The defininitve blog post.
The story of Jazz Funeral:
For some time, up until about a month and a half ago, I hadn’t exactly been the most boisterous, joyous, positive, outgoing, giving, humorous, loving person in existence; my family and friends could have attested to this. At some point during the latter half of my tenure at the University of Maryland, I came to the conclusion to that to exist, to be sentient, is a labor and therefore a chore and therefore a point of terrible suffering and that temporary or permanent nonexistence, whether by a sudden jolt, an impaired state, or a quiet passing, was preferable to sentience. Some weeks ago, after succumbing to the influences of a temptation that existed as a manifestation of bitter, overly-self-analytical-and-therefore-self-hating-cliche-twenty-something-I’m-an-English-major-esque, terribly lonesome, needy, narcissistic angst, I experienced the positive, mind-altering, consciousness-expanding effects of the tempestuous vice. I am not one for religion by any standard, as Judeo-Christian morality has, for literally two millennia, sought to and, in many places, succeeded in depriving people of pleasure and freedom through guilt and shame, two of the most destructive societal forces ever conceived, but after this experience, I had “seen the light.”
Until and including now, my life has been amazing; I have been surrounded by friends and family, people who love me for the stupid kid (biggest understatement, 2010) I am. That night, I experienced honestly and for the first time in several years, tangible happiness, a feat that, throughout my pronouncedly overcast adolescence, I thought beyond my fettered grasp. I came to realize that, though chemically altered states of mind represent manufactured feelings, existentially, we are only obligated to enjoy every single waking moment of self-conception. I see now that, for me personally, and this is by no means impetus for others or point of overjoyed sagacity, to both realize my current goals as a person and to be essentially happy, I need to be all that I have cursorily observed or outright rejected in my immaturity. I need to be kind to people, talk to them articulately and empathetically, because although our interactions with other people may be as burdens at times, there is an innate joy in connecting with people to the extent that you develop a basic amiable understanding: such is a facet of the human condition, our desire to “know” as best we can our fellow one-manned ships on the indeterminable seas of existence, to tie your lonely boat to that of another, and another, navigating the unfamiliar with those with whom we connect on any level, less biases about belief, orientation, circumstance, or general difference, but purely through, and I seldom use this word, “human” need.
In addition to the innate need for connection comes the need to produce, to create and elicit meaning, to navigate the world around us through our own personal and interpersonal interpretations of what we perceive as “truth” or “fact.” Once one realizes that all meaning is false, that it doesn’t really exist, that, in fact, our world lacks meaning, one is then free to construct meaning, to make things mean what one wants them to mean. To “act” in existential terms is to produce, to create, and I intend on doing just that. I want to make something absolutely beautiful.
That night several weeks ago, in that moment, I felt, with my entire being, positive and certain and alive in an epiphany that, in purely secular, chemical, and practical terms, was absolutely divine. I have, in my nearly twenty-two years of life, never been as happy as I am now, and I intend with the fullest extent of my being to keep it that way.
Jazz Funeral was written while I was experiencing a persistent state of what the Russians call tóska. Lacking an adequate English translation, the term roughly signifies a state of deep and longing sadness, along with an intense and profound sense of loneliness. The lyrics to the album, as well as the music, betray this tóska. The album contains every feeling of doubt, misery, loneliness, self-hatred, and bitter depression I’ve felt over the past several years. However, conversely, Jazz Funeral is also meant to be an exuberant celebration of life and existence, everything I’ve already mentioned above. This album will be an examination of what it is to exist, both in the positive and in the negative.
This album is the most important thing in my life and I want literally everyone I know to, if they are able, be a part of it. The studio has been booked and paid for, the songs have been written, the demos have been tracked, and I’m ready to do this. What follows are production notes for the album. The demos are available on demand; just contact me through Facebook, call me, text me, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, though I would like to offer a caveat about the quality of the demos themselves; I one-tracked pretty much everything and spot-wrote nearly all of the vocal parts, so take everything you hear with a hefty grain of salt, especially the vocal work, as we’ll be re-writing most of the melodies. The studio has been booked for the entire month of February and is in Danvers, Massachusetts, a stone’s throw from Boston. There is a living space in the studio and I have a great many friends in and around the city with readily available beds and couches. Write a part, come up, track something, play something, sing a little, do whatever you want if you want to be a part of this album; it’d really mean a lot to me.
