Thursday, August 21, 2014

"My Band Should Be Your Life" (With Footnotes)

Here is the latest in my series of lyrical examinations of the songs of my albums, EPs, and mixtapes. As I say in the song Liquid Thunder, "My rhymes are so dense you're gonna need footnotes." Here they are...

This time, for the album "My Band Should Be Your Life." The album is very short and the lyrics aren't super plentiful, so I figured I could take on this whole album in one post. It's 17 songs and 13 minutes long and has several very strong influences. The first and most obvious is the book "Our Band Could Be Your Life," by Michael Azzerad. The book chronicles a variety of underground bands from the late 70s through the early 90s. I was reading the book when the idea for this album came to me (the title of the album is a direct reference). And, in particular several of the profiles in the book inspired what I was doing: Black Flag, Minor Threat, the Minutemen, and Big Black in particular. These influences are seen in three specific ways: 1. The songs are short and don't generally follow typical pop song structures. 2. The sounds are often jarring and harsh, at times purposely offensive to the ear of most listeners. 3. The lyrics are, generally speaking, very straight forward, simple and made to be sung along with. They're meant to inspire emotion in the moment and not necessarily meant to be thought about in-depth. Some other influences seep in, and they are mostly NOT in the lyrics as originally written, but were either part of the process of composing the beats (EDM, Moby) or recording the vocals (hip hop and, in one case, 60s garage rock).

In total, the whole album from idea to lyrics to beats to recording took about six hours. The idea was not to spend too much time on it, but to capture the ideas as quickly as possible and with as little overthinking as possible. Take the words, couple them with a beat and don't mess around with them too much. About half of the songs are first takes and all of them are single takes. Unlike previous songs and albums, on much of this album, the focus isn't just on the lyrics. The specific sounds used have meanings too, which hasn't always been the case with previous songwriting from me. Something else you might notice is that many of these beats are very, very fast, with quite a few of them topping 170 bmp and maybe only one below 100 bpm. The process of creating the album began with me basically thinking of a list of about 20 titles for punk-sounding songs and then picking the best 16 ideas (Downer is a cover that was already recorded). Then I sat and wrote all the lyrics in one day. The composing was split up between two different days, but took about two hours. I lost my microphone during the process and while I recorded two songs in Tallahassee, Florida, the rest were recorded with my laptop's internal mic in Alexandria, Virginia, in one session that took about two hours.

Now it's time to take a specific look at each song.

"Fuck Yeah"

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, fuck yeah
Time to blow up, fuck yeah
Shut this shit down, fuck yeah
Go home no way, fuck yeah
Rock me rock you, fuck yeah
Rock everywhere, fuck yeah
Fast times fast days, fuck yeah
Come on come on, fuck yeah
Now now now now, fuck yeah
Live fast die old, fuck yeah
Fuck that stay bold, fuck yeah
Don't sleep not dead, fuck yeah
Win win win win, fuck yeah
Go go go go, fuck yeah
Never grow up, fuck yeah
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, fuck yeah

So a lot of the punk songs that influenced this album are very straight forward lyrically. They aren't exactly simplistic, but they aren't deep thoughts either. They're more meant to be chanted along with and danced to. That's what I was going for here. "Fuck yeah" is a kind of universal underground positive exclamation and I thought it worked well as an exclamation point at the end of each line in the song.

"Executive Action"

We're gonna rock the world
We're gonna rock the world
Executive action, executive action
Gonna take what we want
Gonna take what we want
Executive action, executive action
Get the fuck out our way
Get the fuck out our way
Executive action, executive action
Gonna change the world
Gonna change the world
Executive action, executive action
Gonna fuck shit up
Gonna fuck shit up
Executive action, executive action
You can't stop us now
You can't stop us now
Executive action, executive action
We can't be denied
We can't be denied
Executive action, executive action
Gonna rock the world
Gonna rock the world
Executive action, executive action

"Executive Action" was also meant to evoke a punk song. There is this strain of punk songs that have random ass titles that you sing along with and they don't exactly make that much sense independently and this was an allusion to that type of song. Executive action has no real meaning here, but it sounded really good with this beat.

