I started writing songs at 17, so as I approached 40, I knew I had to do something with the best of these songs and that became the first album, “Sum of Its Parts”. Some of the lyrics from Half of Harry date back to 6th grade, when I tried to write a poem in a John Lennon style. This collection of songs written over a nearly 30 year period, clearly represented the many artists who influenced my songwriting, and I wanted to pay homage to them by keeping the arrangements and production styles fairly authentic. One reviewer quipped it was “so meta it hurts”. Anyway, The Beatles, The Who, Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Neil Finn..you can guess which songs pay tribute to each. The lead track was so clearly a combination of Fountains of Wayne and Weezer styles, I didn’t bother trying to name it anything else and “Fountains of Weezer” just stuck. When I listen to it now, I realize how much I always wanted to play guitar like Eliot Easton of the Cars.
I was already writing new songs while I was making the first album and seven short years later emerged “It’s About Time”. A prolonged gestation and complicated delivery- life is busy with a family and a day job. This record reminds much more of the music I heard when I was really little in the early 70’s. The indelible influences are still there, perhaps a little less transparently so. But new obsessions were filtering through, especially from brilliant singer songwriters like Mike Viola and Adam Levy (if you have never heard of them, leave this page and go grab one of their records right now!). But Wilco’s ‘Sky Blue Sky” was the sonic starting point for the new record- the warmth of that analog tape and musically so adventurous- Dad Rock my ass! Even newer music, like The Head and the Heart, probably the closest thing to the Band making music today, influenced this production.
I was lucky enough to have the same brilliant musicians join me again for album two. The drum parts were definitely a bit different this time, more of a Glenn Kotche out of the box approach; Greg Trabandt was totally game and nailed what I was asking for. Special thanks to my nephew Nathaniel Coffey, a great young drummer, who helped come up with some of these drum ideas. Jeff Batter is a professor of all things keyboard who can play any style and just brilliantly knows exactly what to play to elevate a song. I was wise enough to have him play practically all the keyboards this time around. Paul Opalach and Andy Abel helped out wonderfully with some parts I felt needed a different approach from what I usually do. Wim Oudijk scored a brilliant and beautiful orchestration for Spinning ‘Round that really elevates the song. Thank you Wim! Jeff Cannata, my producer and engineer, has amazing ears, instincts, and experience, and he always pushes me to play better. My favorite moment with Jeff on this record was when he was working the board and simultaneously manually controlling the wah pedal for my No. 9 Dream style guitar bend on “Saccharin…”. Having my daughter Emma singing with me in the studio was such a pleasure and I couldn’t be happier with the cover art- an original concept designed by my middle daughter, Sofie, who also designed all the Gornpop logos as well. I love album packaging, which gets totally lost in this digital age, and Ioannis did a great job capturing the warmth I was trying to convey in this Steam Punk/Arts & Crafts hodgepodge.
The title “It’s About Time” has its obvious literal meaning, but these songs are really about the passage of time, looking forward and backward. It’s not about mid life crises, but more about mid life observations.
The Ugly Inside:
This song is about the disagreements that can grow into seemingly permanent rifts in relationships. Lots of blaming one another and little introspection going on to allow us to see from the other’s perspective. The potential for misunderstanding gets much worse these days because we rely on written emails and texts to avoid the extra discomfort with direct verbal confrontation. All the emotion gets filtered out, however, and we can pay a dear price. Sometimes things don’t get repaired and we are left with that interminable silence. Musically, its sort of “Too Much” Part Deux.
I’m Your Fan:
One of my favorites and kind of the first single. This song is about being a serious fan (“it’s not a casual thing”). We have to have every unreleased track, the bonus tracks from the Japanese release, the new super remastered edition of the album we have bought five times already. But it’s not enough to just collect; we have to meet the artist and be their friend too! So we go to a meet and greet and stand in line thinking of the perfect thing to say. When we get up there we stammer, mumble, and gush simultaneously and then it’s over. Many years ago I went to meet the Smithereens and brought along my ultra rare copy of their second EP on Little Ricky records for them to sign. They all thought this was pretty cool. I had saved up to buy an identical tuxedo white Rickenbacker 370 that Jim Babjak had used, but they were now using Fenders and Gibsons. My brilliant question, “what happened to the Rickenbackers”? Jim’s response- “I hate that question”. Pat DiNizio was super nice and extended his hand introducing himself, “hi I’m Pat”. My response, “I know”. Needless to say that did not go how I planned it. Fast forward 20 years and I got to meet Chris Squire, one of my childhood heroes. The guy ahead of me in line was doing the impress them with your knowledge of their session work thing with Alan White and I thought, I’m not taking that embarrassing approach. I kept enough distance between us so I wouldn’t be mistakenly associated with him. Everything was cool as I approached Chris Squire at the end of the table. I tried to explain to him how he was such an inspiration to me, but out came a garbled mess of adoration and cryptic references to the time I almost touched his bass backstage at Joe’s Pub. And he just stared at me like I was a lunatic. Actually he looked exhausted, like he would much rather be sleeping back at the hotel room. I wonder if he was already feeling ill. Our musical heroes are actually human beings.
