[img_assist|nid=2084|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=249|height=168]Right now as I write, Hello Hurricane is one of the trending topics on Twitter. Why? Perhaps it has a little something to do with the highly anticipated release of said album by Switchfoot. Perhaps folks are writing about the apparent transformation of musical style. Or maybe the diehard fans are re-tweeting to get the counts up. Either way, the first studio release in three years has been causing a buzz even before today's official release.
While the music may be a bit divergent from works past, the lyrics continue to comprise deep thoughts from whom some call a modern-day philosopher, lead vocalist and chief writer, Jon Foreman. Knowing Jon and his music the way I do, I am keenly aware that sometimes he would rather have the listener determine the meaning behind the song on their own. So I was surprised when I received a detailed song-by-song explanation alongside to promo material for the album.
I soon found more of an evolution of each song's experience - more than just the meaning of the song, but leaping into the musical transformation which created the resulting album. Jon says of the album, "If you want the shiny new music detached from the labor pains, turn back now! For everyone else, here are a few of the stories behind each song." An album review which includes some of Jon's thoughts is forthcoming in a couple of days. In the meantime, I have included my favorite quotes below. (Narrowing it down was not easy!)
Needle and Haystack Life
There are several iterations of this song, each of them with a radically different approach - a method we never had the time for until we built our own studio. One of the reasons we built our own studio was to enable productive experimentation like this without paying for it by the hour.
All of the concepts behind the song - hope against the backdrop of chaos and meaninglessness, recognizing the value of every human life -these felt so existentially motivating. "Needle" felt like a song that I wanted to sing every night. And I felt like it could be done with an element of the horizon built into the song. So, onstage in Vegas we worked up the song in sound-check, recorded the idea into a cell phone, and came back with a fresh direction for the tune.
Mess of Me
This tune has lived several lives all revolving around the guitar hook. It started out as a song called "I Saw Satan (Fall Like Lightning)" I wrote it a couple years back when I was stealing heavily from scripture. We dragged it into the studio with Charlie Peacock for a week of recording at Big Fish Studios and came out with a really great bridge. Then we wrote a new chorus, called the song "There Ain't No Drug" and built the verse lyrics around the new chorus. We made the bridge the chorus after that. ... So we stepped away from this song. We knew it was a great one, we were just too inside it. When we came back to it we realized that we were really close... we just needed the final push- so we re-tracked everything at Mike's place. Tim was the champion of this tune: lifting it from one phase to the next, never giving up on the riff. I'm really proud of Tim for pushing through till the final version that ended up on the record.
Your Love is a Song
I think of life as an interwoven and interconnected masterpiece.
Alongside these beautiful, pure notes there are elements of horrific dissonance. Parts of the symphony where the musicians are not following the score. To our shame, ours is a world of slavery, bigotry, and hate. Of Rwanda. Of Darfur. These atonal catastrophes on our Darkwater Planet would destroy the song if they could. But love is a stronger song. Alongside the dissonance there is hope. There is forgiveness and joy singing alongside of hatred and despair. The song is still being written. Everyday we choose whether we will submit to the score to sing along with love.
I wrote this song with Mike Elizondo the first day we worked together. The pre-chorus hook was the seed for the rest of it. Mike was great about sitting back and letting me chew on something until I got it. It was as though we were looking at the same thing from different vantage points, mine was the micro scope- his the telescope. So he would guide the song from a bird's eye view away from some of the dangerous places while I was trudging along with the particulars.
The Sound (John M. Perkins Blues)
This was the last minute addition to the record. When we were making the final list, I showed this song to Tim (he's my first line of defense - If it gets past Tim, then there's a chance we'll track it). He was as excited as I was. We wanted to have a song with a steady, relentless pulse on the record and we all knew that this one fit the bill. The chorus was originally much more of a straightforward lyric, maybe too much so. So we redid the chorus and began to rewrite the verse lyrics to match the chorus vibe.
We are a haunted nation. Whether we admit it or not, the past runs through our veins. Listen to the streets, they'll tell you the same. We can cover up our racism and narrow-minded bigotry with excuses and time but the sins of the past cry out from the ground. The undercurrents from our history are always buzzing around our ears. But rising above the constant gnawing of past wrongs is the song of Love. Love is the reconciliation. The deliberate act of forgiveness. The deliberate act of moving forward unencumbered by the past. This is the sound. This is the sound.
Enough to Let Me Go
This one started with the guitar hook I came up with during sound-check; however, most of the song took shape in a hotel room in Australia. I was thinking about how love (not just lust or codependency that commonly flood the tunes on the airways) actually involves quite a bit of faith. There's a lot of letting go involved. Two souls in love is an intricate dance of give and take. I can be a fairly solitary person from time to time. Sure, I love being with people, but I also need time alone. I guess I thrive on the poles. So this song is about the dance involved in a relationship the coming together and letting go. The song equates love with breathing- pulling in and releasing. Or a seed, for the seed to grow it has to be dropped and buried.
I'm pretty sure that I wrote this one in an elevator. Tim says that the seed of it was written by the time the elevator ride was over. I don't remember that, I just wanted to have a song on the record (and live) that captured a reinterpretation of the blues. From the moment I started playing guitar I was hooked on Led Zeppelin, BB King, and Hendrix. Wes Montgomery came later. I wanted to have a simple throbbing, pulsing song on the record that epitomized the songs I played in Jr. High.
