The Story Behind It's You I Love


This month's release was one of our "in case of emergency, break glass" releases for the Year of the Groove.  We had planned to put out a song I wrote called "Human" this month, but after talking about the promotional angles, we decided to wait on that one until we could properly line things up and not rush. So, we pulled out this track that was never officially released, polished up the mix, mastered it, and sent it through the pipeline.  It would have been released eventually on an EP I've got planned in my head, but I'm excited it's out there now because I actually really love this track and I'm glad to be able to talk about how it came about.

The Situation

Quite often, Kurt and I get emails with pitch opportunities for film and TV licensing. This is one of the few remaining revenue streams for songwriters and producers anymore, since there is hardly any income to be made from selling music directly to the public now that no one buys CDs or purchases downloads like they used to. And we all know streaming barely pays anything. So there are thousands of songwriter/producer types like us who receive these emails and they often have some type of request which tells what style of music they are looking for and what they want the lyrics to be about. They often have 1 to 3 songs they reference to give examples of what they like. And pretty much always they need it in the next day or so.  Sometimes by the end of that same day.  Oh, and there's never any money up front, so you're basically doing this for free and sometimes [like in this case] we spend money out of pocket to pay the talent.

Those who are driven enough to "go for it" then might set their life aside for the next 24 to 48 hours and CRANK IT OUT.  I mean… the whole premise is "if you have anything that fits this description send it in" as though people have something just laying around, but who are we kidding?  What are the odds you're just going to happen to have a song in the exact style with the exact lyrical topic they want?

"It's You I Love" was the product of one of these "go for it" moments.  Now… they don't all turn out great.  Some of them turn out to be hunormous turds.  But sometimes, we end up with something much different than anything we'd do when left to our own devices, and we have a new song that expands our envelope.  We consider this song to fall into that latter category.

I can't even remember what the exact product was for this pitch opportunity, but it was some type of liquor ad.  I DO remember that the two musical references they gave seemed to have zero overlap and I was perplexed as to how to make sense of the two reference songs in terms of finding common elements to work into our song. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes the reference track has spaghetti western guitar, brass stabs, a slow swaggering groove, and lush strings with a lyric about longing to be with someone, and so then we incorporate all of those things into our track at the same tempo as the reference and hope that the client might hear it and feel like they have that other track, the one they can't afford.  I mean, our song is completely original and unique, but if we give them the same type of "ear candy" and emotional tone they're looking for, they'd be more likely to use it and we'd be more likely to pay off the rest of our grad school loans.  [Yes… STILL working off the student loans… #pukinginmymouth]  But in this case, one of the songs had kind of a creepy sound with a low droning male vocal and the other reference was "Something Stupid" by Frank Sinatra.  I believe their point was that they wanted the music to have a clear disparity from the visual, so they had those two different examples of music that didn't fit with their video of people out on the town enjoying this brand of liquor.

What to do??  We ended up musically going with the low droning male vocal, and my songwriting takeaway was "creepy love song".  Now this particular opportunity came when I had to teach at Belmont University that day and would be busy until the afternoon.  Kurt ended up working on the track for it while I was on campus, and by the time I picked up our son from his tutorial and came home around 3:30, he had an mp3 of the track to send me so I could write a lyric and melody over it.
The Creative Process

In my years of being creative, I've figured out that often the creative process happens in three stages.  First you ponder until you have a solid concept, then you flow out a first draft, then you edit.  If you get ahead in steps, it doesn't go well.  If you try to flow without a concept, it doesn't end up being as good, and if you try to edit before you flow out your first draft, it's like driving with your foot on the gas and break at the same time.  Flow is from your instincts, edit is from your craft. Flow comes from the soul, edit comes from the brain. You need to give the soul time to empty some ideas out before you start interfering.   So… fortunately I had a good solid concept before I even sat down to write: the guy singing is a phantom in love with a woman that he can never be with because… well for obvious reasons.  Unfulfilled longing with a paranormal twist. Also... I really wanted to use the phrase "ghost with the most".

