The Furious Light

The New Album From David Ullman

Graveyard

“It takes a graveyard to raise a child,” said the man with a crooked smile.
It takes a graveyard to raise a child. So rest your bones here, and stay a while
(Stay a while)

Dusk fell early in the afternoon
I guess the gloaming gave way too soon
Now in the lonely light of moon
The nightingale sings siren’s tune
(A siren’s tune)

The steely sun is now fast asleep
Now the night can bare its full-moon teeth
We’re breeding monsters in our dreams
Praying to god our souls to keep
(Our souls will keep)

“It takes a graveyard to raise a child,” said the man with a crooked smile.
It takes a graveyard to raise a child. So rest your bones here, and stay a while
(Stay a while)

Tell St. Peter for to ring his bell
Because there’s no more room in hell
Throw the ghoul-gates open wide
Amongst the bones, all you’ve got is time

No dirty secrets to live down
In the graveyard don’t make a sound
You once were lost, but now you’re found
In a hole six feet underground
(Now you’re found)

“It takes a graveyard to raise a child,” said the man with a crooked smile.
It takes a graveyard to raise a child. So rest your bones here, and stay a while
(Stay a while)

Well beyond the walls of fate
Two shadows lengthen across the gray
One to curse, and one to pray
One to leave, and one to stay
(Do you wanna stay?)

Prior to beginning “Graveyard,” I was successfully writing one song a month during the early months of 2013. It was difficult to flesh out—both lyrically and musically. The title and refrain come from novelist Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.

At this time, I had newly landed a job working at The University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and was averaging a 90-minute morning commute.  

Aside from ‘lots of music and podcasts, I largely passed the drive-time listening to audio books—notably Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (read by Richard Poe) and Stephen King’s The Shining (read by Campbell Scott), as well as Benjamin Percy’s Red Moon and (of course) Gaiman’s Graveyard, both of which are read by the authors’ themselves to great effect. 

Blood Meridian is a brutal western, but it is beautifully performed by Richard Poe. The language is rich and visceral. With few exceptions, I’m pretty sure there are phrases and couplets from McCarthy’s prose woven into the lyrics of every song on The Furious Light.

However, much of the timbre of that text is far too violent to incorporate into most songs. The same can be said of The Shining and Red Moon. I love the intensity of the prose, but the passages I was most drawn to were too dark for anything but a funeral dirge. 

Essentially, I would reach for my pocket-sized notebook every time I heard something that sparked my imagination. Sometimes this would be a word or phrase, verbatim. Other times, one line would get me going on several pages of potential lyrics.

Oddly enough, the most violent and macabre language comes from the Cormac McCarthy text, which is the only non-horror book in the bunch!

The chorus of my "Graveyard" song is based on a jokey, throwaway line in Gaiman’s book wherein one of the characters evokes the African proverb: "It takes a village to raise a child." 

My lyric suggests a loose story—something of a recounting of the Neil Gaiman narrative—minus all subplots, intrigue and levity.

At first all I had was the line, "It takes a graveyard to raise a child," which lodged in my head—melody and all—and stayed there for months. I couldn't even begin to work on other songs. Every line I came up with seemed to stay within the meter of the graveyard song.

In the clip below you'll hear the refrain which stayed stuck in my head for weeks on end.

There are no less than twenty pages of lyrics in my composition book (let alone whatever is in the pocket notebooks in which I initially jotted down ideas and inspirations) devoted to "Graveyard." 

Even the main hook, on which you’d think I’d have handle after three months, haunted me during my drives to-and-from work. Here I am trying to tweak the vocal line early one morning while heading north on 35W: 

Ultimately, I found the key of D to be the best fit for the melody and the mood of the song, and you can see me really start to revel in the chord progression towards the end of this clip.

Once I settled on the key and chords, I really had to get serious about the set of lyrics. This was no easy task...

In the wee-hours of the morning on June 27th, 2013, I finished my first  full draft of “Graveyard.” By light of my laptop computer screen, I finally purged myself of the song that had been preoccupying my subconscious since early April. I believe there was some drool involved at one point, if I remember correctly.

This was the last of the five songs I wrote before beginning to collaborate with my brother Brian on the recording project which would eventually become The Furious Light album. In an email dated 9/8/13, I shared this video demo with him, as well as live clips of “Enough,” “Lately,” “Close To The Bone” and “French New Year.” 

Here's how he remembers reacting to the clip:

PRODUCER'S NOTE: The first demo I received from Dave of this made me feel intimidated. The song was there, it was intense, but it was missing the rise and fall of dynamics. Which at the time, it was just Dave and I. We hadn’t received any commitment from Yost yet. I just knew it was going to be a large undertaking. Thankfully Yost came on board, full boar! And blew this song up! 

At this stage of the project, we were nearly a full year from knowing the extent to which Yost would improve this song. 

The following are excerpted entries from my handwritten recording journal:

1/22/14

Brian had been looking to dig into “Graveyard” since Christmas but had been intimidated by the drum track. Out of nowhere, on Saturday the 18th, he hits me with a “Super-Early Demo” in the Drop Box. It was so cool. I started grinning ear-to-ear within the first 20 seconds. It combines hand-drums with a drum kit and all manner of do D guitar approaches. He even did a scratch vocal for me because he rearranged some of the verses and choruses. There’s still more he wants to do with it, and it is perhaps a little “demo-y,” but I think it sounds so damned good! I’m hoping to get a scratch vocal of my own down here soon.

