THE EP: "SOON THERE WILL BE MORE OF US"
Web 2.0 Attention-Deficit Summary for the Reading-Impaired:
Songwriting – single malt – drop-D – protest songs – South African politics – three-part harmonies
WARNING: THIS IS A LONG READ. YOU MIGHT NEED A SINGLE MALT.
A few years ago I was taking one of my customary book-hunting walkabouts up Cape Town’s Long Street and I noticed a sign high up on a street pole on which someone had enigmatically scrawled, “Soon There Will Be More Of Us”. I can’t remember the context of the sign, what it was alluding to or where exactly on Long Street it was, but I knew that phrase might come in handy down the line.
As I’ve mentioned in the “Bush Telegraph” blog, it’s always my habit to write down phrases or words I come across. It’s a typical songwriter’s magpie-habit. I collect phrases for potential song titles, and they sit around in notebooks for years. 99% of all I’ve collected over 25+ years of songwriting will never see the light of day, but in this case, it was less than a year from the time the phrase caught my eye until I had a finished song.
Over several single malts one night, a guitar-playing friend was showing me an old song he’d figured out that he suspected used an unusual ‘drop-D’ guitar tuning: instead of the standard 6th-string drop from E to D, this song had the 1ststring dropped to D.
The unusual sound of standard guitar chord-shapes with this suddenly-intrusive note a whole tone lower than normal gave me a progression of chords I would never normally have thought twice about, and even through the single-malt mist I could sense a song approaching.
A chord progression quickly gave way to a melody idea, which I recorded as always on my cell phone, and the song idea then sat around for a few months, percolating.
It’s one of those things where as a writer you go, “great, I’ve got a good idea, it’s pretty much finished, it’s in the bag”, but you still have to get around to the hard work of actually crafting a lyric and a complete song out of the raw material.
I have hundreds of half-completed bits of ‘great’ songs like that. They’ll never be finished.
Surprisingly, taking into account what I was going through personally at the time, I managed the discipline at some point halfway through a tumultuous 2012 to pay attention to this promising new idea and actually hew a song out of it. The street-sign scrawl from Cape Town seemed like a good fit, the chorus happened fairly quickly, and then it was done. ‘Simple’.
The recording of “Soon There Will Be More Of Us” for the “Bush Telegraph” EP was, like the other songs, an exercise in self-restraint. I had Andy Turrell try that great Crazy Horse approach of ‘no hi-hat’ for the drum track, and he duly delivered a great restrained, focused, song-serving, unobtrusive drum part.
Unusual for a drummer.
The intro guitar riff came from experimenting a little more with that odd drop-D tuning, and it was played on a National Reso-Lectric through a tiny 5W Vox amp, hence that dobro-like character of the sound. I also used a great old Jeff Lynne trick of doubling the acoustic track with a high-strung acoustic, and you can hear it sparkling through the second verse.
The vocal was incredibly hard to record. It’s about 1000 meters above my natural range, and I’m a little out of practice, not having had any gigs for a while now. I often write myself out of my own songs by making them too high for me to sing (‘Treasure’, ‘Paradise’, ‘It’s All About To Change’ to name a few). I’ll need to do some baritone songwriting someday. Nevertheless, after a seemingly-interminable time at the mic we eventually had a useable vocal part.
I also had decided, during the demo-making time for this song, to do something I’ve never done before on a recording and have a tight three-part harmony on the whole song. CSNY-style, or The Beatles on “Yes It Is”. Thankfully, the harmony parts were all lower than the main vocal line, so not as difficult to deliver.
Once again, a touch of percussion here and big mallet-induced swells of a huge crusty old ride cymbal there and we were done. Simply, and in this case elegantly, recorded.
So is this a protest song? I’m not sure. As you might know, I have a penchant for commentary in my lyrics, and I’m a firm yet realistic believer in the power (and lack thereof) of what has become known as ‘protest music’.
Hardly anyone does it anymore, either internationally or locally, and fair enough. Music no longer really has the value or the inherent power it used to have when it was made by real people using real instruments to communicate real life. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t still be useful at times, and in the context of the ongoing social and political tragedy of modern South Africa, someone has to say something.
I’m not by any means an exclusively ‘political’ songwriter. This is mere entertainment after all, isn’t it? Showbiz! It’s just pop music. Let alone the fact that I’m a ‘white South African’, previously-advantaged and therefore disqualified from post-Apartheid political protest.
There was a time, however, when ‘pop’ was an abbreviation of ‘popular’ and not an indication of the ephemeral nature of the mass-produced software-generated fluff we call ‘popular music’ these days. All I’m doing is using a familiar idiom, and the primary colours of ‘bass-drums-guitar’ to say something ‘political’. Politics is about people after all, and music is a means of communication between people as much as it is a form of entertainment. A potent combination, I’d say. I’d dare you to read Dorian Lynskey’s “33 Revolutions A Minute” and try argue with me.
“Soon There Will Be More Of Us”: a promise? A threat? Should our political betters and elected officers, our protectors and our leaders, be worried about we the people? Can we fire them if they do a bad job? Can we replace them come election time?
Do we even care anymore?
“Soon There Will Be More Of Us”: more people who care enough to say something. More who bother to stand in a line and cast a vote. More who have had enough of the appalling status quo. More disenchanted, disenfranchised and disillusioned. More who realize they are being pillaged by the very people they hired to lead them. More who realize that South African society is a ‘sleeping giant’ yet to wake up.
If I were a modern South African political leader, yes, I’d be a little worried.
All Too Soon
Watch the lyric video for “Soon There Will Be More Of Us” on my YouTube channel here:
Buy “Soon There Will Be More Of Us” on the “Bush Telegraph” EP here:
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