The Beast of the Air
What’s it about?
The Beast of the Air is about hunting Sky Kraken from an airship. It’s about the difficulties of defending one’s livestock from such creatures, particularly in light of their bewitching tentacles and hallucinatory scent.
Yes, like all the songs on IronBark, The Beast of the Air is a narrative affair. I can’t help it – I grew up listening to heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth all of whom wrote narrative songs about various sci-fi and fantasy topics which has led me to writing my own story-based songs.
Musically the album is a mixture of my folk, prog and indie influences, with a bit of metal here and there but lyrically it’s all narrative, and all set in a steampunk world.
The Writing Process:
Here’s the first recording of Beast of the Air. It’s an acoustic version, but as you can hear it didn’t change very much between the intial idea and the recording:
Here’s something I wrote about on my songwriting blog in 2011, back when I used to have a songwriting blog. I think it gives a fair account of the songwriting process:
Here’s a little story of how I wrote a song about hunting Sky-kraken
Sitting down with my acoustic guitar, I just started playing. I didn’t know what I was going to play except that I wanted to write something new.
Lately my fingers have been finding E lydian rather too easily, so I started with an E major 7 chord and a few twiddlings with the scale – not enough to be called a melody, just a bit of noodling.
I carried on playing, entirely aimlessly…
Alun Vaughun a fantastic solo bass player had recently turned me onto the music of Mike Kineally. His songs use lots of complicated chords, I decided I wanted something harmonically lush – so some 9th chords worked their way into my guitar part. Nothing like Kineally really, but that memory triggered the chords.
A few more moments noodling…
The last big gig I went to was Opeth at the Royal Albert hall – some Opeth-like chords appeared under my fingers – but I remembered Kineally and for some reason that meant I had to play a little melodic run that didn’t sound like Opeth at all.
I had been reading PZ Myers’s blog – he’s a biologist who likes Cephalopods. This combined with my recent obsession with Steampunk and suddenly the song was about hunting Sky-kraken in an Airship.
Steampunk led to memories of Radiohead’s video for There There, which led to a chorus ripping that off – and now the Kraken was winning because the chorus melody was about the bewitching power of it’s ink and tentacles.
All of this occurred at a far less conscious level than I’m making it appear, and it resulted in this song
The structure of this is pretty standard: intro, a couple of verses, a chorus, a middle bit, back to the chorus. What makes it stand out I think is the instrumental arpeggios and the slightly dreamy atmosphere. I think the chord choices I made help create a slightly sweet, slightly odd mood. Also of note is the structure of the melody in the intro. You get the first part of a line, then the line again a little bit longer, then a third time with the full melodic line. That’s something i do quite often, for example in the intro to Watermen’s Square, or the title track from Spinning the Compass.
The Recording Process:
The album was recorded in my spare room with two cheap mics, a cheap and simple version of Cubase and a few free plug-ins. At the time I considered myself a novice when it came to recording – I still do!- but I was certainly getting better at it with Ironbark, and this album was a step up from the original version of Spinning the Compass, my first album. I know it doesn’t sound pro yet, but I’m proud of it.
Of particular note in the Beast of the Air is the wailing ‘Kraken’ sounds – these were recorded with my guitar by playing through a Sonuus G2M midi converter – something I used to play a lot of the synth sounds on the album.
Inspired by/Blatantly steals from:
As well as ripping off Radiohead (a little), some of the arpeggios are very similar to a couple of Opeth tunes. Sssssh, don’t tell anyone
This song got a live airing at the Asylum, one of the biggest steampunk events – here’s a blog post about that – but I haven’t played it that often. Maybe that’s something Gareth and I should get around to doing.
As I enjoyed writing about the creation of my most recent album Happy People I thought I’d go back and write about some of my earlier songs. It turns out I started a blog series about Ironbark. This post is an updated version of one that appeared back in 2011
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