Jazz Funeral Production Notes
I. Instrument List
-acoustic drum set
-orchestral bass drum
II. Track List (Working Titles) and Corresponding Demo Titles
1. Intro/Dirge to the Foxholes (Track 1)
2. Hymn (Track 7)
3. Hey Kids, There’s No Hope in Coping (Track 2)
4. Sati (Track 8 )
5. Western (Track 11)
6. Haven, Not Heaven (Track 4)
7. The Shakes
8. Peasant Blues (Track 5)
9. Absalom! (Track 10)
10. Prayer (Track 6)
11. Rosary Beads (Track 3)
1. A Letter to My Folks (Track 12)
2. Here’s to Going Green
III. Track-by-Track Notes
1. Intro/Foxholes- Sam Morgan (or, if he is unable, then my producer’s “arranger guy”) is going to write and arrange a dixie band-esque intro to the record at the same tempo and in the same key as Foxholes; the intro will start with a static-sounding “needle drop,” giving the impression of a record player and a vinyl recording. It should be about 30 seconds long, ending with static and noise and a huge cymbal roll into the downbeat of Foxholes, which should start in true wall-of-sound fashion: horns, strings, tripled guitar parts, organ, keys, etc. Transitioning from the intro into the first verse, the track should take on more of an atmospheric quality, heavy reverb on the drums and guitar and such. We can work to rearrange the beat at the beginning of the first verse, but on the demos, I played the floor tom and crash cymbal part with mallets. The rhythm and lead guitar parts on the track fit together, and should be doubled with piano. We can bring the wall of sound back in for the first chorus, “…there are no sinners in the foxholes,” and drop it back out for the second verse, which might be one of the most important spots on the record. I am, unfortunately, going to be very particular about the second verse. In addition to doubling the lead and rhythm on piano, we are going to double the lead on glockenspiel. Behind that, we’ll throw in strings, tambourine, shaker, cabasa, and sleigh bells–that’s just for the first half of the second verse. For the second half, “…and it’s five o’clock everywhere,” we can bring the wall of sound back in, tripled guitar parts, horns, strings, and the like. After that, we have the bridge, “…so tell me something I don’t know,” which should feature multiple vocalists; I don’t necessarily need to be present, vocally, on this part. After the bridge, we end at the last chorus, which starts on the demos where the instruments drop out and I sing “there are no sinners in the foxholes.” For this part, I want a straight-up gospel choir to sing that line, backed by nothing but an organ chord and tambourine; we’re going to get real churchy here. We can even think about lengthening the break to really highlight the choir, which will continue to sing the rest of the chorus as full instrumentation comes back in, ending the song with the outro, which should be a bit atmospheric. This is just the first song.
2. Hymn- On the demos, this track is just guitar with heavy reverb; ideally, I’d like Foxholes to fade into it from the outro, because they sound pretty similar, though they’re at different tempos. I have yet to decide if I want vocals on this track or if it’s just going to be a very short, pretty instrumental. As you can hear, there are two very clear sections to the song; on the second section, I definitely want organ and piano, maybe glockenspiel. Additionally, I’d like there to be some sort of backbeat, maybe very (very) soft drums with heavy reverb, but they should barely be audible, being just present enough to give the track a feeling of motion. This track is really here on the album to break up the heavy instrumentation and major-key exuberance of Foxholes and the minor-key, dirge-like depression of Coping.
3. Coping- This track starts with a drum intro, though we can decide whether we want brushes or sticks on the snare; maybe we’ll use both. Starting in the first verse, “the poison in that bottle,” I want a long, flowing cello accompaniment. I think, maybe, we could have vibes highlight the chords that are played by the lead, though it doesn’t need to be too forward in the mix, as the rhythm guitar part is really what counts here, even more than the vocals. The first chorus starts with “everyone’s drinking for the bottom,” and though I don’t know what sort of additional instrumentation I want for it, we can probably cook something up; maybe vibes and keys to compliment the guitar work. This brings us to the second chorus, which is going to be slightly busier than the first, as indicated by the more complex drum work. Ideally, I’d like this part to feature a few vocalists; I realize it’s not the most interesting chorus and we should do what we can to change that. After the second chorus, we have a buildup into a decidedly dance-oriented bridge. For the bridge, the leads should be doubled on strings and glockenspiel; we should also think about throwing in a lap steel part behind the guitars. Because there are no vocals on the bridge, I’d like to have some interesting instrumentation. After the bridge, we come to the last chorus, over which I’d like someone a bit more guitar-inclined than me to deliver a more creative lead. Vocally, I’d like to channel “Devil and God”-era Brand new; I want a feeling of panic. The vocals should feature a bit of harsh yelling, almost screaming (I think Chris Hall would be perfect for this). The song ends on a cymbal roll, but I’d like something a bit noisier, maybe the breaking or dropping of bottles, since the song is about drinking, or the crash of a few cymbals being knocked over.
