diamond hadn't used this title, Bob Dylan had, though he apparently often didn't know what his songs were about or where they came from. I was going to have the central character miserable as seemed fitting for Diamond, but that seemed a bit mean so I had him more enlightened as it finished. You could call it a happy ending.
Lyric written 28 December 2013 - 7 January 2014 (hacked around during orchestration as usual, and again a bit while actually recording).
Orchestrated 6-7 March 2016.
Vocals recorded 13 March 2016.
Edited 24 March, 16 July, 15, 20 November, 9,, 31January  2017, 2 March.

C'est La Vie (that's bloody life) - From the title you might have thought this a nod to Sinatra, but it emphatically isn't, and mainly expresses continuing disappointment in most conventional mainstream popular music. For a long time I had a vague feeling that the rhythm of this had been triggered by something else, that I'd heard that sort of cadence somewhere, but I couldn't think where. It is possible that it was Every morning by Sugar Ray, though that didn't come out until 1999. I still have a vague feeling that there might have been something much older, something about someone joining 'a rock roll band', but I haven't been able to find it, and repeated lyric searches for that haven't found anything.
Lyric written 29 April - 2 May 2014
Orchestrated 11-24 January 2016
Vocals recorded Sunday 17 April 2016
Edited 16 October 2016, 9 January 2017, 6 February, 4 March.

Back to Boston - I heard this one in a dream, and in the dream it sounded great. I woke up as usual with this sort of thing thinking that it was an existing song that I'd just heard played, and it was a few moments before I realised it was new, and as per usual I reached for the notebook. The dream came complete with music and lyric, which meant I had to work backwards as I had no idea which key it was in (it turned out to be A major). The version I heard in the dream was much more brassy than this, and almost sounded like the kind of thing Sinatra might have sung, except that he would probably have complained that the very full backing was too loud and was competing with his vocal too much. I have of course never been to Boston. While researching these notes I found a song by James Griffin about going back to Boston, and another called I'm shipping up to Boston by the Dropkick Murphys. I'd never heard of either, not even the artists. There seem to be a few others about Boston or going back to it, but apparently not similar to mine.
Lyric written 18th October 2015, based on a dream.
Orchestrated 10-12 February 2016.
Vocals recorded 21st February (while Ellen was typing). Total 23 takes of which 7 were for the main vocal (which is mostly take 7 with odd bits of take 6).
Edited 22, 23 March, 3 October, 9 January 2017, 6 February, 4 March.

What's goin' down - The idea for this one, given that these songs were to be north American influenced, was to string together some American idioms and make them sound as if they meant something. I duly set to work looking for American idioms. I found websites aimed at non English speakers, explaining idioms that they might have trouble understanding as they learned English, but to my great disappointment apart from one I'd heard them all before. I had thought that there must be lots that were totally unknown elsewhere in the world, but apparently not. I ended up resorting to inventing some of it (the cat going up the chimney for example). I can't help wondering whether there is some Stone Roses influence here (try Fools Gold though I'd better not quote the line in case I infringe anyone's publishing rights).
Lyric written 24 March 2016 (in Brittany)
Orchestrated 29 March (while on leave)
Vocals recorded 30 March (while Ellen was getting a massage in town and I was on leave)
Takes: 12 (of which 6 were for the lead vocal)
Edited 21 October 2016, 11 January 2017, 6 February, 5 March.

Memory Lane - the title to this one is a wry reference to the fact that I have done this kind of thing before; by my standards it isn't a radical departure. I did agonise a bit about whether it was too repetitive and very late on took one iteration out, in addition to tinkering with different iterations to introduce subtle variations so that they weren't just exact repetitions.
Instrumental. Orchestrated 6-7 August 2016
Edited 13 December, 11 January 2017, 22, 25 March.

(I'm only) killing time - The fire where the logging mill burned to ash and the trees just died was loosely based on the one at McClure, British Columbia, that burned for 75 days in mid 2003. I had got the impression that the fire had started at a logging mill, but it would appear that it was actually due to a carelessly discarded cigarette end. While in Canada I saw the trees that died, still standing as dead trunks with no branches or leaves and apparently nothing else growing there. I gather that there had indeed been a mill there, where 180 people used to work. Apparently some undergrowth has come back since the fire, but I didn't see it. I had a bit of an issue with the title of this one - I was going to call it Killing time, but I'd used that title before.

