by Chris Stamey
ROB SEZ: Time to celebrate the release next week of Chris' quite excellent solo album, Euphoria. (In case you missed it, here's my earlier post with audio for four tracks.) Courtesy of the fine folks at Chris' music label Yep Roc, here are Chris' own notes about each track:
1) “Universe-sized Arms” - Ryan Adams sent this to me without footnotes, so I can't speak to his lyrical intent. To me, it's about meeting a lover for the first time, that sense of being completed and enveloped by another person, with everything happening in double time. I like that it reminds me both of "Interstellar Overdrive" by Syd's Pink Floyd and a lost Psychedelic Furs track, especially with Mitch Easter's ringing guitar colors. I added the strings and horns to make it a bit more like “Live and Let Die.”
2) “Where Does the Time Go?” - Pop songs have always been more about moments than eons, they are miniatures by nature. After I finished this album, I realized how much it is about extremely minute amounts of time — that point on the line we're on between the past and the future, how mysterious it is that the “now” seems fixed but is always a shifting landscape. When I lived in NYC, I was always going through tunnels — the Lincoln or Holland, the subway or PATH — and it was a good time to think about Einstein and Hawking and Doppler. Of course, it's a cliché, "How the time has flown, I must be leaving the party now, thank you very much," but like many clichés it is also a question that rewards further examination. This tune was the first one written with “brass 'n' band” in mind.
3) “Invisible” - I wrote this with a capo high on my old Silvertone guitar, a clear, “silver” tone. It's about some seemingly magic events that happened to me at a time of great loss. We live in an era of science, tantalized by explanations for everything, but I think there are still “invisible” mysteries everywhere; it's just that we no longer are on the lookout for them. More to the point, I had played bass briefly with NC's own Let's Active and, with that sound in mind, was thrilled to enlist both Mitch and drummer Eric Marshall with me for this groove.
4) “Make Up Your Mind” - I heard the Beatle's Revolver a lot while I was writing this record, my daughter kept it on the turntable for a while. I think I better confess this now; it's pretty obvious in this song’s groove, at least to me, and the way it starts with the chorus, and the play on “too” and “to.” I tried to make the choruses conversational and casual, like you are speaking to someone across a kitchen table (also like “Spooky” by the Classics IV?); then the verses are louder and more preachy, with a riff that remembers the Cramps. The guitar solo was mostly just a test to see if the wire was working, but I left it in, I like how it leaps out and is a bit wonky. Crispin Cioe from the Uptown Horns did the most perfect “surgical strike” brass parts on this.
5) “Euphoria” - This song was written as a kind of dictation, on a brilliantly sunny day in the South, just lines in my head while driving around in my red truck feeling (dare I meta-say?) euphoric. I remembered the words as best I could and jotted them down as soon as I got to a stopping place; the music was pretty easy to recall. We cut it live as a band, with Wes’s Herbie Hancock Rhodes ringing and Matt McMichaels on second guitar, than I doubled the live solo later with Bollywood massed strings. (We actually redid this track later, really tight and punchy like a Nile Rogers tune, but the original version got the nod in the end, maybe one day the other will surface.) It was nine minutes long to begin; we had a lot of fun cutting it — but in the end, the shorter version seemed to fit better. “Little Johnny Jewel,” the first Television single, faded out on one side and then back up on the flip, real magic storytelling, like a syndicated radio show, I first aped this on “Soul Kiss Pt. II” by the dB's and was glad to go there again — the Part II of the song is a bonus track included with this release. My friend Glenn Morrow says this is the return of the Groovegate System, my 1980s It's a Wonderful Life claptrap techno rig that was based on Timmy Thomas's “Let's Live Together” — but it isn't really.
6) “Awake in the World” - This was recorded in sections, with abrupt shifts, like ping-ponging scenes in a movie, to try to match that feeling of being jolted awake, to keep the listener on their toes. The pre-chorus is a bit like “Crosstown Traffic” or “Expressway to Your Heart” by the Soul Survivors and otherwise there are a lot of Sgt. Pepper sonic references here I have to admit, that Salvation Army brass sound! I loved the way Nile Rogers mixed Stevie Ray Vaughn and brass together in the middle of David Bowie's “Let's Dance,” so there's a bit of that in there, too, in the slightly bluesy solo.
