Nur Ein 2 (2007)
Heart of a Lion (7/2/07)
I can't remember if 2007 was the year I first taught the Popular Music class at the high school where I teach but I know it was the impetus for me suddenly being so into Motown and letting it seep into my songwriting. There are elements in the song Brownie Points (profiled in post #219), especially in the guitar, but the influence emerged in full force with Heart of a Lion, the head-to-head final round match-up between me and the Canadian who goes by the name Puce.
When the chorus came to me, I really felt I had a winner of an idea but I had to act quickly if I was going to turn out Motown-style production. I enlisted long-time Frankie Big Face drummer Paul Gallello to lay down the groove, borrowed a trio of brass players from my school orchestra and (tortuously) laid down the violin tracks myself. I knew the verses were weak comparatively, but I peppered the arrangement with electric piano layers, an active bass line and (kitchen-sink time) a whole-tone scale lead-in to the chorus. The challenge was to "bring your 'A' game" and I pulled out all the stops. I regret that I was unable to make my backing vocals more Temptations-like. I think a better mix would have helped, but what I really needed were additional singers (as opposed to layers of me). In retrospect, the lyrics in the verse and pre-chorus could use some work (the vocal performance too) but I'm still really proud of the chorus.
The song was pretty well-received with one reviewer astutely comparing it to The Grass Roots' Sooner or Later. And so I won the whole competition, right? Sadly, no. I lost by one vote. I'm still a little bitter. ;)
frank caravella - vocals, keyboards, guitar, bass, violins
paul gallello - drums
stan berkow - trumpet
jon hibshman - trumpet
chris nation - trombone
Last Hope (6/23/07)
Last Hope is a song that has grown on me. When I wrote it, I was really disenchanted with the simple chorus and the lyrics seemed a little tossed off. This happens a lot with songs that I write and record quickly and it happens in both directions. Sometimes things that disappointed me during the creative process are later accepted, even embraced. Conversely, a song may seem really great to me while I'm writing it and later seem worthless. (More of those coming up!) But this tune has garnered some staying power and I've started working it into my live act.
It's really not in my nature to write a song longer than four minutes, let alone six. But that's what I was charged with for Last Hope. My issue with songs of this length is that they usually overstay their welcome by several minutes and I had a plan almost immediately for avoiding this pitfall: a very slow song with a slow harmonic rhythm and very few chords. I wanted to give the song a lot of space and keep it relatively uncluttered. To that end, the verse is only two chords (I IV I) and each lasts several long measures. The pre-chorus and chorus progressions move along a bit more quickly but the song is so slow it still takes almost a minute to get through these two sections. By the time the second verse starts, I'm almost three minutes into the song and I'm usually wrapping things up by then! To balance this glacial forward progress, I employed a sixteenth-note ostinato in the electric piano to serve as a kind of ticking second hand.
By the time the song wraps, the clock reads 7:51. In retrospect, I could have finished in just under seven minutes but I think the outro is really the only section that feels long. It would probably be less obvious (and annoying) if the saxophone attacks weren't so harsh. I also really wish I had had access to a bari sax, which would have balanced the sax choir with some bottom end.
Fun facts! This is my father's favorite song by me which makes me like it even more. He says it reminds him of Bret Michaels which makes me like it less. While my dad agrees that the ending is too long, he also feels the song could use an additional verse, which he took the liberty of writing for me(!). I'm not sure the world is ready for the Caravella/Caravella songwriting team but I haven't thrown it away either so who knows?
frank caravella - vocals, guitars, bass, saxophones, keyboards, programming
The Thing Most Easily Forgotten (6/16/07)
Here's some advice: if you're going to enter a weekly songwriting competition and it may last eight weeks, don't schedule a 10-day jaunt to Spain and Portugal six weeks into it. Or actually, go ahead and do it because the truth is, you can write one of your best songs in a very short period of time if you are determined and a little lucky.
I consider The Thing Most Easily Forgotten to be one of the best songs I've ever written. I managed to come up with a bit of the chorus while in Spain, found a piano in a hotel in Seville and worked it out. When I got home, I set to work on the lyric of the verse and, in a rare instance, it just poured out of me. This has happened maybe two or three times (Towering Inferno comes to mind) and it's a phenomenon I can't really explain but it's pretty special when it happens.
Here's a quote from a friend reviewing this song: "...not only is this the loveliest FBF song I have heard for ages (and he only writes lovely songs) it is also one of the most beautiful songs I have heard for a good while. Anyone who says it is cheesy has no soul and should go to soul-growing-school." That's kind of how I feel about it too. :) The lyric is simple but effective with nothing wasted and the hook ("loving you everyday") is catchy and has a sneaky 3/4-bar insert that makes it cool. But most of all, it's an earnest song full of hope and possibilities (which is probably why some have labeled it "cheesy").
Fun fact! I stole the "ripe to rotten" line from one of my earlier songs (Tracks for Future Practice). I toiled over the decision to use it and finally did figuring no-one would notice. They did.
frank caravella - vocals, guitars
No One Else (6/5/07)
It seems to me that, if you enter a weekly songwriting competition, you're going to get stumped at some point. Especially if you work alone. For me, week five of Nur Ein 2 was the first of those trials. I had earned a week of "immunity" by winning round three and didn't write a song for round four. When the title came, I was in the midst of wrapping up the school year and preparing for a trip to Spain. I struggled to come up with what I thought was an acceptable approach to the title, rejecting at least four ideas before settling on the song I recorded. In the end, I had just a few hours to write, learn and record the song.
