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Song Talkings #1: “Ununiversalizable Us”

Welcome to a new feature here on the The Very Most blog, eloquently titled “Song Talkings.” The idea behind Song Talkings is, oddly enough, me talking about just one song in the TVM catalog: how I wrote the music, what inspired the lyrics, how the recording process went, any interesting happenings surrounding the song. You get the idea.

The first installment of Song Talkings is about the title track from our new EP Ununiversalizable Us. It started life as a “custom song,” which was a promotion we did in 2008 where if you bought our album Congratulations Forever, I would record a song about whatever you wanted. The original was about a woman in Seattle who was expecting a child and remembering back on her life as an “Indie Rock Queen.” So, up until nearly the end of the recording process, the working title for this song was “Indie Rock Queen.” When I was writing this song, I remember making a conscious effort to use more chords than I was used to using, and it was this effort that led to the song’s descending chord structure, which I’m pretty pleased with.

The solo at the beginning of the song is a combination of two synth parts. I got the repeating, almost mandolin-y effect using an extreme tremolo effect sync’d to the tempo of the song. The flute was originally a female backing vocal, but that didn’t quite sound right. I’m really glad I went with a flute in the end, beautifully played by my daughter’s piano teacher Carly Pannell. Jake’s drums in this song are so impressive. He came in, with no real practice (as is his wont) and nailed the part (as is also his wont). I love the fills on the bell of the ride cymbal during the choruses. The smooth-as-silk female vocals were done by Christina Boyd-Eisenhauer. The bass part was written and played originally by Brion Rushton, our bass player for the last six months, but I ended up recreating his part on a synth, combining sounds from my Alesis Micron and a soft synth. I love the part itself, melodic and with a rhythm that drove almost everything that came after (the drums and the high guitar leads at the end), but it sounded better as a synth part for some reason. Brion deserves all the credit for the part itself, though.

The lyrics, in typical The Very Most fashion, were written as late in the process as possible. The song starts out discussing the idea of being forced to honestly communicate to address a problem, and the idea that coasting along and/or letting a problem or an attitude go unchallenged is a missed opportunity for personal development. “I have to say something I need to get off my chest. / I gotta do something that makes me feel weird.” The lines that follow deal with challenging inertia within yourself, an inertia that often comes from wanting to protect yourself from awkward situations or hurt feelings. “My brain is constantly looking for a way out. / It thinks it’s looking out for me.” The second verse deals with the fact that we are all better off for not being exactly the same, that, unlike moral actions, people cannot be universalized (a la Kant). I know this verse makes it sound like “Ununiversalizable Us” is an attempt to make some profound, philosophical point, but really, it isn’t. I just needed some lyrics and the concepts presented in this song aren’t completely stupid. Once a lyric passes the “not stupid” threshold, I run with it.

So this concludes the first installment of Song Talkings. Just a reminder that this song is the title track off of our new EP, available this Thursday, November 15 from the superb Little Treasure label of Seville, Spain. To pick up a copy, go to littletreasure.es. It will also soon be on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc. Tomorrow, I talk about our cover of Bobby Fuller Four’s “Let Her Dance,” the last track on our new EP.

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