Last Cigarette

I was watching a Ryan Reynolds movie on my laptop late one night, in bed, in a cold basement apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Ryan Reynolds’ character quits smoking in this movie as a minor plot point. I watched half of the movie and went to sleep with the story arc unfinished and all half-baked in my mind. All the tension of an unresolved plot went to work for my subconscious and I woke up in the morning with this song. 

It’s the people we know are bad choices that are the hardest to resist. This song is about self-indulgence and “well, okay one more…” It depicts the self-kidding typical of the path to abstinence. The thing is, for me personally, this song applies to my relationship to girls, not to my actual relationship to smoking. I’ve smoked casually and socially since age 13, I’ve never had any difficulty quitting, I’ve never smoked so much that I needed to quit. I’ve probably had one cigarette in the past 2 months, without even trying to not smoke. I just don’t have that experience with nicotine. But I do with girls. So the song is more of a metaphor than it might seem.

The Mess She Made

This is a portrait of a drunk and heartbroken friend. The first line just tumbled out and the rest of the song followed in one of those easy-mode writing sessions. I wrote some of this in my sister’s old bedroom, including the guitar solo bit. The thing is, when I was 12, I would practice electric guitar down the hall late at night, plugging headphones into the amplifier. You know how quiet an electric guitar is unamplified? It’s very quiet, and that is what my sister heard from down the hall, and she would get out of bed, come knock on my door and ask me to be quieter so she could sleep. Quite a frustrating experience for 12-year-old me, who was already frustrated about sucking at guitar. So recording actual guitar tracks in my sister’s rooms is a vindication of sorts. The repetition of words (e.g., “water water” and “drizzle drizzle”) is something I copied from songwriter and friend Mike Grubbs (Wakey!Wakey!). I wrote and recorded some of the bridge guitars while on tour in London, and I re-wrote the chorus six different times; an extreme exercise in re-writing for me. I decided this chorus was the best. This is one of my favorite songs on the record because I like the first line and I like the chorus. 

I remember learning to drinking three tall glasses of water before going to bed after a night of recreational drinking. You’re really not thirsty at 4 a.m., but you have to down the water anyway to prevent the hangover. Once you go to sleep it’s too late. 

Lover

Originally titled “Nothing To Do With Me”, but that didn’t roll off the tongue, did it?  This is one of three songs built on riffs generated during album two writing sessions in 2012 in Asheville, NC. I deemed all three riffs (this one, “Time Machine”, and “Rated R”) “too rock” for the album I was working on at the time. This is the only song on the new record written and played on my four-string guitar. It’s a blues chord progression, but without the V (five). The drip sound I made with my mouth and sampled. I was inspired to include that sound after browsing through the pop music charts from the 1960s. A fair number of hit songs from back then used odd timbres and SFX as a way to grab the listener’s ear. “The Leader of the Pack” is a good example. There are a few occurrences of bizarre toy organ sounds that must have really stuck out to people at the time and given the song an instant recognizability, which is what you need to become a hit. So I was studying these SFX ploys and inspired by how they could catch the ear. It took me a million years to finally get the pre-chorus and bridge lyrics right.

I have such a hard time with romance, like most of us. I’m all fired up about people who aren’t jazzed about me or I’m bored with the one I’ve got. The thing is, I always experience this problem as being the other person’s fault. They’re boring. They’re self-centered. Or they’re too into me. But if you think about it, it doesn’t say much for me. It’s actually me. I’m the constant in all these relationships. I’m the problem. But what can I even do about it, though? I am what I am. I am this problem. That’s kind of what this song is about. 

Time Machine

This is a song for an ex-band member. Straight up. I wish he would return my calls. I think I am a good person that he would enjoy having in his life again some day. But I really upset him when I pushed him towards starting his own band before he felt 100% ready to leave Darwin Deez. I needed a break from him and he needed to move on soon anyway. That decision was one of the hardest ones of my life and handling the collapse of that friendship was probably my biggest frustration in 2014. 

A time machine is a bit of a cliché conceit if you use it to go back in time, but not so cliche if you use it to go forward. All of my songs are conceit-based songs which sort of goes back to the first time I heard The Dismemberment Plan on college radio in Chapel Hill, NC. “Time Bomb” came on with its strong first line and copious negative space. That’s basically where I get my songwriting approach from. Using lyrical what-ifs to explore dramatic emotional scenarios.

