This month's release is the final installment in our Year of the Groove [where we've put out one electronic music release a month for a year,] and what a year it has been! As much as I'm tempted to launch into a recap of the Year of the Groove, that is for another blog post. Today is all about this month's maxi single "Make Me Free". Giddyup!
First off, you may be asking "why did they do 5 versions of the same song? I mean, who do they think they are?!" As much as I'd love to say that we set out from the very beginning of the Year of the Groove to have this end-it-with-a-bang maxi single of the *best* song of the bunch, and we generated all of these versions out of our excessive creative energy, it was actually not that way at all. Not even remotely. Here's the real story of how indecision and perfectionism spawned a 5 headed "song baby"…
HOW IT STARTED
Make Me Free falls into the category of songs I wrote on my own first and Kurt later programmed [as opposed to Kurt starting a track and me writing lyrics and melody over it], which I've previously shared is always a more awkward creative path for me. The collaboration process started with me playing and singing it for Kurt, and then I probably wrote out a chart of it at some point and/or made a rough demo for him, and then he set about producing the track while I stayed at home with our child. I honestly don't have this fresh in my memory because Make Me Free is one of the first songs I wrote after my creative forced hiatus [read difficult pregnancy/child birth/health issues/recovery] and I was just emerging from the fog of losing all sense of myself in major life upheavals. My new lifestyle of keeping a small, tiny, helpless person alive 24/7 with no breaks in the midst of several health issues and a major life crisis, left me so utterly sideswiped that I truly had zero energy left for being remotely creative for a very long time.
So, when I was parking my car on campus for a [ghastly] 8AM private instrumental arranging lesson during the Summer [who even wants to think about big band jazz voicings at 8AM during the summer?] and this melody popped into my head, it was much like if I'd been lying in a hospital bed paralyzed and suddenly felt my toes move after being immobile for years. It was a momentous occasion as I walked from my car to the music building replaying this new melody in my brain, and before my student showed up, I grabbed a piece of plain paper, madly drew 5 lines and a treble clef on it, and notated the melody which is now the first phrase of the chorus. [Nerd confession: I must admit, at the time, I'd been listening to my Seal station on Pandora, and I do think that melody has a Seal influence in the way that it goes between the minor and major 3rd scale degree.]
And that was how it began...
Basically, this song is about being loved unconditionally. The verses speak of our brokenness, our sense of feeling unlovable and desperate for acceptance, and the chorus celebrates being fully known and fully loved for all eternity. And although my mom loves me no matter what, that's not what I'm talking about. For me, the only source of this type of unconditional love is from my divine creator, through Jesus Christ, my lord and savior.
MAKE ME FREE
Wake up, shake up, cake on the make up
Look down, don’t drown, I’m such a fake up
you see through me, I’m dark and you know it
hocus focus, the lens doesn’t show it
You've loved me all my life
All the way inside
Make me free
and surrounded by your loveliness
So free in your wondrous eyes, I can rest with
You know all of me, still you want to
With me endlessly, you make me free
I wait, can’t wait, I don’t have the virtue
‘Til then, numb out, Get drunk on your perfume
I’m so guilty, gorgeous and filthy
Wash me, fill me, touch me and kill me
I need you for my life
All the way inside
Make me free
and surrounded by your loveliness
So free in your wondrous eyes, I can rest with
You know all of me, and still you want to
With me endlessly, you make me free
Give me just a little taste of what you’ve got
Throw out a a line, give me something to hold on
Until you come it’s gonna be an long dark night
The thought of you is all that’s keeping me alive
Though this lyric probably seems the most "Christian" of any of the releases from this Year of the Groove, it's certainly not the only one that is about spiritual matters. The other songs that belong in that category are "Come To Me", "When the Holiday Brings You Home", "Glitter & Bliss", and "Until I Have You".
A few observant people may notice after listening to all 5 versions of Make Me Free that the W.G.C. Sweet Jasmine Acoustic Mix has a different lyric. Actually, although the acoustic version if the song wasn't the FIRST version [more on that in a moment], that was my earlier version of the lyric. The second verse went like this:
I wait, can't wait
I don't have the virtue
'Til then, numb out
Get drunk on your perfume
I'm so guilty, broken and filthy
Wash me, fill me, touch me and still me.
That was my earlier draft, but when we started producing the track for [what I didn't know would be only the] first version of this song, it was upbeat, consistent with my original vision for this song, and so I wanted to make the lyrics have a little more "grab" factor. Thus, I changed two words. I changed "broken" to "gorgeous", and I changed "still" to "kill" [as in "more of you, less of me".]
I wait, can't wait
I don't have the virtue
'Til then, numb out
Get drunk on your perfume
I'm so guilty, gorgeous and filthy
Wash me, fill me, touch me and kill me.
