The Furious Light

The New Album From David Ullman

Maytime

The sun’s hanging low in the west
The new moon has shaken off its crest
The masthead stands empty against the sky

Been keeping the world at bay
Just another lonely castaway
Having one more, trying to hold on to the night

Found some friends to get me through
Looking for the lie that best tells the truth
Felt like the world stopped spinning for a time

May time bind us tight

We used to sing by firelight
Where the earth drained up into the sky
Sharing songs and secrets with the night

Now we’re all so far apart
Some through distance, and some at heart
As the past and present collide

May time bind us tight

You see, Pumps moved South, and Kramms went West
Bauman joined The Church, but Twinkie left
Katie’s a sailor now—both she and Starr got kids
Nick’s up next, but Larry split
Chimney’s getting re-married soon
And then there’s me and you

Still doing what I’ve always done
Always hanging on for far too long
Trying to fit my whole life into a song

The sky is closing down
As the waters widen between us now
I’m sorry; but I gotta be homeward bound

Some friendships have no end
They go out with the tide and come back again
With no parting words or backward glance

May time bind us tight

“Maytime” is a title I had written first written down about five years ago. It came from a chapter title (“The Maytime Witch”) in The Swell Season by Josef Škvorecký. I had often thought it would be a romantic love song, but it turned out to be a platonic one.

I knew friendship was one of the central themes on the album, and I’d always wanted to write a song about my friends using their nicknames (à la Springsteen or Hamell on Trial). 

It’s a fitting coincidence, then, that the musical germ of the song was inspired by a Springsteen performance. On July 5th, 2013, I was checking out a video on YouTube of The Boss’s 2005 stop in Rome. He was playing solo acoustic in support of his (then current) album, Devils & Dust

One of the songs (I can’t remember which), inspired me to sit down and noodle around on the guitar in search of a similar effect.

I was (and remain) very fond of this progression and vocal refrain. I always figured I’d re-work it into one line of a chorus, but I never liked anything so much as the simple repeat of “may time bind us tight.” 

Later, once [brother] Brian and I were purposefully working towards completing an album, I returned to the idea and began further developing it into a finished song. 

The lyrics were hard to write, particularly because I wanted them to say so much. At one point, I created an edited video loop of the guitar parts I captured on 2/20 so I could try out different lyric ideas in situations where I didn't have access to an instrument. 

Here's a transcription from my handwritten recording diary from about a month later:

3/19/14 11:35pm

I managed to make a breakthrough on “Maytime” during my lunch break. It had been all I could do to get a Google Doc going with the possible applicable lines from my notebooks… I’d been reading over and organizing them while listening to loops of the iPad video of the 3 different sections (vs, chorus, and bridge) for a few days; and, suddenly, something started to work!

Looping these chord progressions in a video program actually helped out quite a lot. The very pitchy audio post below is me badly singing over an edited video arrangement of the 2/20 recording. Having edited the iPad video in Premiere Pro to structure the song, I recorded the live “vocals” in a very primitive iPhone, voice-memo “overdub” to work on the lyrics.

I was getting somewhere, but there was still work to be done in finding the right words...

As is often the case for me, songs marinate for a long time in my subconscious and eventually come to fruition when I can’t get them out of my own head. Then, I’ll set aside a day where my only task is to finish the damn thing. For “Maytime,” this was a 14-hour day in late October, 2014.

I’m typing this now one-year-to-the-day from when I made it my mission to finish “Maytime.” Looking back, it’s remarkable how much of that afternoon informed the framework of the finished lyrics. 

The following day, I made a few tweaks and captured what I’d come up with…

… and about a week later, I recorded a proper demo, using the Fast Track Solo recording interface Brian had sent me. 

Recording “Maytime” Demo (11-2-2014) Northfield, MN

At this point, we’d already tracked the rest of the album. Shortly after recording the demo, Yost came to Northfield and recorded drums for the other songs but said he didn’t hear anything for “Maytime.”

Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, Susie and I drove back to Ohio to visit family and so I could record this one last song for the project. 

(From the recording journal):

The main goal was to get “Maytime.” To my surprise, Brian wanted me to do it as a single voice-and-guitar take. This would have been easier for any other song, as I’d barely written this one, let alone played it much. I’m really glad we did it live, though.

Of course, it took me 30 takes to get a keeper. After 28, we took a longer break and tried a couple passes (well, only 1 full one) at “Close To The Bone’ using the same method. This got my energy and confidence up, allowing “Maytime” to flow more freely.

There’s one “bum” guitar note, and I accidentally sang “Palmer” instead of “Chimney” in the bridge; but, otherwise, it came out really good. The one good thing about the other 29 takes was that I had a lot of time to practice the guitar part.

B sent me a mix late last night, and once I hit the quieter part of my commute this morning, I listened on repeat ‘till I got to work. I was so surprised and pleased by how much I liked it. I feared I’d only remember the struggle and second-guess what we captured. I was very glad to be wrong.