4. Sati- This track is going to be really fun: think Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas” and Paul Simon’s “Spirit Voices.” I want it to have a mellow vibe to begin with, channeling a Caribbean sort of feel. I think, however, that the track needs a bit more of an intro and I have a swelling guitar part that I think would be perfect. The first verse, on the demos, is comprised merely of guitar, vocals, and shaker; I don’t know if we should change this or leave it as is, but that’s a bridge we can cross upon arrival. The first chorus, “you can be my albatross,” can remain as is, with just me singing, though we can write a more creative vocal melody. Transitioning into the second verse, “…they told me I was smiling,” there should be a cymbal roll. The second verse should be a great deal busier than the first and should feature, besides the “St. Thomas”-esque drum work, a whole bunch of auxiliary percussion, meaning cabasa, clave, maracas, triangle, congas, sleigh bells, vibes, and glockenspiel; I will provide and play all of these, though anyone who lacks musical training and wants to be on the record could easily step in here. The vibes and glockenspiel can mirror the lead guitar, which is very important here. Vocally, I think we can keep the melody, though I’d definitely like a female presence from this point through the rest of the song. After the second verse, we have the second chorus, which I’ve rewritten a bit since tracking the demos, throwing in some more complex vocal work that will definitely call for a strong female presence. I’m heavily debating writing a third verse because the song itself is so short and I’d like to keep the latin feel going, but again, that’s a bridge we can cross upon arrival. After the second (or third) chorus, there is a very direct and clear transition into the second part of the song, which is as folky as the first part is jazzy–think early Against Me!. We’ll definitely need to highlight the acoustic guitar here, and we should definitely think about throwing in banjo, mandolin, and harmonica. We could also have a blues guitar solo under this section; I think it would compliment very well the octaves that the lead guitar is playing. Those octaves, however, can probably be doubled by violin and glockenspiel, though I really don’t want to overkill the glockenspiel on this album. As the song starts to fade out, I’d like there to be a group of people, shouting and clapping. Fun fact: “Sati” is the act of self-immolation during a Hindu funeral in which a widow literally throws herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre in a final act of love and devotion; I think the title fits the lyrics perfectly.
5. “Western”- Obviously, this is the working title for the song, as it is still very much a work in progress. I think this will be a track that will get written in the studio, but I am certain that it calls for a great deal of lap steel and string work. This track will channel western swing and country blues in the sort of way that The Gaslight Anthem incorporates a definitive sense of roots revival into their songs. Also, I already know we’ll be needing a great deal of cowbell.
6. Haven- This song is, hands down, the most important on the album. It embodies everything that is Jazz Funeral as a definitive piece of composition and arrangement. From the lyrics to the instrumentation, Haven will be our consummate opus. The song starts with a guitar intro, which I want to have an “old-time radio” effect to it, static and nostalgic. Unlike the demos, I think I’ll choose to include the floor tom and tambourine accompaniment for the static intro. From there, there will be a cymbal roll into the full intro, which will feature a complex, harmonized, hymnal/spiritual humming part, to be composed and arranged in-studio; this part should also feature harmonica. With the exception of the choruses, this is a very linear song, and moves from the intro to the first verse seamlessly. As of yet, I have not written vocal melodies for the first verse and second verse, as I am not confident in my own ability to truly do this song justice vocally, and will definitely require some assistance with the writing; I do, however, have melodies written for the choruses. There should be lap steel on the first verse, during the audible swells, driven by the guitar and suspended cymbal. Arriving at the first chorus, we have the introduction of jazz chords, which will be complimented by vibraphone. Reverb is extremely important here, and I want the guitars to be absolutely soaked in it. It may seem odd that the chorus to the song I consider the “most important” on the album should be so slow and soft, but that’s exactly how I want it. This song builds gradually and is a slow burn, full of soul and emotional fervor. It is also in the chorus that I have chosen to (though it may seem a bit contrite) sing the title of the album within the lyrics: “Hold your liquor, hold your pride/ Show them what you have to hide/ The world could end tomorrow,/ At least