Seventeen Years is another one of the older songs on the record – written a few years ago during a trip to Virginia and very much influenced in contentby my time spent living in Ohio. In part the song is an homage to those 17 Year cicadas that emerged outside my home up on Angel Ridge the summer my daughter was born (an allegory to cycles of life for bug and human!) The song is also a recounting (with much artistic license) of a moment in the life of a teen mom I represented in Athens when working as a State Public Defender on child welfare cases.
We wanted the song to have a kind of epic quality, the 17 year cicada emergence is biblical in its scope …. So in addition to Bob Foster’s mighty Hammond parts, Dr John’s gritty loud electric, and the maiden voyage of my mandolin playing in the bridge, I am most chuffed that Jeremy Darby helped us loop and integrate a recording of the male cicada’s mating call into the start and finish of the song – that and a cameo appearance in the outro by Lord David Attenborough no less! The famous British naturalist, unbeknownst to himself at the time, conveniently quoted a lyric from my song in his BBC documentary on this most extraordinary insect which demanded sampling: “…after seventeen long years.”
Yes, we did try and make it a bit Ben Hur-esque!
There’s rather bombastic drums and a certain sword and sandal swagger to the whole affair! On the big riff that starts the tune everyone piles in: Hammond, heavy distorted guitars, bass, drums… Then Jon’s violin emulates the two note mating call of the male cicada , who has seventeen years of pent up
ardor to release!!
It’s a great a song to play live… And I wanted to capture that energy in the studio. It feels unifying and defiant… The heart wrenching struggle and catharsis of this young mother. As the song comes out of the bridge into the third verse there’s a long drone note on Hammond, Bass and Jon’s tremolando violin that supports the mother’s call:
“She’ll use her strong new voice to call her one true love back home,
He may hear it rise above the cacophony so grand.
But it ain’t no siren’s song, the jagged rocks reduced to sand,
And after seventeen long years he returns to take her hand…”
Off on our hols on the 401 headed for Montreal and turning my mind to the 4th track on our album, Making the Fruit Fall. This is the one co-write on the record – a joint effort in words and music with my bandmate, producer and partner Simon Law. For my part, I was asked to flesh out Simon’s lyrical idea “make or breaking it down, shaking the tree, making the fruit fall, whys and wherefores fall to the floor.” What unfolded was a look at what happens when you summon up the strength to do just that – shake the tree. Annoyingly (as pointed out by John) Peter Gabriel had already claimed that title so the song became the result of shaking the tree – Making the Fruit Fall. The tune was a welcomed challenge for me to sing – Simon’s jumping and multi-noted melody took me away from my own approach to melody writing. The octave leaps capture the ear and evoke the fragility of courage. The melody compliments the message.
This song originated from a melody, which kept coming back to me and stays intact in the song as the vocal melody. On a street car ride downtown the words Jen quoted earlier came to me fully formed. The song developed from that – Jen, a more prolific lyricist than I, developed the song and added the music for the bridge. The chords, harmony instrumentation, developed over many weeks of playing the song with the band. It’s one of the first songs we did with Jon playing mandolin. And the harmonies created by Jon’s mando and John’s acoustic guitar with Jen’s guitar part layered on top creates a delicate weaving quality which only breaks in the bridge.
The good doctor says:
This song has a familiar descending chord progression that you will hear variations of in everything from Pachelbel’s Canon in D to A Whiter Shade of Pale (and Fate Line for that matter). In rehearsals, Jonathan and I would sometimes play the melody of any handy tune that fits in with this progression.
I love how the bridge has evolved, with five-part harmonies blasting in, first with the band in full flight and then in an a cappella version. “How many flights will he take to get back home, to ramble or to roam….” At one point the harmonies then strip away to just two soft voices singing “across the unforgiving seas.” The bridge finally ends with a lone plea – “…this once elusive love is waiting here with me.”The mando and guitar duet from the Jo(h)ns is also a fave, particularly in the instrumental coda when we repeat the musical phrase in a more unhinged way – the boys let loose and my rhythm guitar strumming shifts into 5th gear. Too much fun!The Good Doctor John’s Take:The musical thread that runs through this song is the lovely melody that Jonathan and I play together, which was written by Simon. Even though the song has an obvious English folk feel, I keep thinking of Greek bouzoukis whenever I listen to Jonathan and me playing. I particularly like the end section, when Jonathan and I break away from the melody into what sounds like inspired soloing (which in reality for me was a painstakingly constructed part). I also encourage you to listen to Astrid’s bass on this track, which is some of her most fluid and melodic playing on the album.
For some strange reason this song elicits the most Spinal Tap quoting of any other. Perhaps it is the Druid-like melody section, particularly at the end, when someone at rehearsal can often be heard uttering the immortal words: “…and oh how they danced, the little children of Stone’enge.” (see 2:47 on clip below)
I had the bright idea after the release party to keep going with our Facebook band page postings – Fate Line Fridays – but instead of songs and music that influenced the record, we’d feature a track a week and give background and Shiner perspective on each tune.
So to start things off, the first and title track of the record is Fate Line. Written on the shores of Lake Skootamata a few summers ago, this song was an exercise in unpacking what it meant to have been told by a palmist that I had a long fate line. What evolved lyrically was a study of the forces at play on our lives – and the compulsion to seek or flee the ghosts that haunt us now.
And Lord knows I love alliterations and word play, hence the bridge:
I can’t escape
That I eschew too late
To predicate my fate
One musical detail or influence I remember, perhaps if only by osmosis, was that that summer I was listening quite obsessively to a new release from Elvis Costello – his bluegrass or old timey country album Secret, Profane and Sugarcane. I feel that the stripped down mood of Fate Line (at least at the start of the song and in the bridge) emanates a bit from that steeping.
The Good Doctor John’s take:
Fate Line is a relatively old song, so I originally started off playing bass on it. When I switched over to guitar, I had to come up with something that fit into what was a fairly established arrangement by that point. I particularly didn’t want to take away from Jonathan’s lovely violin parts – both the serene harmonized sections in the chorus and his melodic lines elsewhere.
I decided that it might sound nice to have a very repetitive pattern on high notes to complement a fairly mobile, often descending bass line. Initially I just played the high notes, but that started to get a bit lame. So I decided to double up the descending bass line and play the high notes at the same time. And that is what I play now. My only moment of doubt came recently when I realized that what I play veers fairly closely to the guitar part in Tal Bachman’s She’s So High. But since no one else appears to have noticed the similarity, we’ll just keep that our little secret.
Fate Line (or Phattalina as it’s known in our band?!) evolved over quite a few years, with each member of the band finding their parts as it developed. We did a demo of it in 2009, Jon’s beautiful Bach-like violin part he created was there at that stage but the groove and feel wasn’t defined until later. The rhythm section vibes came later as we played it live, honed the feel and Astrid and I found our flavour on Bass and Drums.
There are three interesting peaks in the song structure: I love the way it drops into the groove for the first verse (this moment always feels good live, the sound of the Shiners getting down to business!)…then the movement into the bridge after Jon’s solo for a big change in mood and then when remerges into the broken down exposed chorus: Jen and her guitar, harmonies and the Violin theme. It’s also special that the song starts with just Jen’s guitar, as all of her songs are written on her acoustic guitar!
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