Who would have thought that DownTown Mystic would be on the cutting edge with the release of Soul’d Out just prior to Adele’s Hello? Who would have thought that an overly emotional, heart wrenching song is just what the world wanted to hear? Aside from a few million in sales, Soul’d Out was right in sync. 🙂
For DownTown Mystic, 2015 was a year to get down to work in a very methodical manner…something DownTown Mystic is not known for! There was a new album to get ready despite living in a musical age where the album is considered to be obsolete. But faced with that obstacle, we took it as an opportunity to find a way to promote a new project by taking a more long term view. To that end, the Turn Around and Go Digital Single was released in the spring, followed by the DownTown Mystic on E Street EP in the summer, leading to the Soul’d Out Single in the fall.
All of these releases are leading to the Rock’n’Roll Romantic album. It’s the most collaborative of all DownTown Mystic’s releases to date. There are 17 musicians who contributed their talents on it, plus it features the most co-written songs on a DownTown Mystic album to date. What makes this album different from the previous ones is the concept behind Rock’n’Roll Romantic. As the title implies it’s about rock’n’roll romance, with songs about personal relationships and emotional breakups, but it’s also about the romance with rock’n’roll—the music and the recording of the music.
Soul’d Out is one of those songs, with lyrics by Martin Samuel. The song contributes significantly to the concept of Rock’n’Roll Romantic. Martin was born in South Africa but grew up in England and is quite a character. Besides writing songs, he’s been a successful game creator and is an expert seaman, having been hired to sail ships over the open seas. He’s also a drummer who played with bands like The Searchers in the UK. When I met him in LA close to 25 years ago, he was wearing a jacket with planets and stars on it. Being cosmically-conscious, I couldn’t help but walk over and talk to him about it. During our chat he told me he mainly wrote lyrics, which was cool since I always had songs that needed lyrics. I told him to send me some lyrics and we would see what would happen. Little did I know how prolific Martin was until I opened a package that he would send me—a stack of songs with nothing but lyrics!
Elton John was particularly adept at putting Bernie Taupin’s lyrics to music, but I never found that to be an easy way to write a song. I generally liked to give people my music to write lyrics to, not the other way around. It just so happened that I had a piece of music I had been working on for some time. It had a very different feel and melody to it and I was having trouble with finding an arrangement for it.
When Martin’s package arrived I had a look to see if there were any lyrics that would fit the structure of this music. Finding nothing in that batch, I called him and told him that for this particular music I needed longer verses. As it would turn out, Martin was moving to NYC. Not only that, but he was getting married. Being Martin, this was a pre-arranged marriage so that his bride could get legal status in the US. At any rate, when Martin moved to NYC I went to visit him and played him the music so that he could get an idea for the length of the verse and chorus.
Many months passed, maybe a year, and one day there was another batch of songs in the mail from Martin. This time however, one of the songs caught my eye. It was called Soul’d Out. I thought this was a great title. Not only that, but the lyrics for the most part, fit my melody perfectly! The only thing I added were the last couple of lines of the chorus to pull it all together. I called him and asked Martin how he had come to write something like Soul’d Out, and he told me he had been dumped by his wife! Now that she was a legal resident, their arrangement was over and he was getting divorced. Poor Martin, a true Rock’n’Roll Romantic! 🙂
The recording of Soul’d Out, like the song, has its own story to tell. The original way that I wrote the music and played it on guitar, made it sound upbeat. Once I had Martin’s lyrics it was obvious that I needed to make it more serious sounding. I did a 4-track demo and simplified the arrangement keeping the bass pulsing on quarter notes. It totally changed the “feel” of the song and I knew I was onto something. I went into the studio and cut a basic track but something wasn’t right. So I called up Steve Brown and PJ Farley of Trixter to come down to the studio and lend a hand. I’d been working with them and thought they could help out on a few songs that needed some work…the 1st one being Soul’d Out.
Steve brought his 12-string acoustic for the song and once he started playing, the sound of the guitar immediately changed the song for me in a very good way. PJ was up next and I gave him instructions on how I wanted the bass to stay on the pulse of quarter notes. I kind of regret not allowing him to do one pass on his own to see what he would come up with, but I was so focused on creating this tight simple groove. I only allowed him to get creative on the passing notes between the pulse of quarter notes and he played some very restrained and tasteful parts.
Once the basic track was finished I got this vibe of The Beatles A Day In The Life playing in my head. I decided to add the maracas as a nod to it. I had already cut the vocals by the time Steve and PJ had arrived and when they heard the playback, PJ turned to Steve and mentioned that I sounded like Paul Stanley of Kiss on the last part of the chorus at the end of the song. I could hear what he meant and I found it kind of amusing since the only songs by Kiss I ever heard were the occasional ones played on the radio. But PJ was right on because many reviewers have said the same thing. 🙂
The last part to the track was adding the piano along with the electric guitar. The piano helps to give the slow buildup, especially on the chorus. I put in the sustained low guitar notes on the chorus to mimic a brass horn part like the one on Leon Russell’s A Song For You. We kept bringing them up in the mix as the song builds to increase the tension and I think it worked great. Of course the main focus of the song is on the vocals and everything else is there to support them. If the listener’s attention isn’t on the vocals, especially when the last chorus hits, then I’ve failed as a producer. Luckily it all came together and works really well. It’s probably the best vocal I’ve ever done on a ballad, which is not my forte.
The only thing I worried about on Soul’d Out was Martin’s lyrics. When Steve heard them he just shook his head and said “wow, that’s cold”. So deciding to release it as a single, especially following And You Know Why off of the E Street EP gave me some pause. Were the lyrics too direct in the picture being painted by them? I guess I made the right call to release Soul’d Out as a single because just a few weeks later Adele came to the rescue with her album full of downers. Who knew that emotion and heartache would be back in vogue? Only a true Rock’n’Roll Romantic! 🙂