French New Year
It’s time to cast the stone
To ring the martyrs’ bell
To take the long way home
Be it to heaven or to hell
It’s time to lift the veil
Time to break the vow
This time we will not fail
This time, we scorch the ground
We will burn our cars on the French New Year
Set fire to our pasts and all our fears
All we’ve got is blood and time; this all disappears
But I’ll be by your side when the smoke has cleared
This life, it comes at a cost
With enough blame to go around
But we ain’t come to carry the cross
We’ve come to cut it down
And we will not accept defeat
So let the walls fall down on me
Because as long as I’ve breath to breathe
You’ll hear me singing
After having written three ballads in a row, I was very ready to write something more aggressive and upbeat.
The same Smithsonian magazine that lent me the inspiration for “Lately” also contained either a line or an article about people burning their cars on New Year’s Eve in France. I have not been able to find the mention since—or even much clarification as to why French folks were doing this—but I really seized on the rebellious notion of new-beginnings, forged in flames.
I first wrote the lines “We will burn our cars on the French New Year / Set fire to our pasts and all our fears” and wanted to build a song around them big enough to support that kind of passionate resolve.
Musically, I was inspired by the Gaslight Anthem song, “Handwritten” and the tough-as-rusty-nails singing of Chuck Ragan. I’m pretty sure I even charted out the chord-scale sequence of “Handwritten” to better understand how such an anthemic song could be structured.
In the video clip below, recorded quietly while my wife and beagle napped, you can see me working out the chords to accompany and surround those key lines.
Another way in which I would use these video recording is for mapping out the timing and length of the verses and choruses prior to writing the full set of lyrics. This practice helped me sort out just how many couplets I needed here or there, which often posed some difficult decisions in the editing stage.
Looking back to find this clip, I noticed I'd actually used the YouTube comment feature to make a compositional suggestion to myself: "Maybe for the bridge, do Em/F#m/Bm/A."
Although, when cross-referenced with my lyric notebook, it looks as though I changed my mind about a week later:
This was the last song I actually finished writing before taking my (then) current album, Light The Dark, out on tour. It was the only one of the new tunes I tried out live (beyond MN open mics); and, boy am I glad I did. My brother Brian was so taken with the song, it led to him producing the whole Furious Light album to follow.
PRODUCER’S NOTE: This song the struck me immediately. I was watching him play it live for the first time and had to stop my conversation. I loved it. I felt something there. It convinced me to sell myself in recording, if not just this song, the entire album. I was all about the “hey!”s. Which I almost missed in the live recordings, due to him leaving the mic area to yell at people.
This is the performance to which Brian's referring:
That fall, Brian worked up a full-band arrangement of the song. He sent me all of the music, and I sang a rough vocal in my home-office. The resulting demo was the first of 10, which would ultimately become The Furious Light record.
The following are excerpted entries from my handwritten recording journal:
In the five years since we finished DOG DAYS, Brian has amassed quite a lot of software plugins, hardware elements, and what seems live every major model of guitar. All of that aside, he’s making great sounding recordings. And for all of the people I had telling me what I should sound like on LTD, Brian is the only guy who actually comes through. He shows me, always putting his money-nay-TIME where folks’ mouths usually are.
To retrace these last few months a bit… B sent me his first crack @ the instrumentation to “French New Year" on 12/7, w/quick revisions coming based on my feedback. I sang a quick, one-take vocal running the Blue Bird Mic into the H4N from work (meaning much sync-work had to be done after the fact).
We built in a couple of days into our Holiday visit to Ohio [to record]…
Hungover-edness aside, after sleeping into the evening, B & I recorded the vocal for “French New Year” we’ve kept thus far. I even had some ideas on the spot, which made it feel even more productive.
Going out to move my car, I suddenly though of waiting a beat before singing the word “cleared” going into the bridge. This ended up adding a reoccurring harmony during the latter half of the song—not to mention helping differentiate the moment before the bridge.
For this vocal, we tried setting up both the Shure SM7B and the Octava k47 Large Diaphragm Condenser (Michael Joly Mod) behind it. B ended up using mostly the Octava k47 in the mix we’re running with now.
I remember, we also watched the documentary SOUND CITY before starting work that evening, which was inspiring.
Now... We jump ahead about 10 months, the goings-ons of which will be covered in the remaining song-blogs…
11/13/14 @ 5pm
As I write this, Yost is tracking drums—in my basement—in Northfield, MN!! We connected via text about three weeks ago, had a long Skype talk, and boom… He’s here doing his 5th take of “French New Year.”
Of course, we always knew we wanted to involve him in the record. It was just unclear how it would work out to do so, given that he lives in NYC, I live in MN, and BT [my brother Brian] lives in Ohio. As it turned out, he flew himself to MN to track drums for the whole album!
I suppose that’s as good a place as any to leave-off. Yost playing on the whole record was truly a game-changer. Once we got to “French New Year,” I knew Brian and I were working on a rock album; and, for a rock album, you really need a rockin’ drummer.
If you and I are Facebook Friends, you can have a look at Yost's recollections of his sessions here.
Next week, we’ll dig into one of the tunes on which he had the greatest impact…