Happy People song by song 8: Set Light to the Sky

This was never going to be one of the main songs on the album. It was only ever filler, a random demo that sort of fit in thematically that I decided to throw in to fill space. Not a big a deal, not a great song, and okay one that I wrote in five minutes. I’d probably find something to replace it with later.

And yet, as it turned out, Set Light to the Sky is one of the best songs on the album, in my not entirely humble opinion.

Thematically this song continues the story straight after Fire Flower Heart. Our protagonist’s lover is dead and the gloves are off. How does he react to that?

I could push the button
Watch the sky fall in
I could wash my hands mercy clean
sink my teeth into this
If I could I’d light the match
If I’d the choice then I’d set light to the sky

Yes, that’s right, it’s a singalong anthem about mass-murder. Our protagonist has decided that with his lover dead there’s littl point to holding back or being cautious. He finds as many explosives as he can, places them where they will do the most damage to the oppressive regime and  sets them alight.

Composition and recording

Here’s the demo.

Can you can hear, the main difference apart from the much better playing on the final version, is the coda. The end of the studio version is much more developed than the demo version.

This is a change that Jordan suggested, and to be honest it transformed the song. I had thought of this as a throwaway song. It had been written very quickly indeed for February album writing month a few years previously in an attempt to get my song total up. So it had very little thought it into it at all. It’s based on a chord progression based on a standard, but with a tiny little twist. G D/F# Em C would be the standard. I changed that to G D/F# Em Ebmaj7. The Eb chord is out of key, but it shares a G and D note with the main key, giving it just enough of a relationship to G to be interesting but not quite what you’d expect.

The rest of the song is based on this progression, with the verses arpeggiated versions of the chords with a C# thrown in for another bit of contrast and the pre-choruses doing something similar but starting on C. The bridge makes use of the Ebmaj7 as a cue to changekey properly, so the bridge and solo section are in Cm.

And what does all this theory stuff mean? it means I thought my way to this song – it was an exerise in craft that I thought was fine but not inspiring. I threw the demo into the mix because I felt I needed another song and this one would do until I thought of something better.

But then Jordan said:

I definitely feel like it’s too short. i wouldn’t repeat the chorus again, though. Maybe have another section as a coda? If you want it to be short and sweet then I’d suggest working on the order of the parts and giving it a more traditional structure. My feeling, so far is that there’s more weight to the first two minutes than the rest of the song.

And I did what he said by extending the solo and coda with a load of extra guitar layers and suddenly we had a proper album. Just sorting out the balance and pacing of the thing transformed Set Light to the Sky into the album’s big singalong anthem. Add in Jordan’s bass playing and great string arragenments and Dan’s inspired production – I particularly like what he’s done with production on my voice in this – and you have one of the central songs on the album.

And a song that leads us to the big epic and final song on the album, All of the Dark…

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

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