This is edgier in the context of an electronic track. But later when we recorded the acoustic version, that edgy lyric seemed forced and disingenuous, so I went back to the earlier draft, which felt much better in light of the more conversational context.
THE "ORIGINAL VERSION" OF THE SONG
I want to be clear about something. On this official release, none of the versions qualify as the 'original' version of the song. Some are closer to what I had in my head at the beginning, but each one of them has branched off in their own direction, each with modifications. The chronological first version, which I've now named the W.G.C. Wild Iris House Mix Demo, is only accessible in two places. It can be heard here, and when people buy the Make Me Free EP on Bandcamp, they will get this demo version as a bonus track, [ but it doesn't show up on the release page. It's invisible. Like my personal airplane. #wonderwoman]
As I mentioned, usually when I write the song first and then Kurt works on the track, it's kind of creatively awkward for me. I used to have my own gear so that I could program my own musical ideas and not need to rely on someone else to fill in the production gaps for me. But with my choice of being a stay at home mom, and now a home school mom, I no longer have hours and hours of time to myself, and therefore, I cannot program my own tracks. So, when I give Kurt a chart and lyrics, or a rough piano/vocal demo, there is a LOT of his own interpretation that goes into a mix. So… with this song, he made guesses as to what I would like, and I heard things that I didn't expect, and we made modifications, and little by little… over a very long period of time… between a lot of other music work and life events… we finished the song.
Or so we thought.
Kurt had put the final touches on the mix and sent it over and in our minds it was done until I realized I just wasn't very excited about it and made one seemingly unnocuous statement that unraveled everything:
"Do you think it might be a bit… lackluster?"
And that one word "lackluster" was the beginning of this very long long journey which resulted in 6 versions of this song coming to exist over the span of maybe 5 years.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT
Kurt made no immediate response to my "lackluster" question. But very soon after, we started tossing out ideas for a new approach. Kurt mentioned that he could hear the song not only as upbeat, but also at a half time tempo, and I suggested we do the song both upbeat and as a chillout mix and release two versions together. So we started with the chillout version and the electro version simultaneously.
W.G.C. WATER LILY CHILLOUT MIX
This version is first on the playlist, simply because this is the version most like what people might expect from us. In terms of production style, this mix fits best with most of our other releases. Honestly, Kurt did most of the production on this and I gave my thumbs up and thumbs down from the back of the room behind my laptop. I think it's tranquil and lovely.
The vocal performance is the one we recorded to the unreleased W.G.C. Wild Iris House Mix Demo [which has a 4 on the floor beat, a kick drum on every quarter note like in dance music.] There were times when we were concerned because the bleed through of my head phones got recorded and sometimes you could hear the fast beat of the track I was singing to if you soloed the vocal track. But honestly, you can't even tell in the chillout mix when all the instruments are playing. And I think my vocal performance doesn't seem inappropriately energetic over this chillout track. It's kind of the opposite scenario of what happened with Glitter & Bliss. On that track, I sang my vocal over a much more laid back track, and later we decided to make the track funkier, and fortunately my vocal translated and didn't seem too lethargic over the new funkier bass line.
In this mix, we ended up repeating the first verse before moving on to the chorus because I felt like it was in this nice place emotionally, and I just wanted it to stay there before advancing forward. In chillout music, nobody's in a hurry, so you don't need to worry about that "get to the hook in less than 45 seconds" rule like in pop music. This arranging decision ended up carrying over another version which I will discuss in a moment.
W.G.C. HOT AZALEA ELECTRO MIX
This mix was born at the same time as the chillout mix. It uses the same vocal performance as the other versions I've mentioned so far, but the first verse doesn't repeat in this arrangement because we need to get to the chorus faster with this upbeat style. I was excited that we had something with a bit of a sonic edge. That was new for us after having put out mainly chillout music up to that point. Keep in mind, we produced these versions long before the Year of the Groove was even an idea, so at that time, we hadn't released anything danceable or upbeat as Worldwide Groove Corporation. I was loving the newness of this sound for us.
And then it sat on the hard drive for a couple of years.
Once the Year of the Groove started and this was on the roster for release, and other versions came to exist [which I will tell about in a minute], we made the decision to shelve this particular mix because we knew it needed some serious revision, to get rid of the elements that I felt were sonically abrasive, and Kurt didn't think he would have the time to rework this track in the midst of releasing the other versions and all the other money work we do [to afford putting out these releases]. The plan WAS that this electro mix would be a "bonus" track like the W.G.C. Wild Iris House Mix, but when I reminded Kurt that he needed to get this track to me, he started actually revising it to make it an official release, and I didn't stop him. We muted the abrasive parts, found new sounds, made it better, and voila! Here it is.
