Song for "Dead Cat"

My buddy Dan has written and produced a terrific short film called "Dead Cat".  A lot of people who I am a huge fan of are in it (Nate Mooney, Ethan Sandler and Mike Weston to name a few).  They've been looking for a song for the end credit roll.  Dan recently asked me if I could put something together.  Over the past week I wrote

Gotta Move Past the Past,

and today I finally had the opportunity to record.  I thought I quickly blog about the process.

First off, I wrote the lyrics.  While ultimatly everything ends up on a computer, I truly enjoy the process of putting pen to paper when figuring out lyrics.  Also, over the past year, I've focused on writing the lyrics separately from music.  I try and keep some music ideas in place or just a few notes, but ultimately, I try and channel my 9th great English teacher and just keep the pen moving.

First Draft of "Gotta Move Past the Past"

For what it's worth, I like write in Moleskin notebooks.  When I lived in NYC and would direct or write music at NYU, Barhoppers, or whatever project, I kept a pocked sized Moleskin with me.  I recently got the one pictured - quite a bit larger but not letter sized, and I gotta say it's a pleasure to work in.

I wrote the music yesterday - normally I record it on my iphone or computer, or at least jot down some chords.  For some reason, I didn't do that for this song.  I knew the chorus would stick with me, but I wasn't happy with the verses, so I thought I'd wait to lock it in.

For recording, I had a pretty clean agenda.

First, I laid out my

scratch and outline

in my session:

  • a simple piano track with just the chords.  
  • I knew the song was going to breath with tempo changes, so I programmed them in - not only retards, but mild changes for the verses to slow down a hair (72 bpm), and then juice it a hair for the choruses (75 bpm).  (I naturally want to that so why deny it?)
  • Laid down a scratch vocal

Then I started to outline

the instruments

for the song:

  • Stereo acoustic Guitars (My main acoustic Breedlove and my travel Taylor acoustic
  • Laid out my drums - I used a midi loop from logic and then ripped it apart until I got a good feel - I try and re-quantize with "Grooves" rather than just swing
  • The Bass
  • Rock Organ - took a little time to find one that I liked.  I doubled the piano track and then forced legato on the part to give it that nice Allman fill
  • Mandolin - I needed something to "brighten" up the chorus - make the song feel like it was opening
  • Lap Steele - first time I've gotten to record with it.  I plugged it straight into my Duet and it sounded great with the presets, locked down my tone, did a lot of comps and then locked in the part
  • Added strings I have a pretty cool way to do strings - I usually like them to be a broad chord arrangement, so I



  1. play them in a single piano part
  2. make sure they are arranged correctly for multiple parts
  3. put the full version in 4 different string parts (VI, VII, Viol & Cello)
  4. Eliminate the other parts for each instrument (so with Violin I, I erase all the lower parts below the top line)
  5. Mix it out as if it were a real orchestra

The session pre vocals

  • Put together a Rough Mix

The next thing to do is to

arrange the vocals

.  I knew I wanted a Crosby, Stills and Nash 

Southern Cross feel and sound.  

Arrangement for the Chorus of

"Gotta Move Past the Past"

The arrangement could be sophisticated, but I wanted to sing the vocals loose.  If it wasn't Sunday afternoon and I didn't have neighbors, I would have yelled the vocals like a wake in an Irish Pub.  

The tracking of Vocals in this case was:

Vocal tracks with Midi Tracks (imported from Sibelius) of each part

  • Print out the vocals
  • export a midi version of the parts and import it into Logic
  • create 12 Vocal tracks, and then divide them up so each part from the midi sits over 3 of the vocal tracks
  • track in the vocals ONLY with a click and there vocal part playing (So I don't hear any of the instruments except for a piano tinkling out my part)

I find this process is terrific for working quickly and getting a decent sound.  Of course, the one rub is the vocals come out with equal temperament (like a piano), rather then tuning to each other intonation.

Finally, the session is recorded and in.  The last thing to do is to take some passes at the main vocals.  Once that's in, it's just mixing and arranging.

The full session

What' nice about working so mathematically is it allows me to move things around to play with the arrangement.  In this case, the backup vocals came out so nicely, I removed all the instruments from the second to last chorus (it is a double chorus) and then can play with what instruments should be in there.  Blah, blah, blah, I guess that's not that special.

Sent off my rough mp3 of it and fingers crossed they like it.  It didn't come out quite how I wanted it to - it has a little more Glen Campbell / Garth Brooks in it rather then the Harry Nillson / Harry Chapin feel I was going for. 

Regardless, I'm psyched to have gotten to do a straight up song - always fun to work on one piece of music that will remain, just a piece of music without a performance or dance.