Bag of Tricks

Another song for an ex-band member, inspired by falling out of touch with him as his new band became successful. This song was the culmination of my attempting to write bassline songs, rather than guitar riff-based songs, and I like it. The track is inspired by Kelis (ft. Andre 3000)' “Millionaire” as I have loved and revered that song for a long time and here I decided to go for broke: the sad uptempo.

Rated R

Just a simple rock rush. The feeling of a crush. Inspired by the brutal simplicity of Paramore’s “All I Wanted.”  One of my favorite bridges on the album. My first job was at a movie theatre. 

Melange Mining Co.

This is a song inspired by the game Android: Netrunner which is like a cyberpunk Magic: The Gathering that I’ve become obsessed with lately. In the game, Melange Mining Corp is a place on the moon where Helium-3 is excavated. Shout outs built into this song are to my cousin who lives with her family in Houston, and to Mash Deez’s (bass) great uncle who wrote “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” I also danced to that song for a tap recital when I was around 10. The word “silicon” I stole from my Asheville songwriter friend Angi West who used it to great effect in a song about star stuff. The song is about long distance relationships. Spoiler: they suck.

Kill Your Attitude

I love to fight. To argue. I fought a lot with my mother growing up. Consequentially, it doesn’t feel like love to me if there isn’t fighting. 

I sat down in my apartment one day and tried to write a song from scratch and this came out.  I like to start writing songs by starting from the beginning, with the first line. In Nashville, I think the plan is usually to find a turn of phrase that can be used in the chorus and/or as the title and write from that.  To me, it’s more organic to just open my mouth and begin to sing what could be a song and see what follows from that. 

The pre-chorus lyrics took forever to get right. The chords and melodies and verse words were no problem. The song is inspired by '70s power-pop like Squeeze and The Knack, whose deep cuts I found thoroughly disappointing. I tried to make my own Squeeze deep cut here, to make up for the disappointment of buying a Squeeze CD in 2013.

The Other Side

Another successful bassline song. Like “The City” this is also a Dismemberment Plan song title. A song about hanging around near the ceiling fan, looking down on your body on the operating table.  I’ve never had an out-of-body experience, but it makes a decent conceit. 

This song features a chord - the Beatles chord, we’ll call it - that I have refrained from using for two whole albums because of its potency. It’s a very sad chord. We call it the minor four (IV). It’s the chord from “In My Life.” Although the neat thing about chords is that the sound of a chord is completely determined by the chord which comes before it. So in the case of the IV chord being used in “In My Life”… well, nevermind…

Right When It Rains

I hate rain actually. I swear it’s like I never had waterproof shoes until this year of my life. But I remember my sister going out and flailing around and washing her hair one time, in a big rain storm, for fun. It is fun to just let yourself get soaked. Being partially wet is much less fun. I’m very sensitive to the sun.  I need sunlight big time, so I don’t like rain. When the sun returns in the spring, I am almost emotionally resentful towards it for being gone all winter and I don’t immediately go back to soaking it up as much as I can.

During this album cycle I studied and learned to appreciate some of what Pat Pattison has to say about writing lyrics. While studying his stuff, I found some good stuff to steal in one of his student’s songs. I came up with the pre-chorus and the chorus and sent it to my friend Dan Asselin and he generated the verse. I never co-write. I’m too much into my own ideas for everything. But Dan is great with images and sentiments. It was a rare fit.

This song again uses the Beatles chord, but with less reverence. The result is arguably cheesy. The difference between using the IV chord with care and discretion and without, is the difference between The Beatles and Electric Light Orchestra. One is timeless and bulletproof and the other is cheesy, disposable pop.

The Missing I Wanna Do

Fun fact: the first song I ever wrote was called “Missing.” That was when I was 11 I guess. So this is nearly 20 years of songwriting, folks. It never gets old and you never get better. Just kidding. I’ve gotten a lot better since then. 

This song is inspired by my fear of commitment... er, fear of enmeshment really. It’s a very direct and literal chorus. The verse recounts a night picnic that never was. The song was originally about archaeology, but I re-wrote the verses to be about stargazing. I couldn’t get “the dig” to come to life. 

I can’t tell if having music as my “first love” makes me a different animal in romantic relationships than I would otherwise be.  I need space: space to be, space in which my creativity feels welcome to come hang out. But isn’t that just a typical male thing, needing space? Will I ever be present enough to satisfy a woman emotionally? Or will I always be preoccupied and consumed with making music first and foremost and will the good ones never tolerate it? All I know is what I want. 

Double Down is released today via Lucky Number. You can catch Darwin Deez on their European tour beginning 11 October.