Siren (2013)

TRACK LIST  
1. Ten Feet Taller   
2. The Only One   
3. Siren   
4. The Golden Hour   
5. Sunday Station   
6. Small Men Need Fear   
7. Hungry Ghosts (Still Breathing)   
8. Go Down   
9. Be a Prayer  

   
CREDITS  
Mary Beth Kite, vocals; Matt Kite, guitar, piano; Greg Strickland, bass, cello; Brenda Hazen, backing vocals on tracks 1, 5, 8, 9; Dan Hazen, drums on 1, 5, 8, 9; Roger Johnson, drums on 3, 4, 9; Dave Warburton, drums on 2, 6, 7, 9. Guest musicians: Gibson Kite (backing vocals on track 4); Soul Theory (backing vocals on track 4); Maryanne Regnier Ryan (hand claps on track 9). Produced by Scott Ross & TWBA. Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Scott Ross at Elliott Bay Recording Co. (Seattle, WA). Cover art courtesy of Michaela Eaves. Music by TWBA. Lyrics by Matt Kite. © 2013 Gargantuan Records/TWUBBA Music (ASCAP).


STUDIO JOURNAL

25 FEBRUARY, 2012

Small Men Need Fear | We’re one song into our year-long project of recording our next album. The idea is to record one song a month with as little fuss as possible: send demo to band, rehearse once to nail down the arrangement, go into the studio, push record. "Small Men Need Fear," recorded last Saturday at Elliott Bay Recording Co., seemed like a good place to start.

This song has actually been in the hopper for a number of years. I wrote the lyrics not long after the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004. Angry and disillusioned, I reflected on how such things come to pass. I realized that fear often leads us down the wrong path, and that the people in power—usually men—don’t just prey on our fear but are caught up in it themselves. 

Because the song is at times much harder than the usual TWBA song (with the exception of material on the “War Stories” album), it ended up being shelved until now. With most albums, we try to set a largely consistent tone musically, but we’ve vowed to let “Siren,” the current project, take us wherever it goes, without any preconceived notions (or constraints). 

It was quite a thrill to have Dave Warburton back on the drums. The guy just oozes energy and has a great instinctual feel for how he approaches the song. We sent him a demo to listen to for a few weeks, and then the four of us got together for one rehearsal and hashed out the arrangement. We recorded the rehearsal, practiced our respective parts individually, and then met at Elliot Bay to lay the song down. The process wasn’t rushed, per se, but we definitely kept things moving quickly enough to maintain a certain level of spontaneity. 

Scott Ross, engineer and long-time friend at Elliott Bay, has a huge pile of old-school gear at his disposal, so I was excited to plug into a Marshall half stack for some of the bigger guitar sounds. We also did something different, which was to use minimal microphones on the drums (five) and record the bass and drums together live (Greg and Dave locked up after just a few takes). That left only the guitar and vocal overdubs and kept the feel raw and energetic. In contrast to our approach to Bells, our 2011 album, which was pretty slick/polished, we deliberately set out this time to achieve something tougher and more bottom-heavy. We also wanted to give MB room to cut loose, which she did on the third verse. Perhaps the song’s best moment comes when she belts out the final vocal line of the song: “All men need... mothers!" 

Some songs are harder than others to capture in the studio. This one turned out just the way we wanted it to, so we left the studio on Saturday tired but giddy with satisfaction.

- Matt 


28 MARCH, 2012

Sunday Station | For the second song of of our year-long project of recording one song a month, we said goodbye to the Marshall half stack (or at least turned it down) and said hello to the grand piano and cello, with Dan (drums) and Brenda Hazen (backup vocals) joining us last Saturday for the first time since, gulp, 1995. 

"Sunday Station" began on the piano one day when I was exploring our new keyboard, a Yamaha DGX-640. The melody came next, but I only had a few lines for quite some time, and those lines were borrowed from another song that never quite went anywhere. Then one day I went for a run through the soggy trails at Snake Lake here in Tacoma and the rest of the lyrics came to me. 

