The unorthodox story behind "Until I Have You"

As so often is the case, the path to creating anything is rarely short or straight, and this song is no exception.

As I've written in the past, one of the few remaining ways for songwriters/artists/producers to make money with music anymore is to license songs to film, TV, and advertising.  Sometimes we get an email that has come to us [and goodness knows how many others], giving the specifics of what someone is looking for.  Sometimes there's another song they've temped into their video, but it's a song that's either unavailable or too expensive and they want something that FEELS and SOUNDS like that song, but is NOT that song.  And sometimes we decide to set everything else aside and do our best to crank something out that might fit their needs, in hopes that we might land the license and pay some bills.  

We got a listing for a song that would replace a song by Portishead called "All Mine", it needed to be done in a couple of days, so we had to decide if we could pull something off.  After debating, we realized that we actually had a track that was already the right feel and tempo for the listing.  The only problem with that track was that it was from a song we'd released on our album, and it was "out there" and established as our remake of "Angel Eyes" on our Chillodesiac Lounge album.  However, we talked about if we could mute the lead vocal, since the music underneath it had nothing to do with the original composition of Angel Eyes [I had reharmonized it completely when I programmed the track], I could take the instrumental track and write a new lyric and melody over it more reminiscent of their reference. Since it was a Portishead tune, we figured this was definitely in our wheel house and it was worth a go.  

The problem was, first of all, I had a major upper respiratory bug and was completely congested and hoarse. Also I had a very full schedule in those two days.  But this is how life goes.  Perfectly imperfect.  So, Kurt got me the instrumental track for Angel Eyes, and I had to try to put out of my mind the melody I was used to hearing over it for the last 6 years and try to come up with something new.  I was booked to produce someone else's vocal in someone else's studio, so I had the music playing as I was driving, trying to get myself into the creative space of what the Portishead tune was in.  By the time I pulled up to the studio, I had a chorus lyric and melody in my head, so I grabbed a piece of junk mail from the car seat and jotted down the chorus lyric on the back of the envelope, and then went in and worked on other music for a few hours.  Afterward, I came home and finished the verses and a lyrically minimal bridge and set about croaking out a demo of my idea for whomever would sing it.  More on that later…

About the lyrics

The lyrics to "All Mine" are a little creepy and stalkerish to me, and honestly I just looked them up for the first time and I'm a bit surprised at how much my lyrics capture the same sentiment. When combined with the sometimes confusing musical turns and the vocal performance, it definitely makes you question the stability of the person who is talking. Here are the Portishead lyrics:

"All Mine"

All the stars may shine bright
All the clouds may be white
But when you smile
Ohh how I feel so good
That I can hardly wait

To hold you
Enfold you
Never enough
Render your heart to me

All mine.......
You have to be

From that cloud, number nine
Danger starts the sharp incline
And such sad regrets
Ohh as those starry skies
As they swiftly fall

Make no mistake
You shan't escape
Tethered and tied
There's nowhere to hide from me

All mine....
You have to be

Don't resist
We shall exist
Until the day I die
Until the day I die

All mine.......
You have to be

For me personally, I find it difficult to write song lyrics that make another human being seem like the answer to every problem and the guarantee of happiness and total fulfillment.  I think that's a lie told too often in songs, and I just can't stomach perpetuating it.  So, if I need to write a lyric that is about being fixated on someone, for me I have to go to a bigger target than another human, and I am writing to the divine.  That is what I did for our Christmas song, and also on Come To Me. In this case, when I did that, I was able to write some things that are very grandiose and that makes it seem sort of unstable/stalkerish on the part of the person singing if you think it's merely to another person. This is the lyric:

Until I Have You

You are where it all begins
A starry whisper on the solar winds
You alone control my breath
All I know is my soul shall never rest

Until I have you
I'm not alive unless I know you
My heart was made to hold you
I cannot rest until I have you

Space and time will pass away
And in its exit, our love will remain
And when I finally shed this skin
The everlasting romance will begin

When I have you
I'm not alive unless I know you
My heart was made to hold you
I cannot rest until I have you

Come and rescue me
Come and take me
Come and capture me

Come and rescue me
Come and take me
Come enrapture me

Until I have you
I'm not alive unless I know you
My heart was made to hold you
I cannot rest until I have you

For me, I think there's something more interesting about how this lyric can seem a bit tweaked if you don't understand the divine context of it.  Phrases like "when I finally shed this skin" don't happen in a straight up love/lust song. This is harder to gloss over and ignore and definitely feels stalkerish, which is what I wanted.

About the melody

Since we were recycling the track for Angel Eyes, there were really only 2 chords to the track that just go back and forth.  We did that on many of our reconstructions of the jazz standards because it creates a nice harmonic plateau that can be hypnotic and easy to listen to, and that meant that I definitely needed to write a contrasting melody between the verse and the chorus of the song since the chords were the same in both sections.  Also, one of the melodic characteristics of this song is that it's mainly a natural minor melody, but there's a +4 in the chorus on the word "have"  and "hold" of the first and third lines respectively.  This raised 4th scale degree in the context of a minor scale is not a common mode in commercial music, and it gives it a James Bondesque flavor.