Luckily, the challenge that week was "no guitars" so it seemed like an appropriate time to limit the arrangement to just piano and vocals. Anytime I take this approach (regardless of whether the accompanying instrument is piano or guitar), I want to make sure the lyrics and melody are strong enough to stand on their own. Even though they were written quickly, I felt the lyrics about someone (not me!) deliberately sabotaging a relationship and then regretting his actions told a good story and the melody (of the chorus, especially) was reflective of the lyrics and sufficiently melancholic.
Regardless, I thought then and think now the song would be better with a band. As was pointed out by at least one reviewer, it sounds like a demo. There's a rhythm lilt to the song (especially dramatic during the build-up in the bridge) that would benefit from bass and drum kicks. This unfinished quality coupled with some awkward moments in the performance had me feeling like this was a lesser effort. But it was well-received overall and one of the judges later listed it among his favorite Nur Ein songs of all time which served as a good reminder that I rarely know which of my songs will resonate with listeners!
frank caravella - vocals, piano
Brownie Points (5/17/07)
"Brownie points" is one of those phrases I never use in everyday life. There are certain words or phrases that just rub me the wrong way for some reason ("brainstorming" is one that comes to mind quickly) and I go out of my way to avoid them. So when I was presented with the title Brownie Points, I complained silently to myself—okay, I probably complained to anyone who would listen—and then set out to write the song because that's the world of competitive songwriting. You have to work with what you're dealt.
This turned out really well actually and I learned a pretty good trick in the process. I can't recall how I stumbled upon the harmonized refrain that concludes each verse ("lovin' you the way I do") but I found if I made that hook the focal point of the tune rather than the title, I could live with it much more easily. I've used this trick a few times since then to make undesirable titles more palatable.
The challenge for this tune was time signature changes and I knew I wanted to avoid the typical prog rock style I so strongly associate with meter changes (especially after delving into that realm the previous week). I ended up with this sort of laid-back island music feel which I really like and a time signature pattern of 7/8-4/4-4/4-7/8. I'm really pleased with how well my real saxophone blended with the fake GarageBand horns. Lyrically, I allowed myself to take a lot of near-rhyme liberties ("Rolls-Royce" and "of course" for example) and I think this was a good choice. I've since become much less rigid about rhyming and this has opened up my lyric-writing considerably. My only regret about this tune is some awkward vocal phrasing and intonation trouble that went unfixed. But overall, I like this one a lot and I regained some songwriting confidence and momentum by exercising some smart creative choices. I also won the round so that was nice. :D
frank caravella - lead and backing vocals,
acoustic and electric guitar, bass, saxophone, progamming
Sister Cocaine (5/9/07)
Not every song I write is a winner. When I first saw the title Sister Cocaine six years ago, I cringed. In retrospect, it's not the worst title ever, but it's kind of a bad title for me. I found myself pretty uninspired but you have to play to win and that meant I had five days to write and record this song whether I wanted to or not. What I came up with seemed respectable at the time (I finished in 6th place out of 25) but now it seems pretty terrible to me.
The challenge this round was "use of alliteration" and I certainly went all out but the lyrics are poor. The problem is they don't mean anything to me at all. The song's not about anything discernible. Loosely, I guess it's about addiction but I think it misses its mark badly.
So is there anything I like about this song? I like the riff that opens the track. I usually don't write heavy guitar riffs so that was fun. I liked being able to play guitar in a heavy rock style—I almost never do that either. The bridge is brutal to listen to now. So cheesy. Every time I hear it, I think of that scene in This is Spinal Tap where the bass player is playing the solo while stuck inside the pod that won't open.
frank caravella - lead and backing vocals, guitars, bass, synths
blue lang - drums
Let Me In (4/30/07)
One of the interesting things about writing songs very quickly and moving on to the next one is that you don't become very attached to the songs during the writing process. I find this makes it pretty easy to be objective about them later on and often they don't even feel like my songs. I play Let Me In a lot live so the song is pretty present in my mind but the recording is not. Listening to it now, I'm reminded about how much I resented incorporating the challenge of "uncommon percussion" but I really like it now. When I decided to write lyrics from a traveling salesman perspective, the footsteps seemed like a good fit. I put on some dress shoes and marked time on the tile floor in my old house. The poorly played mixing bowl is kind of charming in retrospect and the thumb piano that emerges after the harmonica solo is actually really nice.
I really like the lyrics of this song even if they were mostly "written" by my trusty rhyming dictionary. Words like "onion skin," "hairpin grin," and "adrenaline" just aren't on the tip of my tongue but once I find them I usually know what to do with them. I remember hesitating about the "faith-hope-love" chorus because I thought it may be a bit too closely related to a certain religious faith but then I figured these are pretty good concepts to promote anyway.
frank caravella - lead and backing vocals, guitar, harmonica,
thumb piano, mixing bowl, footsteps on tile