W.G.C. SWEET JASMINE ACOUSTIC MIX
At a certain point, I voiced my songwriter frustration over the fact that when Kurt took over the reins on producing the tracks, he immediately started changing my chords. [He often changes my chords right out of the gate. #NashvilleMarriageProblems] So two things factored into this version of the song coming to be. It was a combination of my frustration over feeling like my original chords [which didn't even make it into the Wild Iris House Mix] had been completely disregarded, and my own love for reinventing things, which prompted me to share with Kurt my desire to also record this song as a piano ballad.
I had a modified chorus melody in my head, and as I showed Kurt my acoustic interpretation of this song, he nodded his head and agreed we would do a third official version for release. So this mix got started not too long after the electro and chillout versions, under the guise that "piano vocal versions are EASY and QUICK!" [not true]
We decided to track real piano and not use our MIDI piano [a sampled piano sound generated from the computer.] The day we booked the studio, we showed up and realized the piano was not in tune. We had a sitter at home and an engineer ready to help us record. We called a piano tuner to come ASAP and waited for him to get the piano ready. Then Kurt worked out his part and with a lot of discussion and compromise, we got it worked out. #MarriedPeopleWorkingTogether
Quite a while after that, we recorded the lead vocal on a day when our child was off at tutorial and I didn't need to be on campus, a rare occurrence. We recorded vocals on several songs that day, I remember we started the day with this song and it took about 90 minutes. Later when I listened back to what we had, I came to two conclusions. First, there was a lot of empty space in the arrangement and I decided I wanted to write a cello part. And second, I sounded like I need sinus surgery, and I wasn't sure [read: wasn't able to admit] there was anything I could do about it, aside from sinus surgery.
Now, this was at a season in my life when I was coming out of the shadows of having my whole world commandeered by having to care for my tiny premature baby turned strong willed child combined with three major abdominal surgeries in the span of 7 years. My point is… I was tired. My point is… I was too tired to do what I needed to do to help my voice. My point is… I didn't have the strength to give up eating dairy. So, the vocal was what it was, pinchy nose sound and all, and I felt like I just had to live with it.
It took me about a year to work up the creative energy to actually write a cello part after we had recorded the piano. But once I finished it, other music work took priority and we never booked the cellist to come in, so I filed away my part, which I'd written with pencil on staff paper because I like working better that way, just brain to paper. Once the Year of the Groove started, we finally had a deadline looming and had to book the cellist. I broke out in a cold sweat when I had a flash of wondering where I'd stashed my cello part. I fortunately found it without too much searching, promptly put it back for safe keeping, and didn't get it out again until the morning of the cello session. And that was when I realized I'd never finished it. Oops. I shut myself in the studio and wrote the notes out for the song's outro, and hustled it over to the studio for the recording session.
Can I just say how much I love cello? There's something so emotional and lovely about it. One nice thing about being able to write the cello part after the piano was recorded is that I got to compose a line that took into consideration both what the piano and vocal were doing, and play off of both of them. The cellist we hired plays with the symphony as well as doing a great deal of session work. He has a very quiet and reserved personality… the kind of personality I find most intimidating because I never can tell what they're thinking behind the eyes. Just to keep things moving along, I stood [very quietly] next to him in the tracking room while he played so that after each take I was able to point to specific passages and give feedback face to face. So of course, the whole time I was working with him and I'd give feedback and he'd be so timid in response, I kept thinking "he hates my cello part, he hates my music, he hates me" and then got overly friendly to compensate for my ridiculous inner monologue, which probably did nothing to help bring him out of his shell. Sigh… sometimes I exhaust myself.
Anyway, as we approached the inevitable deadline for this release, which was SUPPOSED to have come way earlier in the Year of the Groove but was so labor intensive it kept getting put off, Kurt pulled up this acoustic version a couple weeks ago and started talking about how he wished we'd used a better mic on my vocal. Sometimes we rent gear that's higher end when I'm going to record vocals instead of using our own mic. And as I was listening to it, I kept thinking about how I knew I could do a much better vocal performance of this song, now that I've finally gained the strength to go off dairy. It's amazing how much difference it makes for me. I do miss lasagna, but my margin of vocal interpretation and delivery is far wider when I abstain. So I told Kurt I'd like to redo that lead vocal, which means that this vocal is officially the last "new" thing that we did for the Year of the Groove, which means that Make Me Free is kind of the 'book end' for the whole venture. It was one of my very first songs I wrote after coming out of my creative coma, and the vocal for the other versions was recorded before any other of my vocals for the Year of the Groove. And now it is the closing release in this series.
