Demos and Sketches Part 5 – Arm Yourself
“Arm Yourself” – like “Wasted on You” – is another one of those old A Day Without-era songs repurposed for Dramaglider. Punctuated by Hobbes’ trademark atypical and angular chord choices, “Arm Yourself” sets up such a compellingly chilly and spooky canvas that at one point Emily was inspired to re-write all the lyrics to be about a supernatural werewolf-like creature.
WAIT! Where’s THAT at?
Here’s an early version featuring Emily, Hobbes, and programmed drums and percussion:
Once we had a full-band in place, Dramaglider’s rhythm section (George Tsiones and original drummer Trever Hawley) really took over this track and shined. But it took a while to get there.
As George explains:
“This is a tune where I used to improvise a lot. This was mainly little riffs in each verse. The chord choices, which to me feel like ‘Halloween’, definitely set it up nicely. And quite frankly, Trever gave me something great to work with when he came up with that funky beat.”
Here’s the studio version as heard on our debut CD, showcasing our rhythm section at work:
“I was going to improvise on the studio recording, but then later decided to write my parts out. This was done by recording lots of improvised passes at home and then ‘cherry picking’ the riffs I liked the most.”
“When we went into the studio, drums and bass for this song were recorded late in the first session. In our first attempt, I was tired and laid down a bad performance. Inside, I panicked a little 🙂 Thankfully, Trever was not happy with his first attempt either and we gave it another pass.”
As far as my own contributions to the song go, I missed out on “Arm Yourself” when Hobbes first introduced it to A Day Without. I had already left the band. But when he brought it to this project, I was thrilled. I was very much hearing it through the lens* of Portishead, and my parts needed to complement that eerie ghostly atmosphere.
During one particular band practice, after we wrestled with the arrangement and got a handle on the dynamics, my instincts were screaming “guitar solo”. Now, I hate playing guitar solos. Love listening to them, despise performing them. I’d much rather be hiding in the shadows sulking about, happily supporting and/or manipulating everyone else around me. So when I do solo, it probably means something important.
On that day in particular, the song needed something melodic enough to take some of the edge off all the moody unearthliness, yet still have some bite. I asked the band to hit record on our simple studio recording setup we had available at the time and had them play through it again so I could clumsily improvise my way through something. What came out ended up being an absolute gift.
Listening back, I was clearly aiming for something in a very Jerry Cantrell-like vein, particularly the type of Alice in Chains solos he’d write for their acoustic material. Similar to George’s process, I took our practice recording home and combed through it, picking apart the unnecessary notes, keeping the bits I liked, and creating a template to write the “real” solo around. Surprisingly, I didn’t need to do much work. What remained was essentially the solo as it’s heard today.
As a side note, I’m TERRIFIED of forgetting things. If my nightmares are not about drowning, they’re about being on stage, unable to recall how to play a single song.
So I write things down as backup. A bit excessively. Here’s what “Arm Yourself” looks like inside my sketchbook:
I hope you’re enjoying these behind-the-scenes stories and much as I’m enjoying sharing them with you. We’re a little over half-way home, but more surprises are on the way!
Until next time,
MEETING NEIL IS EASY
*Does that even make sense? “Hearing through the lens”? Does one actually listen to something through the “lens” of something else? I mean, you “see” things through a lens! You “hear” things through ears? Help!