Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Note on process: chord charts for our weird songs

Note on process here. My favorite stuff, as a guy who never would have dreamed he would get this far into making music - that is, still doing it twenty years later, with twinklings of interest here and there; even in Turkey, even in Australia.

I'm talking about the chord chart. Band veterans may want to hang with me, just to smile at the recognition of a familiar chore. Band virgins will learn something, so come on!

Three Fried Men - our working group for the rock song settings on our poetry scores - accumulates songs in many ways. A common way is: Matt Fuller works up guitar parts in Los Angeles and sends them to me, wherever I am, on cassette.

Wherever I am, I am always on the move, so I take his cassette with me. I also always have with me a bunch of possible poems to score. I rifle through them as I listen to Matt's riffs, attaching melodies to riffs and fragments of poetry to melodies. This is a natural high for me like few others.

When this process works, we end up with a rock band song that moves forward a poetry score by setting a fragment of a long poem to music. What now?

Now, we need to get together, Matt and I, and work out a structure and document the structure with another rudimentary recording. We usually do this somewhere in L.A. during one of my regular visits to my favorite city, though hilarious stories can be told about working sessions in the Scottsdale Four Seasons and emotionally charged stories about the desert outside Phoenix, near where d. boon died.

Okay, so now we have a structure worked out, and a rough recording to prove (and remember!) it. What now?

Time to get Lij or Adam Long or Meghan Gohil involved. These are our longtime collaboraters with recording studios where we are welcome for free, as part of a complicated calculus of brotherhood and the mutual scratching of backs and free beer and the not knowing how to say no when you have said yes for so long.

When the recording session finally materializes, what do we have? We have a song sketch recorded in a canyon outside Los Angeles or in the Scottsdale Four Seasons or in the desert outside Phoenix. We don't have much time to turn this sketch into a richly recorded full-band song. A full band needs to learn it, from scratch, in a hurry.

Guess what? Somebody gets the pleasure of figuring out and writing out a chord chart that documents when and where the chords change, in the context of when and where the verse changes to chorus, and the chorus to bridge, and the bridge back to verse, and so on and so forth, all the way to the inevitable outro, for Lordy do we love the outros.

One problem. Remember, we are setting long, complicated poems to music. The people who write long, complicated poems are not worried about stuff like "verse-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus-chorus," a structure that would accomodate maybe 70 percent of all the rock songs ever played on the radio.

The poet is telling a story, a dream. It is the job of our songs in poetry scores to follow the story, the dream. This makes for some truly weird, counter-intuitive song structures. This makes the chord chart all the more crucial.

In this image, we have Dave Melson chording out "Inked in by scaffolding and workers," which we tracked as Three Fried Men this past weekend at The Toy Box in Nashville.
Free mp3

“Inked in by scaffolding and workers”
(Matt Fuller, Chris King, Les Murray)
Three Fried Men

More mp3s from this Nashville session

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I'd never be able to play it again without the chart... -Dave