Music, musings and more from the mind of Ben Averch.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

My True State, Part 1



My True State, Part 1: Songs 1-3

The Making of 'Washington State'

By Ben Averch


The sky in western Washington is an ever-shifting tableau of clouds of every imaginable texture. Sometimes fluffy, white and floating breezily, sometimes dark, thick and ominous, or wispy like a fog, or millions of clouds stacked up on top of one another like a tower that reaches up beyond view.

The scenery, and in particular the view of the sky out here would provide the backdrop and the inspiration for 'Washington State', a collection of ten songs that cover a variety of topics but are held together by some strong common threads. After finishing my first solo album, a futuristic concept piece called 'New Neural Substrate', I had felt a strong urge to come down to earth, and write songs not about the distant future of humanity, but instead about what it's like to be human right now. And in many of the songs, what it's like to be me right now.

To find the center of the lake. 'Reset the Clock' opens the record with some shifting bass chords and continues my tradition of opening records with songs that are maybe a little mellower than the rest of the records they live on. This song is where the themes of the album really crystallized -- letting go, opening up, staying focused and present.

This was actually the sixth song written and recorded for the record, after the first five tunes really emerged quickly and easily. The lyric 'you can already see the future' in 'Cloud Cover' would have particular resonance for me, sticking in my head for a while. Eventually it would come back as the premise of 'Reset'.

So much time in life is spent imagining stuff that hasn't happened yet or thinking back on things that have – too often with longing or regret. I wanted to talk about being awake and aware, not about the things that are going to happen later, but the things that are happening now. The song is about how important it is to be open to life and to give each moment its own space -- and not just be living in the dreamland in our heads, envisioning futures or contemplating the past.

The highlight of the song for me is the last section of the guitar solo, which has I think a really haunting, vocal quality to it that I'm really happy about. The red-tailed hawk's cry (those guys are loud) just had to get in this song. They come to nest in the summer in the tops of some tall trees behind our house and absolutely let you know they are there...at the crack of dawn every morning.

Visions of the see through sky. Sometimes dreams can seem so real, it's impossible to believe they're just manifestations of our mind's eye. 'In a Dream State' was appropriately written in its entirety as a stream of consciousness, and appears as a song lyric completely unchanged from its original form. I guess dreams are real enough in that they appear real at the time you have them – just like waking life does.

This song is like a little journey by itself; with a heavy double-time verse riff that cascades into an off-beat accented chorus section. This song would feature another stream of consciousness beyond the lyrics – the first section of the three-part guitar solo would be an improvisation that to this moment I have no idea how to recreate. Breaking into the outro section are big bursts of arena rock chords (wild applause here, please) that settle into a bubbling, repeating guitar part over a super-busy bass part and multi-layered vocal harmony.

Fun stuff.

Awake under the cloud cover. 'Cloud Cover' was the first song that was recorded for the album, a dense, pulsing song with a lot of vivid imagery. When you are separated from the people you love for whatever reason, it can be pretty overwhelming. This song blends the scenery of lush hillsides, the daily crush of cars and roads and buildings, and my close companions the clouds into a backdrop for a love song – a song about what it's like to be far away from the people you're the closest to.

Musically, 'Cloud Cover' is a pretty straightforward rock tune based on a driving eighth note arpeggio verse that would burst into a blast of power chords for the chorus. For the middle section, I decided to take a stab at a keyboard solo instead of a guitar solo. This turned out to be a good decision, as the texture of the keyboard sound and the repeating melody over the backdrop of the crunching guitar chords gives the song a unique flavor and sets it apart from the other songs.

Proving unable to resist soloing in every song, guitar solos would accompany each verse section, calling and responding to the vocal in a tense, nervy voice that would bob and weave through the track. The resulting track has a lot of warmth from the scores of guitar tracks that would reinforce each part, with a different pickup, a different amp setting, or a different guitar entirely.

If there's an alterna-smash hit song on 'Washington State', this is it, maybe.

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