Happy People song by song 9: All of the Dark

All of the Dark is the conclusion of our story. At the beginning of the album our protagonist was escaping the clutches of the evil, totalitarian government and going in search of his lover. But after her death in Fire Flower Heart and his last, explosive act in Set Light to the Sky, he has nothing left. He therefore chooses the only option. He goes back to where he started.

Make me less than nothing,
Make me smoke, mist, gone,
Can you take all of the dark,
All of the things that I’ve seen?

This song is about the negation of the self, about giving up yourself, your personality, your individuality, the pain and dark and hurt. It’s about making yourself empy, numb, nothing.

And in a cathartic kind of way, it’s the most uplifting song on the album.

Composition and recording

All of the Dark is the longest track on the album. Nevertheless it pretty much follows standard pop song structure. There’s an intro, a verse, chorus,second verse, chorus, middle section, third verse and final chorus. But as I wanted a long song that really had room to breath, every section is stretched out. The intro, first verse and first chorus have a lovely lo-fi feel to them, before the last two thirds of the song kick in to something a bit more rocky.

It’s mostly in 6/8, apart from the rocky bit where we have some metric modulation into 4/4. It’s mostly in Bminor, except for the first ‘oh-oh-oh-oh’ section where we briefly modulate into F# Minor.

Here’s the demo (note that my default on a one take this-will-do-for-the-demo lead guitar thing is to widdle like a bad 80s metal player):

As you can hear, the most notable change is the extension of the middle section. This was following one of Jordan’s suggestions:

  • This one can go in many directions – of all the tunes in the album it’s the one I’d dissociate from the sound of the electric guitar, wherever it’s not riffy. Wurlitzer, Mellotron, String Quartet. All nice and lo fi / down sampled / messed up. That way the quasi thrash middle bit will be extra brutal!

  • I would actually accentuate the Slayer feel there – a bit like what happens in Arriving Somewhere But Not Here by Porcupine tree.

  • Bonus points if you quote the Happy People chorus melody in the last solo. I know it’s in 6 / 8 🙂 ACTUALLY – and please feel free to say no because it’s a crazy idea. How about doing a Happy People chorus, lyrics and all, right between the thrash bit and the 6 / 8 at the end? I don’t even know if it works but it would give a nice circularity to the album.

To an extent we followed all of these, though i don’t think the middle section quite got anywhere near Slayer territory.

Things I love about this song? The lo-fi feel in the opening, the nod to the facebook group’s bullying of me in the middle section (the voice spells out the word ‘album’ backwards in the NATO phonetic alphabet because… well, this explains it), and most of all the epic feel to it. This feels like a proper album closer to me.

Worth noting are Michael’s great drumming, he really gets the feel right, and Jordan’s great bass work. But most of all, all the little extras that Dan threw in there. His ideas include – the harmony vocals (a bugger to sing for some reason, but he was dead right), the messy guitar in the middle section (deliberately messy), the synth sound just before the recapitulation of the verse material near the end. Loads of little touches that really made this song for me.

And we’ve got to the end of our story here. Not a happy ending. Having escaped and sought freedom, our guy has now returned to the machine. His rebellion is dead. He’s smoke, mist, gone. Just another Happy Person.

 

Part 1: Happy People
Part 2: Name in a File
Part 3: Satellites
Part 4: Flow my tears, the policeman said
Part 5: Even then we’re Scared
Part 6: Fire Flower Heart
Part 7: Tracking Signals
Part 8: Set Light To The Sky

Happy People song by song track 1: Happy People

Part 1: Happy People
Part 2: Name in a File
Part 3: Satellites
Part 4: Flow my tears, the policeman said
Part 5: Even then we’re Scared
Part 6: Fire Flower Heart
Part 7: Tracking Signals

Happy People is the title track to my fifth album. It’s the opening track so it has a job to do. It needs to set the scene in terms of musical tone and introduce us to the sound world we’re going to spend the best part of an hour listening to and introduce us to the story.

Happy People is loosely a concept album. It doesn’t have named characters or any voice acting or things like that, but there is a narrative arc and it starts here. The verses are the inner monologue of the protagonist. He has realised that the world in which he lives is not the utopia the powers that be claim it is. The government insists everyone should be happy, docile and obedient, but he no longer wants to obey.

Prisons float in your eyes
Lies on your tongue
Let the public decide
On drips to make them grin
Don’t you want to be happy for a while?
Pull another tooth out
Fixing up your smile

It’s a place where the people are metaphorically and literally drugged up and unable to see the world as it is. They only care about the superficial and the empty. Think Brave New World or Stand on Zanzibar.

The choruses on the other hand are the government instructions on how to be an obedient happy person:

Happy people don’t pull faces
Happy people smile and wave
They ask after your family
They never say a thing that hurts

In the middle section our protagonist has finally escaped. He pays for a new identity, ‘the man I paid stitches me a face,’ and he is free.

Composition

Happy People was written in one sitting for February Album Writing Month (FAWM) in about 2012. I’ve been participating in FAWM for about nine years, whih means that every February I try (and invariably fail) to compose 14 new songs, or 14.5 if it’s a leap-year.

My method for this song and the second on the album Name on a File was to set up a click track at an essentially random tempo, plug in a guitar and start improvising. Whatever turned up, warts and all, had to be the song. This is why both tracks have choruses of slightly different lengths – I could have changed that later but I liked the variety.

I then added layers on top of that guitar, including very hastily written lyrics, until I had finished songs. Both of the opening tracks were written in an hour, at least in first draft demo format.

Here’s the original demo for Happy People:


Redrafting and Recording

When it came time to start work on the album I dusted off the demo and sent it over to Jordan Brown for his thoughts. Here are the bullet points he came back with for improving the song:

  • Verse – might be too low
  • Chorus – guitars sound too much like Megadeth. I mean the riffing has something ’92 thrash to them. Not that it’s a bad thing but it is a bit limiting texture wise
  • Maybe the guitar interlude between ch1 and vs2 brings the song to anti-climatic apex. I would use the same phrase but in a very understated way. That would make the second opening more powerful.
  • IMHO the half spoken section after the instrumental interlude is too low – we’re talking a good minor third.
  • During the extended outro I would double the length of the buildup (the section with the toms) layering voices as if it was a canon. Probably samples from TV shows too. I would then lose the chorus where the guitars back down because it spoils the crescendo which climaxes with the guitar melody.
  • Not a huge fan of the vocal adlibs it the coda. The second part of the melody could be stronger (the descending contour spoils the big anthemic ending nature of it)

This was really useful feedback – some of which I ignored – that lead to some pretty significant changes. For a start, the verse are now a minor third higher and the chorus guitars are a lot less metal. The outro and final chorus have changed pretty much as Jordan suggested. I didn’t go with his idea of changing the key in the middle section though, as I liked what we had originally.

This also marked the first time since uni I’ve had someone make technical suggestions to improve my songs. I liked it. It’s funny, I often think of myself as having quite an ego, but I’m not sure if that’s true. Before I have the feedback I assume I won’t like it, than the feedback turns up and I realise it’s useful stuff.

When it came to recording, this was done first at Amersham Music Studios for the drums, and then at Jordan’s place over a a humid summer where we couldn’t get the guitars to stay in tune. It also involved me singing the lead vocal when very ill. I’m surprised it sounds as good as it did. My memories of singing it are rather hazy and for some reason involve visions of David Elephant (my evil record label boss) stroking a cat and laughing maniacally.

Again.

So that’s Happy People, the first song from my latest album. Next up, Name in a File.