Track five from Inchoatery – straight up drunken wallowing.
I got a little tenor ukulele a while back, as a gift from my mother-in-law, and it spends most of its time sitting on the left-hand side of the desk in my home office, where I can grab it and strum and fret absent-mindedly while I read the internet.
This song started out as an absent-minded minded strum; the two-chord figure in the verse is absurdly simple, just an open strum on the ukulele (which in standard tuning yields a cheerful little D6 chord) followed by fretting the first and third strings at the second fret (which produces an E7 chord with no root and a double fifth). It had such a nice airy feel to it that I just ran with it.
By the time I sat down to record the early sketch demo, you can hear that I’d made things more complicated, strumming fairly rapidly and improvising a fairly complicated melody in the verse and chorus (and toying a bit with a Thom Yorke-ish bit of falsetto in the chorus bit, wisely I think abandoned for the album).
The proper demo is much more laid back, and the little three-note ascending thing in the chorus (“All a-lone..”) makes its appearance as well. All in all I think the demo nailed not only the structure but the sound of the song, unlike most of the album’s demos — recording the final track was more an issue of getting cleaner, more careful recordings of everything (and getting proper lyrics into place) than anything, here.
This is the only track on the album that features brushwork on the drums, something I’ve only recently started experimenting with after mostly using sticks for the first few months of drumming. It’s fun stuff, and I enjoyed trying to intentionally break away from any straight plodding rhythm, but I’ve got miles to go at getting my laid back jazzy chops polished up.
The vibrophone sound on this track is one of the internal sound banks on my Roland electric piano; I spend most of my piano time using the default grand sound (and, really, my biggest priority in picking out a piano was to have it be able to work like a plain old piano indeed, with the rest of the features beyond that basic sound-and-feel stuff dressing), and the vibe stuff was a happy accidental while goofing around with the demo stuff on the 7th. I think it fits the track well, and as something that doesn’t appear elsewhere on the album it helps this track stand out in a nice subtle way.
I originally was using straight doubled vocals for the melody on the album cut of this, but I didn’t think they sounded particularly interesting; there’s some chorus and echo on what I ended up with that I think gives it some additional spaciness and texture that helped a bit with the overall detached, soused feel.
The outro was the main problem that needed solving for the final track. The demo ends with a switch to 5/4 and a steady vamp, which works well enough on its own, but!
But I knew I wanted Drunk Again to fade over into the next track, Stumble, but Drunk again is in 4/4 at about 130 bpm or so and Stumble is in 5/4 at about 190 bpm. The solution I settled on was to have Drunk Again switch into 5/4 and then vamp on the chord structure of the verse part of Stumble while doing a steady acceleration of the tempo.
That worked better in theory than in practice, but after a lot of frustrating takes and some fix-it-in-post work to repair some of the worst tempo failures (mostly on the drums) during the acceleration portion, I feel like I got it good enough to use on the album. If that had failed miserably, I would have just started a fade much earlier in the outro of this song instead.
Just figuring out how to manage the tempo shift was an adventure; I’d never futzed with that sort of thing with a click track before, but I knew the instrumentation (especially with drums) would be complicated enough that just trying to wing it would be a mushy disaster.
And so that’s how I met Garageband’s Master Track tempo envelope. It’s not hard at all to just change the tempo of the metronome that Garageband generates — you just create some inflection points on the tempo track and drag ’em around accordingly — but there’s a feedback problem here, where recordings made against that metronome are then, themselves, accelerated further on playback because of the tempo shift being in the project itself. Whether this is bad UI/workflow design on Garageband’s part or just bad comprehension on mine, I don’t know.
I solved the problem by enabling the tempo variation on the master track, recording the metronome itself as a separate click track (by just letting my Macbook Air’s internal mic pick up the internal speaker’s output of the metronome1), sticking that in place in the track, and then disabling the master tempo shift again and recording all the accelerando stuff against that pre-generated click track. Good enough!
1 Metronomes! Garageband is a weird little bastard of a DAW; it does a lot of basic things very nicely and very well, but it also neutered and inflexible in other surprisingly basic areas. One of these deficiencies is the metronome function: you have the choice of on or off. That’s it. No controlling the level or the sound of the metronome; no fine-tuning the emphasis of the clicks, beyond the “louder on the downbeat than the rest of the time” rendering of the time signature.
I have been considering laying out the cash for Logic for a while now, and bizarre as it is the metronome issue is one of the itchy little factors that will probably push me over the edge eventually, foolish as that is.