The words "Epic. Gorgeous. Astounding." all rushed to the tip of my tongue when I heard William Ryan Fritch for the first time - somehow I'd missed the acclaimed soundtrack to The Waiting Room that he composed.
It was a grey Friday afternoon - just last week in fact - I was rummaging through my emails, and I read the words Sufjan Stevens (whose Asthmatic Kitty label he released a soundtrack via), Volcano Choir (whose drummer he has a side-project with) and psych-folk (the sun lover's post-rock) as I scanned a message from Lost Tribe Sound (whose roster I had somehow been oblivious to too, but no more!). A few songs in and I drifted into Fritch's world of dusty pianos, far-away twinklings, gentle strings and drones.
I liked it. Like, really liked it (especially when the gentle vocal howls come in halfway through), and I will bet my record collection that many a DiSser will be into this too. William Ryan Fritch has kindly penned a wonderfully in-depth track by track guide to the record, which you'll find below this dreamy stream.
Leave Me Like You Found Me is released on 20th May 2014. Pick up a copy of the album from losttribesound.com.
A Still Point in this Turning World
Or if you buy a physical copy of the album…”A still turning point in this world”. Apparently I am not a very good proofreader. Anyways, this song from the title on down is all about non-attachment. This song was initially intended to be a dramatically stripped down piece: two acoustic guitars tuned down to C#m7 and one of my gravely pianos meandering as placid Americana with shimmering instrumentation subtly permeating through. Magma beneath dank, earthy soil. That was supposed to be the bulk of the structure. An exercise in restraint and patience on my part…I guess.
However, within a night of manic discontent with the initial concept I flipped this little lazy riff over and told it to play possum. I transferred all of the tape recordings to my DAW and shellack’d it with all of the dressings I desired. I laid down 20 plus vocal tracks for the choirs, a dozen or so strings parts and numerous other “sections”. To match the saturated aesthetic of the core sounds, I would re-amp most of these various overdubbed sections either through one of my reel to reels or play a mix down of the section though full spectrum speakers into my room to hopefully convert the overabundance of me into a richer ensemble sound.
There was no click, and the foundation was laid down without the expectation of drums (non-weight bearing you could say), but I love how the rhythmic irregularities shaped my overdubs and forced me to expand and contract all of the rhythms and textures to lock. Flute and clarinet flutters, violin tremolo, and analog synth arpeggios help blend the push and pull of the imposed rhythm with the original pedal steel and organ flurries. While it certainly doesn’t embody the physical sense of stillness I had in mind when writing the song, it became far more representative of stillness in an emotional sense amidst unrelenting movement and change.
Sun on Cold Skin
Similar to the opening track this song started off with more modest intentions for it’s instrumentation. Essentially the song was made of two juxtaposed textures; two finger-picked guitars (one tuned F-Bb-Eb-G-Bb-F and a second high strung so that the thickest gauge string was the G) in an interlocking thicket that subtly shifts in patterns and a big warm wash of strings, trombone and bowed cymbal. They accumulate in close diatonic harmonies to partially conceal its ascending and descending movements. However, these motifs were little more than overlapping ideas and needed to be laced together by elements that tested their relationship.
The thatch-work guitar ostinato never quite lands on a stable chord and is rubbed raw by the friction of the percussion and is thumped around by a number of rhythmic and counter melodic elements that continue to change it’s complexion against the legato string wash. It’s a song that has so much neutrality in its rhythm and modality, both worn down by repetition and harmonic proximity, but the texture and timbre of it emits a hopefulness and contentment as the strings cascade over.
With the Winds Against Us
This song was not meant to be subtle in the slightest. All of the instrumentation is insistent and stubborn, and held together by the overdriven residue left from pushing the needle into the red on the tape machine. Several tracks were recorded at 2x speed so the resultant sound when pitched back down is a heavy, almost on the beat rumble that feels like it is weary and laboured. The initial track I laid down for this song was a pretty brutal piano strum which acts as it’s primary kick-snare sound. I got so into the performance of this take that my fingers were a bloody bruised mess by the end of the 5 minutes (I can actually still feel the phantom pains of it just typing it now!).
I was in a place personally where I felt like I was being tested by various hardships and circumstances and had to remind myself constantly to just put my head down, ‘chop wood and carry water’. That mantra is what more so than anything has evened out the ups and downs of being a free lance composer and the self imposed vulnerability of being an artist that is so obsessive that I have cultivated absolutely no commercially viable skills other than making borderline commercially viable music!
Anyways, I was a bit moody and this is my determination song. If there is any chance of me making a better life for me and those I love, it will come from unflappable persistence, a work ethic and willingness to learn from the resistance that I encounter from myself and from what I perceive as life forces. Also, I can’t even begin to describe how satisfying it was playing that single menacing bass clarinet note. I wish my voice had the ability to make that sound on call. It would feel so cleansing, like a colonic for the vocal chords.
Coursing Through Veins
This song was recorded without much premeditation, and it unfolded in a very raw, natural way with the overdubs being recorded and written almost simultaneously. The lead electric guitar tone was made using a pretty cool technique where I play the line and sing either in unison or strategically harmonize through a shoddy little vintage dynamic mic and run them both in parallel into my amp. This is that strange, sustaining resonance and feedback that you can here on several songs on the album.
The piano riff started as the first idea I wrote for the film by Adele Romanski that shares the same name as the album. In the film the two main characters (played by David Nordstrom and one of my close childhood friends Megan Boone) retread the same dead end paths of poor communication and open up old scabs by their careless and unwieldy ways with one another. I think most people that have been in a serious relationship know that feedback loop. This song became my theme for the courage and willingness to sacrifice for love despite knowing the inevitable collisions and hurt that can come.
