In Honor Of… The Beatles! Again!

Get it here – music.lorenradis.com/album/the-beatles-2

So I said there might be another cheat coming, and this is it – I covered the Beatles twice!  How could I not though?  There are literally hundreds of amazing songs to choose from and they’ve most definitely been the biggest influence on me as a musician.  So you get four more Beatles songs this month, and I’m guessing no one’s going to complain about that :)

For those who don’t know, I’ve been putting out a new album every month in 2013 covering the songs of musicians who’ve influecned me in my own songwriting.  I started and ended with the Beatles, and you can hear each month’s entry in the “In Honor Of…” project here – music.lorenradis.com

So this time’s a little different – I covered one song written by each Beatle, even Ringo!  Here’s why I chose the ones that I did :)

Paul McCartney – I’m Looking Through You

Paul McCartney – sorry, Sir Paul McCartney – is a living legend.  He’s one of the most prolific and talented songwriters ever and he and John Lennon practically invented numerous genres of music all on their own.  That being said, I think my favorite Paul songs aren’t the experimental ones (“Helter Skelter”) or the throwbacks to old-timey music (“Your Mother Should Know”), but are rather the songs where he just commits to writing a really solid pop song.  He was amazing at it, and there’s a reason people are still mimicking his style 50 years later.  Anyone can tell you that Paul has a way with a melody, conjuring sequences of notes that are irresistable and so simple you wonder how they’ve never been used before.

I’m Looking Through You is no exception, the melody is catchy as all get up.  The lyrics are relatable but not too obvious, the chord progression is unconventional and genius – the changes hit on a really abnormal beat in relation to the lyrics – and the arrangement is just flawless.  This song was released on Rubber Soul, thought by many to represent the Beatles’ graduation from enjoyably forgettatble pop to truly historic songwriting.  The boys and George Martin were just on fire for every single track this album, playing with new sounds and new styles without losing what made them the Beatles.  And that attention to detail that they kept honing on through Abbey Road is present here, not a note out of place (unless it improved the song).  I think this song really represents a zenith of pop songwriting, commercially viable while maintaining relevance and artistic integrity in a way that very few artists have duplicated since (even Paul, sad to say…)

My cover is a little more mellow, like my Paul Simon covers, I wanted to let the lyrics shine a little (simple as they are, they’re still good) and let the melody really take center stage, it blasts by so quickly in the original you almost don’t get to appreciate it.  I directly copied a few harmonies and came up with several parts of my own, this song was a ton of fun to work on.  Hope you enjoy it.

George Harrison – While My Guitar Gently Weeps

George Harrison would have been the standout musician in any band other than the Beatles.  He was the whole package – a memorable singing voice, incredible and unique guitar work, and he turned out some really amazing songs both during his time with the Beatles and in his solo career.  The only two musicians who could have overshadowed him are Paul and John, and it’s a shame that George didn’t/doesn’t get as much recognition as his more famous frontmen.  Hearing stories about how his songs weren’t shown the same respect in the studio and how he had a hard time imposing his vision on the others is just heartbreaking.

George wrote a lot of really good songs for the Beatles, and maybe two or three really great – transcendent songs.  I consider “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun” to be some of the best work the Beatles ever put out, and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is definitely in the running to be George’s 3rd best song ever.  I didn’t cover either of the other two because, honestly, they’re perfect in a way that I don’t think I could capture.  I know I’m not making any of these songs better, per se, but I think (see: I hope) that I’m presenting them in a new light that is worthwhile on its own.  “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” are just too good, and too tied to their original arrangement.  If I covered those in any other style, I can only see it being a detriment.

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, on the other hand, is an amazing song that also has a lot of room for interpretation.  George’s original demo was a beautiful, sparse, melancholy piece of music featuring only his voice and a guitar, and one extra verse.  The White Album version is one of the great rock songs of the past … ever.  Eric Clapton’s guitar work is some of his best and the whole band contributed perfect performances – the drumbeat in particular is so bizarre but so perfectly in line with the emotional thrust of that version of the song.  They experimented with severeal different styles along the way, and my cover most closely emulates George’s original acoustic demo.  It’s almost too melancholy, but not every song needs to be sunshine and rainbows, so I think it’s OK.  Anyway, hope you like it.

