A Song (and An Album) About Addiction
The opening track from our seven song EP has upbeat rhythms, pop melodies, happy harmonies, and lyrics about killing yourself against your own will.
No doubt the album was dark under the camouflage of pop-rock. That was the style we went for. Unfortunately the lyrics were our life stories.
On drums and backing vocals is the late Rob Ison: A hard-hitting drummer with a grunge-styled voice. Also a man battling some of the worst kinds of addiction you can imagine when you think of the word. Rob had written some of the lyrics on some of the other tracks, and Anything Done Differently was the last song I wrote just days before going into the studio. It almost wasn't on the album.
Anyways, Rob had written some pretty dark stuff in the other tracks. When it came to "smashing up blue pills," I just couldn't relate. I had been straight-edge for all of my youth and to this day I have never smoked marijuana. But what I have done (and become addicted to) is eating dangerous amounts of food with a dangerously sedentary lifestyle. I'm sure many of you wouldn't compare an unhealthy diet to a drug addiction, but if it kills you it has the same ultimate effect.
I wrote the lyrics to Anything Done Differently about how when you keep trying and failing, you eventually give up. Or you eventually succeed. But it's hard to imagain succeeding, when all you know is failure. When every single attempt has resulted in giving up, why then would it be any different for the next attempt? I had been motivated every time in the past. Why would the next motivation yield any different a result? I wrote these lyrics in a generalized way, so that Rob might relate to them. He loved them.
In fact, I hope I haven't painted the picture that Rob passed away from his addictions. No, he fought his battles and won. He got clean and fixed his life and is one of the few success stories out there. I never got the chance to tell him how proud I was of him. Tragically, Rob was killed in a work-related accident. The world is not fair.
As depressing as these lyrics are and what they mean to me, I have since learned that with 1,000 failures, it only takes a single success to show you that it's possible. Rob's story, be it cut too short, was a success story and enough to show me that I can see how this time things can be done differently.
I gotta have it because I want it because I need it.
So far in this post, there has been no mention of bassist (and my wife) Desiree Marszalkowski. Well, she is (and has always been) as squeaky-clean as her bass playing, so there isn't much else to say about her for this song. I do want to talk about some of her awesome bass riffs from other songs, so we'll get to those on another post.
Back when we wrote and recorded this song, we were a three-piece. I was singing lead while playing guitar. Rob was singing backup while playing the drums. Dez was playing the bass and making the least amount of mistakes.
After we finished up the recording, we realized we would need a second guitarist. We had recorded some three-part harmonies and most of the songs ended up having two guitar parts. We brought on Jerry, but he is not on either album. He was there for what seemed like most of the band's shows, though.
One thing I remember about the recording process with this song was that it was done, all our parts were laid out, and Shane Olivo was mixing it. He called me up and asked if I could come back in and do more guitars. I said "I don't have any more parts. Just those chords and the solo that I did already." He said "Oh, I know, just come back and do your parts again. Do them like five more times or something."
If you watch the video below, you'll see that I am playing on a variety of guitars. That's not for the video. None of that was. That was just us filming ourselves recording and playing shows. You'll see I played a my ESP, Shane's PRS, Fender Stratocaster, Guild, Fender Jagstang, and Accoustic. Shane liked to layer stuff more and more into a song, so by the time you get to the last chorus of the song, there is no doubt you are listening to SIX guitars all play the same thing. The ESP ran into my amp and cab, but the other five guitars all likely had different amps and/or virtual-amps. If you're wondering how to get that thick guitar tone, I really have no advice for you. At the root of it is an ESP LTD with Seymour-Duncan pickups and a Mesa Dual Rect-o-verb with the matching 212 cab. The rest is just a pile of diverse fuzz.
Composition wise, we layered the harmonies the same way. In the first chorus, there is not much harmony. Rob is singing a few root notes under the melody. It's pretty backed off. In the second chorus and breakdown, the melody moves up a minor third on the second syllable of the word "differently" while Rob sings the original note from the first chorus. This makes the resolve 2 third harmonies: the first harmonizing with the guitar chord root note, and the second harmonizing with the first.
I LOVE third-harmonies. I use them A LOT.
Now, where it get's weird is on the last couple choruses after the breakdown. I add in these long high notes and I did this to make it sound a little creepy. I wanted the lyrics "I can't" to be dissonant. They are sung atop all the other parts on a diminished 6th of the guitar's chord. The "see" that follows "I can't" is a 7th to the root note of the chord that followed.
That last added harmony was added because this song sounded way too damn happy. I mean, part of what makes it catchy is that it sounds happy, but those depressing lyrics were hiding in plain sight. It needed something to remind the listener: Something is wrong and nothing has resolved. But that's the "I can't see" side of the lyrics. There is resolve, and it resolved at the very end with "done differently." I like to think that's what the harmonies represent. What starts off feeling uncomfortably impossible can still have a happy ending.
Hi, i'm John(ny). I'm a middle-aged(?) husband and dad. I have a video/photo business that fills in all the gaps.