Everybody makes mistakes. Mistakes are a fact of life. You know the words of that theme song…”You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and then you have the facts of life”…right? Mistakes often lead to failure and, in the wise words of Yoda, “the greatest teacher, failure is”. Mistakes and failure can be wonderful teachers, at least they can be if we’re receptive to what they have to say.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life and, like most of us, I moved on from most of them no worse for wear. Some mistakes, however, can haunt us for years, and I definitely have those in my past.
Years before 2010, I reacted to a situation that I felt quite passionate about. I was in my mid-20s, thought I knew more than most, and had little issue with speaking my mind. You know the type…”I just tell it like it is…”, which is a smug way of letting others know that individual is an asshole. Well, as things go, I spouted off at the mouth and, boy, did I ever poorly chose how to communicate how I felt. This was compounded by using the worst medium possible…the early days of social media.
The worst part of it was that I reacted to a situation that didn’t even directly involve me…one that I thought I knew better than the person involved. That whole thing was essentially the straw that broke the camel’s back in a long list of questionable behaviors and tenets I fiercely held back then. Remember that bit about “telling it like it is”? I lost my best friend because of it.
It took a handful of years of being stubborn, telling myself that he was as much, if not more, to blame than I was, that if he didn’t apologize I sure as hell wasn’t going to, and I hardened my heart. However, eventually that mistake and the loss it cost me consumed my thoughts, invaded my dreams, and even worked its way into one of the songs that’s on Skylines and the Horizon. In time, I realized I had to swallow my pride and accept what I’d done, accepted that he didn’t do what I’d told myself he did, and do what comes hardest for so many of us…apologize and ask for forgiveness. It was only then that I felt like I could seek to repair what I’d broken.
Long story short, I reconnected with my friend. I mean, we both had these mean Long Island Iced Teas I’d make where I mixed something like 6 or 8 shots into a 32oz glass. It wasn’t smart, but it gave me the liquid courage to say what I needed to say.
JD and I had played in a couple of bands together during and just after high school. Nailbox and Soulhitter. The “good ol’ days”. I’ve always respected his voice as a songwriter and musician. He has a knack for crafting melodies and songs that I always felt left me playing catch up. Of course, he’d downplay that but JD has an approach to songs that differs from mine and he will pull something from a song that leaves me thinking “how’d he come up with that” or wishing I’d thought of it.
With our reconnection still fresh, I asked him to act as a producer on some songs with me, to reel me in, and maybe write some parts. I thought working on music would give us some neutral ground to help rebuild the friendship we once had, and I wanted a second voice to counter my own.
I was confident he would question some of the decisions I’d made. I also firmly believe that collaboration is a vital ingredient to making good music. Somewhere in the time we spent working on music, three songs began to take form: “Goodbye”, “So Far”, and “Zombies”
Zombies was well on its way to being a complete song when we started. It had two guitar parts, bass, and the drums were programmed. Given the fact that I’m not a drummer, I felt shaky at best when it came to that part.
A danger I’ve found one runs into with programmed drums, especially when using a program EZ and Superior Drummer, is sounding either robotic, which is partly unavoidable, or something that sounds like drums but doesn’t sound like a drum part.
JD played drums in both the aforementioned Nailbox and Soulhitter. I wanted him to make sure I hadn’t waded too far out into the weeds as a guitarist putting drums together. He listened to and approved of almost everything.
One of the significant changes he suggested came during the bridge. During the first and third times through the bridge progression, there’s a pause in between the second and third chords. I originally had a cymbal hit in that pause and a second when the third chord was struck. He suggested removing that first hit and having there be a full pause.
JD also ended up rewriting the second guitar part for “Zombies”. I hadn’t been all that happy with what I’d come up and welcomed his take. I remember really liking it and we eventually recorded it. The changes he made to “Zombies” moved that song in a positive direction.
We recorded a version to get the ideas down and see how it sounded.
“So Far” is a very different story. When I played it for him, it was a slower acoustic song that I thought was in 4/4 but when he listened to it, he explained that it was in 6/8. I’m terrible with time signatures, but with that in mind, we began the process of writing drums for it in EZ Drummer. Those drums have remained in place since then with only a handful of small adjustments.
The song didn’t have a second guitar part or bass written. I don’t recall coming up with anything fruitful during those sessions or until the 2011 Watauga Sessions, but having the drums and a faster tempo gave me direction and moved the song more in an electric direction.
When the process of recording in Lewisville started, “Goodbye” had evolved into a song with a single acoustic guitar. That song has come a long way and seen many iterations in the years I’ve been playing it.
JD wanted to come up with drums for it. We tried sticks and brushes but it just didn’t sound right. Eventually, we found an alternate drumset in EZ Drummer that I can’t remember the name of and it fit what he heard in his head.
We tracked the acoustic guitar by using an Sterling Audio ST55 aimed at the 12th fret and running a line out to the interface. I added bass, and he suggested I play through the song again on a separate track, but instead of it being an acoustic, he wanted to use my telecaster with a Piezo bridge. After all, it does sound like a plugged in acoustic.
Once that was done, I went back in and added a fourth track with a C chord strummed with a tremolo effect to open each verse and arpeggio chords over the final verse. I’ve always loved a good tremolo effect, especially from Fender tube amps, and I happened to have a Deluxe Reverb Reissue, so it worked out perfectly.
Things were off to a great start and I was feeling good about the steps we’d taken and the direction we were going in.
In a way, I kind of regret not keeping the guitars here and just dropping the drums.
So What Happened?
That collaboration kind of petered out. I kept on trucking, expanding and practicing the songs, and it led to me eventually setting up to record at JD’s house in 2011. I wanted to record at full volume and the place he shared with some friends was perfect for it. I’d record while they were at work and hang out with my friends afterward.
Remember what I said about mistakes?
During a discussion not too terribly long ago about those sessions, I asked why things petered out and learned that JD felt frustrated because it seemed like I had him work on Zombies and then completely abandoned what he recorded and then went on and rewrote the parts. Why put the effort in if I were just going to do that? I can’t blame him.
Wait. Didn’t I say that I liked what he did and it moved the song in a positive direction? Yeah, absolutely. Here’s what I think happened, because I do not remember with 100% certainty.
I am a chronic file organizer and was even worse back then. I need to have some kind of order in my personal files. I think I went to create separate folders for the new songs we were doing and must have set the folder to hidden while not having hidden files visible.
Why do I think this is what happened? I eventually found the files in a hidden folder after enabling the option to see hidden folders.
When I couldn’t find the files we’d recorded for “Zombies”, I tried my best to remember what he wrote and absorbed whatever it was I thought I remembered into a new line.
Listening to it now, it’s not as close to the current iteration of it as I remember, but “Zombies” wouldn’t be where it’s at without the part he wrote. Finding this version not too long ago is what inspired the harmony guitar part in the intro and bridge.
This is why he has writing credit on that song.
If I have to be completely honest, I’ve always been one to tweak parts after they’ve been written. I may have tried to learn what he played, tweaked it, and eventually morphed it into something else. I might have even done that before the folder ended up hidden, but that doesn’t explain why I found the folder hidden. It’s been a few years since 2010, so my memory can only grasp at straws.
Fortunately, JD is a better man than me and looked past that. He’s the godfather to my youngest kid, the brother I never had, and his friendship means the absolutely world to me.
Next up will be the week-long session I had out in Watauga, TX where I began the process of recording five songs, began a hateful relationship with bourbon, and came away with less to show for it than I should have.
Thanks for reading.