The Lyric

When I go back in my documents, this is the earliest draft of my lyric that I have:

I’m a soul set afloat
in the atmosphere
I’m the ghost with the most
never to be feared
Oh the taste of my kiss
is ethereal bliss
it’s your drug
your drug

So I watch when you walk
as I drift above
Got a crowd in the cloud
but it’s you I love
As you pass through my haze
paranormal blaze
I’m your sun
your sun

Ooooooh
Oh it’s you I love
Ooooooh
Oh it’s you I love

One thing I encourage my students to do, which I obviously did here, is when you're flowing out your first draft, you don't over think it and try not to get too hung up on any one particular phrase, you just write down what comes to you and move on to the next phrase, knowing that much of it might end up just being "place holder lyrics" which will later be edited.  [What does "crowd in the cloud" even mean??] This is especially important when you're writing under a time constraint and need to have 'something' down.  Because when you've got to have a song finished, bad lyrics are better than no lyrics, amma right?  [Incidentally, this process became much easier for me after several years of doing improv comedy shows where I had to learn to make up a song on the spot in front of an audience… it really wired my brain to not over think it and just go with my first idea.]  I probably came up with this in about a half hour, at which point I sang it for Kurt.  He liked the direction I was going and so I started editing my lyric. Now, if I had sat down without the concept of this being from a phantom, my flow would have turned out like total crap most likely.  You've GOT to have a concept to start with.  Sometimes the concept is just a non-lyrical melodic idea, sometimes it's just a song title.  But that's still something.

I didn't have much time to fine tune the lyric because we were going to record the vocal the next morning. That's actually longer, though, than I've had on some other occasions.  Sometimes I've gotten the track at 3:30 and the singer is coming at 7 because we've got to cut the vocal, get it mixed, and have it turned in by the next morning. [That's how it was with Freak the Beat.] So… to have the whole evening for editing is nice, but then again, I'm still a mom so I've got to make dinner and do the whole bed time thing…

Here is how I edited that lyric.

I’m a soul set afloat
in the atmosphere
I’m the ghost with the most
never to be feared
Oh the taste of my kiss
is ethereal bliss
on your tongue
your tongue

So I watch when you walk
as I drift above
There’s a hole in my soul
‘cause it’s you I love
As you pass through my haze
paranormal blaze
You’re the sun
my sun

Ooooooh
Oh it’s you I love
Ooooooh
Oh it’s you I love

Something I deliberately did was use words that were strong in imagery and flavor.  Some $5 phrases and words like atmosphere and ethereal bliss and paranormal blaze make this lyric more distinctive.  But the one word I purposely used just for the slightly jarring effect was "tongue."  I had a lot of different options like "in your mind" or "on your lips" but they didn't have the same impact as "on your tongue".  The word tongue would be harder to ignore and evoke a greater emotional response from the listener. [ I still think it's gross. ]

I'm happy with this lyric.  I like that it's not boring or cliché. [Incidentally, I wrote this before Moves Like Jagger came out with "take me by the tongue and I'll show you"]

The Vocal

It's not unusual in situations like this for Kurt and me to be talking at 11PM about who we could call to sing for us the next morning.  I'll be looking for samples of someone's singing on soundcloud or youtube to show Kurt, or we'll talk about people we've used in the past and decide if they can do what we need. Then we try to get in touch, hoping they're still up, to see if they're available.  It just so happened in this case that Kurt had a writing appointment scheduled with Nathan Barlowe, who he had done some gigs with in the past.  Nathan has a voice that was perfect for this, so when he showed up to write with Kurt the next day, we informed him that he was going to sing instead, and seeing as we didn't give him much choice, he graciously obliged and got behind the mic.  I told him to imagine this is some pervy dude with beer on his breath whispering lecherous thoughts into the ear of some innocent young woman.  I wanted it to sound like he was right up close.  So we put the mic at a very hot input level so that he didn't have to sing out too much.  He did the high octave first and then the low octave, and I remember thinking it was both sexy and gross at the same time.  Perfect.  [Incidentally Nathan is a member of the industrial rock band Five Knives, and he's kind of a rock star, so you should check them out.]