But wait… I'm still not done…
PORTARIUS MELODIC DUBSTEP MIX
I first met Portarius when I was producing a vocal for someone and he was engineering. He was still a student at Belmont University at the time, and the day we met, he played me a remix of a Kimbra song he had done for a contest, and I was impressed with the amount of detail work in his production. So we bonded over our mutual love of Kimbra and electronic music, and he became our first "go to" guy if we ever needed to farm out any music programming work.
Some time in the months before the Year of the Groove got underway, I was realizing that my creative energy to record a new song I'd written and loved called "Unchosen", and Kurt's availability were not congruent, and so one day I spontaneously asked Portarius if he'd like to program a track for me, and he was quick to agree. When I told Kurt about my plan, suddenly he seemed a little more interested in working on the song I'd pinky promised to Portarius [not literally], and so I felt like I needed to let Kurt have first right of refusal, you know… since we're married and all. "Unchosen" is still a work in progress and didn't get done in time to include as a Year of the Groove release, unfortunately. Anyway, I had to go back and give Portarius the disappointing news that he wouldn't be working on that song, but I promised him that it wouldn't be long before we'd find some other way to collaborate.
Shortly thereafter, as the Year of the Groove became an official plan and I knew that we would have a maxi single of Make Me Free on the list of releases, I suggested that we have Portarius do a remix of that song it to add to the pile. Kurt agreed, and we gave Portarius the vocal stem. It just so happened that Kurt gave him the vocal stem from the chillout version of the song, which repeats the first verse twice, so that is the arrangement in Portarius' version of this song also.
After having lived with the original house mix, the chillout mix, the electro mix, and the acoustic mix for so long, to hear what Portarius did with this song was truly breathtaking. He found such creative melodic lines, and his fingerprints are all over this track. He prides himself in the fact that he actually creates all of the sounds he uses, he doesn't use them "as is" from software synths. He also did a lot of editing of my vocal where he treated little vocal excerpts more as track elements by pitching them to create melodies. It's all so very creative and I just can't believe how beautiful it is when I listen to it.
Of course when I first heard it, I started gushing over it to Kurt. I didn't mean to start anything but… it wasn't long after that when suddenly Kurt just decided to crank out ONE MORE mix.
W.G.C. BLACK ORCHID DEEP HOUSE MIX
I had no idea Kurt was even thinking of doing another version of this song, but one day out of nowhere Kurt emailed me an mp3 of the new version he'd started, which he called the "deep house mix". Of course, I loved it right away, even though we both had some questions about a clash between the vocal melody and the bass line notes he chose. [It goes to a flat 2, so it's not completely diatonic.] Because of this clash, which we mainly allow to happen, this version sounds the most like a "remix" where it's obviously not the first version of the song. The track disregards the chords the melody suggests, so it's got more of an edge in that respect, but also seems more like a derivative work, creatively.
I barely had anything to do with this version. I had so many other things to do, and I had stronger opinions about how to fix the electro mix and how to mix the acoustic mix, and I basically just let Kurt run with it however he wanted. I'm so glad he felt inspired to create yet one more version in the final months of the Year of the Groove. That was a surprise to me because quite honestly, we are both ready for a BREAK!
I think if you gave me a choice of which one of my songs would be reinvented into 6 uniquely different mixes, Make Me Free wouldn't likely top my list of picks. It's not that I don't like it, but as a songwriter, I don't necessarily consider this song to be among my most important ones. I wrote it when I was just waking up creatively, and I consider this kind of a "first pancake" of sorts… if that makes sense. I came out of my creative hiatus a changed person, which greatly influences my songwriting. I've been broken by life. I've had the stuffing kicked out of me. My songs are now much more cathartic and empathetic and conflicted and exposed than anything I wrote when I was younger. I was just starting to find that part of myself as a songwriter when I wrote this song. I was just giving myself permission to write lyrics that might possibly need a little pondering to be understood and took the risk of being misunderstood. I was just starting to allow myself to show a bit of desperation in my lyrics… something I clearly got comfortable with as my new songwriting self got settled in and came up with Come To Me and Until I Have You. So… to me Make Me Free is the song I wrote when I was finding myself. I suppose it's a fine way to end this Year of the Groove, looking back at what started off this new season for me creatively.
That's me talking about this as a songwriter.
As a producer, I absolutely love that we get to end the Year of the Groove with this collection. One of our strong suits is reinventing things, that's how we came onto the scene with Chillodesiac Lounge. So, I love that we got to reinvent this song over and over. And over. And over. This song shows Kurt's versatility as a programmer, my versatility as an arranger, and we got to bring in some fresh new talent as well. I hope that having so many options of this song gives it a wider audience, where people can choose the one they like best ad add it to their playlists. And I hope people connect with the sentiment of the lyrics.
Regardless… we did it. The Year of the Groove is now complete.