About the production

If you go back and listen to Angel Eyes, you'll hear that the track we have released now only has a couple of those production elements remaining. That's because we've had time since this all happened to go back and completely rework the track so that it's now its own musical work. Back when we did the original pitch with the short deadline, we ended up muting some of the more recognizable "ear candy" track elements and replaced them with things that would [hopefully] make the client FEEL like they had the Portishead song.  We added horn hits and that seedy sounding guitar that comes in on the bridge. But otherwise, we were under such a time crunch that we had to leave the bass, drums, strings, synths etc all as they were and just "get her done". Once we had more time with the track, we were able to go back and replace all of the drums and bass and many other track elements, so this is most definitely a new track.

About the first version vocal

You're not hearing it, but since I was so sick at the time and we were under such a deadline, we ended up calling another singer to do the vocal on this, Fleming McWilliams who sang Tangerine on our Chillodesiac Lounge album.  I've always loved Fleming's voice, it has so much character to it.  There's this lovely whimsical quality with a little bit of grit and yet she's great in her head voice, so she can sing quite high and it all has such a cool vibe to it.  Fleming nailed it, what she delivered was exactly what I'd had in my head when I imagined her singing it.  I love her voice.  So… why are you not hearing her vocal anymore?  Well there are a couple of reasons.  First, there were some lyrics in the first version that always bugged me, and I wanted to fine tune them.  I didn't have time to do many revisions when we were in the throes of getting it done for the pitch.  Having had time to live with it, I had some clear ideas of lyrical edits I wanted to make.  Secondly, it just seemed like a better business decision to have me be the singer.  This song was definitely within my reach, and the only reason Fleming sang it to begin with was because I was sick at the time and couldn't breathe through my nose. But I'm not sick anymore now. So as much as I loved her vocal, as a business person, I had to make the decision to record the vocal myself.  Ellen the producer would have totally kept Fleming's vocal.  Ellen the business person needed to eliminate a non-member of WGC from the final version so if we land a license, we don't have to worry about getting permission from anyone else to move forward with signing contracts.  Also, it just makes more sense for us as a band. Ellen the singer doesn't care either way.  As I've said in previous blog posts, I feel just as invested in a track whether I'm the voice on it or not because I'm so involved in other ways. Singing is not where I find my own satisfaction in this process.  The writing and production are much more important to me personally.

About what happened with the pitch

Due to scheduling issues, we didn't start recording the vocals until the evening before the song was supposed to be done.  Once we got done tracking the vocals, they needed to be edited and then the song needed to be mixed and mastered.  This is one occasion where Kurt drew a line about what he was willing and not willing to do for these fast turn around pitches.  Staying up all night to mix was NOT something he was willing to do.  I mean… we're not in our 20's anymore and we're parents, so we can't be so haphazard about tossing aside essential things like sleep.  Technically they had asked for the songs to be submitted by 10 AM the next day, but Kurt reached out to our contact and they said if we could get it there by noon, that would still be fine since they were going to send batches.  So he got up early the next day and worked on the mixing and mastering.

Once it was all done, I felt like we were in the ballpark for this.  I mean, you can never predict what they will choose in the end, but I felt like we'd captured many of the sonic traits of the Portishead song, and I believed that if the client heard it, they just might feel like they had the next best thing.  After we submitted it, our contact at the publishing company said he liked it, and it sounded great BUT....  And then came the words we DID NOT want to hear.  "...The client is asking us to hold off on sending any more tracks like this because they might be changing direction on what they want." [face palm]

And that was it. It never got passed along to the client. After all of that work. They changed directions.

This can easily happen.  They are not invested in anything at that point because they haven't had to pay any money for the music being submitted to them.  So changing directions on a whim feels like nothing to them.  All of this is happening under the guise that these songs were already done and people just happened to have the songs laying around and someone decided to send it in.  The ad agency has no idea that there might be people out there madly working, trying to churn out something that fits the description, within 24-48 hours without getting paid. That would be RIDICULOUS RIGHT!?

And yet… that is partly what we as an industry have come to.  We must do things on spec quite often, just hoping we'll get the pay off. Just hoping we can pay some bills.  

We actually have friends who do this full time and are having great success with this approach.  We honestly don't "go for it" on pitches like this very often because we have other work to do, and the "no money" work gets old and exhausting.

Fortunately in the end, this time around, we ended up with a song that I think is pretty cool, and I'm glad to have it to release as a Worldwide Groove Corporation track. And I think it's interesting how we muted the vocal on another track, wrote over the old instrumental bed, recorded a new vocal, and then replaced the old instrumental bed.  It was a wacky songwriting process, but it served its purpose at the time and now it's a part of our Year of the Groove.  Woot!

until I have you worldwide groove corp