"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken." -CS Lewis
I like old instruments, often better than newer versions. It's hard to describe, feels like old guitars bring a life and a story to the conversation. When you write songs on an old guitar the guitar tends to speak up for itself from time to time. "Yet" was written on an old National steel guitar that I bought at a pawnshop on tour. It was a finger-picking tune played with a slide and very unlike the version on the record. Tim and I both thought that the folk interpretation of the song didn't really rise to the potential of the melody or the lyric. We spent a day at my house trying to find the right instrument to carry the song. We tracked the acoustic and electric guitar that day. We stumbled on the bass intro later. We were singing the final version of the song down and I felt like the end bit wasn’t quite right. It needed a bit more to tell the story. So I wrote a new lyric to go over top of the chorus chord changes.
The song is about hope. Hope is always reaching towards the future, reaching for what has not yet come to pass. Once the hope is attained, it can no longer be called hope. Hope isn't the sort of thing you can pull out of your pocket and show off. Hope is a "holding on" of sorts, an expectant belief, a desire as of yet unfulfilled. I wrote this song from a really dark place, looking for some form of hope. And maybe searching for hope is a form of hope in itself. There's a moment of honesty when your mask drops, when you can no longer pretend to have it all together. When this pretense is gone you breathe in your first real breath. When you are no longer pretending to be something you're not, you're left with a truly honest assessment of the situation. Very little is left, "Faith, hope, and love remain. But the greatest of these is love."
"There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires... there is no such thing as part freedom." - Nelson Mandela
"People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use." -Soren Kierkegaard
I'm pretty sure that I wrote this one in an elevator. Tim says that the seed of it was written by the time the elevator ride was over. I don't remember that, I just wanted to have a song on the record (and live) that captured a reinterpretation of the blues. From the moment I started playing guitar I was hooked on Led Zeppelin, BB King, and Hendrix. Wes Montgomery came later. I wanted to have a simple throbbing, pulsing song on the record that epitomized the songs I played in Jr. High.
The concept of this song is fairly simple. I am trapped by myself. I am a man who is bounded by his own lusts and vices, yearning to be free of these hindrances. We are enslaved to our passing desires that are often more swayed by our environment than our own volition. Most of what we call our "choices" are simply reactions. Free thought is incredibly rare. Who can know the darkest parts within himself? This unspoken and nameless prison is the bane of the "free" world, the hole in the neighborhood. We are in the chains of debt, the chains of consumption, enslaved by our lusts, our fears, and our past. The truth will set you free but it's only slightly less scary than hell and a whole lot harder to get there. There is no outer freedom until we have chosen to be free inside.
Lyrically I feel like this song is the brother of "Mess of Me." Yearning for a life beyond what I have. Hoping for freedom. Still yearning to get there. "I had a dream that my chains were broken... broken open." I'm still running hard for this goal.
Sing It Out
"Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle." -Lewis Carroll
"And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." -Friedrich Nietzsche
there's a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I'm too clever
I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody's asleep
Sometimes I lose the plot. I feel like I'm hopelessly lost underwater, as though I can't figure out which way is up. I know that there's a song somewhere inside of me but I just can't remember what it is. I want my life to be the poetry of the Poet himself, I want to sing- to be a melody intertwined with The Melody Himself. But sometimes I'm hopelessly lost, broken, spent. I fall in love with the ones and things that take life and love away from me. I need The Song Himself to sing through me. I need The Word Himself to speak into me.
Here's a song that we worked on maybe more than any of the others. There are so many versions of this song. The demo leaned towards Massive Attack. The next version was even darker- tracked with Daryll. Most of the elements that we tracked with Daryll made it to the final cut (except some incredibly moody drums that we did with him). We kept trying to find a pulse that would be constant but wouldn't feel like a dirge. The next iteration of the song sounded much more like Sade with a really memorable bass line that Tim came up with. But still, we all felt like the song was stronger without these superfluous elements. So we used the always effective "mute button" on pretty much everything. The song is singing about itself- struggling for melody, for life, for meaning. Singing about rebirth, the song spends most of its time in the grave and comes to a bright glorious finish, held out until the very end. To match the lyric we saved almost every instrument for the end of the song. In my opinion, the essence of the song was the only thing that survived on the record.
"Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself." -Soren Kierkegaard
"The capitalist culture of consumption... does not provide meaningful sustenance for large numbers of people." -Cornel West
This is a subject matter that I speak of with holy reverence. Having grown up on the East Coast I know firsthand of the houses lost, of the dreams turned into nightmares. I take my shoes off and recognize that this is a matter that is dear to our nation, especially of late- with every passing hurricane season. Last year, with Habitat for Humanity we helped to build a house for a woman who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. The hurricane had taken her city, her house, and her leg. As she relocated to Baton Rouge and learned how to walk as an amputee, her mantra was this: "I walked out of my house and my life in New Orleans on my own legs, I'm going to walk into this one the same way." This is the spirit that I wanted to capture with this song, and moreover with this record. The storms of life might take my house, my loved ones, or even my life- but they cannot silence my love.
Yes, the reactionary impulses of hate, fear, and despair really are defenseless against the storms of this life. And yet, this selfless love really might be stronger than death. Perhaps, the kingdom of the heavens really is at hand, ready to give, ready to love. And with this love as my song I will overcome. In surrender to divine love I will find my strength. "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love another."
Song Stories from Jon Foreman, the songwriter.
Needle and Haystack Life
"There are only 2 ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle" - Einstein
Here's a song that epitomizes the way that we recorded this record, pushing at every stage to reach a higher ground. There are several iterations of this song, each of them with a radically different approach- a method we never had the time for until we built our own studio. One of the reasons we built our own studio was to enable productive experimentation like this without paying for it by the hour. We first tracked this tune with a long time friend named Shane Wilson (we did our very first SF record with Shane). Then we revisited this song again with another friend of ours, Darryl Thorpe (Radiohead, Paul McCartney). For both of these versions the song was cut at half time (rather than the frenetic double-time pace that's on the record). Upon reviewing the list of songs with Mike Elizondo, "Needle" felt too similar in tempo and feel to "Yet" (a tune on the final list for the record). So it was scrapped from the list of tunes for the record. Because we recorded more than 80 songs for this record, we had a lot of songs to push to the side. Mike's objective input on determining which songs not to work on was invaluable. I had learned to really trust his instincts and agreed whole-heartedly with most the final list that he had suggested. He was right that "Needle" and "Yet" on the same record made the record much sleepier. However, "Needle" kept coming back to Tim and I as an important track.
So we put it aside for a week or two to see if it would return (the best ones always come back around). I kept coming back to the content of the lyric. All of the concepts behind the song - hope against the backdrop of chaos and meaninglessness, recognizing the value of every human life -these felt so existentially motivating. "Needle" felt like a song that I wanted to sing every night. And I felt like it could be done with an element of the horizon built into the song. So, onstage in Vegas we worked up the song in sound-check, recorded the idea into a cell phone, and came back with a fresh direction for the tune.
Drew came up with an ingenious idea for a unique guitar tone. We played the electric guitar through an amp, miked the amp with an acoustic guitar (in open tuning of the key of the song), plugged the acoustic guitar into another amp and recorded the signal from that second amp. The result was so expansive and dramatic I felt like it should start the record. So that's what you hear at the top: a sweet amalgamation of electric and acoustic madness.
This song makes me think of abundant, overflowing life. The math involved for life to be possible at all is staggering. Let alone beauty. love. joy. forgiveness. To hold someone in your arms is to hold a living, breathing miracle. At any age, this life is a gift.
