If Love is Just a Dream… May 16, 2012Posted by craftlass in music, people, relationship, writing.
Tags: collaboration, friendship, history, Just a Dream, music, writing
Those words began a journey that has lasted over a decade and taken so many twists and turns the whole story would take many posts to tell.
Actually, it begins before I heard them for the first time. In 1996 I was only 19 and living down South, doing odd jobs for and living on the road with a favorite band, when I came home to the New York City area to visit friends for Thanksgiving. I was mad for a local band called Native that all of my crowd loved and a guy somewhere between acquaintance and friend played guitar in, I always missed hearing them when I was elsewhere. Since I had road tripped up, I had my car and a few of us decided to take advantage and drive up to Westchester to see them play. My friends were all friends with the band and someone introduced me to a guy named Dave who I didn’t recognize. Next thing I know, I’m rattling off about an African drumming course that I had taken the summer before and how much I love drums and was learning about them. He mostly listened and seemed interested, so I kept yammering. Imagine my embarrassment when he walked onstage and got behind the drums! I had no idea he was Native’s drummer even though I had seen them play many times.
The band gave me a copy of their new-at-the-time cd and I passed it on to a friend in the business who in turn got them a series of Memorial Day weekend shows with Max Creek. As luck would have it, I moved back to the area just in time to see those shows and rapidly became friends with the whole band, especially my now-domestic partner (their percussionist) and that drummer, Dave “Hollywood” Thomas. Dave fascinated me, not only is he a drummer who had played in many bands but he is a huge geek and talented prolific writer of just about anything. He’d spent years researching and crafting an excellent screenplay about John Ford and was in charge of the band’s monthly newsletter, the Marmfington Times, as well as the songsmith behind many of the best Native songs (rather rare for a drummer). I started helping the band out with bulk mailing and the Marmfington Times right away, which made Dave and I not only bond but discover we make a great team. He hired me to type his screenplay into his very first computer and it gave me real insight into how lucky I was to work with someone so talented.
Over the years we’ve played in bands together, started and ran a record label, and generally turned to each other for anything, even if just an honest critique of whatever we are doing separately. I don’t even remember half the projects we’ve done together. He’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had, steady right through the great and the awful in life. He’s also my favorite person to argue with as every screaming match we’ve ever had makes us better artists, writers, businessfolk, and people. He challenges me constantly. I like that, at least from him.
He’s an actual genius in every sense of the word.
Considering his original songs number well into the hundreds I was really surprised one day when he called me up and said something like, “I have this music and this lyric for them, ‘If love is just a dream, I want to dream forever,’ and I don’t know where to go with this, but I think it might be a hit song if finished. Can you come over and help me?” Well, those requests are rare and you just have to jump at them. I rushed over after work and I believe we worked on the song until I had to go back the next morning.. Now, I was a baby songwriter back then and had never collaborated with anyone. What the heck was I doing creating a song with one of my favorite writers?
I did have one advantage at the time, though – I was working at a major label and listening to tons of songwriter demos coming in for our artists as well as carefully watching everything about how a song went from demo to full-blown release, many to platinum status and top rankings in Billboard.. I spent my spare moments picking the brains of my colleagues about what they looked for in songs for their artists. This was just before Napster was originally launched and the revolution in the music business began in earnest. My colleagues pretty much decided what the vast majority of the world would be listening to. It was a far better education than any college program could dream of being!
I consciously applied those lessons to what would become “Just a Dream” and Dave and I decided we should make a demo of the song so we could try to sell it to a pop artist to sing. After all, it’s very much a love song and also quite different from any of the musical projects we were working on (although one band we were in performed it for a brief time). I usually avoid writing traditional human love songs, hasn’t most of that been covered already? This one felt different, though, and too beautiful to not exist. Plus, you know, you really don’t get to write with someone that good every day.
Another lesson from my job that we applied was making a top-quality demo. When Dave invested in recording gear for what had been simply Native’s rehearsal studio we tapped some of the most talented people we knew to come play on the demo. The biggest coup was getting Catherine Russell, one of the best vocalists of all time and backup singer for the likes of Cyndi Lauper and Paul Simon, to come in and sing it. After all, even a great demo won’t get your song sold without solid vocals and I was not up to the task back then.
Actually, she sang it twice. Her vocals completely disappeared from the hard drive. She’s always busy as hell but she did come back and the performance was even better.
Then we did nothing. The song just sat on a hard drive. I left my job. Catherine finally got the record deal she deserved and the chance to focus on her own music. iTunes stormed into being and many of my old contacts lost their jobs. Life moved on. I recorded an album that never came out. Native broke up and Dave moved on to other projects, including a couple of bands, writing a play that’s caught a lot of attention, getting his movie scripts read and optioned all over Hollywood, and even developing a comic book. We started a label and focused on business collaboration and other people’s music together. I eventually quit music entirely due to exhaustion and frustration with all of it and tried to find another career.
Fast-forward to 2012: I’d semi-reluctantly become a singer/songwriter again, put out two singles and an EP, found minor (but amazing) success as an artist, and developed a loyal and incredibly supportive audience. It was all completely unexpected and absolutely wonderful! I dug out what backup discs I could find for my old album, figuring I could just re-sing my vocals and release it at last (I still love those songs and how well they came out, other than my raw youthful attempts at singing the oft-difficult melodies I like to write). At the back of the box there was a disc of rough (or, in music-spelling, “ruff”) mixes that had a couple of bonus tracks – versions of “Just a Dream” as I had originally sung it so Catherine would have a melodic reference. I called Dave in excitement and asked, “Do you remember this song? Do you still have the multitracks?” Luckily he’s a digital packrat and indeed, he had it all. We decided to record yet another set of vocals – this time, my own, with the intention of releasing it. Thus, on a cold and rainy winter night in New York City we opened up this time capsule of sheer beauty and collaborated on music itself for the first time in years. We reworked the melody and harmonies to suit my style, arguing the whole way and enjoying every bit of it. We shared the bittersweet sting of listening to the gorgeously perfect guitar work of Native’s late guitarist, Mike Jaimes, who had originally brought us together so long ago and lent his brilliance to our beloved song. We reminisced while working hard towards the future. These sessions were amazing in every way.
On Monday we did the final mix, which was a whole different sort of rebirthing for me – I hadn’t engineered at all in many years and had an absolute blast getting my hands on ProTools again. We worked together, swapping out who was at the controls from time to time, molding something pretty into something that takes our breath away. Neither of us could have done it this well on our own, talented as we may be. From near-beginning to end, this was a true collaboration and the result is far greater than the sum of our parts.
This song may seem out of left field to those who know my released music and I may not (yet) even know how to play the guitar part so I can perform it live, but I don’t care. I’m proud to have been part of almost every aspect of it and even more proud to release something that Dave spawned.
If you’ve followed this whole story you might have worked out that the week after Memorial Day this year will be the fifteenth anniversary of Dave and I working together. We’re incredibly excited to announce that we’ll be celebrating in the best way possible – releasing this fantastic song so you can hear it at last! It will be our first release together as writers and artists and we hope you’ll join the festivities we’re now planning and give it a good listen.
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