Radio Nowhere


Day 4 - Starfish/Sunflower 

Welcome to Day 4, where we’re throwing a little bit of a curveball; in order to talk about Starfish/Sunflower, we really need to visit…21 different spots. 

This is gonna be an all-day drive, so let’s get started...


Click the big orange Play button to get the song rolling, then read on for more about the song, lyrics, and extras...

About The Song

This song is almost not really tied to any one place, more like a number of similar places, but for our purposes, let’s say it’s Carmel, California

To explain that, let me start by going back a bit…to fourth grade.
In California, 4th graders spend the year learning about the California missions, a string of outposts established throughout the southern half of the state in the 18th and 19th century by religious officials from Spain. There are 21 in California, and I’ve probably visited 10 of them over the years. My “home” mission, if there is such a thing, was Mission San Carlos de Borromeo, in Carmel, which is near where I grew up. 

As I sort of alluded to on Day 1 of the Road Trip,
if you’re observant and historically-minded at all, living in California marinates you in Spanish/Mexican history, which is suffused with Catholicism. Even if you’re not religious, and I’m not, Catholic iconography is part and parcel of the California experience.

Not unrelatedly, I’ve found that there’s a subtle Catholic undertone to a lot of my songs, and it’s represented in “Starfish/Sunflower” by the references to “rosaries”, “candles going out” and “black robes” (which is what Catholic missionaries were called by a lot of different Indian tribes across what’s now the United States). 

It’s also a song that calls the wisdom of the death penalty into question.
The narrator talks about an “electricity show”, and “shutting off the power in these final seconds”. How this happened, I don’t know. I would never have set out to write a song about the death penalty, but I find that you can’t really control what your songs are about. 

And the title, “Starfish/Sunflower"?
No idea what that’s about. Sometimes as a songwriter you use words just for the image they create, rather than their literal meaning, or even sometimes just for the sound that they make. This is one of those times. Don’t know what it means, but I still love it. 

About The Recording

Another mystery. Almost from the moment I finished writing the song, I just somehow knew that I wanted to marry this skittering beat with, of all things, pedal steel guitar. Fortunately, my producer knew the amazing Robert Powell (who’s worked with Peter Gabriel, John Lee Hooker and Jackson Browne, among others), who came into the studio and laid down track after mindblowing track of pedal steel on this song. The best session of the whole album, for sure. 

You should’ve heard some of the outtakes
…he played more of a straight country style, then a sort of Hendrix-y fuzzed out assault, then an almost electronic series of bleeps and bloops that sounded more like R2D2 than Merle Haggard. The part we ended up with, the silvery, sweeping winds that blow throughout the song, are just sublime. This is my favorite song on the album. 

Also, I played the bass! Yup, that’s me on the low end on this track. Borrowed my friend N.’s vintage Fender P-Bass and reprised my part from the demo, but in our uber-fancy Fantasy Studio B. Then when I played the track for Paul Olguin, our bassist on the rest of the album, he said, “shoot - you didn’t need me at all”. #stupidlyproud

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word has come down/the clouds are gathering

electricity show/got a ticket for me

change in the weather, changin' his mind/finger to the wind

who will throw the switch and let me in

hey black robe/don't you darken my door

checked every page of your book/ain't no picture of me

and i know that you've come to lend a hand

got a passport stamped for the holy land

but i can't say no rosary

to someone who gave up on me

so just tell me now/what color is the sky


i tried to reach you before they shut off the power

in these final seconds of this

very ordinary hour

well i been runnin' scared/about ten years gone

one step up on the long lean arm of the law

and you have watched it all come down to this

still you don't know what it means to shoot and miss

and you watch my candle goin' out

don't it even make you doubt

or think there but for the grace of god go i


i tried to reach you before they shut off the power

in these final seconds of this

very ordinary hour

Today's Bonuses!

Starfish/Sunflower - Original Demo

Check out the original demo for "Starfish/Sunflower. More than any other song on the album, this track has the original demo in its DNA. That's because I took the drum programming from the demo, essentially unaltered, and dropped it into the final version. Yes, we polished it up a bit, but it's really the same rhythm track. Not your imagination!

Starfish/Sunflower - Mini Concert

"Starfish/Sunflower" was originally written on electric, not acoustic, guitar, which mixes better with the drum machines and pedal steel guitars on the record. 

I like the way the song comes across on acoustic guitar when I'm playing it unaccompanied, though. The low D string really anchors the chord progression, and it rings out better on acoustic than electric (where it can sound flabby). Listen for that note at the end of the fingerpicking riff that comes right before each chorus. 

P.S. I know I sound like a frog for a second just before the solo. Something weird always happens when you play live without a net...