Ringo Starr – Don’t Pass Me By

So, let’s get right down to it.  Ringo (Richard Starkey) is a very talented drummer and he has a unique style that was perfectly suited to the Beatles’ sound.  Without him they might still have succeeded, but they wouldn’t have been the same, and I think they would have sounded worse with any other drummer.

Ringo was not, however, a super awesome songwriter.  He only contributed two tracks to the Beatles library, this one, and Octopus’s Garden.  Octopus’s Garden is actually really solid.  It’s silly and simple but it’s catchy and the opening guitar riff (which I’m told Ringo wrote) is downright eloquent.  Don’t Pass Me By, on the other hand… well, it’s one of those cases where it’s so bad it’s good.  OK, it’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that it’s so laughably simple.  Every lyric is the most obvious rhyme (Don’t pass me by/Don’t make me cry), the story of the song is just as dull as a highschool hocky game (he’s mildly concerned because his date is late, turns out she got in a fender bender and will be there soon), and the instrumentaion, man.  It almost seems like the other guys realized what a clunker this was and just owned it, y ‘know?  “Let’s make this sound so boring and amatuerish and phoned in that no one will know it was us.”  Even the violin seems to be out of tune.  Crazy.

But here’s the thing.  Something about it is just so damned endearing.  The song is unassuming.  It’s not pretentious.  It shows you so much of Ringo’s character – his life isn’t full of these big philosophical questions, he’s just worried that his girl is either hurt, or she doesn’t care about him anymore.  His insecurity is so pathetic that it’s kind of sweet, and we’ve all been there.  Even if he was low man on the totem pole, he was still a Beatle, and if even he can get scared that this person he loves doesn’t feel the same way about him, then it’s OK that I’ve felt that too, right?

Plus, the image in my head of Ringo walking up to John and Paul (who had just recently put out Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) saying “Hey guys, I’ve written this song called ‘Don’t Pass Me By’, I’d love it to be on the next record…” is just too funny to ignore.

So what I decided to do was try to highlight the sweet and unassuming nature of this song.  Plus, I just got a ukulele for my birthday and wanted to try it out, and nothing says sappy sweet like a ukulele cover of a pop song!  I think the song benefits from a simpler renditionlike this, I think it feels a little less silly without all the busy-ness of the original version.  No pomp or circumstance, just a sweet love song by a guy who’s not super confident in himself.  Love ya Ringo.

John Lennon – Don’t Let Me Down

John, John, John… He’s such a tragic figure… Don’t Let Me Down was recorded during the Let It Be/Get Back sessions and never ended up seeing release on a proper album, though it appeared on Past Masters and a few other places.  By all accounts, John had mentally checked out during their recording sessions, showing complete apathy towards the Beatles and instead focusing on his solo work with Yoko Ono.  George and Ringo had both quit the band (only to rejoin after a brief absence) by this point, and it wouldn’t be long before John left and the group disbanded for good.  The Let It Be sessions were reportedly the most heated of any in the Beatles’ short history together.  I wonder when John wrote this song?  I wonder who John wrote this song for?  I wonder who he wrote it to?  Is he pleading with the Beatles to rise above their personal squabbles and be the great musicians he knows they can be?  Is he pleading with Yoko not to let him down since he’s choosing her over the Beatles?  Is he screaming at himself?  Is John begging John not to disappoint him?  Who knows.  I sure don’t.  But if John was checked out while recording Let It Be, he definitely wasn’t when he recorded this song.

Like a lot of his later work, you get a peek behind the curtain at the anger, the insecurities, and the hope that made John who he was.  He’s divorced his first wife at this point and has a strained relationship with his oldest son, but he has the gall and simultaneously the optimism to say he’s in love for the first time, and that he has no doubt it’ll last.  And yet he begs every chorus not to be disillusioned again.  He’s a dichotomy, the yelling choruses are so full of anger while he’s pleading for love.  John was nothing if not complex, and the tension in himself produced some amazing songs.  Even though this is so simple lyrically, sonically it’s got a depth that resonated with me.

