As we slowly gear up to release our seventh studio album I’ve started suffering from nostalgia. So I’ve decided to post some of the band’s previous recordings and videos. I’ve even made some jottings. I begin with one of our least typical songs, an upbeat ditty from English Dream called Clear Your Mind. See it HERE.
I was in Catskill NY at Old Soul Studios in early 2010 finishing off Piano 45 with the indefatigable Kenny Siegal. Kenny has a treasure trove of musical instruments in his haunted house in that spooky old town - melotrons, hammond organs, you name it - but I was drawn to a small acoustic guitar. It had a remarkably shimmery sound. Turns out it was in Nashville tuning, a tuning I was unfamiliar with till then. Nashville tuning is just like regular tuning except a few of the strings are an octave higher than usual. So you play it as normal but it sounds weird and wonderful. The closest comparison is to a twelve string guitar which also shimmers with higher octave strings. However, the six string Nashville tuning variant has a much more delicate sound. Easier on the fingers too.
So, there I am strumming the most simple chords. There’s no reason to play anything more sophisticated. A basic C major already sounds so beautiful. To match the chiminess of the guitar I start to sing in falsetto. Pretty soon I mouth the following:
Spend your life aiming for the sun
Take your time you’ve only just begun
Speak your heart and open up your mind
Lose yourself and maybe you will find
Peace and Love at the bottom of the deck
A golden sword buried with the wreck
Even now your spirit is alive
Feel it grow the deeper that you dive
Clear your mind of rain
Clear your mind of rain
Clear your mind of rain
Yes, I know. Very yoga. Not exactly Nick Cave or Tom Waits. Oh well. The song wrote itself. Or maybe it was Kenny’s guitar.
The band had performed the tune a couple of times before we went into the recording studio but it was only once we were in pre-production at Riley McMahon’s New Warsaw Studio laboratory that I played it as originally written - with a guitar in Nashville tuning. Except this time the guitar was also a Fender Strat drenched in reverb. Immediately Riley turned to me and said “I think we’ve just found the sound of the record!” He was right. Almost half the songs on English Dream are played with a my echo-y Strat tuned this way.
The band arrangement came together quickly - John Young and Tim Vaill providing rhythmic propulsion, Riley his trademark arpeggiation and Tony Lauria his florid Liberawnchy melodicism. The biggest difficulty was deciding how to sing it. I had used falsetto when I wrote the tune and it had felt essential to the song’s gentle message. But now we had a jangly rock anthem. The falsetto felt too light in context.
Fortunately, some songs benefit more than others from a studio recording. We layered the vocals. I sang the main melody with both a falsetto and a full-throated approach multiple times and we then mixed the tracks together. Likewise for the harmonies. Kevin Cordt added additional harmony tracks as well. The combination of so many high vocal tracks and a jangly electric guitar? The closest to a Byrds sound I’ve ever recorded. With a bit of Mumford thrown in for the kiddies.
But The Byrds didn’t use trumpets. Kevin played the melody for the instrumental section and then laid down his own harmony. One of my regrets about the English Dream record in general and the videos in particular is that Candace DeBartolo had a bad knee injury during that period and therefore didn’t play on a few of the songs and also had to miss the shoot entirely. But with this song I confess I like the pomp of two trumpets in harmony on the track instead of the band’s signature trumpet and sax combination.
So yes, I’m happy with the recording. But for similar reasons I don’t very much enjoy playing the song live which may explain...
All the songs on English Dream have two accompanying videos except for this one.
I asked Clare Elliott to edit together 1940s archive footage made available by the British Council to match the mood and narrative of each song. The original idea was to project the edited footage onto the band during our album release tour. But that seemed like a lot of work for only a handful of shows. Many of the clubs we played didn’t even have the projection capability. So we organized a separate video shoot at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Greenwich Village in advance of the release.
The band dressed in one of several different period costumes for each song. For Clear Your Mind we went 40s. As with all the other songs, we played our instruments and performed in front of an enormous screen with Clare’s edited footage projected onto it. The only problem was that we looked silly. More to the point, I looked silly. I don’t like watching myself at the best of times but I looked particularly ridiculous earnestly singing these lyrics with my hair greased back. Believe me.
And Clare’s assembly of the black and white British Council footage is so lovely. So, while the other songs have video versions with and without the band, for Clear Your Mind there is only a without. The films were generated as PR to celebrate the British way of life during tumultuous times. Some retro and sometimes surreal eye candy to go with a sweet little song.