"Didactic"

You can call me didactic
My style high spastic
My lyrics fly caustic
Punk rap shit I cracked it
While you slept I acted
Sound gets you ecstatic
This music be frantic
I came and I rocked it
You'd better not jack it
My heroes intergalactic
Never quit my antics
Words that will be classic
Ideas keep you captive
The changes will be drastic
Leave your life of plastic
Or your doom will be tragic

So a year or so ago, someone told me they didn't like reading my writing because I was too "didactic." To be honest, I didn't even know what the word meant and had to look it up. I came up with "intended to teach, particularly in having moral instruction as an ulterior motive" and I was like "fuck yeah I do that on purpose." I was a professor for 11 years and the whole reason I write, both music and nonmusic, is to pass along information and moral instruction. So while she meant it in a negative light, I took it as a badge of honor. That led to the first line of the song and I wanted to make the song a little more complex than the rest of the album and I tried to include as many multisyllable and multi-word rhymes that fit the initial rhyme scheme. They don't all fit that pattern, but a lot do.

"Bombs Over Gaza"

The dead kid lying in the rubble
Covered in blood
No more school
No more laughter
No more birthdays
No more songs
His family, if they survived, which is far from certain, never to see him again
That dead kid, he doesn't care that you blew him up because you thought his uncle was a terrorist
Even if he was a terrorist
That kid doesn't care about your re-election campaign
He doesn't care about AIPAC
He doesn't care how Fox News is going to spin his death
He doesn't care how much you can fundraise off of his death
He doesn't care about any thing
Any more

I've been really torn on the latest conflict in the Middle East. I respect the right to exist of both Israel and of Palestine and other disputed territories. And I recognize that there are good and bad people on both sides of the conflict and some, on both sides, have done horrible things for what they think are good reasons. This song was meant as a specific rant against collateral damage and the idea that war is always a bad thing, no matter how honorable or correct your reasons for it are. And it was a direct attack on right-wing reactions to the conflict, all of which are basically immoral. The sound on this one is particularly unique for me. The samples used for the song are all bomb sounds. When I recorded the vocal, I didn't want it to sound like my straight up voice, so I hit the "vocoder" effect button, but it accidentally transformed both the vocals and the instrumental and the new sound was so awesome that I decided to leave it that way. The instrumental goes on well beyond the vocal, unlike the rest of the album, and that was on purpose to express that people still keep dying even after Americans quit talking about the topic. The sounds here were also purposefully jarring and meant to annoy the listener's ear, because dead kids should cause you some discomfort. I will note that my roommate's dog found the sound so offensive it barked and growled at the song when I played it. That is a perfect reaction.

"PMRC"

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck
Jizz, jizz, jizz, jizz
Clit, clit, clit, clit
Cum, cum, cum, cum
Twat, twat, twat, twat
Cunt, cunt, cunt, cunt
Piss, piss, piss, piss
Prick, prick, prick, prick
Tits, tits, tits, tits
Dick, dick, dick, dick
Cock, cock, cock, cock
Nuts, nuts, nuts, nuts
Shit, shit, shit, shit
Ass, ass, ass, ass
Balls, balls, balls, balls
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck

Punk and rap music both share a fascination with profanity and this touches on that. But the title is PMRC, or the Parents Music Resource Council, with this being a specific rejection of that group's ridiculous worries about bad words as opposed to real problems. This isn't an original concept for a song, as performers as varied as Jello Biafra and Warrant have approached it on albums before, but it's still a problem that people get punished for words like "fuck" and not for things like fucking over entire demographic groups.

"Taxachusetts"

The things you say are dumb
You don't know shit
You lie, lie, lie
And others die, die, die
Your motives are suspect
Your life is a train wreck
Your ideas defective
You will be rejected
You can't win with truth
You brainwash the youth
You lie, lie, lie
And mothers cry, cry, cry
You select your own facts
Your values are cracked
You are fucking whack
You need to get smacked
Your theories are stupid
You don't act human
You lie, lie, lie
Our rights say bye, bye, bye
It sucks when we do it
It's okay when you do it
You suck and you know it
You suck and we know it
The postmodern man
You need to be banned
You lie, lie, lie
And kids fry, fry, fry
You don't wanna help us
You're so fucking selfish
Damn your whole clan
Fuck your game plan
Lie, lie, lie
Lie, lie, lie
Lie, lie, lie
Bye, bye, bye

The first step in this song was the title, which is a common political phrase used by right-wing trolls. It's nonsensical in several ways (including the simple fact that Massachusetts doesn't have particularly high taxes and that it's one of the more successful states in terms of serving its citizens). In effect, it's a lie used by right wingers, but a simple "catchy" lie that is easy to remember and repeat. Then it became a simple matter of calling out the people who use the lie. The other interesting aspect of this one is that while it has no chorus, there is a hook that comes in the triple rhymes in the second couplet of each 8-bar verse, which I really liked conceptually.