Mess of Me
"He not busy being born is busy dying." - Bob Dylan
"You were born a white man in mid-twentieth century industrial America. You came into the world armed to the teeth with an arsenal of weapons. The weapons of privilege, racial privilege, sexual privilege, economic privilege. You wanna be a pacifist, it's not just giving up guns and knives and clubs and fists and angry words, but giving up the weapons of privilege, and going into the world completely disarmed. Try that." - Ammon Hennessy
Lyrically the song is yearning for abundant life to spring from past mistakes. The song attempts to explore the darkest parts of the human animal and transcend them, rising above these gloomy moments to find true life. If you're Freud, you call these darker urges the death drive. If you're St. Paul, you talk about doing the things you don't want to do. Whatever you call them, these dark places destroy us if we leave them unchecked. I feel that tension everyday, between the right and the wrong, between life and death. And yet there is no easy path to freedom from self. It’s a narrow road and few find it. We've all thought about the quick fix: that special something/someone that could take the pain away. Yet the problems in my life are much bigger than any temporary solution. We die a little everyday- physically, spiritually; we are in sorry shape. Ain't no drug to make me well. Ain't no drug that can relieve me from the monster of myself. Ain't no one to blame. But my decision is made. I want to follow this through... I want to spend the rest of my life alive.
This tune has lived several lives all revolving around the guitar hook. It started out as a song called "I Saw Satan (Fall Like Lightning)" I wrote it a couple years back when I was stealing heavily from scripture. We dragged it into the studio with Charlie Peacock for a week of recording at Big Fish Studios and came out with a really great bridge. Then we wrote a new chorus, called the song "There Ain't No Drug" and built the verse lyrics around the new chorus. We made the bridge the chorus after that. (And at this point I was about as lost as you, dear reader. These are the limitations of having no limitations!) So we stepped away from this song. We knew it was a great one, we were just too inside it. When we came back to it we realized that we were really close... we just needed the final push- so we re-tracked everything at Mike's place. Tim was the champion of this tune: lifting it from one phase to the next, never giving up on the riff. I'm really proud of Tim for pushing through till the final version that ended up on the record.
Your Love Is A Song
"But the beauty of Einstein's equations, for example, is just as real to anyone who's experienced it as the beauty of music. We've learned in the 20th century that the equations that work have inner harmony." -Edward Witten
"I would believe only in a God that knows how to Dance." -Friedrich Nietzsche
"Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked." -Viktor Frankl
For me, melody is a constant. I am always buzzing with some hook or rhythm or idea... (for example, I've got an idea in my head now from when I went surfing a few hours ago). Sometimes I imagine the entire universe as a song, or an incredibly elaborate symphony- the sun is setting, there's a kid staring at the evening train going by. People are falling in love. Fathers are apologizing to their sons after years of unspoken silence. Children are looking for the approval that only a mother can give. I think of life as an interwoven and interconnected masterpiece. It's like Lauren Hill and Kierkegaard say- everything effects everything.
Alongside these beautiful, pure notes there are elements of horrific dissonance. Parts of the symphony where the musicians are not following the score. To our shame, ours is a world of slavery, bigotry, and hate. Of Rwanda. Of Darfur. These atonal catastrophes on our Darkwater Planet would destroy the song if they could. But love is a stronger song. Alongside the dissonance there is hope. There is forgiveness and joy singing alongside of hatred and despair. The song is still being written. Everyday we choose whether we will submit to the score to sing along with love.
When I found out about the string theory it made a lot of sense. I pictured all the universe vibrating. Some instruments are out of tune. Some are not following the conductor. But love conquers a multitude of errors. Your love can cover even the atrocities that I've committed in my own life, even the times when my actions are horribly out of tune. Yes, even these have been mercifully forgiven and brought into the song.
There are reoccurring themes in my life. Because I write about the things I'm wrestling, these themes often find themselves in multiple songs. I used fight against this concept. Now I see these songs as interconnected, sequels in a real life documentary. One idea that I'm continually wresting with is the concept that the creator of heavens and earth would love a wreck like myself. This idea has been the seed for a few of my songs, they are a trilogy of sorts: "Let Your Love Be Strong," "Your Love is Strong," and "Your Love is a Song."