My cover is very toned down, but I did very little to change it, sticking with the same tempo and progression and melody.  I don’t claim to understand John any better than anyone else, but everyone has a past, a history of defeats, a desire to have their hope rewarded for once.  If the song feels like that at all, then I did what I was trying to do.

So if you haven’t yet, have a listen, let me know what you think – http://music.lorenradis.com/album/the-beatles-2

Thanks for reading, later,

-loren

In Honor Of… Damien Rice!

Damien Rice!  Everyone’s favorite poetically-depressing-heartfelt-powerful-modern-indie-irish-folk-singer/songwriter! – music.lorenradis.com/album/damien-rice

So, Damien Rice is a bit mysterious.  He’s written some really beautiful music and released two albums, but he hasn’t released a new full length LP since 2006.  He still gets around from time to time playing shows, making special appearances and that sort of thing, but he’s almost disappeared from the public.  Which is weird, because he’s awesome and I wish he was still making music. 

I found his music in 2006, I think it was through last.fm or pandora.  I think the thing that really grabbed me about his music was that the most important thing about it wasn’t the music, it was the emotion.  His lyrics, chords and melodies are all beautiful, but the unifying and ultimately most attention-grabbing element of his songs is the emotion.  Sadness, joy, anger, shame, disappointment, love, he runs the full gamut, and you can’t help but feel what he must have felt when he wrote the songs.  Finding his work, as I did, coming off of a breakup is something of a perfect storm, I identified even more strongly than I might have with the feelings of loss he so eloquently expressed, and it made me wish I could do the same for others.

So my style isn’t all that different from Damien’s, I didn’t change nearly as much about these songs as I have about others in this project.  Really, they’re almost completely unchanged.  Just the minute details in how I present myself, versus how he presents himself, are really the only differences here.  I hope you like my take on his amazing work, and I hope you’ll check out his stuff too, maybe we can bring him back!

Listen or Download now! – music.lorenradis.com/album/damien-rice

Thanks,

-loren

In Honor Of… Sufjan Stevens!

Well if you haven’t already (why not??) go listen to this month’s tribute EP honoring Sufjan Stevens – music.lorenradis.com/album/sufjan-stevens

Let’s talk about it!

I was only able to do two songs this month, there are a lot of reasons for this, but the big one is that Sufjan’s songs are always incredibly dense and they’re just not the same without the orchestration that he creates, so I had to try and figure out a way to emulate that style while making it my own and within my limitations.  I wasn’t able to make as stripped down a version of the song as I usually do with these EPs.  I learned a lot in working on these arrangements!

It’s been so freeing to work on something like this that isn’t my own song, that I have a very short time frame to finish, and that I have basically no pre-established rules or preconceptions about how it “should” go.  I can add in wacky stuff like a midi drumbeat, or use my silly little Melodica or record an E-Bow on an acoustic guitar when they’re usually only used on electric.  I even experimented with some weird electronic sounds that I ended up not using, but they were fun (and educational) to mess with.

Anyway, after last month’s Elliott Smith release, I felt the mood was a little… depressing, so I wanted to get to Sufjan’s stuff because the songs are just so fun, especially “Mistress Witch…”.  I hoped that would boost everyone’s (including mine) mood.

Chicago is the first song I started working on and I’ve had it in the back of my mind since January when I decided to do this project.  It’s my favorite Sufjan song, and it’s the first one that got me hooked on his music.  He, himself, recorded at least 3 different versions of it and he plays yet another version when he does it live, so I have a lot of potential directions to go.  I ended up settling on something that I hope honors his creation without emulating any one of his many versions too closely.  It’s a beautiful song and I have no idea what it’s about, but I love it.

