Hotter song 5: Under the Midnight Moon

I already wrote about "Hotcakes Army" when it went out as a preview, so I'll skip over that.

I have learned a lot about songwriting in the last few years. Some of it should have been obvious to me, especially that songwriting is like any writing. You sit down and work on it, same as if you were writing a novel or an essay. Or poetry, which it's somewhat more akin to. But at any rate, even though the Muse does strike from time to time, you can't just wait for that to happen as if by magic. You might get the rare song out of that non-process, but you won't get much.

Sometimes, however, songs seem to have a mysterious origin. It almost feels as though there really is a Muse of some sort sending inspiration. That was the case with "Under the Midnight Moon." I started writing the first verse, thinking it was about a failed relationship. Nothing so unusual. I had been thinking about Game of Thrones and the line in Melissandra's prayer, oft repeated: "For the night is dark and full of terrors." And I had thought, no, it's not. The night is full of wonder, and darkness is nothing to fear.

I reached the chorus, about the protagonist finding relief from her crappy relationship under the night sky, comforted by darkness. Inside is where things suck, outside she is free. I was thinking of her being embraced by the night surrounding her. I also needed a rhyme for "close." Suddenly, the ghost appeared. I don't know why I went for the word "ghost," a near-rhyme. I don't normally think about ghosts. I'm not a believer in ghosts. I've never met one! But that lonely ghost pushed his way into the song. And suddenly the song was quite different.

Instead of the protagonist being comforted by the darkness, she was being comforted by a ghost. An incubus. And before I knew it, death was all through the song. Her true liberation lay with being with the ghost, and there's only one way that could happen.

I couldn't believe what I'd done. I wept when I realized what the story was saying.

I wrote the first three verses, the chorus, and that final bit. I thought the song was finished. I also didn't think it was a Hotcakes song, but I played it for the others anyway. And they really liked it, G especially. She wanted to sing it. So I thought that somehow we could make it work, even though it's very different from other material we do. She and I worked on it mostly just between ourselves with an acoustic guitar.

There was one problem: the story was confusing. It was clear in my mind, but I realized that maybe I'd left too much in my mind and not put enough into the lyrics. My brain filled in the rest when I played the song, but others couldn't do that. When I had a songwriting lesson with Leah Abramson of the Abramson Singers, my reward for having contributed to her Indiegogo campaign to raise money to press vinyl, "Under the Midnight Moon" was one of the songs I brought. She agreed that the story might need a bit more, that it wasn't clear what was going on. She gave some suggestions on how to approach fixing it (and lots of great suggestions on general—she teaches songwriting at UBC and writes beautiful songs).

The song wasn't too long, so I came up with the fourth verse. I hadn't put the protagonist outside in a verse, but now I did, and made it clearer what was only hinted at in the chorus and the final section. And in the process, I got to be a bit naughty, which G liked. The fourth verse provided the missing link between how bad things were inside and how beautiful things were outside, under the moon.

I wanted to record the song, but I wasn't sure we would have enough time. We had already decided that T would sit out, leaving just guitar, bass, and vocals. The lead instrument is really the bass. We did the bed track with guitar, bass, and click track (to keep time). Usually we did at least two takes for basics, but I'm not sure we did for this one. On vocal day, G was very warmed up. I love her voice on this one. I added one more guitar to get a little jangle. I did background vocal only on the final section. I wanted the first part to sound kind of like a distant echo, and then to do the full harmony on the second part. I thought about adding some kind of percussion, but we never did. In the end, the simplicity of the production is probably for the best. It lets G's voice shine through.

No comments: