14 March 2008
A Shadow
Continuing the series of posts about the songs that appear on the album. This one's about the ninth song, "A Shadow".

In a way, I guess this song is the title cut of the album. It was the second last song written for the album (the last one being song number seven "Lightfalls"). For that reason, I guess it sums up what the album is. I really like this song for several reasons. It's probably the best effort to meld the two genres of music - electro and folk - that I was trying to go for on the album. There's something strange about it. When I listen to it, it shifts from not really working to working out just fine, goes back and forth, back and forth between those two feelings. I'm not sure why this is. Maybe because it's so skeletal. But it works because of exactly that... hard to explain.

But first, how it got written.

I think it was sometime around April or May last year... could've been earlier, could've been later... I can't really remember the month... but after recording several songs that were written prior to the recording of the album, I wanted to collaborate with Hardesh over a song that was created on the spot in the studio. Somehow the only other time we did this spontaneous collabo, it produced "Song For The Service Industry" which had a very special sound about it. I guess I wanted to see if we could re-create a song that mines a similar vein. By that time, I had decided on the album title Songs For A Shadow (the original working title being the rather wishy washy Warp & Weft). The reference in the title was kind of obvious but I wanted... or more like I knew I had to... write a song called "A Shadow"... ha ha ha... it was kind of deliberate.

The lyrics I wrote a few days before I was supposed to go into the studio to this spontaneous "thing". The original version was more like a poem than a piece of lyric... I cut it down into more manageable chunks during the recording session.

I guess the lyrics concoct a sort of a hazy story about what the album is... this abstract "shadow" addressing its owner... almost as if it were an unchanging thing. While the "shadow" observes the owner changing over the years, referring to the time when the owner was a child, so young, so little, the shadow remains "only a shadow". I leave the true nature of this "shadow" open to interpretation. It could be owner of the shadow looking back over his/her own life. Or it could be a ghost. Or it could be something else entirely. It's a very "open" song. And that's one of the reasons why I like it a lot.

During the recording session, I must admit I was feeling a tad more emotional than usual. I think at the time, Hardesh and I were physically tired from our respective work schedules. We hit a bit of a slump during the recording sessions. It had already by then gone a bit over our expected deadline. The other songs weren't really properly arranged yet and there we were, starting on a new one. All these things in hindsight made for good reasons not to record... but there was something in me that wanted to push on... Hardesh, being the amazingly patient producer he is, obliged... and we spent about two hours laying it down.

Because I deliberately hadn't worked on the melody for the song, obviously I didn't bring any chords to the studio. I picked up Hardesh's nylon string guitar and started experimenting with plucking an ultra simple chord progression. In a way, this is deliberate too. I'm not the greatest guitarist on earth. LOL... and my boyfriend at the time kept telling me that perhaps I should go get some lessons... ha ha ha... But you know, there's something to be said about leaving things "open". A remnant of the lessons I took away from reading Philip Toshio Sudo's book Zen Guitar definitely, which spoke about "finding one's own chord". I really take this way of working to heart still. It's a bit hippie... but, you know, fuck the political implications and just do it, for goodness sake.

So, anyway, out of this simple chord came a little structure. Another thing I wanted for the song was a basic 4/4 tehcno kick. That was something I knew I wanted before I went into the studio. I had this idea of using the simplest structures, the most basic, also most repetitive... ha ha ha... and there it was. Hardesh wrote the beat on his PC, using Reason I think, put it over a measure. And I played the chords. I think it came up to eight (or more) bars of one chord progression and then a change then back to the original progression. It was the simplest thing. The chords are minor... I guess reflecting the mood I was in then. And so the vocal melody, which I improvised on the spot took on a haunting kind of melancholy.

I remembered not wanting to be bothered so much by the simple structures... wanting to use it as a carpet to carry this mood and the lyrics... I can't really remember now the singing. I think we did about two or three takes. I was figuring out the song there and then, trying to get inside it, and I guess I did. I remembered the first mix. It was so skeletal and spare. So haunting. The guitar line, which I did in one go, is like a synth loop. And the vocal melody just floated over it, building in intensity but pulled back into the sadness of the refrain "only a shadow". It really fit what I wanted.

Of course, being pushy, I ended up wanting the song to be more. I listened to this one much more than the rest, thinking about how to fill up the empty spaces with synth lines or acid washes... LOL... I recorded the extra vocal bits. But that was it really. When Hardesh said that he didn't really know what to do with it... I asked Ariff if he would like to have a go at it. He did. And his version took it to... what I'd like to think was one type of extreme... it was good and creative, with extra synth stabs... a vampish bassline to underscore it... but in the end I thought the song didn't really need all the extra padding. After leaving it alone for a long time, Hardesh and I decided to work on it again. Hardesh really took it to the finishing stage, adding just little accents here and there, mixing it so its main qualities really stood out.

In a way, the song, the way it came about, what it stands for and what it is now is really a metaphor for the whole album. It's so simple. It's kinda straightforward. It is what it is. A kind of ode to stoicism.

I'm quite proud of it. It's my favourite song on the album.


A Shadow

When you were a child, you used to know me
You used to hold me with the edge of your teeth
It was a rainy day but you didn’t let me in
You said I didn’t belong here
I didn’t belong here

But I had to prove that I wasn’t moved
I’m only a shadow

When you were so little
You used to think of me all the time
But you pretended that I couldn’t have existed
Just a speck of light
You just brushed me off, off your shoulders
Cause it felt like too much light

But I had to prove that I wasn’t moved
I’m only a shadow

When you were so young
You thought that I could change your world
You danced around me in circles
You burnt really bright

But I had to prove that I wasn’t moved
I’m only a shadow

I burnt really bright just to change your mind
Until you grew up and took my hand
And led me across the flame

But I had to prove that I wasn’t moved
I’m only a shadow

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