I wrote this song with Mike Elizondo the first day we worked together. The pre-chorus hook was the seed for the rest of it. Mike was great about sitting back and letting me chew on something until I got it. It was as though we were looking at the same thing from different vantage points, mine was the micro scope- his the telescope. So he would guide the song from a bird's eye view away from some of the dangerous places while I was trudging along with the particulars. I love writing with people, you learn so much about who they are in the process. I learned enough from this song that I trusted Mike's instincts a lot.
The Sound (John M. Perkins Blues)
"You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." -Anne Lamott
"When we talk about heaven we talk about all people praising God together. Well, I didn't meet many people down here that were Christians that were trying to make that happen." -John Perkins
This was the last minute addition to the record. When we were making the final list, I showed this song to Tim (he's my first line of defense- If it gets past Tim, then there's a chance we'll track it). He was as excited as I was. We wanted to have a song with a steady, relentless pulse on the record and we all knew that this one fit the bill. The chorus was originally much more of a straightforward lyric, maybe too much so. So we redid the chorus and began to rewrite the verse lyrics to match the chorus vibe.
Lyrically, I feel like this song is a corollary of Hello Hurricane. I was reading a book at the time, Let Justice Roll Down- it's the autobiography of John Perkins, given to me by a friend of mine. I was struck by Perkins’ honesty and humility. He describes the Jim Crow world of not so very long ago with brutal honesty. We are a haunted nation. Whether we admit it or not, the past runs through our veins. Listen to the streets, they'll tell you the same. We can cover up our racism and narrow-minded bigotry with excuses and time but the sins of the past cry out from the ground. The undercurrents from our history are always buzzing around our ears. But rising above the constant gnawing of past wrongs is the song of Love. Love is the reconciliation. The deliberate act of forgiveness. The deliberate act of moving forward unencumbered by the past. This is the sound. This is the sound.
Enough To Let Me Go
"Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other." -Carl Jung
"Faith is the highest passion in a human being. Many in every generation may not come that far, but none comes further." -Soren Kierkegaard
This one started with the guitar hook I came up with during sound-check; however, most of the song took shape in a hotel room in Australia. I was thinking about how love (not just lust or codependency that commonly flood the tunes on the airways) actually involves quite a bit of faith. There's a lot of letting go involved. Two souls in love is an intricate dance of give and take. I can be a fairly solitary person from time to time. Sure, I love being with people, but I also need time alone. I guess I thrive on the poles. So this song is about the dance involved in a relationship the coming together and letting go. The song equates love with breathing- pulling in and releasing. Or a seed, for the seed to grow it has to be dropped and buried.
In our barcode media, love is often portrayed as consumption. As consumers in a commercial driven culture we can begin to view other souls as objects, or potential cures for our deepest fears and insecurities. "Perhaps if I found the right lover I would no longer feel this deep existential despair." But of course no human soul could be the Constant Other, the face that will never go away. Only the infinite can fill that role. But the silence can be deafening. It's a fearful thing to be alone. Do you love me enough to let me go? "I can't live without you"- "I would die if you ever left me"- These are not the songs of love, these are the songs of consumption.
Everything can be taken from a man but ... the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." -Viktor Frankl
“Everything alive must die. Every building built to the sky will fall. Don't try to tell me my everlasting love is a lie.” -Jeff Tweedy
I am continually searching for meaning in my life. Why am I here? Why is there so much pain? This cold, dark stream of sorrow runs through my life. Why does it run alongside of the warm beautiful waters of joy and beauty? Why do the two rivers collide and intertwine? The dark and the light. The death and the life... Most of my songs become outlets for these questions. The music becomes place for the cognitive dissonance to chew away at something other than a broken heart or an ulcer. The music becomes a place to sort through the dark and the light. I love crosswords, sodoku, solitaire- games with a simple victory that allows me the momentary thrill of setting the world right. But song- writing feels like a similar discipline to me. A puzzle of letters and math, theory and rule, expression and passion.
The lyric of this song attempts to start at the womb and follow a human soul through life. And so it begins: the heart beats, the eyes open, breath floods the lungs for the first time- what incredible experiences! What extraordinary sensations! I wanted to write this from a father's perspective, from the eyes of the father of life. One look into the eyes of his son and the father is smitten for life. The possession that the young infant has over the father is complete. Always yours. The second verse speaks of the pain. This pain is always with us. We are born into a world of pain, the pain of losing a child, the pain of rejection, of racism, sexism, fears... these experiences rip us to pieces.
Everyone feels pain. I look to those who have been through more pain than I will ever know for guidance on the subject. The Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Victor Frankl survived several Nazi concentration camps with his life and his hope intact. He lost more than I'll ever know... his wife, his parents, and his family did not survive. His understanding of pain is in direct opposition to our western world that is often found running from pain at all costs. Frankl’s “Case for a Tragic Optimism” speaks of turning suffering into human achievement and optimism in the face of tragedy. The memories, the pain, the scars, these are yours. Yes, the things that you and I have lost. These are yours and they have meaning. No, these could never be The Ultimate Meaning in our lives, but let these scars drive us towards "turning suffering into human achievement and accomplishment."
The bridge in the song is the acknowledgment of my own shortcomings. As a man born into beauty and pain, there is a moment of surrender where I lay down my life. This is a free volitional action, a gift, just as the father's love was given to me- this became the response. A simple surrender to the Infinite Maker of The Finite acknowledging that I need his love. The meaning in my life is often found in surrender rather than mastery.
"Imagination decides everything." -Blaise Pascal
"Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.” -Jack Kerouac
Here's the second song that I worked on with Mike. We tracked a lot of it the day after we wrote "Your Love is a Song." I wanted to see what it would be like to work on a rock tune with him because I hadn't heard much of his work in that area. His passion and knowledge about fuzz tones were an incredible surprise to me. He brought out a song called "Bugman" as a reference (a blur song off of 13, a more obscure blur record that had some messier pinkerton overtones) and I knew we were on the right track. The demo I had done was much more subdued and with eclectic instrumentation (more of a cheap dust brothers concept). But he brought out a few Deviever guitar pedals and the song took turn towards the rock side of things.
We are the children of the scar. Our lives flash so quickly before us... This song was loosely based on a poem that I wrote a few years back. You only get one shot with your bullet soul, I want to make all that I can out of my one shot. Life is not perfect or ideal. Life is full of messy, bleeding dreamers. That's where things begin- Broken hearts making a broken record. But that's not the end of the story...
The storms of this life shatter our plans. They tear through our world and destroy our hopes and dreams. They ruin sunny days, flatten the structures we depend on, and shock our world views. Hello Hurricane is an attempt to sing into the storm. Hello Hurricane is a declaration: you can't silence my love. My plans will fail, the storms of this life will come, and chaos will disrupt even my best intentions, but my love will not be destroyed. Beneath the sound and the fury there is a deeper order still- deeper than life itself. An order that cannot be shaken by the storms of this life. There is a love stronger than the chaos, running underneath us- beckoning us to go below the skin-deep externals, beyond the wind, even into the eye of the storm. Hello Hurricane, you're not enough- you can't silence my love.
I've seen storms in my life. I've even seen them pass through on stage. I've witnessed chaos and dissonance overtake a song. But after the rain, some of these unsettling musical experiences become my favorite moments: the ones that can't be planned, rehearsed, or repeated. I've had a few of these unexpected elations up in a tiny LA club called Hotel Cafe playing cover tunes with a few of my friends/musical heroes. The organizer of the evenings was none other than friend/hero Tom Morello, the Night Watchman himself who would invite his friends (Slash, Ben Harper, Serj Tankian, Perry Farrell, etc.) to join him in the musical festivities. The nights would usually end with a memorable grand finale of cover songs with everyone onstage playing songs that were only partly rehearsed. Most the time the results were spectacular- other times we would have to stop the evening to figure out logistics like who was going to play what and determine what key we were going to be playing in. It was during one of these pauses that Tom said a quote about music that I'll never forget. He said music is like sausage. "Sometimes you want to enjoy it without knowing the details of what goes into it."
There may be some who want this type of experience: to enjoy the music of Hello Hurricane without knowing the back-story. Maybe the blood, sweat, and tears make you a little squeamish. I completely understand this sentiment. There were stormy, (though necessary) moments during the recording process that were neither graceful nor pretty. This was not an easy record to make; we were fighting to get somewhere we had never been. Looking back at the ground we covered I'm certain that every moment (even the more difficult ones) were meaningful to the final push. But it certainly was a push... so if you want the shiny new music detached from the labor pains, turn back now! For everyone else, here are a few of the stories behind each song. I'm so honored to have been a part of this record- to share these experiences with Tim, Chad, Drew, Jerome and everyone else who helped in the struggle for excellence. In many ways, these songs are like children to me and I'm honored to be able to introduce you to them first-hand.
"Let us not be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough... The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread." -Mother Theresa
"Our churches have done little more than reproduce and radiate this brokenness of our culture... Many congregations do nothing but outsource justice." -John Perkins
So here we are at the end of the world. And the beginning. Here we are at the dawn of the next generation. Y2K has passed us by. MLK, Kennedy, Elvis, Lennon, Cobain, MJ... they have all left the living. They have left us searching, wondering, hoping... I read the headlines, I watch the news. Iraq, Rwanda, Iran, Darfur, Tibet, Columbine, OKC... Towers falling, mothers, brothers, sisters, fathers... passing from life to death. We're killing one another, destroying each other. Sometimes the state of the world can bring a man to his knees. It could make you cry. I get angry. I get overwhelmed. I give up... almost. Sometimes, I find myself staring into a blood red dawn, still awake from the night before. Still wondering why this new day has so much of the old darkness, the old sorrows, the old hatred. I feel so alone. I feel so alone in this world of pain.
All my heroes are the ones who ran after the higher vision, the news that stays new. We've been chasing lesser gods, gods who do not know our names, gods who will die alongside of us. The kingdom of the heavens does not come to us in our wealth, it comes to our in our poverty. Our money, our knowledge, our medicine, our sex, our privilege- these are double-edged swords, dependent upon our own shaking hands for guidance. With our two hands we build up and destroy, we hold and break the future. My own hands are shaking. I reach for the new day with fear and trembling. I'm reaching for a bird called hope, for the one true song who could bring me home. I'm waiting for dawn. I'm dreaming, reaching for the other side.
At the end of the record there is a reprise that goes back to the first song. For me this is a reminder of the repetitive nature of all that we call life. Wonder, surrender, joy, forgiveness, hope- yes, give us today the daily bread of our moment by moment existence. This life is so fragile- at any instance one of us could slip beyond this life into the infinite unknown. It's as though every breath we take has been given to us on loan. We are surrounded by mysteries, miracles, wonders, and tragedies that we will never master. Yes, I will die one day- of this I am certain. But I'm not dead yet! No, tonight there is breath in my lungs- pushing, pulsing, yearning to break free... I will dream, for dreams are the seeds of what may be. I will wonder, for without wonder, how could life be wonderful? And I will sing.
Yes, until my pending death I will sing. In the face of indifference, I will sing. In the face of adversity, I will sing. I will sing about the pain. I will sing about the mystery. I will sing of the hope, the cage, the bullet, the winter, the dreamer. I will sing of all of these. I've seen miracles there in your eyes. It's no accident we're here tonight. We are once in a lifetime.