Lyric written: 22 April 2014 (in Canada)
Orchestrated: 6th-9th February 2016
Vocals recorded: Wednesday 10th February (while off sick with a horrible cough).
Total vocal takes 10 of which 6 were for the main vocal (for which I used take 6).
Edited 22 March 2016, 2, 3 November, 11 January 2017, 22 February, 5 March.

Morning after - This is another instrumental that was not technically part of the project, but was written for a slide sequence. The writing of it was much less elaborate than for the other one (Corey's wedding). It was called Morning after as the slides were taken the morning after his wedding.
Instrumental. Orchestrated 22nd August to 3rd September 2016.
Edited 12, 13 December, 15 January 2017, 22 February, 5 March.

Thomas Island - I remember writing this one. I was in a hire car that was parked outside a government office in Canada while Ellen was in there doing some business or other. It took her some while. The car was parked at the office, facing away from it. It was a sunny day with just a bit of a breeze gusting. Across the road I could see some trees that were being blown about from time to time by the breeze. It all felt very warm and peaceful. For no reason in particular it occurred to me that someone in a prison yard would see the wall and the tops of the trees over the top of the wall. I imagined what that would feel like, and the lyric just came from there.
Original lyric written: 26-28 April 2014 (in Canada), later hacked around to fit it to a more conventional structure. 
Orchestrated 16-21 February 2016.
Apparently recorded early evening, Sunday 17th April.
Edited 6 November, 15 January 2017, 22 February.

Don't you worry 'bout me - This is another Sinatra influenced lyric. He had already done a song with a very similar title to this, in which he reassured some woman or other that it was OK to leave him, that he'd be fine. That one first appeared in Cotton Club Parade in 1939, which turned out to be the last collaboration between the writers Ted Koehler and Rube Bloom. The song apparently quickly became a standard. I pondered on the meaning of this song, and it occurred to me that the person singing might have meant it the other way round. It might have been a reverse psychology attempt to persuade the woman to stay. That is, he might have intended her not to believe him. I was quite taken with this idea, so I wrote a lyric that was explicitly structured like that. Although I had imagined Sinatra singing this new lyric to a vaguely Sinatra sort of melody, in order to avoid any sort of clash I deliberately went for something completely different.
Lyric written 16 October 2015
Vocals recorded Saturday 16th July 2016, finishing around 11am, while Ellen was off on her motorbike going to a club breakfast.
Takes: 6, all for the main vocal. I thought about a backing vocal, but it didn't feel right, especially as the whole point was that the character was alone - it would have been too much like I'm all alone by Monty Python.
Edited 23 November 2016, 15 January 2017, 22 February, 5 March.

Familiar stranger - Again, the title is a wry reference to the fact that I've done material similar to this before. There are exotic sounding elements - a marimba for example, which I've seldom if ever used, and an Erhu, which I've used a lot more often. It gets gradually more convention as it gets towards the end.
Instrumental. Orchestrated 11 August - 5 October 2016
Edited 13 December, 16 January 2017, 24,25 February 2017, 5 March.

Humstrum - This was an oddity. While practising the guitar, I would often get weary of the set piece exercises and strum a nothing in particular sort of thing. I don't remember actually writing it. After a while, I just realised it was often the same thing that I was strumming. When I recorded guitar loops for the project - I recorded around 300 - having done short loops and trying to think of what else I might record, I remembered the strumming thing and it seemed a pity not to, so I recorded it, converted it to a loop and forgot all about it. Some while later, when the songs were all recorded and I was writing instrumentals, I remembered the strumming thing and had the idea of doing something with it. Funnily enough getting this right took a while and some tinkering.
Instrumental. Orchestrated 29-30 July 2016, based on guitar loops apparently recorded 9th January 2016.
Edited 4 December, 16 January 2017, 25 February, 5 March.

Sounds like London - This was based on location recordings made during a visit to Buckingham Palace on 13th August 2016. I very much wanted to do this one and was greatly looking forward to it. This was the other bookend and was always intended to appear at the end. At intervals during it you can hear pauses and then single notes, which appeared where I was trying to work out what notes various actual sounds were (such as squeaking underground breaks). I was trying to fit the music to the background sounds, so that it came from them and arose out of them. I'd never written that way before, so you could say that this piece in a manner of speaking was written by London itself.
Instrumental. Orchestrated 6-9 October 2016
Edited 24 December, 16 January 2017.

Lyrics written: 2011 (1), 2014 (6, including one completed in January that was started the previous month), 2015 (5), 2016 (4). The other seven are instrumentals.