This is the sixth of my ongoing series of blog posts on the Making Of my new album as Granfalloon, Calendar - Volume 1. To read the first in the series go here.
Track 6 - EULERIAN CIRCLES
(No subject suggested)
Consulting my notes from 2014, I found them to be… sparse at best. Here’s what I have:
Deadline: 6th August 2014
Topic: Venn Diagrams
It was John Venn's 180th birthday last Monday. He didn't invent the Venn diagram.
So I know I wrote it in August… seemingly on a Monday? About John Venn? Who didn’t invent the Venn diagram?
Let’s piece this together.
I actually have a vivid memory of the events leading up to writing this song. I KNOW I wrote it on deadline day so it must have been a Wednesday. I KNOW that for the very first week of the year, 2014, I had actually forgotten I was doing this weekly songwriting task. I remember that I had, in fact, gone out to a gig at a now defunct venue called Mono in South Manchester with some friends (the lovely band, Pablo - check out their album).
We had just finished watching the support act when Hannah from Pablo said… something about my project to me which jogged my memory into panic mode and reminded me I needed to write a whole song in the next 3 hours in order not to fail my self imposed challenge three quarters of the way through it.
I hastily made my excuses and left the venue. I sauntered to the alley leading back to mine and then broke into a giddy, slightly tipsy run. The kind of limb-flailing run you do when no one can see you.
Living not far from the venue, I made it home shortly, grabbed a guitar and a notepad and foraged for inspiration. I hadn’t settled on a topic or an idea for this week’s song and I cast my eyes down the unused suggestions list… “‘The Beast Demystified’ by Alisteir Crowley”? Hadn’t read it. “An inappropriate dream”? Not feeling it. “A father and son who own a barbers together competing to be the best wet shaver*”? In three hours?! Not bloody likely!
I started playing in hope that something would pour out preternaturally. My fingers formed an open F# minor barre shape but the capo was on the 2nd fret of my guitar. Oblivious to the capo, I moved around a few other shapes; a C# minor, a B minor. Finally noticing the capo, I was, however, pleased with the unusual inversions of these usually familiar chords.
I picked up a book, turned on a computer, and opened a newspaper…
After some reading I found that it was John Venn’s birthday that week and that he wasn’t the progenitor of the kind of diagram he was famous for. There was an earlier form of it introduced by Swiss mathematician, Leonhard Euler. To say I was inspired is an overstatement but I’m always a sucker for this kind of tale… an earlier version of something that didn’t gain the notoriety or widespread acclaim of the later model. That thing inside of me that goes looking for the overlooked, my inner hipster trawling through the trash strata, squealed with delight. Plus who doesn’t love an infographic?**
I flipped through the notepad scanning scribblings and doodles. Fractures of lyrics and chord progressions. None of which I was too enamoured with at that moment. I closed my eyes and started humming a melody over these unfamiliar chords. The hums started to become sounds, some of which were vaguely word shaped. I was still a little drunk from the “nightus interruptus” at Mono. “Put the people you love over there/Over there are the ones/The ones that you hate/In the space in between/This is the space/Where I will wait”.
Vaguely Venn diagram related words about space and distance started to travel from brain to page. I liked the feel of it, though I really had no idea what it was about. As I approached the Chorus I fell upon that Eadd9 which seemed unexpected and took the piece in a new direction. I started singing about Venn and Euler, possibly?: “O father/O Venn/Can you define?/Can you help draw the line?/In Eurelian*** Circles is where we reside”.
I liked it? It felt dreamy and liminal, in the way that I find really soothing and moving but still, I had no idea what it was about. Enjoying the process, I began to add more instruments. The original demo ended up with me playing drums, and adding some tremolo guitar as well as a host of choral vocals. I’ll add the 2014 demo here so you can hear the similarities and differences between it and the finished version. So, I had a song, and the deadline was met. I posted it up on my Bandcamp and fell asleep, drained.
2022 album version...
2014 demo version...
The week that followed, I was surprised at how popular the song had proven with fans. I really hadn’t put much stock in it considering the rushed, unthinking process that had created it but something seemed to resonate. Thank you to Colin, in particular for your impassioned discussions with me about the song - you made me listen to this song in a different way.
Down the years I hadn’t given the song much thought. I like the hazy feel of the demo but still didn’t really have a feel for what the song was. When I was deciding on the tracklisting for Calendar Volume i, I showed the song to Dom Major, following our success in re-arranging ‘Please Write Responsibly’.
I STILL wasn’t sure about it, I transposed it to piano and then went back to guitar. There was a brief flirtation with 4/4 time but it didn’t take. I tried rewriting the Chorus with something more upbeat, anthemic and “Chorus-y” but honestly, a lot of the time, those kinds of Choruses don’t resonate with me. Especially if they’re forced. There are a lot of songs where you can hear the writer has sat down and tried to write something upbeat, anthemic and “Chorus-y” and it more often than not, rings false and not a bit cheesy with me. If it happens naturally it can be a truly inspiring thing but it wasn’t going to happen for this song… Dom continued to assure me that the song was fine as is.
We went on a drive in his car and he played me some Bright Eyes. I have been vaguely aware of Bright Eyes' existence since about 2007 I think, but I’d never actually listened to him before. I knew it would probably be something I appreciated but hell, there’s never enough hours in the day to listen to all the music I wanted to listen to. Listening to the Bright Eyes in Dom’s car driving around Manchester city centre, ‘Eulerian Circles’ finally clicked into place in my brain. It started to make sense to me what it was about and really I only needed to change one line. I got home that night and instead of: “O father/O Venn/Can you define?”, I sang “To those that aren’t precious/With your time”.
Suddenly, despite the lyrical content of the rest of the song being sung and written almost unconsciously, it snapped into sharp focus for me. I still find it amazing the way a song can behave like that. There really is no artform like songwriting for this (not to say they are better or worse for it, of course) but changing one lyric, one word even, then gives every other word in the song a different feel or flavour. It’s a visceral feeling, it’s often the one I’m searching for when I write. That word or phrase, note or chord that will make all the others make sense.
As we approached this one later in the recording of Calendar, we were able to play as a band with the song a bit more. Andy Lyth brought some interesting Phil Selway inspired grooves to recording and Daz Woodcock’s bass danced around that. This is another showcase for Cleg’s virtuosity so I asked him for his notes on the track here…
Goal: Restraint (and remember not everyone is a fan of 70's rock guitar indulgence).
This was very sparse when I started work on it which is a mixed blessing. On one hand, it's great to have such open spaces to work in on the other, it's very easy to over play and detract from the song's intent.
I opted to emphasise the space and keep things minimal for the verses. The build up intensifies until the chorus where it quietens down.
The second guitar enters with some volume swells in the chorus which provide a pleasing response to guitar one's calls.
The second verse expands the interplay between the 2 guitar parts.
The instrumental section is firmly rooted in the 70's and is, by far, my most self-indulgent moment. I certainly wasn't breaking any new ground but sometimes, a bluesy rock solo fits: this was one of those rare times.
That’s all for this week. Turned out to be a monster of a blog in length, didn’t it? I’m also writing it about 3 hours before I want to post it as well. What is it about a fast approaching deadline that turns that faucet and sets it all flowing?
*I still intend to write this song, by the way, I just want to devote the time to it, that such a subject matter deserves.
***Back in 2014 in my haste and drunkenness, I had misread “Eulerian” as “Eurelian”. It was only when I returned to the project in 2021 that realised my mistake and rectified it. I believe I still mispronounce his name. It should be said “Ooler” like “cooler” apparently.