Luminous City: Gaining On Me

Continuing with our tour of the seven tracks on the album, we arrive at the song that does not sound like the other six.

This one has other musicians on it.

History. The Radiant City rehearsal space was in the basement of a funky brick building in the North End of New Haven, complete with a bus stop and a junkie or two in front. We shared it with one other band, which was OK because we could trust the guys in the other band, Seven Story Mountain: both me and our bassist had been in that band at one time or another. (Notwithstanding the fact that their guitarist blew out a tweeter on my PA column and by way of apology spilled a Coke into my Kurzweil K-2000, thereby destroying its pitch bend and modulation wheel function.) The rehearsal space had its own rest room, and at one point must have been a recording studio because what apparently had been a control room sat just off the main space, with a heavy door and a window looking out on to the main space.

I walked into rehearsal one evening to find Pete, Josh, and Paula doing battle with a sprightly and yet driving riff in A dominant– the first guitar riff audible in the finished song. I liked what I heard, and leaped in with supporting Hammondesque comping. It felt good; I immediately had ideas for where the song could go, and told the others so.

My SOP at the time was to take whatever jamming we did and mine it; e.g., discover whether there was anything there that I could fashion a song around. (As resident auteur and presumptive visionary behind the band, I claimed that role of benevolent dictator for myself, which included setting editorial tone for the music and lyrics. While this would later come back to bite me, thus far in the band’s development and history the arrangement had worked.)

So I went to town. The thing took a day or so to come together as I modelled it in the EPS sequencer. Each section flowed organically from the one before, and back into itself. I stood the guitar riff on its head, turned it around, split it down the middle, translated it into Esperanto, and I must have written half the song  just from that. Dynamics, technicality, drive… I christened the song and was pleased with what I’d done.

The others were, hmm, less than thrilled. They never did say why, or if they did I was too busy being myself to hear them. Even though we were hurting for new material, I shrugged and opted to put that one on the back burner and take another swipe at it in the future.

By the time I got around to that second swipe, that incarnation of the band had been defunct for about ten years. We never did get around to writing new material; a battle of the bands had us in thrall at the time…. But I’ve discussed all that already.

So ten years down the road from that full hour of studio glory, I was hanging out (virtually) at the precursor to The Womb, a place which I will not name here– because advertising ain’t free. We had instituted an annual or semi-annual worldwide musical and engineering activity called Collaborative Audio Production Experiment, CAPE for short, and rashly I had signed up to be a songwriter. Before I opted to include it on Luminous City anyway, the only Radiant City song I had handy that wasn’t already spoken for by one of the two Fulcrum albums I had (and have) planned was Gaining On Me.

It seems to me that the CAPE Team who wound up recording it, christened Team Galactic by the guy who put us together, was constructed for the purpose of doing something progressive or at the very least musically challenging. As it was, I had the two best guitarists hanging on the board at that time playing on the track (MudCat and Trazan are still the two best now that they’re on The Womb); our wizardly mix engineer, Otek, had access to a top flight session drummer in his native Karlstad; and Spock, the project manager, was keeping us on track. All I had to do was play them the model.

Those are not their real names. I just thought I should mention that.

The response to the initial airing of my model was more or less unanimous. “Um could we hear something else?”

It didn’t occur to me to wonder what it was about GOM that put musicians off initially. My thoughts were: good melody, memorable guitar riff, GottaGoodBeatAnYouKinDanceToIt… and I was assured that it wasn’t that it was a bad song, far from it, but these guys wanted options. Hurriedly I put together a second model of another song which if anything was even more complicated than GOM– that will see the light of day sometime, trust me. I think part of me did that on purpose in order to ensure that GOM would be the choice. All right, maybe it was all of me.

Team Galactic agreed that GOM was the lesser of two evils, but Trazan offered to have a bash at “doing something” with it. I gave the digital nod to Trazan through Spock, and he disappeared for a few days into his studio somewhere in Norway.

What came back was the form that you hear on the finished track. One or two sections excised, a new turnaround to get back into the last verse, a busy string quartet sawing away over much of the chorus and instrumental sections, and some Beach Boys harmonies during the final chorus. Mind-blowingly good work, and though it took some getting used to, I embraced what Trazan did with it to the point that I gave him a partial songwriting credit along with Pete, Josh, Paula, and me.

The slide guitar work you hear is MudCat, who chose just the right notes for my paranoia. Our bassist, bassman134, lived somewhere on Staten Island and for all I know is still there.

Now. Compound our efforts over three months with those of 15-20 other “teams”, and you have an idea of the scope of CAPE– the latest (eighth) iteration of which is now starting up over at The Womb Forums. At the time, reaction to our work from members of other teams ranged from “This one shines, I just had to groove to it again”, “I wish there was music that good in video games”, and “Incredible journey” to “Weather Report gets stoned and watches Star Trek”, “I’m gonna sync my Christmas lights up to this”, and “How did you get Kansas to record your song?”

I guess we done good.

In my mind’s eye I envisioned the video: Mad Max redux, with a desert truck chase scene populated not by heavily armored road warriors with piercings at odd angles and through odd appendages, but by business-suited drones firing the rifles and lobbing the grenades, all chasing after the flatbed lorry driven by me (with the rest of the band chugging away on the flatbed itself, a la the splash screen of Rock Band). Of course the dashboard has a Hammond built into it, I think the steering wheel is protruding from the spot where the Leslie controls would ordinarily be, and the accelerator doubles as an expression pedal.

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