"Madame President"

Don't want no corporate shill
Of that shit I've had my fill
Don't want another white man
Don't want a Limbaugh fan
Tired of the same old same old
Want someone brash, someone bold
Time for a new approach
With values above reproach
I want my leader to have no cock
To come from a different stock
We can have men again some day
After we've tried another way
A woman's place is in the White House
Don't report on the color of her blouse
Let's talk some substance
Not about her fucking pants
It's time to say goodbye
We don't see eye to eye
With you we have discontent
It's time for Madame President

This may be the most straightforward rap song and Professor Rex track on the album. No real metaphor or deeper message, straight to the point. The lyrics are a bit challenging, but mild for my political songs.

"God Hates Flags"

Love
Marriage
Rights
Nights
Parades
Sex
Fashion
Passion
Family
Art
Needs
Freedom
We like fags, we hate flags
We like fags, we hate flags
We like fags, we hate flags
We like fags, we hate flags
Conformity
Fake unity
Jingoism
Xenophobia
The poor
A war
Bombs
Guns
Death
Hatred
Death
Corpses
We like fags, we hate flags
We like fags, we hate flags
We like fags, we hate flags
We like fags, we hate flags
God hates flags!

This one has maybe the punkiest chorus in terms of both lyrics and delivery. A lot of punk songs use challenging words, often with irony or subtext that many listeners don't get. I wanted to do that here with the use of the word "fag" in a celebratory sense. There is the obvious reference to the Fred Phelps clan which protests funerals and other things with signs that say "God hates fags." The first verse is a series of things that are popularly associated with gay people, while the second verse is things associated with nationalism and imperialism. The message is simple, gay people are good, nationalism and imperialism are bad.

"Who You Wanna"

Who you wanna be
Who you wanna fuck
Where you wanna go
What you wanna know

Quite a few punk songs have very sparse lyrics that are repeated and don't have particularly deep meanings, despite being profound in their simplicity. That was what I was going for here. The triple-layered vocals were meant to make it more of a crowd-led chant feel and one of the takes had a few mistakes in it and I left those in on purpose to give it variety and a little bit of humor.

"Losing My Head"

Don't know what I'm gonna do
Don't know what I'm supposed to say
Don't know what I'm gonna do
Don't know what to do today
Walls are closing in on me
Doors are always closed to me
Migraines are crushing me
Society is failing me
Why won't someone help me
Why can't I meet my needs
Why am I such a creep
Why am I so fucking weak
I'm losing my head
I'm losing my head
I'm losing my head
I'm losing my head

Self-loathing and anger at society are frequently topics for punk songs, so that was the idea here. There is also a direct reference to Minor Threat's "Straight Edge" in the delivery of the hook. There is some truth to the lyrics here, even if they're a bit melodramatic.

"True American"

1, 2, 3, 4. JFK! FDR!
So it's 50% drinking game, 50% life size Candy Land
By the way, the floor is molten lava
These are the pawns, they're the soldiers of the Secret Order
Remember everything that you hear in True American is a lie
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself
All trash belongs...in the junk yard!
Howard Dean scream! Yea
When in the course of human events, you must surrender your shirt
Your butt just violated the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act
Welcome to Ellis Island folks
My name is Eli Whitney and I created the cotton gin
King of the Castle, baby
He's got the plague, scatter!

This one is one I really like. So it takes really hardcore-sounding, grating sounds and couples them with silly lines from an imaginary game from an often somewhat surreal sitcom, "New Girl" and it throws in a devil laugh. It should literally make no sense on the surface. But beneath that, it's a commentary on popular culture that is meant to be a bit muddled. I leave the deeper meaning to the listener to figure out.

"Can't Get Into Heaven"

I thought I'd died
And gone to Heaven
Not early, fucking late
Walked up to the Pearly Gates
What the fuck
A gated community
What the fuck
You trying to do to me
Can't get in your heaven
They don't want me there
And I don't care
And I don't care
Who are you trying
To keep out
If we're all dying
Got my fucking doubts
Your false paradise
What is it worth
Same fucking shit
As your Earth
Can't get in your heaven
They don't want me there
And I don't care
And I don't care
Take your exclusive
Life after death
Keep your sermons
Save your breath
I'd rather be
With common people
Than at your church
Or at your steeple
Can't get in your heaven
They don't want me there
And I don't care
And I don't care

Religion and religious dogma are often topics of punk songs and that's what this alludes to. This one has the most references in it, starting with the title and hook, which are a direct reference to the Opiate for the Masses song "Heaven." The first couplet in the song is an ironic reference to Bryan Adams "Thought I'd Died And Gone to Heaven," which is a sappy pop ballad that I try to turn on its head here. Next the "gated community" reference is an allusion to Jim Gaffigan's stand-up album "Beyond the Pale" where he asks: "Am I the only one that finds it odd heaven has gates? What kind of neighborhood is heaven in?" There's also a Pulp reference ("common people") towards the end. I love the hook on this one and it grew directly out of the beat, although I'm still not fully happy with the verses, which are a little choppier than I'd like.

