The Story Behind Kiss Me Slow
I've shared in a video on YouTube about how we arrived at the musical direction things have moved in since our Chillodesiac Lounge, vol. 1: Fever release in 2007. I'll recap here in case you missed the video. If you already know the story, you can skim down…
The vision for Chillodesiac Lounge was very much a business minded venture. We were creating electronic reconstructions of famous jazz standards, putting a fresh spin on them while maintaining the atmospheric mood of the standard versions of the song. Original songs weren't a priority, and the fact that the album had so many cover tunes served us well in getting songs on several compilations and radio playlists, and also getting our CDs [yes people actually still bought CDs back then] into high end stores and hotels around the country.
During the course of making that record, life happened, including having a preemie baby after an extremely difficult pregnancy and birth/health situation, and so it was a few years after we finally finished that album before I personally had the head space to even be creative. During that season, Kurt was still primarily keeping busy with the money work, but here and there he would start a snippet of a track idea he had and put it in a folder on his computer. I didn't know he was doing this until one day I found the folder and listened. I asked him to send me what he had, and after a time, I weeded through them, finding the ones I liked, with the intention to write lyrics and melody over them.
This process was actually quite strange for me because with the first record, it was really my vision from the beginning, and at that time [pre-motherhood], I had my own music gear, so I was free to work out my musical ideas. With the first record, I programmed four songs and started a couple more tracks before Kurt's hands were even in the mix. He kept saying "if you want to do it, go ahead, I'm too busy". So I very much had creative control and time to work out my vision. Those first tracks were The Man I Love, My Funny Valentine, Angel Eyes, Tangerine, and I'd gotten Fever started. Then… I got pregnant and was immediately sick. Then I was on bed rest. So my involvement went from visionary and autonomous producer to dry heaving back seat driver. It was awkward when Kurt actually STARTED a track without my input back then because I'd been so comfortable having my own connection with the track, matching it to my vision. But I had no choice in the matter and simply had to adjust. [Make no mistake that Kurt is a far superior programmer than I am, so this was probably good in the big picture.]
Flash forward to me writing lyrics and melody over tracks I'd had nothing to do with, my role was COMPLETELY different. Plus my creative time was relegated to the short gaps between all that motherhood and teaching at a university requires. So it was a slow start.
Another change in the creative process was that I had gone through some very deeply traumatic personal things since our first record, and I found myself gravitating toward writing more dark, obscure, metaphorical and cathartic lyrics. So instead of using good old lyrically benign jazz standards and being more of a producer and arranger, this time I felt more like an artist who needed to communicate something very personal through music. Because of this, I also felt that I needed to do the vocals on these tracks myself, since the lyrics were my personal "voice". On the first record, I purposely did NOT sing most of the songs because as a female, I'm often perceived as simply "the singer" or "the one who makes the coffee and books the other singers", which was NOT the case. I wanted to be seen as the producer that I was, so we hired other singers. I actually loved that because there are so many wonderful voices out there, it's so GREAT to be able to choose the voice I want and then sit back and tell them what I want and they make it happen. In the words of George Clooney, "it's more fun to be the painter than the paint." In the end, I felt no more of a sense of ownership of the tracks I had sung than I did of the tracks I had not sung because the entire thing was my vision and I had programmed much of the music underneath.
But the new material was different. And I was aware that the emotional tone was changing. These new songs were no longer easy music for a dinner party or date night. These new songs were more emotionally demanding and more complex. The kind you might sit in your car and listen to alone.
At one point, Kurt and I had a conversation. I asked the question: do we want to keep ourselves limited emotionally so that our new music is another project like the first one? Or do we want to let our creativity take us wherever it wants to go? At the time, we were both pretty maxed out on doing music work for other clients. Paying the bills with music usually means using your talents to create music that meets your clients needs and expectations. There is some room to be creative, but never like when you're making your own music. So, we decided in order to creatively feed our souls, we needed to allow the songs to go wherever they wanted to go, emotionally speaking and lyrically speaking. This felt very freeing creatively.
We were, however, also aware of the fact that we shouldn't completely abandon the mood of our first record with every song. So, we were intentional about making some songs that were appropriate for a volume 2 type of collection. One of the snippets in Kurt's idea folder immediately caught my attention with it's obvious slow grind. It's important when working on a track that there be some inherent emotional fingerprint to it, not too bland. This definitely was not a generic or bland track idea.
When I'm teaching music composition and songwriting at the university, I tell my students that from my experience, the creative process has three stages which should be kept separate, and that one should not move on to the next stage until they've adequately finished the previous one. Those three stages are: Ponder [until you land on a concept], Flow, and Edit. The ponder stage can happen when you're doing life. Driving, eating, cooking, showering, walking, brushing your teeth. Or it can happen when you sit down and brain storm a bunch of concepts. This is when what I call my inner "muse" whispers ideas to me. Once you have a concept to start with, then you sit down and you flow out your first draft where there are no "bad" ideas, and you realize that some of what you write will just be place holder lyrics. After you've done an adequate first draft flow, THEN you go back and ask all the important questions and edit edit edit. Sometimes, when you get to the editing phase, you realize you need to just throw out a whole section and start over, so you go back to flow. And sometimes you get to the edit phase and realize your concept was weak, so you go back to pondering for a better concept. If you try to flow before you've got a good concept, your flow will be weak and the lyrics may seem like they're not really about anything or your melody might not be very memorable. If you try to edit before you've allowed yourself to flow, you won't allow your inner muse time to be creative and write from the intuitive instincts, and the result will seem more contrived and the process will be more frustrating. It's like driving but pushing on the brakes while you're accelerating.