In the Facebook era we can actually “friend” our favorite artists creating an illusion of a real connection. But interestingly this has enabled me to meet and even spend non-virtual time with some wonderful indie artists through events like house concerts. So now it’s not enough to meet your hero, you have to hang out and get them to endorse your own music (i.e. the plea, “please listen to my demo”).
In terms of the music, the layering of the counterpoint melodies and the drumming on the verses was actually inspired by the song “Deeper Down” off Wilco (The Album). This was a blast to sing Beatle style, face to face on one mike, with my daughter Emma, who had great ideas for vocal harmonies on many of the songs.
Saccharin, Aspartame, Splenda, You, & Me:
“Artificial you, artificial we…” A sad song about being disingenuous in our friendships and relationships. But the silly sweetener references lighten it a bit. My kids think the ”true via” (Truvia) line was a bit too much. And soda puns too? Oy. I like the guitar parts though, and especially the wahed bits that I wanted to sound like No. 9 Dream. Nice harmonies by Pete Hodson and Bill Welch.
The OCD song- really. My attempt to write a Honey Pie/Tin Pan Alley style song. Jeff Batter did some wonderful mellotron parts for this one. Andy Abel played the guitar on this one, going for that jazzy sound that we based on Richard Tandy’s lines on Strange Magic.
The title track. Where do we come from, where are we going? Can we escape the destiny of our genetic programming? Will people really understand who we are before we die? Ok maybe it’s a bit pretentious and it’s long. But it has my favorite Hemispheres chord in it…(yes I admit it, I love Rush).
The Great Imitator:
Yes this is about the criticism I received for trying so hard to imitate my heroes on Sum of Its Parts. “He wears his influences on his sleeve, and says I’m proud of it”. But it’s meant to be a parody, with the obvious musical quotations. I do love the circus atmosphere of the choruses and the chance to play balalaika. We found a great chamberlin sound that is essence of the Little Rascals theme. Just adore those tape driven keyboards…I think my favorite part of visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was getting to stand so close to John Lennon’s mellotron.
Thanks I Get:
I was able to rescue the opening riff and chord progression of the choruses from a very old song I wrote in medical school. But the song really shows how much Pete Townshend has affected everything I write and play. So yeah, this could have fit neatly on Sum of Its Parts with its bits of Substitute and Bargain infused here and there. I learned to play bass by playing along with Entwistle night and day, so I used a Hiwatt emulator pedal turned way up to break up on the bridge to try to capture that vibe. It stomped all over Jeff Batter’s incredible one take synthesizer soloing though, so maybe a remix is in the future? Greg Trabandt’s Moony drumming is just perfect too (and always with a Bonham quad riff at the end of the big fills). Lyrically, despite all the complaining about being underappreciated and running out of time, the sentiment is: it’s not too late to enjoy life, so please grow old with me.
Really one of my faves from the record, mostly because Wim Oudijk did this absolutely wonderful string orchestration for it. Jeff and I are thinking about doing an alternate mix that’s just acoustic and strings to feature them more. Wim is brilliant and such a gem of a guy. Please check out his music (https://www.facebook.com/wimoudijk). This song was written about my time with my youngest daughter Ruby, taking long walks with her as an infant and imagining what she was thinking and dreaming about. But it’s also about being a father (again, nine years after my second kid) and worrying about what the future has in store for all of your kids.
My Love Still Grows:
This is a nice little song to end the record. It’s also about being a parent and how your original love for your spouse/partner spreads and grows in many ways when you raise children, despite how hard it is and the strains it places on your relationship. All the gardening metaphors felt genuine to me. I really did plant bulbs upside down one year (duh), and they really did sprout flowers under ground! I love the vocal harmonies on the bridge (thanks again Pete and Bill) and I even got Jeff to sing a little on this one. Paul Opalach’s bass is really sweet and I apologize that he didn’t get credited for this one on the album liner notes.