Anatomy of a song – Sun Tunnels “Fruit Fly”

In 2001 I wrote a song called “Fruit Fly” and then recorded it in 2008, here it is now:

This is its story.

I built it on an A chord shape with embellishments that follow the main vocal melody, which transitions to A7 and D for the bridge, then G and D for the chorus. Not actually those chords since I tune down a whole step, but those shapes.

I have a memory of playing it at the Red and Black cafe in Portland in 2001 and two women at a table telling me they liked it. I looked like this at the time.

I still wear that shirt to do yard work

 

“Fruit Fly” dropped off my set shortly after and I don’t think I played it for a while. I remembered it in early 2008 apparently as that’s when I started recording it in my basement in Madrona.

For the recording I did some things I usually don’t. I didn’t want to bother the neighbors so I kept things quiet in that house — no drums, no loud amps — unlike in Wedgwood where our neighbors didn’t seem to care. Anyway, for “Fruit Fly” I tried programming drums and using an amp simulator for the guitars. I used this thing:

But I think just for the amp simulation, and used other effects boxes for overdrive and delay.

I recorded lots of guitar parts and then spent time editing and mixing them so they did interesting things without competing too much with the vocals. The main/rhythm guitar part, i.e., that simple chord progression with embellishments with which I played the song solo, has a delay on it here to give it a driving kind of quality.

The long outro guitar solo was new, I never did that before the recording. I think I was listening to a lot of Tears for Fears at the time so I like to think that part was inspired by them somehow. Maybe?

I programmed the drums using Sonar’s MIDI “piano roll” which is kind of awkward but it worked. I used samples of the drums from when I recorded Andrea Maxand’s “Here Comes the Revolution” from Ball of Wax #4. This was a bit interesting because I used one mic for that and so the kick and snare both have a lot of hi-hat in them. Old timers call that “bleed.” I call it art.

piano roll. Worst sushi ever

For bass, I thought I’d try programming that too, so it’s also a piano roll MIDI composition. I borrowed some kind of synth keyboard from Sugar McGuinn and picked the “Jazz Overdrive” preset on it, set up the MIDI track to drive the keyboard and then recorded that. I’ve heard it called “printing” when you record something on one track that’s sourced from another track playing through some outboard stuff. Printing.

bass piano roll. I see now the sushi joke would have worked better here

Instruments and vocals were tracked between January and March 2008 and then the song was pretty much done. But it wasn’t! I put an early mix on SoundCloud in 2012 but for whatever reason I didn’t really finish it until this year 2017, when I added some handclaps, did some final mixing and then had it mastered by Rachel Field at Resonant Mastering.

I don’t remember why the title “Fruit Fly,” I think it was a random working title that didn’t get changed. I rewrote the lyrics a few times. I think it used to be about worrying that your desires are transparently obvious and foolish so you should anticipate rejection, and now it’s still about those things but the chorus says to not waste time worrying about that and just get on with it, whatever it is.

And now it’s done. The recording sounds good (Rachel helped a lot) and represents the original song while also being very different from what it sounded like solo. It’s not perfect but spending any more time on it would be ludicrous.

What next? “Fruit Fly” is on a 5-song EP I’m finishing any second now called Old Haunts Volume 1.

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