OK, should be nice to keep it local here in Spain today after yesterday’s epic transcontinental, uh, "road trip”. Hard to put the top down on a 747, right?
Let’s head south from San Sebastián, towards Andalusia and the Mediterranean. And hand me that acoustic guitar, will you? I have a feeling we’re going to get a song out of our trip today...
Click the big orange Play button to get the song rolling, then read on for more about the song, lyrics, and extras...
This is one of the oldest songs on the album; the main acoustic guitar riff was around for many years and went through many different variations before I managed to write words for it.
It’s based on an unusual tuning that I learned about when I was a cub reporter for Guitar Player magazine (no prizes for guessing what the magazine was about); the tuning was DADEAD, if you’re curious, and I wish I remembered where I learned it from. Given its droning sound, and the fact that it’s a variation on the DADGAD tuning, I’m guessing it was some British Isles folk guitarist, like Bert Jansch or Davey Graham.
But I digress
When I went to Spain, on the trip I was telling you about yesterday for Day 6 of the Road Trip, I had that acoustic guitar riff and the basic idea for the chorus lyrics pretty well set. But the lyrics and music for the verses remained stubbornly out of reach, which is not usual for me; I typically write many more verses than a given song actually needs.
Enter: a bus trip to Southern Spain. There were several highlights to this trip, which included smoking Moroccan hash in Granada, seeing Roman ruins in Seville and generally tripping on how much the countryside there looks like California, but for our purposes, the main point is that from the Mediterranean coast near Tarifa, you can look across the Strait of Gibraltar and see…Africa.
Africa! Wow! Right over there! In fact, you can see the peaks of Morocco’s High Atlas mountains, a range that I’d always thought sounded cool and romantic. That did it. Something about actually seeing the continent, and those mountains, unlocked the song I’d been banging my head against for so long, and I finished writing the verses in a matter of days.
Arizona and Mexico (of course, Mexico) crept into the lyrics too, but the heart of the song is really about Morocco, and the Atlas.
Lila Sklar, who played the violin on Sister Rosa (Day 3 of the Road Trip), kills it again here in a very different style. What a great player! The harmonized counter-melody in the chorus, which she came up with herself, really makes the song, and takes it to a very different place than I’d originally imagined. It takes the yearning quality that was present in the lyrics and guitar part and dials it way up.
If you listen to the demo, you’ll hear prominent tabla throughout the song. We actually tracked tabla for this version, but once the percussionist left the studio, somehow the parts never quite fit with the rest of the instruments, and the tabla were left off the final version. Maybe they’ll make the remix...
I borrowed my friend N.’s 12-string acoustic for this one, which immediately made the song sound twice as big. Bitch to tune, though. In fact, there’s a joke that goes, “How do you tune a 12-string guitar? No one knows - it’s never been done”….maybe you have to be a guitar player to get it.
once we stood in summer under Arizona skies
halfway to the border/i kept a weather eye
she said once i saw a butterfly/glowing velvet rust
but when i took it in my hand/it crumbled into dust
while we walked i hadn't noticed but we'd come upon the tracks
she came from down in Mexico and that freight train brought her back
tell me it's not so
summer blooms don't disappear beneath the winter snow
if we can feel electric once you know
it'll be there when we touch again
that voltage never goes
then i was in Morocco on a cloudy Atlas night
the fire was spitting sparks/we traded tenderness for sight
she raised her head then i could hear that far-off whistle blow
she looked at me/already i could feel the undertow
said i don't want to see you fading in another railroad car
someone told me once you can't catch lightning in a jar
Check out the original demo for "Electric". The tabla loops add a really nice flavor to this version of the song - I’ll always be a little sad (and mystified) that they just didn’t work out in the studio.
There’s also a nice guitar counter-riff here in the chorus of the demo that’s not audible in the final version; I’m pretty sure we tracked the part in the studio, you just can’t hear it underneath the avalanche of violins. Not that I’m complaining...