What Happened Next

So, we finished up the vocal session, got the song mixed and turned in, and as happens so often, we never really heard anything back and after a while assumed we didn't get the placement and went on with life.  But we both felt like this track "had something".  It's not bland, it's not middle of the road.  It's got a distinct character, and so we wanted to do something with it on our own.  But then I realized, since I had sung the high vocal over his chorus, it would make more sense for there to be a verse from the female.  In our short time constraints, we had repeated the second half of the first verse again where the second verse would go, which for a pitch opportunity isn't terrible, but if we were to release it, it needed to be more properly formed.

This was a slight conundrum because I hadn't really thought much beyond the phantom point of view and when I thought about writing a second verse, it took me a moment to finally land on the [now looking back quite obvious] conclusion that the second verse needed to be from the human counterpart.  But then I had to figure out what she might have to say.  Did she even know he was there?  Did she find him offensive?  Or does she sense his presence and does she like it?  I decided to go with that last option and wrote out this first draft of a second verse…


I am flesh
but I cannot speak
How I ache for the spell
of your phantom heat
I’m a slave to the rush
of your phantom touch
I become
Undone

Now, clearly this was my "don't over think it just flow out your ideas" draft because I'd never end up settling for using the word phantom twice like that.  But, that was my place holder until I could come up with something better.  After hammering it out a bit, this was my final draft of the verse 2 lyric…

I am flesh
but I’m incomplete
Every breath, every step
oh, it’s you I seek
I’m a slave to the rush
of your whisper touch
I become
Undone

What Hadn't I Planned On 

So now that I had a second verse lyric I was happy with, it occurred to me that the key of this song was going to land me at the absolute ROCK BOTTOM of my vocal range. It's actually a half step lower than the lowest note I can sing, so when it came time for me to record my vocal I had to do what some people refer to as a vocal "fry" to get out those low notes. And then we stacked it and I sang it up the octave.  The other problem was that although my vocal added a great element as the high eerie female top end during the chorus, my vocal on the verse wasn't neeeeearly as cool or vibey or badass as Nathan's vocal.  Not even CLOSE.  I'm a little wood sprite and he's a rock star.  So… we had to put major distortion on my vocal and do all that we could so that it wouldn't be a complete let down when that part happened.  In all honestly, Ellen the vocalist is rarely good enough to make Ellen the producer happy, and this was one of those times when I felt my vocal limitations. But I am what I am, and I'll be the best me I can be. [For the record, I'm quite happy with my vocal on Glitter & Bliss.]

Music Theory Talk

OK, if you're not a music person and don't care about theory, feel free to skip this section.  But I want to point out that this track is harmonically darker because it contains the flat 2 scale degree in several places, which means that it's sometimes in Phrygian mode.  For those who don't know what that is, it's basically a minor scale with a flat 2 scale degree, or it's what you'd get if you play from E up to E on all the white keys of a piano, with E being the tonic, or 1, of the key.  Now the flat 2 doesn't happen each and every time, but it does happen in the low bass synth part in the track and in the vocal melody on the verse.  The word "tongue" the second time it's sung is on the flat 2.   Then when it gets to the "oooh" of the chorus, we go to the natural 2.  So the verse is Phrygian and the chorus is Aeolian or natural minor in the vocal melody.  I give Kurt all the credit for this fantastic choice as it completely influenced the tone of my melody and lyric.

In Summary

Overall, I actually love this track.  I love how it's different from our other tracks, and it was a fun lyric to write for me.  I love Nathan's sexy gross vocal, and I am honored to have my modest voice next to his in this duet. [The dude's been co-writing with Steven Tyler lately, just check his instagram account. I'm telling you, he's a rock star.]  I have no idea where this song will end up, it may be a complete flop or a break out money maker.  Regardless, I'm happy with myself as a songwriter on this one, and I'm please with what we produced in the face of the creative challenge we were given.

Source: http://www.worldwidegroovecorp.com/

http://www.worldwidegroovecorp.com/blog/2015/3/19/the-story-behind-its-you-i-love

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