The concept of this song is fairly simple. I am trapped by myself. I am a man who is bounded by his own lusts and vices, yearning to be free of these hindrances. We are enslaved to our passing desires that are often more swayed by our environment than our own volition. Most of what we call our "choices" are simply reactions. Free thought is incredibly rare. Who can know the darkest parts within himself? This unspoken and nameless prison is the bane of the "free" world, the hole in the neighborhood. We are in the chains of debt, the chains of consumption, enslaved by our lusts, our fears, and our past. The truth will set you free but it's only slightly less scary than hell and a whole lot harder to get there. There is no outer freedom until we have chosen to be free inside.
This is a subject matter that I speak of with holy reverence. Having grown up on the East Coast I know firsthand of the houses lost, of the dreams turned into nightmares. I take my shoes off and recognize that this is a matter that is dear to our nation, especially of late- with every passing hurricane season. Last year, with Habitat for Humanity we helped to build a house for a woman who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. The hurricane had taken her city, her house, and her leg. As she relocated to Baton Rouge and learned how to walk as an amputee, her mantra was this: "I walked out of my house and my life in New Orleans on my own legs, I'm going to walk into this one the same way." This is the spirit that I wanted to capture with this song, and moreover with this record. The storms of life might take my house, my loved ones, or even my life- but they cannot silence my love.
The second verse speaks of the pain. This pain is always with us. We are born into a world of pain, the pain of losing a child, the pain of rejection, of racism, sexism, fears... these experiences rip us to pieces.
Everyone feels pain. I look to those who have been through more pain than I will ever know for guidance on the subject. The Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Victor Frankl survived several Nazi concentration camps with his life and his hope intact. He lost more than I'll ever know... his wife, his parents, and his family did not survive. His understanding of pain is in direct opposition to our western world that is often found running from pain at all costs. Frankl's "Case for a Tragic Optimism" speaks of turning suffering into human achievement and optimism in the face of tragedy. The memories, the pain, the scars, these are yours. Yes, the things that you and I have lost. These are yours and they have meaning. No, these could never be The Ultimate Meaning in our lives, but let these scars drive us towards "turning suffering into human achievement and accomplishment."
Here's the second song that I worked on with Mike. We tracked a lot of it the day after we wrote "Your Love is a Song." I wanted to see what it would be like to work on a rock tune with him because I hadn't heard much of his work in that area. His passion and knowledge about fuzz tones were an incredible surprise to me. He brought out a song called "Bugman" as a reference (a blur song off of 13, a more obscure blur record that had some messier pinkerton overtones) and I knew we were on the right track. The demo I had done was much more subdued and with eclectic instrumentation (more of a cheap dust brothers concept). But he brought out a few Deviever guitar pedals and the song took turn towards the rock side of things.
I like old instruments, often better than newer versions. It's hard to describe, feels like old guitars bring a life and a story to the conversation. When you write songs on an old guitar the guitar tends to speak up for itself from time to time. "Yet" was written on an old National steel guitar that I bought at a pawnshop on tour. It was a finger-picking tune played with a slide and very unlike the version on the record. Tim and I both thought that the folk interpretation of the song didn't really rise to the potential of the melody or the lyric. We spent a day at my house trying to find the right instrument to carry the song. We tracked the acoustic and electric guitar that day. We stumbled on the bass intro later.
The song is about hope. Hope is always reaching towards the future, reaching for what has not yet come to pass. Once the hope is attained, it can no longer be called hope. Hope isn't the sort of thing you can pull out of your pocket and show off. Hope is a "holding on" of sorts, an expectant belief, a desire as of yet unfulfilled. I wrote this song from a really dark place, looking for some form of hope. And maybe searching for hope is a form of hope in itself. There's a moment of honesty when your mask drops, when you can no longer pretend to have it all together. When this pretense is gone you breathe in your first real breath. When you are no longer pretending to be something you're not, you're left with a truly honest assessment of the situation. Very little is left, "Faith, hope, and love remain. But the greatest of these is love."
Sing it Out
Here's a song that we worked on maybe more than any of the others. There are so many versions of this song. The demo leaned towards Massive Attack. The next version was even darker - tracked with Daryll. Most of the elements that we tracked with Daryll made it to the final cut (except some incredibly moody drums that we did with him). We kept trying to find a pulse that would be constant but wouldn't feel like a dirge. The next iteration of the song sounded much more like Sade with a really memorable bass line that Tim came up with. But still, we all felt like the song was stronger without these superfluous elements. So we used the always effective "mute button" on pretty much everything. The song is singing about itself- struggling for melody, for life, for meaning. Singing about rebirth, the song spends most of its time in the grave and comes to a bright glorious finish, held out until the very end. To match the lyric we saved almost every instrument for the end of the song. In my opinion, the essence of the song was the only thing that survived on the record.
All my heroes are the ones who ran after the higher vision, the news that stays new. We've been chasing lesser gods, gods who do not know our names, gods who will die alongside of us. The kingdom of the heavens does not come to us in our wealth, it comes to our in our poverty. Our money, our knowledge, our medicine, our sex, our privilege- these are double-edged swords, dependent upon our own shaking hands for guidance. With our two hands we build up and destroy, we hold and break the future. My own hands are shaking. I reach for the new day with fear and trembling. I'm reaching for a bird called hope, for the one true song who could bring me home. I'm waiting for dawn. I'm dreaming, reaching for the other side.
At the end of the record there is a reprise that goes back to the first song. For me this is a reminder of the repetitive nature of all that we call life. ... I will dream, for dreams are the seeds of what may be. I will wonder, for without wonder, how could life be wonderful? And I will sing.
Yes, until my pending death I will sing. In the face of indifference, I will sing. In the face of adversity, I will sing. I will sing about the pain. I will sing about the mystery. I will sing of the hope, the cage, the bullet, the winter, the dreamer. I will sing of all of these. I've seen miracles there in your eyes. It's no accident we're here tonight. We are once in a lifetime.