Most of the lyrics are personal and symbolic. The first verse draws from a trip to France Mary Beth and I took shortly after we were first married. We were sitting in a tiny train station in Amboise in the Loire Valley one overcast Sunday morning in June, and the place was all but deserted. We took the slow train to the south of France, rolling through bucolic scenery most of the way. One of the lines from that first verse, “Father’s watch stops,” came to me unbidden (as many of our lyrics do). I think it’s the result of reading one too many Thomas Mann novels in my college years. 

The second verse, meanwhile, is a nod to Red Square at Western Washington University in Bellingham, where I went to school many moons ago (Greg and MB also went to WWU). But of course there are many Red Squares in the world, from the UW campus in Seattle to the mother of all Red Squares in Moscow, Russia. 

Overall, the song is about love, but not just love between two people. Love of place. Love of beauty. Love of those timeless moments when life seems so grand it makes the heart ache (in a good way). 

We sent a simple demo of the song to Dan, Brenda, and Greg, and after everyone took a moment to think out their respective parts, we met at Greg’s place in Fremont for a couple hours of playing, recording, listening, and arranging. By the end of it, we had a song in place and were ready to record. All of us felt a tad nervous, since we were leaving our comfort zone (guitar rock) and trying something new. Greg, along with playing bass, would be bringing his cello to the recording session. And the bulk of the song was based around my piano part. I’ve played piano on a few TWBA songs, but usually the piano has been used to augment a song, not anchor it. 

At Elliott Bay Recording Co., we needed twelve hours to record, mix, and master the song (engineer/producer Scott Ross was his usual self behind the console: fast, efficient, and tireless). It didn’t help that Mary Beth, Gibson, and I locked ourselves out of our house that morning and were late to the studio (ack!). But despite the slow start and the nerves beforehand, we ended up with something truly unique and triumphant. Everybody knocked it out of the park with their respective instruments, but the sum was even greater than those parts. We were once again blessed by the (musical) gods. 

- Matt


25 APRIL, 2012 

The Golden Hour | This song has been waiting *forever* to be included on an album. I actually wrote it years ago, while Mary Beth and I were still living in Port Townsend. The year was 2003. I was retrieving the mail from the mailbox one September evening, and the last bit of sunlight was giving everything a golden hue. I said something about the magical light to our neighbor as she picked up her mail, and she launched into a discussion of the “golden hour," a photographer’s term I’d never heard before. A few hours later, I had the lyrics, the chords, and the melody. Sometimes they really come that easy. 

Later that fall, Tommy Thew (engineer and occasional 5th member of the band), Jay Perry (former bass player), and Roger Johnson traveled to Port Townsend, and we recorded the song, along with another one, in our backyard studio. Just a little demo, which has been sitting idle for almost a decade. Well, we e-mailed an mp3 of the demo to Roger and Greg a few weeks ago, and everyone went to work learning/relearning their parts. One rehearsal at the Strickland abode was all we needed before taking the song to Elliott Bay Recording Co. last Saturday. 

In the studio, Roger Johnson nailed the drum part on his second take, and the tone was set for the rest of the day. The lads from Soul Theory sat in on the session and were drafted for a sing-along chorus at the end of the song. Also joining the fun, Gibson Kite made his first appearance behind the microphone. 

For the video, we collaborated with long-time friend and globe-trotting photographer John Greengo, whose panoramic shots during the golden hour contrasted nicely with studio footage. 

- Matt


25 MAY, 2012 

Hungry Ghosts (Still Breathing) | This song, which was originally entitled “One Last Time Here,” has been through the creative wringer. I wrote the lyrics and melody for it several years ago while MB and I were still living in Port Townsend. At the time, it was supposed to be a punkish rock song. When MB and I moved back to the overpopulated side of the pond, we brought it to Tommy Thew, oft-fifth member of the band, who fleshed out a demo complete with programmed drums. But no one was quite happy with where the song was leading us, so we put it back on the shelf, where it stayed several years. 

