From the recording Myra Says
Myra Says – I have known and loved Myra since High School. She is kind, stunningly beautiful, disarming and quite possibly the least pretentious person I ‘ve ever met. She is also, on occasion, compulsively outrageous and completely lacking in a social filter. But I’ll save my marginally sordid stories about her for my live shows. I think this song tells you the essence of what you need to know about her.
So let’s talk about recording this track. I have been performing this song live for quite some time now. When you spend that much time with a song, even if you haven’t recorded it, you get a pretty solid idea of what you want to do when it comes time to hit the red button.
But here’s the thing. At the start of this entire record I made two rules for myself.
1. The song comes first, always. Set aside your ego and all preconceived notions and serve the song at every turn.
2. Expect the same of any musician you bring in, but also trust them to know their craft.
After all, if you don’t trust the people you are collaborating with, why the hell are they in the room with you?
That said, you always go in with a plan of attack, an idea for composition and a concept of where things should go. Like many of my songs, this song has no traditional chorus. At least not as far as chord structure goes. In that respect, it’s exactly the same front to back for over five minutes. So it relies completely on dynamics to shift the mood and energy to drive you through the song.
Myra is married to a genuine rock star. His name is Simon, and he’s the bassist for The Verve. He has also played guitar with The Gorillaz among many other accomplishments. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know him a bit, and I thought, since I wrote this song about his wife, it would be a cool surprise for Myra to have him play bass on it. Now I don’t mention Simon’s credentials to name-drop or brag about having him on my record. I mention it, because honestly, even though we are friends, it was a bit intimidating to ask a musician of his caliber to collaborate with me. I am not one to be star-struck and could give two shits about how famous someone is. But when it came to recording my first record alongside a multi-platinum selling artist, I don’t mind saying I was a little insecure in sending him the tracks. And then there was the flip side. What if I didn’t like what he laid down? How was I going to handle that? “Hey Si, I appreciate you lending a hand, but in the end, your shit didn’t make the cut”. That wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have.But rule number 1: The song comes first. Set aside your ego, which often is just the other side of the coin of insecurity.
So I sent him the song. This was an entirely long-distance collaboration, because Simon lives in the UK. Mostly, we communicated via text and email. When I sent him the file, I explained the importance of dynamics, and how I thought the bass would be the driving force behind this. But I gave him very little direction as to how to go about achieving that goal (Rule number 2: Trust who you are working with). I said I wasn’t sure I needed any bass during the verses, since I already had cello holding down the low end, but the “chorus” section needed the bass to create a dynamic shift in the song. He spent a fair amount of time with it, was quite complimentary about my songwriting, and finally sent back his contribution. He said he added bass to the verses, because he was feeling it, but I should feel free to remove it if I didn’t like it. So with a little trepidation, I hit play. I was immediately taken with the work he did during the verses. It was tasteful, compelling and creative, yet not intrusive. Most importantly, it really added a new level of depth to the song. In short, I was stoked. Then the chorus hit. “What’s this?!” I thought immediately.
“CRAP!”, I thought, as all my worst fears were being realized.
In the spirit of Myra and her unabashed honesty, I will admit that I outright hated it. I had always imagined a fairly hard-driving bass line. Maybe some distortion, or something to make it ROCK during those sections. But this was some variant of a country walking bass-line. It was kind of poppy and upbeat, but not as, I don’t know…HARD as I had envisioned. I tried to re-adjust my expectations. Serve the song. Trust who you are working with. But this was SO different, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. I played it for Alison. She didn’t get why I was so freaked out. “Honestly, I don’t think it changes it that much”.
“SERIOUSLY? How can you not HEAR that! It’s all wrong!!”
