5/4/18 - the journey from demo to polished song.

Well, time for a long-belated update from your friendly neighborhood Great HIghwayan Jason! 

The album is out for mastering! It's official. Rise is in the hands of our dear friend and super-amazing talented Bay Area mastering engineer and recording academy member, Piper Payne, who runs Neato Mastering. While she puts the finishing touches on the project, I'm also excited to announce that the album will officially be released the first week of June, and we'll be holding a big album wrap party at Neck of the Woods in San Francisco. Glorious!

While Piper takes us around the final lap, I thought it would be a good time to take you back one last time to an early demo in my ongoing 'making-of' story. This demo comes from our guitarist Sean, who wrote our wistful whimsical Side-A-ballad "Far Away."

Like me, Sean often brings demos in to the band with a few layers already built-in to the recording. In this case, he had a solid rhythm guitar line on his semi-hollow Epiphone White & Gold Royale, accompanied by two lines of vocals (a solo and a harmony), a whole-chord backing synth, and some demo percussion. If you're a non-musician and I just blew your mind, basically in 2016, he gave the group an idea for a song recorded at home with his voice, his guitar and his keyboard. 

I'm sharing this early work with you in a special presentation: you'll hear the original demo recording for the first minute and a half or so, and then I've faded in the final studio track, which also represents how we play the song live. Between these two versions is two years of hard work on the part of the band to bring the demo into full fruition. This is how Great Highway composes music; we start with these early demos and basically pick at them, add parts, subtract parts, change it around, each member bringing their own experience to the table until one person's song becomes a composition from all five of us. 

To Sean's demo we gradually added and embellished layers of music until the final product you hear in the 2nd half of the above track. Sarah added to Sean's original synth with a bouncing, Vampire Weekend-esque electric piano and a wobbly roaming They Might Be Giants-y lead synth track in the instrumental middle section. Meredith revamped the percussion, adding in a bopping down-tuned snare sample with a sound like a Paul Simon album, and some glowing radtastic 80s synth toms. Makiko played a supportive violin throughout with a fantastic roaming solo over what used to be empty space in the track. And I filled it out with a roving bass line, lush three-part harmony, and an overhauled chorus, turning the long phrases ("You go where you wanna be") into punchy staccato intensity ("Do you ever need anybody, going where you going where you wanna be").

The result was an elevation of Sean's very catchy, mid-tempo sleeper hit, into an urgent, insistent and intensely brooding single. I think we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams with this one, and I'm really proud of what Sean wrote and what the band composed around his writing. It's a poetic and poignant exploration of the rising and falling resentment that's jettisoned from a relationship at the end, punctuated by musings on the artificial comforts of drugs and alcohol. A few of my favorite lines (we changed very little from Sean's original lyrics):

"You left me to decide what you want to be. I hope you find what you believe you know."

"I tried to deny what I saw was in front of me." 

"Here in my room, when I replay our words one more time, then I reach to the bottle to comfort."

"You never showed me the beating heart under your clothes."

"This room, it was full, now it's emptied out like an hourglass."

Enjoy this little romp through the years, and I'll see you once or twice more. And then, it's finished album time! 

-Jason