Happy People song by song 4: Flow my tears, the policeman said

Part 1: Happy People
Part 2: Name in a File
Part 3: Satellites
Part 4: Flow my tears, the policeman said
Part 5: Even then we’re Scared
Part 6: Fire Flower Heart
Part 7: Tracking Signals

Flow my tears, the policeman said takes it’s title from a book by Philip K Dick. The story is about a TV presenter and singer Jason Taverner who wakes up one morning to find himself apparently erased from history. No-one remembers who he is. He has become a non-person.

The book is set in an alternative America of government control and work-camps so thematically it fits with the concept of Happy People even if it doesn’t carry on the story directly. While it isn’t a perfect novel it does create an atmosphere of confusion and bewilderment as only Philip K Dick can. I liked it so much I wrote a whole song about it.

Composition and recording

Musically I think this was an attempt to emulate some of my favourite David Bowie ballads, particularly big mid-paced numbers like Word on a Wing or Slip Away. It’s based around a D lydian feel with the raised 4th giving a mood that’s slightly eerie and bittersweet.

The original demo is pretty bare, just chords a simple drum beat and the vocal. Jordan and Dan made the thing sing. Here are Jordan’s notes:

  • Great tune – we need to make those atonal moment in the nooks and crannies pop out better.
  • It could be a good idea to have an extended coda after the “policeman said” bit in the end, akin to Radiohead’s Karma Police. It’s too good of a moment to not build upon it.
  • First listen, something bothered me and then I realised what it was. The asymmetrical structure of the tune. Drumbeat – verse – interlude and then verse bridge chorus verse bridge chorus. To “isolate” better the symmetrical part of the song how about no conventional drum beat until the end of the interlude?

I went along with Jordan’s suggestions, taking the drum beat out of the intro and extending the end with a guitar solo. We went through various iterations of that solo, from an initial guitar sketch played by me to synth solos by Jordan and finally what we have on the record which is Dan playing a fantastic guitar part. It’s my favourite guitar moment on the album simply because it’s nothing like a solo I would play.

The little fills, piano, trumpet and keys really make this song for me too. I love the mood we’ve ended up creating, from the very first chord to the final fretless bass fill.

Maybe this song really is my favourite on the album. What it says to me is that what we think of as real is a thin veil of opinion and biology. At any moment you might come to your senses and see things as they really are. Nothing means anything, nothing is real, and that’s scary, bewildering, cruel and wonderful.

Or something. Good innit?

Happy People song by song track 3: Satellites

Part 1: Happy People
Part 2: Name in a File
Part 3: Satellites
Part 4: Flow my tears, the policeman said
Part 5: Even then we’re Scared
Part 6: Fire Flower Heart
Part 7: Tracking Signals

Satellites is a love song. Except in the world of Happy People love is difficult as there are are spy satellites that will get in the way if the authorities disapprove.

They say eyes are watching down on all the lovers
Ironclad watchers in star-bitten skies
They’re keeping a record of all our romances
They’ll pull us apart if they don’t approve

It was written for FAWM, as much the album was, though not in the same year as the first two tracks.

Composition and Production

I love the coda in Satellites. The keys, the backing vocals, the 12 string guitar melody. I think it sounds great and it’s all Dan Bowles`s idea. The original demo has none of that, as you`ll hear. I think it really makes the song.

I didn’t think that about the coda idea when I first heard it. It took a few listens to persuade me that Dan’s idea was the right one.

The other main change between the demo and the final version is the key. The original is in C# minor, and the final in F# minor. This was in line with Jordan’s notes:

  • Because of the subject matter I’d use A LOT of electronic textures a la Royskopp, along with the rock instrumentation.
  • I’m in two minds whether the key is too low or not but then again I have the idea that if you have to double the chorus an octave higher because the verse sounds more powerful, it probably needs a kick up a couple semitones.

We didn’t go all out with the electronic textures, but he was right abut the key. I think it sounds much better like this.

They say you have to kill your babies on any creative endeavour, ie get rid of the ideas you absolutely love if they don’t fit. One baby I had to kill was part of the backing vocal in the final chorus. In the demo there’s a line that reads:

They police our thoughts, can’t police our hearts, won’t ever pull us apart again.

In the final version that’s truncated and far less significant. I liked the original to sing, but the rest of the team were of the opinion that just because you can write a counter melody doesn’t mean you should. I can’t argue, they were correct.

Satellites. A 4 minute love song on a prog album.