By the time Brian sent me that demo, I hadn't worked on or played "Graveyard" in over five months. He certainly re-energized my interest in the song, and I quickly sang a vocal of my own for him to add to the mix.

Around this time, Brian was also tweaking mixes to "French New Year" and "Deep Dark Secrets," but I was still haunted by "Graveyard."

(Again from my recording journal):

2/3/2014 (11:10pm)

Yesterday, I woke up with “Graveyard” in my head and laid there a bit while I was waiting for Susie to bring down breakfast. I found myself going over harmonies as I was trying to gather the energy to get up and pee. 

When I got back from the bathroom, I had a Dropbox alert that there was a new mix from BT. He’d laid down a new wha/slide (?) guitar reminiscent of Pearl Jam’s “Red Mosquito” and mixed in my home vocal. The result was pretty cool.

B also added some harmonies—nearly note-for-note (though often better) what I’d woke up with in my head. Nutty…

 

2/10/2014 (7:05pm)

Over the weekend, B hit me with a new mix of “Graveyard” with a more structured “Red Mosquito” part and a dual ebow addition. 

He called me up and gleefully recounted the process of recording the ebow track on the violin-body guitar, running through the 3-inch Marshall amp—through a ribbon microphone! Then, he tried duplicating the track and running it backwards simultaneously. The result is very cool—and suitably strange and eerie.

B told me that “Graveyard” is the song that’s most compelling people at the moment. Perhaps because of the opening line. Evidently, Dad is frustrated by the lack of resolution in the lyrics and even submitted the line: chains that bind the heart through years.

I explained to Brian the literary inspiration of the song and how, for me, the whole thing is an invitation to stay (living) among the bones. Just writing that line had me running upstairs for my lyric notebooks. Even though there’s months already tied up in this set of words, I’m now determined to work in my dad’s line and make a more satisfying—though still mysterious— narrative.

3/31/14

Yesterday, we got back from our trip to Ohio, during which I spent a couple of days recording in Rittman. 

On Thursday, the 27th, Susie dropped me off so she could have the car for the day. Brian and I pretty quickly got to work; and, before I left to meet Susie, Lou and Dale for dinner in Medina, we had vocals for “Lately,” “Graveyard,” and a new bridge for “Bad Country Song.” The goal seemed often to “under-sing” and try not to think too much about it. I haven’t heard anything since we laid it down, but I hope we succeeded. 

We called it quits at 12:30am; but, after watching the Classic Albums episode of Peter Gabriel’s SO, we did a low vocal harmony to “Graveyard” around 4am. Brian was inspired by the “pre-coffee” morning-voice technique Daniel Lanois employed to get at Peter Gabriel’s low range in “Mercy Street.” We recorded by the light of the computer monitor after having a few drinks and talking shop with Dad, who was in really good spirits—excited about our collaboration and the “Graveyard” lyric. He was likening it to the lyricism and creepiness of Edgar Allen Poe. It was a fun, albeit late, night.

We made the most of what time we had together, and certainly made some memories. The 4am vocal take was a stand out. Daniel Lanois says in the SO doc, “If you’re making a nighttime song, you should record it at night.” Mission accomplished. 

From here, we jump ahead more than six months to Northfield, Minnesota where my man Brian Yost was taking apart the borrowed kit we'd secured to do several different passes on the "Graveyard" percussion. 

Brian Yost rocking the Glyn Johns method preparing to track drums in my basement. It's gonna be a great day...

A photo posted by David Ullman (@davidullman) on

11/15/14

An awful lot has happened in the last couple of days. Much recording, much playing, much drinking and laughs. On the first day of recording, Yost rocked “French New Year,” “Almost There,” “Deep Dark Secrets,” and “Graveyard.” —Oh! And “Lately!”

He’s been really loving the 1960s Champagne Sparkle drum set Joe Hinz lent us. So, so fortunate that worked out the way it did.

One of the fun alterations made was for “Graveyard,” wherein Yost (who did 4 drum passes) swapped the regular hi hats for a 20-inch ride and 20-inch crash cymbals for a deeper sound! By that time, it was late, and we were recording by Christmas lights.

"What do you know about 20 inch hi hats." - Brian Yost via Instagram on Nov. 14th, 2014

"What do you know about 20 inch hi hats." - Brian Yost via Instagram on Nov. 14th, 2014

With four, multi-track percussion passes, you can imagine this song was a nightmare to mix. I suppose that's appropriate, given the title and content. Both Brians really knocked it out of the park. Yost even recorded some Didgeridoo in his Brooklyn apartment to add to the dark and ominous atmosphere.  

12/29/14 @ 12:37pm

On Tuesday, the 23rd, one-year-and-two-days after my first Ohio session for this album, I went to Rittman for a day’s work mixing and tracking acoustic guitars. B and I went through his Yost-Drum-Infused mixes of “Furious Light,” “French New Year,” “Deep Dark Secrets,” “Lately,” “Enough,” “Maytime” (no drums) and a bit of (the monster) “Graveyard.” 

Because “Graveyard” had so very many tracks (evidently it has 4 kick drums alone), B didn’t have time to really dig into it with me. Instead, he randomly solo-ed a group of things at the beginning of the song (didge, bass, backwards ebows, etc) that sounded to me like a really well-orchestrated extended opening—just the one we’d been craving but thought we’d have to specially compose! 

Yost and I dug the instrumental overture Brian worked up so much, we ended up playing it via a backing-track on the tour in August.