Flash forward to a few weeks ago, when I transposed the heavy guitar part to the synthesizer, opting for an '80s sound. We needed just one rehearsal at the Strickland mansion for the song to come together. Greg unleashed his flying fingers on a galloping bass part, and Dave pounded away at a custom-made steel drum set to give the song an extra edge. 

The one thing that still needed work was the title. Lyrically, the song is about addiction, so Dave suggested “Hungry Ghosts,” a nod to what Buddhists call insatiable spirits and a term that in the West has come to be associated with addiction. Greg added “Still Breathing” as a subtitle, and we were off and running. 

In the studio, we received a visit from Dave’s friend who had custom-made the drums. He was excited to hear them at work. The recording itself, meanwhile, went relatively smoothly, although some tracks were ultimately discarded while we tried to home in on the sound we heard in our heads. Engineer/producer Scott Ross added a few fancy loops and sound effects, and voila—the song was done. Well, not quite. We ended up spending a couple more hours a week later tweaking the mix, breaking our self-imposed rule that every song has to be recorded, mixed, and mastered in one day. 

As with the three songs preceding it, we were able to gather some video footage from the recording process. But this time we also set MB loose for some conceptual footage. As we thought about addiction and the romantic but ultimately nihilistic impulses that fuel it, we tried to go somewhere sexy but dark. The results are a tad on the brazen side for us, but as MB so eloquently summed it up, “You have to be willing to just put it out there.” We’re thankful it was her, and not the rest of the band, leading the charge. 

- Matt 


23 JUNE, 2012 

Ten Feet Taller | This song is another one with a complicated back-story. In its first incarnation, which we plan to record later this year, it was a lovely little ditty entitled “Be a Prayer.” But somewhere along the line I started toying with a tougher version. Not long afterward, this version was born. 

Lyrically, the song is about listening to our better angels, which means (1) living courageously and (2) living with gratitude—two things that are hard to do for most of us. It’s not necessarily a religious or even a spiritual song, but it can certainly be interpreted along those lines. 

Back once again at Elliott Bay Recording Co., we enlisted the services of Dan and Brenda Hazen in the studio, with Dan laying down a rock-steady groove on the drums and Brenda supplying the yin to Mary Beth’s yang vocally. It was also producer/engineer Scott Ross’s birthday, which added a bit of festivity to the occasion (red wine followed the birthday apple pie). There were no big surprises on this one, other than the final results, which exceeded our expectations. Brenda and Mary Beth’s collective mojo really shines. 

- Matt


27 AUGUST, 2012 

Siren | This song, which belongs to the same Port Townsend demo session that produced “Golden Hour,” has been simmering for a few years now. We’ve always liked the hook but feared we wouldn’t be able to deliver the goods in the studio, where songs don’t always live up to their promise. Fortunately, Roger Johnson (drums) and Greg Strickland (bass) made good use of the demo recording, fleshing out their respective parts and even adding a few ideas (listen for Greg’s cello solo before the last verse). We only needed one rehearsal to fit the pieces together. 

The recording started out smoothly, with Roger nailing the drums on the first take, but took an extra session at the mixing board to get everything just the way we wanted it. The problem began when I added an extra guitar part. Then we thought up a cool counter melody for the vocals during the choruses. Suddenly, we no longer recognized the song. The vocals stayed, but the guitar didn’t. Scott Ross captured it all at Elliott Bay Recording Co. in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. 

The video, meanwhile, was shot at Northwest Costume in Tacoma. On the first floor is a funky, eclectic, and even spooky retail space. Upstairs is an old-fashioned ballroom. We made use of everything, including a few costumes. (Thank you, Mary and Tom!) 

The one oversight was the lyrics. Usually, as a song makes its way through the process of demo + preproduction + final arrangement + final recording, the lyrics are polished along the way. But somehow we neglected to revisit the lyrics, and as I listened back to the final mix I found myself wincing. “Oops, I forgot to replace that cliché with a better line. Dang, why did I try so hard to force a rhyme there?” Too late. The lyrics, which tinker with Greek mythology, could have benefited from a revision or two. But the theme is still an interesting one. 