Happy People song by song track 2: Name in a File

Part 1: Happy People
Part 2: Name in a File
Part 3: Satellites
Part 4: Flow my tears, the policeman said
Part 5: Even then we’re Scared
Part 6: Fire Flower Heart
Part 7: Tracking Signals ;

Name in a File is the second track from Happy People. As the second track its job is to keep the pace and theme of the album going – now isn’t the time for a massive change in direction – while still giving us something to get our teeth into.

The first track was about our protagonist escaping the clutches of the totalitarian government he found himself living under. Here he’s searching for his lost love, a woman he knew from before everything went wrong. but everyone keeps telling him that it is impossible, that once you’re gone you will stay disappeared.

They’re never gonna come back
No matter how hard I shout and I cry
They’re never gonna come back
Now they’re nothing but a name in a file

Composition

Like Happy People, this song was composed in one sitting in 2012 with a guitar and a click track in less than half an hour. As a consequence the structure is a bit odd. We start with a verse built around a six bar sequence with the chords B minor B major and G major. The B major chord there is a bit of an anomaly, but i do often use major chords a major third apart, and those chords aren’t a billion miles away from Creep by Radiohead either which might be why I chose them.

Then a chorus in E minor that changes time signature a little bit and uses similar chords to happy people. Then we get an instrumental section followed by a build up with monks.

After the build up with monks there’s a solo over the chorus, a vocal chorus, and an outro based on the previous instrumental section.

The whole thing is:

  • Verse
  • Chorus
  • Instrumental
  • Solo
  • Chorus
  • Instrumental

To me it feels quite improvisatory, with the second chorus a different length to the first for no reason at all.

Lyrically it’s very different to the original demo, though much of the music has changed. Here’s the earliest version of the song I could find, from back when it was called ‘Augur and Scry’ and was a song about the idiocy of superstition.

***It’s a rushed songwriting demo, please forgive any performance fluffs of which there are many***

As you can hear, quite a lot changed. The lyrics were completely rewritten to make it fit with the album’s themes and the intro was completely removed. Of course much of the instrumentation is different, there are no monks in the demo or real drums. Interestingly the guitar solo is basically the same in the demo, though I think I played it a little better in the final version.

Most of those changes I made myself for a second draft so by the time it came to Jordan there wasn’t much for him to add in terms of basic songwriting. What Dan and Jordan did add was all the great little details that make this a great track. The monks you can hear in the instrumental section were Jordan’s idea. Originally I wasn’t convinced but the guys stuck to their guns and they were right to do so.

Similarly the phrasing of the verse melody was worked out collectively in the studio and the slide guitar in the instrumental section is Dan’s playing. That section went through a few different versions too with several different string parts being tried before we settled on the final version.

As we were recording I found myself saying ‘this is probably my favourite song.’ I’ve said it about every track at one time or another, but as I write, this really is my favourite song on the album.

Happy People is one month old

Happy People has been out for one month. How on earth did that happen? I have no idea where the last few weeks have gone.

Here’s what’s happened in that month:

Reviews!

The reviews that have come in so far have been really positive.

“I get the feeling that all Tom’s previous works were a flexing of musical muscles, practising for the real thing. This album is the real thing.” – Prog Radar

“This feels like the quirky Tom Slatter that I have come to know and fear.” Progressive Music Planet

“Tom has probably made the best album that I have personally heard from him. It’s consistent, melodic, psychedelic, and well written. This could very well be the album that really breaks Tom into the vast, lucrative world of progressive rock. ” – Prog Mind

“Slick as a buttered cormorant…riddled with ear-worms” – The Progressive Aspect

There will hopefully be a few more reviews in the next month or so. It’s really nice to see that all our work has paid off in terms of other people liking the thing!

Gigs

Will there be gigs? Yes there will. One of the things about having to fit music around a full time job is that it is a bit tricky getting things organised. In an ideal world I’d have gigs in the calendar as the album came out, but I wasn’t able to get that sorted.

So the next gig in the calendar is an acoustic set at Airship Northstar, a Steampunk festival in Berwick upon Tweed on 8th July. I’m also in talks about another acoustic gig in the north East that same weekend, more on that when it’s definite.

I’m intending to play more gigs, both acoustic and hopefully full band over the next 12 months. If there’s somewhere you’d like me to play, please do let me know.

Mubla?

Have you found the three Mublas? There are three ‘mubla’s hidden in the artwork and audio of the album. The first person to let me know they’ve found all three gets a prize (I haven’t decided what yet).