Half Awake in Slow Motion
This song begins as an incredibly simple and familiar I-IV-I-V progression with really just the texture and embellishments keeping it outside of the world of a throwback period piece rip. However, the big pockets that using such a simple chord progression creates allows the room for the lilting, colorful counter melodies to take over this piece. The strings, bells, flute/saxophone arpeggios, and analog synth washes that were just content bubbling beneath the cushy spring reverb guitars and pick bass become fore-fronted and turn the piece into a floating, aqueous lullaby. I never thought I would utilize my saxophone in such a “Saxy” way, but because I have lips like Bubba from Forrest Gump the leaky breathiness actually sounds pretty magical with the wash of the modular synth and the guitar feedback at song’s end.
This song is the cornerstone of this album. It teases out and explores most of the identifiable sounds on the album. It is the longest, freest flowing and most immediate pieces I have ever written. It also just about sent me to an early grave mixing it! The head of Lost Tribe Sound (Ryan Keane) and I have a really special creative relationship, and he is as every bit as honest and critical about my work as he is supportive and enabling. He had an early straight from tape machine to the computer bounce that not mixed, never eq’d and was about 8 minutes, but he was really attached the particular mojo this raw bounce had.
I insisted on trying to find a way make it more interesting or less repetitive and was pulling my hair out to try and find that happy compromise, but even basic things like cleaning up some of the low mid build-up were killing the vibes. After over 20 mixes trying just about everything I finally came up with the solution...Don’t do a damn thing. So, this song ended up with the same settings as it did the day I recorded it, with no eq and no plugins. Kind of crazy.
I was holding on to one of my friend’s concert bass drums during the time I recorded this song, and would just marvel at the way my whole studio would ring out and come alive when I’d strike this drum. For this song I tuned all of my string instruments to the key of the song, put the sustain pedal down on my 4 pianos and tuned all my drops to where they’d resonate when I hit the sweet spot on this drum.
There was so much sound bouncing around in that barn that the song pretty much wrote itself. You can especially hear the character of the room on the lead violin and slide guitar melody that comes in around 1:50. There was no artificial or electronic reverb used on that track, that’s just an omni mic and a ribbon mic on the guts of a piano facing the amp. However, it was also quite a task to mix because of all the resonant frequencies that accumulated. To avoid some of them I had recorded the drums a several different speeds so they would 1) have the colossal splatter sound I was looking for 2) have different frequency that would be easier to trim with eq and not lose the filet of the sound.
Empty Upon Impact
This was the first song I had ever bowed and played my mandola like a violin (0:28) and I was very pleased with the lonely sound it made. Having those wound double strings gives that lead melody a very distinct sad colour that guided the way I layered all of the other parts for this song. While it actually had the fewest tracks on it by a significant margin, it is arguably the heaviest and busiest of the record. That plate reverb on the vocal choir certainly thickens thinks up like cornstarch, but I really can’t believe how massive that electric guitar sound is with just two mics.
I know this will sound depressing, but the idea that really drove this song was this overwhelming sadness I had one day imagining something happening to my dog (e.g hit by a car). The thought brought me to tears so quickly it was embarrassing. Moments later, in a span of 30 seconds my dog came running up to me in a state of total joy. He had a complete emotional shift sensing I was distressed, and then saw a bird fly by and take off after it. Such ephemeral joy and empathy couldn’t travel so freely in a cluttered mind. I then took some small comfort in feeling that if something were ever to happen to him he would be empty upon impact and the love, energy and joy that he emanated would have already passed. I strive to have the capacity to love and trust quickly, and leave this world with a mind moving freely and unburdened in empty space.
Bind and Unbind
I have selectively forgotten how much time this track took to track out. It was pretty excessive though. All of the strings and horns/woodwinds had to be tracked in there own separate sessions to keep it manageable. I am a pretty inconsistent flautist and I probably had to do several, hundred flute tracks to achieve the sound that you hear on record. I’d venture to say this was the most ambitious track I had done up until that time and the process of making it (it was the last song to be recorded) had a profound effect on the next phase of my music. You can hear it’s influence clearly on my EP that came out last month (Emptied Animal - recorded right after Leave Me...) Really, this song set in motion the entire “Leave Me Subscription Series” Lost Tribe Sound is doing. It spawned so many ideas that were correlative to this record that I had to find some way to package it all together.
The process of making albums is always a strange time warp… You disappear into this seemingly fruitless endeavour where you don’t sleep, hardly interact with the outside world, and mope around like a zombie listless till you find the right drum sound. Then you finish…. you are on cloud nine and so proud of yourself for reaching that imaginary perfect mix and finishing what you just a few days prior thought might kill you... you can’t wait to get this into the world and lick your chops at the thought of how this record and this experience is going to change everything for you…then you wait and wait and wait and finally at the point you’ve gone back and realised that you are on to some new sound, new muse and have developed so many new ideas that you wish you had then...it comes out. I have been living with this feeling for the better part of two years with 9 records!
Leave Me Like You Found Me
The day that I finished mixing this song was the day that I was made aware of Joào Ruas’ artwork. He did the artwork for all three of the major records that I am releasing this year, and I cannot imagine a more perfect visual representation. So this song feels particularly special to me because I now associate it with discovering my favourite artist.
The song incorporates elements from nearly all the proceeding tracks and folds them into it’s deceptively simple form. It has an emotional identity that is difficult to explain, playful with it’s chromaticism and slightly pushed tempo, but as the cellos begin to spill out of the riveted ride crash you are left with a certain loneliness and self doubt that belies the brighter tonality it stemmed from. It is the end of the record and hopefully there are more questions than there are answers and more overlooked sounds than ones that jumped out at you.