My starting concept for that obvious slow grind was simply the phrase "grab me fast, and kiss me slow". I purposely used the incorrect grammar instead of "kiss me slowly" because I was playing off fast and slow. Also, sometimes when you're writing lyrics, using unconventional grammar or wording can make a song stick more. Starting with this concept, I did a first draft flow.
Doing a first draft flow has become relatively easier after doing years of improv comedy shows where I'm making up songs in front of the audience in real time [the same as how Wayne Brady does on Whose Line is it Anyway, except he's brilliant]. Something about being in front of an audience, and not knowing what the pianist is going to play, and having to sing WHATEVER COMES INTO MY HEAD NEXT with full commitment has effectively wired my brain for not over-thinking it and just writing. Not to say it's effortless by any means, just easier than it was before the years of improv. Flow is about keeping forward motion. Even if it's weird, get it down. Even if it doesn't make sense, write it. Even if you don't love it, document it. Even if you leave a blank line and skip to the next phrase for which you have an idea, just keep putting down what comes to mind. Try not to stall out.
A song like Kiss Me Slow isn't at all the same as a song like Come to Me. With Come to Me, I had a melodic idea in the chorus and a basic sentiment [those two things together were my starting concept] and when I flowed out the first draft of the lyric, it was clearly very desperate and complex. Come to Me is about longing for a reconnection with the divine, it's a big topic. A lyric like that needs to be refined and edited and refined and edited some more.
A song like Kiss Me Slow isn't at all complex. I mean… it's pretty clear.
KISS ME SLOW
Grab me fast
Kiss me slow
Take me now
To that place we go
I’ve felt your lips
Ten thousand times
They still get me
Open the window
Pull the shade
Come to me
light my flame
There’s something sacred
When we kiss
‘Cause you’re the only one
Who’s known me like this
So, essentially with Kiss Me Slow, I just followed the flow and wrote out a lyric that is mostly what the final version is. I knew this was a basic song and I didn't want the lyric to seem overworked or too complex. The track clearly suggested the nature of the song, so I just went with it. I do realize that I rhymed "times" with "time" in the first verse. I don't care. I've written enough lyrics to be confident in the fact that I can do that if I want to. Just like I can end a sentence with a preposition if I want to.
The chorus is pretty straight forward. Lyrically it's super simple. It's what I call a "purple rain" kind of chorus. Melodically, it doesn't go above the range of the verse which goes against the loose rules of songwriting, where the chorus usually is a bit higher than the verse. However, this song is more of a hypnotic groove, and an elevated chorus would have been a vibe buster in context, so I decided to let it stay in that range and add a harmony a third up for contrast during that section.
The second verse has a lyrical slant that is not a mainstream viewpoint in our culture. This song is actually about lifelong monogamy. It's a shout out to those who've saved themselves for marriage. [WHAT!? People DO that?? I know, right? Believe it or not, they DO.] "There's something sacred when we kiss, 'cause you're the only one who's known me like this." So, it's not completely vapid and simple. There is a bit of depth.
Since this song is more of a melodic plateau, we decided to go with a foreign language rap for a bridge instead of a musically new section with a contrasting melody. We had already done the French rap on our version of Fever, and if I wasn't concerned about seeming like we were recycling ideas, I TOTALLY would have done that on this song. So to explore some new territory, we went with Italian. I mean, no offense to some of the other languages, but German or Chinese just wouldn't have the same effect. Not romantic.
A friend of ours who is from Italy but lives in NYC now was kind enough to offer to help us get someone to rap in Italian on it. Our friend was actually IN Italy so he had plenty of resources for finding someone. We were excited to set up a Skype session so we could produce the Italian rap. Kurt and our friend made the plans and it was on the calendar. I inquired about the time difference. "Are we SURE we've got it right? What about daylight savings?" as we were going to bed the night before. We set our alarm so we'd be dressed and in front of the computer at 8AM the next day. Of course… you're already figuring out... By the time we got in front of the computer, our friend in Italy had tried to reach us but we weren't there at 7AM our time, when he was ready. So he went ahead and recorded the Italian rap without us having any input. FORTUNATELY, he did a great job and we were happy with what they recorded. UNFORTUNATELY, my morning plans changed from Skyping with someone in Italy while they rapped on a song for our record to having Kurt head out the door to the other studio while I stayed home and cleaned the kitchen and home schooled my kindergartener… major downgrade in the coolness and fun factor. MAJOR. But enough about that…
Over all, Kiss Me Slow is probably the most basic and straightforward lyric we will be releasing in our Year of the Groove. It is what it is. The bottom line in writing and recording songs is how it makes the listener FEEL when they hear it. If the music and lyric work together to evoke an emotion in the audience, then you've at least succeeded on some level. The track had a certain feel and I lyrically matched the tone of it. I believe this song does evoke emotion in the listener, so I'm happy with it for that. I, however, never want to know if children are conceived to this song... And that's all I have to say about that.