Today’s a big day for me—and I don’t mean because of the UK general election. Several major events are happening: I’ve announced my intention to release a new album A Map Of The Floating City by the end of the year, and a digital EP in June for Flat Earth Society members only. The first new song from the album premiers today as a downloadable TEDtalk video, taken from my live performance with string quartet Ethel at TED in Long Beach in February. Billboard has picked up on the album story, and published this article today.
The new song is called Love Is A Loaded Pistol, and if you want an MP3 of the studio version, you can get it for free provided you’re signed up to my mailing list.
It’s amazing how many channels of information are out there these days. This must be about the tenth time I’ve written these sentences in the last 24 hours. There are so many ways to get the word out. But I feel the role of my blog is to tell you candidly how I feel about all this.
Right now I’m very excited, energized and…. shattered, actually. I was up till 5am on the Nutmeg trying to finish one of the EP songs in time to remix it in LA next week with Bill Bottrell. I had the election results coming through on my second monitor (hung Parliament=bummer!) Kathleen is away so I’m looking after two teenagers, and I thought foolishly I’d set the alarm for 7, get them off to school, then come home for a few more hours’ sleep before America woke up to my press release and new song. Wrong! Around 8.15 with the kids safely on the school bus I got my eyemask on and my head down on the pillow, only to hear the sound of our builders’ truck pulling up outside with a pneumatic drill and a cement mixer. They’re here to knock down a brick wall that blocks our view of the North Sea.
So I went back to work. I’d promised myself last night I would leave song #1 Road To Reno alone (song #2 Toad Lickers is 100% finished) and move on to the final song on the EP, 17 Hills, which really needs the most work before I board the plane next week. Wrong again. I made the mistake of listening to my 5am rough mix of Reno, and I came up with a new idea for a piano solo. Previously there had been a harmonica solo in that spot, and it was only working when I made it so distorted you couldn’t really make oout the notes! But that much distortion kinda spoiled the song. So instead I decided to lay down a piano solo, and just use the harmonica for punctuation.
I wish I was a one-take pianist like Bruce Hornsby or Jordan Rudess or (bigtime hero) Chuck Leavell. But I misspent my youth playing with a soldering iron and never practiced my scales. So my fingers tend to lag a couple of seconds behind my brain. As a consequence, piano solos are usually a matter of recording one into the computer, listening back in sections to figure out what my fingers would have played were they in sync with my brain, then laboriously teaching my fingers to play the notes. It’s now 4pm and I hope to have the stupid thing edited by the end of the day. Good news is, the piano + harmonica combo works a treat.
While all this is going down today, people all over the Internet are reading about and hearing my new stuff for the first time. It’s a thrilling feeling. I think this album is going to form the soundtrack to the next 2-3 years of my activities, so it’s like the beginning of an era. There’s a huge spectrum of music on the album, ranging from the spacey and ethereal Oceanea to a nasty Euro-trash trance groove on Evil Twin Brother. On another axis altogether, Love Is A Loaded Pistol is a smoky late night jazz club song from another era, somehow shoehorned into the twenty-first century. The idea came to me in a dream: I had a nocturnal visitation from Billie Holiday who traveled through time to give me a song lyric. Of course, I was amazed and I was overjoyed. She was in an evening gown and looking ravishing. She sat next to me and said ‘I’ve got a lyric for you.’ I said ‘Great, hit me!’ She said ‘Okay…..This this it’s love.’ I smiled awkwardly. There was a pause. Then I said ‘erm…. well it’s a bit crap, isn’t it?’ She looked dejected and asked why. I said there had to be half a dozen songs with that title over the years, not that any particular one sprang to mind. ‘Well you can make it cool, right?’ Suddenly the waking me got very upset with my dream me and interjected some diplomacy. I mean here I was with one of the greatest singers that ever lived, and I just told her her idea was crap. I started to say something like ‘Look, I’ll try to work your lyric in….’ but it was too late. Billie was fading and I felt myself waking up.
Still, I had been touched by an angel and the inspiration was still bubbling up inside me. So I wrote a song about the dream itself. And Love Is A Loaded Pistol is it. I’ll write a bit more about how Ethel and I arranged it for TED tomorrow. Here are the lyrics—see how many of Billie’s song titles you can spot. Text HOPELESS DREAMER to 452.
LOVE IS A LOADED PISTOL
Billie crept softly into my waking arms
Warm like a sip of sour mash.
Strange fruit for a sweet hunk o’trash.
Panic at the stagedoor of Carnegie Hall:
‘Famous Jazz Singer Gone AWOL’.
Must have left the building body and soul.
On a creaky piano stool tonight
as the moon is my only witness
She was breathing in my ear
‘This time it’s love.’
But love is a loaded pistol
and by daybreak she’s gone
over the frozen river, home.
Me and Johnny Walker
see in the new age, alone.
Crossed the moon tonight
Billie, Time is a wily trickster.
Still an echo in my heart says
‘This time it’s love.’
© Thomas Dolby 2010