The next morning, I went to the studio to share and discuss it with my producer. Like me, Christopher was flummoxed by what he heard. We had both seen the song the same way right from the start, so I assumed Simon would too. We talked about it a bit, and I shared my earlier fears about how to approach this with Simon. Christopher tried a few studio tricks to “mitigate” the bass and add what we were looking for. Nothing worked. I knew in my heart if I asked Simon, he would have understood and given me a different approach. But my mind told me I was an idiot to challenge the man. He was Myra’s husband. He was a rock star. As I write this now, I realize what a moron I was being, but in the moment, all I could think was “Who am I to question such a distinguished musician?”
Well, I was the songwriter, that’s who. Rule 1. Serve the song. Check your ego. Rule 2. This went for others who stepped into my world as well. And I didn’t think this was serving the song.
So I took a chicken-shit approach. I called on a man whom had known Myra longer than any of us. Finn and I had played music together since my first real band. The first time I set foot on stage, Finn was by my side, playing bass. He was the only person I knew that I could justify playing over Simon’s parts. I would keep the verses, and have Finn come in and punch up the chorus the way I originally envisioned. Once the song was done, I’d worry about how to approach Si about it. Maybe bamboozle him and Myra about including her three favorite men on the record. So I called Finn, and explained the impossible situation I was going to put him in. He was understandably reluctant. It was kind of dickish for me to put this on him, and I knew it. But Finn and I have been through hell and back together, so I counted on the fact that he could deny me nothing. So against his own personal interest, he dropped everything he was doing, and drove over an hour up to Escondido to help me out. When he got there, I explained exactly what I wanted. He agreed to do it, but asked to hear Simon’s part first. We played him the verse, so he would know what to work from, and then stopped the song at the chorus.
“No, I want to hear the song all the way through”.
Christopher and I hesitated, but reluctantly played it through while we all sat silently.
At the end of the song, I cried out, “See what I mean?”
Finn’s response was unexpected.
“No, I don’t. Honestly, it’s perfect”.
“What are you talking about! You KNOW this song.” I insisted.
“Play it again”, is all Finn said in response. So we did. At the end of the song, it was Finn’s turn to get passionate.
“Look, Andrew, I’ll play whatever you want. But I honestly love it. I think it’s absolutely perfect. The man knows his wife. You’ve written a great song about her, but Simon has captured her essence with this. The song IS Myra. It’s sad and reflective, then it’s upbeat and happy. It pushes and pulls between the two extremes. It captures her mania and her sorrow - everything she’s been struggling to find balance with since her parents died. Do you want a five minute dirge or do you want something that moves between everything that Myra truly is? ”
Well fuck. This stopped me in my tracks. I’d never looked at the song like that before. But it sounded right.
“Play it again”, Finn insisted.
This time, when the chorus hit, Christopher’s head began to bob a bit in his signature Hoffee Hop. We both opened up our minds, stopped listening for what we expected, and started listening to what was in front of us.
“I wouldn’t touch it”, Finn concluded.
If you don't trust the people in the room with you, why the hell are they there?
So we played it again. And again. And everytime we played it, we understood it a little bit more. Until we were wholly convinced. “Well shit,” Christopher said, “if we are going to do this, let’s do it all the way”. Inspired, Christopher laid down some Nashville vocal harmonies. As the song came together, I not only got it, I began to love it. Once I let go of what I thought the song should be, and let the song be what it was, I was able to appreciate it for all of its beauty.
Songs are like children that way. We give birth to them, and we nurture them, and we have a definitive idea on what they will be when they are all grown up. But often, they have ideas of their own. Sometimes, it’s easier for other people to see that than it is for the ones who brought them into the world. Thankfully, I listened. Now, the song is one of my favorite recordings on the album. When I play it live, and I don’t have that bass line, I miss it terribly. But I hear it in my head, and it helps me perform better. Sometimes we need to love our children for exactly who they are, and hope they’ll forgive us when stubborn expectations blind us to the beauty right in front of us. You might think a song can’t talk back or rebel against its creator. This one did. And I am forever grateful. I owe Simon an eternal debt for giving it the voice to do so. And I owe Finn the same for defending it so passionately, and opening my eyes to the truth.
Thank you, brothers. I love you.