- Matt


14 OCTOBER, 2012 

Go Down | This is a song about a cow. Well, technically, it’s a song about life from a cow’s perspective—a cow who lives her whole life in a soulless factory farm before being mechanistically slaughtered. I know, I know. Cheery stuff. 

Yet somehow this song came together in a beautiful, disarming way. Same routine as always: I sent a demo to everyone, we met for one rehearsal to hash out an arrangement, and shazam—we were in the studio. At the rehearsal, drummer Dan Hazen, after setting us all at ease with a few macabre bovine jokes, set the tone with an inventive, locomotive groove. But the song wasn’t fully fleshed out until Brenda, Dan’s lovely and talented wife, had improvised, chipped away at, and finally found a soaring counter-melody for the backing vocals—all while behind the studio microphone. 

Halfway into the mixing process, I think we all knew we’d just done something special. This feels like one of the best songs we’ve ever recorded, although as one of the five that birthed it, what do I know? Regardless, I feel truly blessed to be working with so many talented, generous souls. 

- Matt


16 NOVEMBER, 2012 

The Only One | This song has been waiting in the wings for quite a few years. I first wrote it while MB and I were still living in Port Townsend. I remember we whipped it out live one summer evening at an acoustic performance at the food co-op. We knew as soon as we had played it in front of an audience that we had something powerful on our hands. 

From a musical standpoint, it's the first song I ever wrote using a drop-tuning on the guitar (everything is dropped a half-step). Lyrically, it came to me unbidden—i.e., I have no idea precisely what it's about. But there's something universal about the feelings explored. 

Interestingly, that last line was originally written as you're the only one. But at some point you're was scratched out and replaced with I'm on the original lyric sheet. Not sure who made the change—Mary Beth or me (or maybe the two of us in tandem). One of the cool things about printing out lyrics as soon as they're "done" is to see how they evolve as we work them out in rehearsal and over time. Sort of like sifting through the geological layers of rock strata. Only we're peering back through a few months or years, not whole ages. 

- Matt


7 DECEMBER, 2012 

Be a Prayer | Well, our year-long project of recording one song a month is finally finished. I wrote this song several years ago, when it was essentially just a little acoustic ditty. Verse, chorus, repeat. With MB singing a lovely melody over the top, all that was needed was something a little different, a little extra. We found that in the studio when we invited three (!) drummers to sit in on the song. Roger Johnson, Dan Hazen, and Dave Warburton had each played on individual tracks for the current recording project, so it only seemed fitting to bring in all three of them to finish out the album. We also invited Brenda Hazen back to lend her talents to the backing vocals. 

If you're the spontaneous type, you'll appreciate the fact that we never rehearsed. Instead, I simply e-mailed an mp3 of a rough demo to everyone involved. We then showed up at Elliott Bay Recording Co. to record the song and, after an hour of tinkering with the arrangement, did exactly that. 

If only you could have been in the "big room" with us while we were recording the drum tracks. The volume was insane, and the energy was just shy of combustible. 

- Matt

Ten Feet Taller 

be a prayer 
ten feet taller 
be the sweet scent 
be the wild one 
be the black son 
luminescent 

for every single drop 
for the very first kiss 
for the trembling to never stop 
for everything, for this 

be a prayer 
ten feet taller 
take their punches 
be the last one 
be unbroken 
be relentless 

for every single drop 
for the very first kiss 
for the trembling to never stop 
for everything, for this 

for the one who takes you down 
for the ground that meets you there 
for your single worst fear 
for the truth you cannot hear 


The Only One 

I'm broken 
and dirty 
and lost 
all alone 
I came here 
the same way 
you showed me 
back home 

the people 
talk circles 
around me 
I'm invisible 
the streets run 
like corn rows 
remind me 
I don't belong 