Mistress Witch from McClure or The Mind That Knows Itself (whew…) is another tune of Sufjan’s the meaning of which is pretty much inexplicable to me, but it’s so upbeat and fun sounding, it’s impossible to not start tapping my toes when I hear it.  I felt I had a little less room to experiment on this one because I didn’t want to lose that playful feel, but I added a lot of parts that aren’t in the original, ommitted a lot, and added my own little simple drumbeat, I think it came out pretty darn good.

Well thanks for reading, and I really hope you enjoy the songs, tell your friends, have a good day, and don’t forget to give it a listen! – music.lorenradis.com/album/sufjan-stevens

-loren

There And Back Again… A Songwriter’s Tale

Summer’s almost over!  You’d never know it though, this has been the hottest week or two all year.  That’s what’s so cool about this place we call home though, you can go see live music all year round and almost never have to worry about the weather!  Oh, speaking of live music and awkward segues :

I’ve got shows coming up!  This Sunday the 8th I’m at Pomar Junction in Templeton from 11:30 to 2:30, it’s my first time playing out there but they have some GREAT wines and I’m very excited to have a glass and play some tunes.

Oh, then on Saturday the 14th I’m heading down south to Santa Maria’s Riverbench Winery from 12 to 3 to play some music, and this one has a fun little twist.  I’m only allowed to play original music, no covers.  That’s pretty different for me, I usually go about 50/50, I’m excited to give it a shot though.

Details as always are on the shows page! – www.lorenradis.com/shows

There are only a few months left in my “In Honor Of…” ( music.lorenradis.com ) project, 4 to be precise.  This was a really cool experiment, trying something new like this.  When I originally envisioned the project, one of my big motivations was simply to keep myself working.  I hate feeling like I’m in a rut creatively and I’ve always gone through ups and downs as far as my growth as a musician.  Being stagnant is one of the easiest ways to lose interest in something so it’s important for me to always be bettering myself, trying new things, and I felt like a monthly recording project was a good way to do that. 

Of course, I didn’t know at the time that this would also be, by far my busiest year of shows ever.  I’ve made tons and tons of contacts all over SLO county and played more shows than I can keep track of and it’s been an incredibly fun experience and it’s pretty much the sole reason my wife has been able to stay at home with our new baby as long as she has.  It has also, however, been a ton of work, for myself and my wife, and the monthly recordings have added to that workload considerably.  So while it’s been fun, I can’t say I’m going to be sorry to have a little extra free time to spend with the family once it’s over.  I’ve been mostly happy with the output, even with the constraints I gave myself.  Seems like you guys have enjoyed it too, the cover EPs have been getting lots of attention.  So anyway, thanks a lot for making it a worthwhile experience, and remember to check back every month on the 15th, I saved some of the best stuff for last ;)

Alright, thanks for reading, talk to you later!

-loren

In Honor Of… Elliott Smith!

This Month’s Tribute is out and it’s available right here! – music.lorenradis.com/album/elliott-smith

Really quickly before I talk about it, I want to remind you I’m playing this weekend, the 17th at the Garden Shed in Cambria, lots of great wine and music from 4:30 to 6:30, you’ll love it! – lorenradis.com/shows

Garden Shed Pary

Elliott Smith… was an extremely talented person.  I’ve read a few books and articles about him and still have no real idea what he was like as a person.  He had a rocky life that ended with what is widely believed to be a suicide in late 2003.  In his far too short career his contributions to the music world were immense and powerful.  His songs were mostly mellow or even dour, but there was a light there – a hoping for something, I don’t know, improvement?

Anyway, I’ve loved his music for a long time and I simply hope that my tribute to him this month does justice to the quality of his work.  I tried to not change the songs much at all and not add a lot of unecessary instrumentation and clutter.  They’re beautiful and I thought a clean, simple presentation would be best.  I also tried to find songs that had that glimmer of hope, of light.  ”Biggest Lie” might be the most positive of the songs on this collection and it’s certainly not what anyone would call “cheery”… but there’s hope there, you just have to want to find it.

Go have a listen on the music page and let me know what you think via e-mail (lorenradismusic@gmail.com), facebook (facebook.com/lorenradismusic), or twitter (@lorenradis)! – music.lorenradis.com/album/elliott-smith

Thanks,

-loren