they’ll all know you tried,/ But I want a jazz funeral while I’m still alive.” This statement is very dear to me and I want everyone to know it. After the first chorus, there is a guitar part that embodies a melodic solo of sorts, which flows almost effortlessly into the second verse, on which vibes, organ, and piano will compliment the lead guitar, which plucks out the notes of the chords played by the rhythm guitar. From the second verse, we arrive back at the chorus, which should feature a jazz guitar solo that is only semi-audible, played on an old hollow body; my friend Tripp, should he choose to come up to Boston, would be perfect for this. From the second chorus, there is a heavy build into the final section of the song. I think we will extend this buildup from what is played on the demos, as I want it to sound frantic, almost panicked, and to include a great deal of noise and feedback. The buildup drops into a solid E-minor chord (the demos were recorded in E-flat standard, but I’m debating tracking the album in standard tuning, just to avoid the hassle; though I’ve been told that E-flat provides a richer sound). Over this chord and the chords that follow, there will be an extended guitar solo. I will introduce the first soloist, whom we will determine in-studio, with a harsh yell of the name, not dissimilar to Max Bemis’ “Casey!” before the guitar solo in “Every Man Has a Molly.” This guitar solo should be soaring and epic over the chords below it, all of which will be struck in a wall-of-sound fashion, with numerous layers of instrumentation. After the first solo, there will be a second solo, performed by a second soloist, whose guitar will feature a sharply contrasting tone. I hope that in some parts of one or even both solos, we can harmonize the guitar, Brian May style. We can also extend the solo section from what is played in the demos. After the guitar solos, a definitive and repeating melody comes in, which I would like played on violin, glockenspiel, and piano, among other things; my friend Drew has written a countermelody for this outro, which will be played by a string section. This part, as it fades out, can also include more vocal work, perhaps by a choir. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Haven, Not Heaven.
7. The Shakes- The title to this song implies my physical state while writing it. I originally had this song as an instrumental, but am considering putting vocals over it. This, also, is another one of those songs that is going to be written more in-studio than beforehand, though I’ve composed most of it relatively thoroughly. While the verses to this song are notably swung, the choruses are straighter and, though I intended for this song to be guitar only, I believe it wouldn’t suffer from some electronic accompaniment, perhaps minor sequencing, to be done by my producers, Sean and Nick. More input on this song is totally welcome.
8. Peasant Blues- This song is to channel the “high lonesome sound” of 1930s coal miner blues. It starts with a guitar chord, struck and held, while another guitar plays a bit of bluesy noodling; there is also a harmonized vocal “ooh” behind this. The initial chord can also be struck on piano, though I don’t know if that’s an absolute necessity. After the intro, I have a vocal pickup into the first verse, which I will play on acoustic guitar, as opposed to the electric that is to be used for the intro. As for vocal effects, I’d like this song to sound as if I’m singing into a can, that I’m very much alone and harboring a deep sadness, the Russians call it tóska. That word, though it cannot be accurately translated into English, is the emotion around which this song is based; it very roughly translates into a deep, longing sadness and a profound sense of loneliness, which I found myself to be experiencing as I penned the lyrics. The first verse transitions into the first chorus, which features sparse chords under sparser vocals, though I’d like at least two more singers present for backup vocals, one male and one female. Though I had originally intended this song to be for vocals and guitar alone, I think that, starting with the second verse, I’d like to include some more diverse instrumentation: banjo, lap steel, harmonica, mandolin, snare drum, played with brushes, and the “stomp-clap” sound that bands like Delta Spirit and Good Old War are known for. After the second verse there is a second chorus, which then transitions into a section of the song in a major key, as opposed to the minor key in which the verses and choruses are played. This section, in which the guitar repetitively alternates between a C-major and a G-major chord, is the final section of the song, and can continue to include the same level of instrumentation as the first section, vocalists included. The song reverts back to a minor key for the ending, which features a blues guitar stunt; I might have a trumpet accompany this. The song is simple, short, and sad, and should truly relate the tóska I experienced during its composition.