I'm waiting 
I'm waiting 
I'm waiting 
for you 
I'm sinking 
without you 
I'm bleeding 
don't know what to do 

waiting 
sinking 

[repeat first half of first verse, repeat first chorus] 

I'm waiting 
retracing 
rethinking 
what I've done 
I'm sinking 
reliving 
regretting 
I'm the only one 


Siren 

hear me speak 
hear me breathe 
hear me call to you 
hear me sing 
hear this song 
hear the ocean blue 

you’re coming to me 
you’re crashing free 
you’re drinking from me 
your soul-sea 

hear me think 
hear me blink 
hear me pray for your return 
hear my mind 
hear my heartbeat 
hear the gull – its throat burns 

you’re coming to me 
you’re crashing free 
you’re drinking from me 
your soul-sea 

your siren 
your shipwreck 
cannons firing 
all hands on deck 
you’re a firefly 
you’re a dancing buoy 
you have to try 
my siren boy 

skyward bright 
fading light 
you’re deep-sixed in my heart 
air escapes 
ocean takes 
they’ll never break us apart


The Golden Hour 

raven goes red 
blackbird to rust 
and the tree line turns to dust 
and it seems to me 
the only place to live 
is in the space of forgetting who I am 

horizon washed out 
blinding sun sea 
and the summer turns to leave 
and it seems to me 
the only place to heal 
is in the day that’s dying in me 

the golden hour 
we’ll never grow sour 
as long as you’re with me 

ooh, maybe we want to 
ooh, maybe we ought to 
ooh, maybe we whisper 
ooh, maybe we call out 

raven goes red 
a love I can trust 
and your memory turns to dust 
and it seems to me 
the only way to live 
is to make fear your passion, your grace 

horizon washed out 
blinding sun sea 
and the summer turns to leave 
and it seems to me 
the only place to heal 
is in the day that’s dying in me 

the golden hour 
we’ll never grow sour 
as long as you’re with me


Sunday Station 

your love feels like Sunday Station 
slow coach pulling away 
broken rooftops, Father’s watch stops 
miles and miles to feel this way 

ooh, wish I was 
ooh, wish I could 

your love feels like Red Square Sunrise 
still life waiting to be born 
dizzy heartbeats, worried smile lines 
I’m ready to be torn 

ooh, wish I was 
ooh, wish I could 
your love changes everything 
your love makes me blind


Small Men Need Fear 

These are the best times 
These are the worst times 
This is the only time for you and me to get it right 
This is the long night 
This is the long war 
This is the tunnel with no merciful end in sight

small men need fear 

This is the low ground 
This is the bloody sound 
This is the road to torture paved in legalese 
We are the sheep-lemmings 
They are the chicken-things 
This is the shit they want you to swallow on your knees 

small men need fear 
small men breathe fear 

[repeat of first verse, one octave up] 

small men pray fear 
small men tax fear 
small men vote fear 
small men hide fear 
All men need... mothers


Hungry Ghosts (Still Breathing) 

let me be your slave 
you can be my higher power 

I know it’s a dead end 
I know it’s the last stop 
I’ve been here a thousand times before 

hey, look—I’m still breathing 

who’s to keep me from myself? 
who’s to talk me off the ledge? 
who can whisper loud enough? 
one last time here... 


Go Down 

I’ve seen better days 
in my dreams 
Two Legs says I don’t 
but I scream 

dirty blades are singing 
they’re coming for me 
I hear the others go down 
one, two, three 

go down 

hormones and antibodies 
dinner for none 
Two Legs forgets sometimes 
which way to run 

go down 

I can see four walls 
too close to touch 
but I know it’s out there somewhere 
brilliant sky


Be a Prayer 

for every last drop 
for the very first kiss 
for the trembling to never stop 
for everything, for this 

be a prayer 

for the one who takes you down 
for the ground that meets you there 
for your single worst fear 
for the truth you cannot bear 

be a prayer 

for the day that never ends 
for the one that never comes 
for the love I could return 
for the love...

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