7) “Dear Valentine” - Memphis songwriter Chris Bell wrote a number of songs that seemed to conflate romantic and spiritual love, as did Al Green; I think of this as a song in that tradition, that, despite the title, it could be to a lover or to God. (I've done this before, e.g. “Song for Johnny Cash"). In fact, for a while it had the now-embarrassing working title “Bell Song.” It also uses a riff with an augmented 4th walk down like the Big Star song “Back of a Car” and the interior thirds guitar voicing’s of songs like “And Your Bird Can Sing” but these are not direct lifts, as opposed to the cowbell tremelo before the solo, which is an over-the-top direct lift of course but was really fun to do so it got left in the mix. I was so pleased that Norman Blake (the Teenage Fanclub one, not the folksinger) could sing harmonies on this one, I love his voice. (When I was in the dB's, we were often thought of as doing things in the Big Star tradition but I never thought this was very accurate at all.)
8) “When the Fever Breaks” - Richard Thompson's “Wall of Death” (named after the amusement park ride) is a great song, I think both it and “All Along the Watchtower” were on my mind here — songs where you feel like you have come in late to a movie and are missing some kind of back story. Here the “fever” is “life's midsummer-night's dream” and the singer is waiting for death to reunite him with a loved one. I asked Tony Stiglitz and Mitch Easter for an AC/DC and Zep thing and they made it their own. The percussive organ is a Bernie Worrell signature sound, Hammond as conga, Bernie and I toured together in the Golden Palominos and originally he was going to play this part but our schedules didn't match up, Wes got it right. I don't specifically remember even playing the stream-of-consciousness guitar licks, I must have done them very late one night, and so it was a treat to “uncover” them later on a neglected track. This is my favorite song on the record, as far as songwriting goes.
9) “You Are Beautiful” - I hadn't intended to arrange any orchestral textures this time out but couldn’t resist a bit of Harry Nilsson “in the night” on this one, and when Pat Sansone added his amazing massed vocal harmonies (thank you sir) it all seemed to fit. This is a song about having the courage to be at home in your own skin, also about “telling your own truth” as the saying goes, something that comes up often for the first time in adolescence but never really leaves. I've known people in the LGBT community who struggle with the disconnect between the way they are and the way society asks them to be, so this was part of the story here. But really it’s meant to be encouraging to anyone who is brave enough to stand up at any time and say, “this is me.”
10) “Rocketship” - This tune is really just for fun; it used to be that songwriting was more about coming up with a Riff that was fun to play, this is very old-fashioned in that regard. Everyone in my hometown high school music scene loved the MC5, songs such as “Human Being Lawnmower” rewrote the textbook for us. There was a short time in the history of the Five when they adopted a sci-fi stance, with outfits that looked to have been made out of aluminum foil!, although I didn't discover this until later, but I'm tipping a shiny hat to that. I've dragged the dB's Acetone organ around the world with me over the years and was glad to have some Acetone on this tune; too, nothing says “space” quite like a combo organ.
BONUS TRACKS (at this point, iTunes does not list these as accompanying their version of the album — buy the CD or LP from Yep Roc instead):
11) “Draggin' the Line” - I cut this originally for a WFMU benefit CD and reworked it as a companion piece here. Those of you who know Jon Wurster primarily as a comedic raconteur may be surprised to hear that he's the drummer on this, and a quite good one to boot. Lydia Kavanagh, from She Never Blinks, sings this with me.
12) “Euphoria, Cont'd” - The bookend to the title track. Mitch plays this solo, actually, not me — much appreciated! The quote that this was based around is from Lost Horizons by James Hilton: “Then the whole range, much nearer now, paled into fresh splendor; a full moon rose, touching each peak in succession like some celestial lamplighter, until the long horizon glittered against a blue-black sky.” I've always liked one-chord more than three chords, “Right Off" with Miles Davis and John McLaughlin was a key track for me.