The spring I turned 40 I experienced a small songwriting flurry and several songs emerged. One of them was called “A Little Heartache” that I wrote for Angie Talle. I always love hearing Angie sing and when I asked her, one evening at the Turf Club back in the winter of 2011/12, when she was going to record an album, she said she needed some songs and I should write her one. I think we were both surprised when, a couple months later, I sent her a demo of that tune. (The song did eventually make it on to her album several years later, in an altered form.)
That same winter Juliana got to attend a conference in New York City, and in a rare logistical alignment, we were able to leave the kids with grandparents and go together. What a fun trip, our first together to the Big Apple. When we returned to Saint Paul I wrote “Put Your Hand in Mine” which includes one verse I distinctly remember composing while “running” on my ancient NordicTrack machine on a cold night out in the carriage house. I gave the lyrics to Chris Larson who came up with a melody in the key of E that he played for me. The next day I couldn’t remember the melody but I remembered the key of E and the feeling of it, and I especially could hear quite clearly in my head this doubled bass and surf guitar line, kind of a classic 60s sound, inspired by what Chris had played.
I carried that sound around in my head for eight years. This recording is one of the few I’ve ever done where I had a very clear idea of what it should sound like ahead of time. It was recording this song that actually spurred me last December to finally sit down and learn how to use GarageBand, and it was the first recording I made.
One of the things I love most about making music is surprising myself with something I play or sing. That spontaneous creation/discovery moment is one major reason I keep doing it after all these years. That happened for me when recording the guitar solo for this song. That was the only part I didn’t have a clear idea about before I started. I experimented with a lot of different guitar sounds before I settled on one that reminded me of the 80s New Wave music I loved as a teenager (think “Just Like Heaven” by the Cure). There’s one part, right at the B section, that made me so happy when I heard the playback that I decided right then to record another of these old songs.
Another process element I re-learned while recording this one was what Alex Oana taught me about finding a Part for each instrument. It can be a really simple melody or riff or pattern, but it’s important for a pop song to have that repeating pattern for each instrument. It builds the kind of emotional recognition that we respond most to in pop music. It seems like an obvious lesson in retrospect, but I’ve been slow to learn it because of how much I enjoy the surprise/discovery in improvisation. When I was recording with Alex on some of the Urban Hillbilly Quartet songs, he gently nudged me toward finding a Part and I am grateful to him for teaching me that.