9. Absalom!- Like the Faulkner novel from which the title is derived, this song will be brooding, complex, dark, and eventually, very messy. It was originally conceived as a transitional instrumental, but took on a life of its own in the studio as I tracked my demos. The song starts with a cymbal roll intro into a soulful slide guitar line, which should be accompanied immediately by a pedal tone on a violin or viola, lap steel, and harmonica; theremin wouldn’t hurt here, either. There are two “verses,” both of which follow the traditional I-IV-V blues progression, except the V part is a more modern-sounding, dominant turnaround. The second “verse” will feature more extensive instrumentation and double drum set parts, a la Brand New’s “You Won’t Know.” In a further nod to my favorite album of all time (The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me), I am going to include a vocal part that is naught more than a bit of counting: “one, two, three, four.” This part will be barely audible behind the instrumentation of the second verse, which will then transition into the first chorus. The “chorus” of the song, though it doesn’t feature vocals, will require a violin, and possibly cello, accompaniment to compliment the guitar line that embodies this section of the song. The end of the first chorus features a cymbal roll that leads us into the third verse, which is essentially noise; it will have two drum sets, a great deal of feedback, all of the instrumentation of the first two verses, a distorted, moving guitar line, a clean bass part, a distorted bass part, and a vocal line, which consists of myself and several other vocalists screaming the words, “Set the sun./ Fire the forest, head for the river./ Fire the forest down to the river.” I can not stress enough how much noise I want in this part of the song; I want it to sound like the world is ending until the blues turnaround, which drops us back into the soft, beautiful guitar line of the last chorus. This song is musical schizophrenia–serene, soulful calm into panicked fury and back.
10. Prayer- This song is a purely transitional instrumental; I wrote it to bookend the album, as Foxholes and Rosary Beads are very similar and Foxholes has Hymn as a transitional point. The song is short and sweet. The rhythm guitar line throughout the song can be complimented by piano, and the resolution provided by the repeating D-major chord at the end of the song creates a feeling of peace at the end of the album and is reminiscent of a much more classical, even symphonic, composition. The descending major scale, tapped out by the lead guitar over this repeating chord, can be doubled on glockenspiel and complimented by triangle.
11. Rosary Beads- Just as Foxholes introduces the album in the style of a midtempo, heavily instrumented barnburner, so will Rosary Beads conclude the album in similar fashion. The song starts out with a guitar intro, which repeats as more instrumentation is added. In addition to the rhythm guitar and bass that come in eight measures into the song, I believe that piano and digital sequencing would provide adequate accompaniment for the chords implied by the bass, chords that are a direct and deliberate nod to The Who’s “Teenage Wasteland” in the same sense that Fall Out Boy’s “Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes” pays tribute to the song; the chords acknowledge the beautiful simplicity of the continuity of pop music trends throughout the twentieth century and into contemporary musical modernity. The “Teenage Wasteland” chords form the first verse, which then transitions into the first chorus, which should include piano and horn parts, as well as a great deal of vocal layering and various backing vocal parts, to be sung by people other than me. The second verse will imply a wall-of-sound production technique in the doubling and tripling of rhythm parts and doubling of the leads with glockenspiel and piano. The second verse leads into the second chorus, which will have the same production style as the first; this is followed by the bridge, which is naught more than a pretty little guitar line. It can probably be accompanied by light instrumentation, violin and glockenspiel, instruments that, in their accompaniment, won’t step all over the guitar part; a female vocal part might be appropriate as well. The guitar line of the bridge leads into a series of hits that imply and deliver a key change for the outro to the song. In addition to the basic instrumentation of the outro, I’d like to throw in as much complementary instrumentation as possible: choir, horns, strings, piano, organ, auxiliary percussion, et cetera. The final hit of the song will effectively end the album, that is, until the reprise.
12. Reprise- This song is merely a reprisal of the chorus of Rosary Beads and will feature a guitar, picking out the notes from the chords to that chorus. A possible accompaniment for this guitar line would be trumpet. Behind that main guitar line, slightly less audible in the mix, will be a choir, repeating the final line of Rosary Beads: “We’ll all find peace somehow.” The song will gradually fade out into static and the sound of a needle being lifted from the record, implying the end of the album.
B-Side 1. Letter to My Folks- This might be the saddest song I’ve ever written. I’m nowhere near as consistently upset as I used to be; in fact, I’m actually quite happy now, but I theorized that one of the worst things for a parent must be to provide a child with as near perfect an upbringing as one can manage and, through no fault of that parent, to realize that the child carries with him a deep and innate sadness. This song will be comprised of heavily reverbed guitar, vocals, and sparse cymbal rolls and floor tom hits with a mallet.
B-side 2. Here’s to Going Green- For all intents and purposes, this song is already complete, though lacking a piano part, which can be written and recorded in an hour or two.
Thank you all; looking forward to seeing you guys in Boston this February.