"You Are Not What You Wear"

You are not your ironic t-shirt
You are not your facial hair
You are not your expensive shoes
You are not your 3-piece suit
You are not your hipster glasses
You are not your lapel flag pin
You are not your trucker hat
You are not your fucking wool cap
You are not your 6-inch heels
You are not your puffy down vest
You are not your barbwire tattoo
You are not your shirt from J Crew
You are not your rubber wrist band
You are not your skinny jeans
You are not the celebrity trend
You are not some fucking dead end
You are not some fucking dead end
You are not some fucking dead end
You are not some fucking dead end
You are not some fucking dead end

This song has one of my favorite beats on the album. If I heard these sounds come on in a club, I would rush to the dance floor, even if it's not a supremely danceable beat. I love to hear this sound over a loud speaker. It makes me happy. This was also one of my favorite ones to write and perform. I long wanted to do a song along the lines of "Take It Off" by De La Soul, but I didn't want it to be just a copy with different fashion choices. This one is different in that it's got a much harder edge and none of the De La Soul playfulness, despite being a silly subject. I like that contrast, particularly with the aggressive sounds in the background.

"Spin Cycle"

We're born
We grow
We learn
We know
We think
We eat
We drink
We meet
We wonder
We talk
We ponder
We walk
We go
We quit
We grow
We shit
We fight
We sleep
We spite
We reap
We need
We want
We bleed
We flaunt
We give
We take
We live
We hate
We laugh
We cry
We live
We die

My other favorite beat on the album, this one has a menacing aliveness to it, like an insect. But not a regular insect--a giant, scary, scaly insect with many legs. That the lyrics are about the "circle of life" ties into that sound in a really interesting contrast and connection for me.

"No"

No no no no

The idea here was to just do a call and response where the only words in the song were "no." Then I had the idea to expand that to various combinations of how I said "no," which were ad-libbed, some from memory (such as the initial one, which is derivative of "Nobody But Me," by the Human Beinz. I was in Tallahassee with the kids and had the idea to have them do the response. I had to record each of them separately and I decided to leave mistakes in, to make it more like it was a live show where drunken audience members wouldn't get them all correct.

"No Means No"

No means no
If she doesn't wanna go
No means no
That's all you need to know
No means no
It's not a TV show
No means no
American status quo
No means no
She's not your fucking hoe
No means no
Not a quid pro quo
No means no
What's your problem, I don't know
No means no
You're juvenile, gotta grow
No means no
Misogyny must go
No means no
You've gotta let it go
No means no
There is nothing you are owed
No means no
You seem kind of slow
No means no
You gotta go, go, go
No means no
Meet my taekwondo
No means no
We hate you head to toe
No means no
If she doesn't wanna go

The first idea here was that I wanted the track listing of the album to include a song called "No," later followed by a song that reiterated the point with "No Means No." I like to add more subtle messages like that to things I do. The specific track is dealing with an issue that is harsh, so I started with a nice sounding drum track and threw a discordant bass over it that overwhelmed what the original track was trying to say. That sonic metaphor works on two levels. The first is on the individual level, with the drum being the woman saying "no" and the bass being the rapist drowning out what she is saying. Then, on a higher level, the drum is the voices of women (and men) who have been raped and the bass is the societal chorus that drowns out the voices of women who have been assaulted and their allies. The vocal is supposed to sound more and more frantic over the course of the short song to alternately represent fear and/or frustration with the inadequacy of the common responses to someone reporting that they have been raped.

"Downer"

Portray sincerity act out of loyalty
Defend your free country wish away pain
Hand out lobotomys to save little familys
Surrealistic fantasy bland boring plain
Holy now in restitution
Living out our date with fusion
In our whole fleece, shun in bastard
Don't feel guilty master writing
Somebody says that their not much like I am
I know I can
Make up the words as you go along
I sing then some
Sickening pesimist hypocrite master
Conservative Communist apocalyptic bastard
Thank you dear God for putting me on this Earth
I feel very priviledged in debt for my thirst

While this beat is mine, the lyrics are Kurt Cobain. The lyrics are transcribed in the form they appeared in his diary. The idea to do the song as a chant came spontaneously, as did the decision to use all of the percussion beats on one note per bar and only ride the bass line for the rest of the song. I loved the way that sounded and I think it fits very well with the chant.

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