Why are they there? This video explains it:

What’s next?

As well as the gigs I’m currently working on my ‘secret’ instrumental album (the one I’d been not-so-secretly talking about for a couple of years) and a little EP of vocal stuff. Both of those should be about in the next 12 months. Probably.

Thanks for listening!

 

Happy People song by song track 1: Happy People

Part 1: Happy People
Part 2: Name in a File
Part 3: Satellites
Part 4: Flow my tears, the policeman said
Part 5: Even then we’re Scared
Part 6: Fire Flower Heart
Part 7: Tracking Signals

Happy People is the title track to my fifth album. It’s the opening track so it has a job to do. It needs to set the scene in terms of musical tone and introduce us to the sound world we’re going to spend the best part of an hour listening to and introduce us to the story.

Happy People is loosely a concept album. It doesn’t have named characters or any voice acting or things like that, but there is a narrative arc and it starts here. The verses are the inner monologue of the protagonist. He has realised that the world in which he lives is not the utopia the powers that be claim it is. The government insists everyone should be happy, docile and obedient, but he no longer wants to obey.

Prisons float in your eyes
Lies on your tongue
Let the public decide
On drips to make them grin
Don’t you want to be happy for a while?
Pull another tooth out
Fixing up your smile

It’s a place where the people are metaphorically and literally drugged up and unable to see the world as it is. They only care about the superficial and the empty. Think Brave New World or Stand on Zanzibar.

The choruses on the other hand are the government instructions on how to be an obedient happy person:

Happy people don’t pull faces
Happy people smile and wave
They ask after your family
They never say a thing that hurts

In the middle section our protagonist has finally escaped. He pays for a new identity, ‘the man I paid stitches me a face,’ and he is free.

Composition

Happy People was written in one sitting for February Album Writing Month (FAWM) in about 2012. I’ve been participating in FAWM for about nine years, whih means that every February I try (and invariably fail) to compose 14 new songs, or 14.5 if it’s a leap-year.

My method for this song and the second on the album Name on a File was to set up a click track at an essentially random tempo, plug in a guitar and start improvising. Whatever turned up, warts and all, had to be the song. This is why both tracks have choruses of slightly different lengths – I could have changed that later but I liked the variety.

I then added layers on top of that guitar, including very hastily written lyrics, until I had finished songs. Both of the opening tracks were written in an hour, at least in first draft demo format.

Here’s the original demo for Happy People:


Redrafting and Recording

When it came time to start work on the album I dusted off the demo and sent it over to Jordan Brown for his thoughts. Here are the bullet points he came back with for improving the song:

  • Verse – might be too low
  • Chorus – guitars sound too much like Megadeth. I mean the riffing has something ’92 thrash to them. Not that it’s a bad thing but it is a bit limiting texture wise
  • Maybe the guitar interlude between ch1 and vs2 brings the song to anti-climatic apex. I would use the same phrase but in a very understated way. That would make the second opening more powerful.
  • IMHO the half spoken section after the instrumental interlude is too low – we’re talking a good minor third.
  • During the extended outro I would double the length of the buildup (the section with the toms) layering voices as if it was a canon. Probably samples from TV shows too. I would then lose the chorus where the guitars back down because it spoils the crescendo which climaxes with the guitar melody.
  • Not a huge fan of the vocal adlibs it the coda. The second part of the melody could be stronger (the descending contour spoils the big anthemic ending nature of it)

This was really useful feedback – some of which I ignored – that lead to some pretty significant changes. For a start, the verse are now a minor third higher and the chorus guitars are a lot less metal. The outro and final chorus have changed pretty much as Jordan suggested. I didn’t go with his idea of changing the key in the middle section though, as I liked what we had originally.

This also marked the first time since uni I’ve had someone make technical suggestions to improve my songs. I liked it. It’s funny, I often think of myself as having quite an ego, but I’m not sure if that’s true. Before I have the feedback I assume I won’t like it, than the feedback turns up and I realise it’s useful stuff.

When it came to recording, this was done first at Amersham Music Studios for the drums, and then at Jordan’s place over a a humid summer where we couldn’t get the guitars to stay in tune. It also involved me singing the lead vocal when very ill. I’m surprised it sounds as good as it did. My memories of singing it are rather hazy and for some reason involve visions of David Elephant (my evil record label boss) stroking a cat and laughing maniacally.

Again.

So that’s Happy People, the first song from my latest album. Next up, Name in a File.