The Austerity Program’s Justin Foley Guides You Through the Creation of a Song (Part 2 of 4)
On June 17, New York noise rock duo The Austerity Program will release their new album, Beyond Calculation, on Controlled Burn Records (pre-order the album here). In preparation for the band’s first new release in four years, we asked our good friend, guitarist/vocalist Justin Foley, to take us through the creation of one song from the album, thereby giving readers some new insights into the creative process. You can catch up on the first part o of Justin’s series on the building of “Song” 39 here, then read part two below. The next installment will be published a week from today — don’t forget to come back and check it out!!!
Last week’s article was about how we almost committed infanticide on a promising new song. But some sort of stern muse kicked me out of neutral and now we had the foundation for something that worked.
What we’d written so far was plenty bombastic. But it didn’t feel like the end of the song. The final phrase of this part ends with both the bass and the guitar joining in an octave leap, bouncing back and forth between an open G string and its 12th fret. Here’s the bass/guitar parts; you can hear the up-and-down happening at the very end.
(We do this octave-hopping with some regularity.)
(I think it sounds cool.)
At this point – the actual real work of writing a song – there’s a lot of what-ifs. What if we switch to a different note? What if the bass stays playing the same bassline and the guitar and drums switch? Or both g and b play their parts again but backwards? You try these things. And they almost all quickly get tossed. Something about an idea doesn’t feel right and so it’s out. Or maybe, maybe part of it gets kept but usually with a “there’s something here but it needs work.” You keep reading that word – “work” – because work is what this is.
But now we had momentum. After recording a demo and then walking around all day listening to it I now asked – what if we extend that octave leaping part? Keep the guitar and bass going but drop the drums to mostly quarter notes. It would feel like slamming on the brakes as the song’s tempo instantly seems to get cut in half.
Yeeeessss, that works. It wasn’t immediately clear how that part would resolve but now the real structure of the song was beginning to take shape.
Allow me, Dear Reader, to pause for a brief aside. One of the reasons that we’ve gotten better over time (and sure, some people disagree but they are wrong) is that we now understand better what we’re doing when we’re writing music. I know now that I’m most interested in writing songs that start in one place and end some place different; it’s the story that happens in the song that really intrigues me. Now this approach isn’t true for all music or even all music that I like. But it is what we do in this band. When I finally understood that that’s what we do it made things clearer, like we make that story unfold.
So about that tempo shift: I didn’t realize it at the time but that shift gave the song a focus point of transition. The stuff that happened before it would be noisy, fast, chaotic; the stuff that happened afterwards would have more space (although the intensity would remain). At the moment I wanted to work on that second part: riding that octave jump hard.
There were more what ifs. What if we kept on that jumping part but would switch away from it and then go back? What if we dropped a pause in the song that could maybe be filled with a vocal part? And then came back in to end it hard?
Drum machine programming. Scratch demo recording. After another day or so, it sounded like we were there.
After doing all that work, it is very exciting to hear something fully come together for the first time. Normally all this writing/recording happens late at night and so I really did hop out of bed the next morning to re-listen to what’d been completed the night before. So it was with this part. I listened to that little 53 second snippet over and over, probably 35 times throughout the day.
Morning, before breakfast – “Yes, this part is great I love it.”
At work, walking to get lunch – “So cool that this part of the song is done.”
Heading home from work – “This is good. Pretty sure this is really good.”
Back in the practice space, late at night, staring at the computer screen – “God dammit. It doesn’t work. Oh god dammit.”
Because it didn’t really work. The transition did but almost all the other bits didn’t really make sense all together and I had to admit it. Because once the excitement of creation wears off you have to really consider what’s there. And if you know it doesn’t really fit you have to kill it, right there in the middle of the street. Put a bullet in its head and get back to work finding the part that will work.
I did mention that this is work, didn’t I?
Justin Foley plays guitar and sings for The Austerity Program. Their new record, Beyond Calculation, comes out June 17 on Controlled Burn Records, and can be pre-ordered here. Visit them online at www.austerityprogram.com. All messages about urban bike riding, vegetarian BBQ, and monetary policy will be answered first. You can also get a list of their upcoming tour dates here.