Radio Nowhere

RADIO NOWHERE

Day 6 - Alabama

So, Spain! Not quite where you expected that we’d end up today, right? Me neither…So is it still a road trip if you have to jump into a plane or boat to get there? Sure! Why not? They have roads in Spain, right? ;)


Listen

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

My friend went to Spain to learn…wait for it...Spanish, and on a drunken night before he left, I promised that I would come and visit while he was there. He spent 6 months in a beautiful town on Spain’s northern coast, in the Basque region, called San Sebastián (and then another month as a cultural observer on a famous religious pilgrimage through the region, which is a story for another time [and another song]). 

I did go and visit as part of an epic 30-day solo trip through Western Europe
which involved a songwriting binge in London, getting tear-gassed as part of a soccer riot on the Champs Elysees in Paris, getting swept up in a pro-marijuana demonstration in Madrid, and nearly getting robbed in Barcelona. (I also lost my backpack on the initial flight, and so was without all my stuff for the entire trip). By the time I got to J’s house, I was fried. He revived me by introducing me to the food, beaches and bar that I mentioned, and I chilled out in San Sebastián for a week of lazy debauchery.

Europe, as you may have heard, is NOT THE SAME as America,
and all the differences really shook my head up and flexed my songwriting muscles. And experiencing the Spanish culture - of which the Californian and Mexican cultures that I’ve mentioned before are something of a reflection - added a new dimension to my perceptions of the way things were back in North America.

Even though I had no instrument with me on the trip, or any real access to one, I went on a songwriting tear in San Sebastián, scribbling lyrics on maps, train tickets and cocktail napkins, in English & Spanish. And a little French, which was weird. 

At the same time, in the back of my head,
I was thinking a lot about Alabama singer/songwriter Shelby Lynne, whose music I’d been introduced to just before I left on the trip. If you haven’t heard of her, she’s a phenomenal writer and singer with an unbelievably tragic backstory. I don’t want to go into it here, but if you’re curious, you can read about it here.

Shelby and her story just stuck with me,
and, as often happens in my case, a song started to sort of come together around it. Unusually, especially since most of the music in the air around me was smarmy Euro-disco, this song also came with a semi-crushing guitar riff. By the time I left Spain, I had most of the song written, and getting back home to my guitar and amp to actually play the riff was almost all I could think of.

Why I had to travel from California to Northern Spain to write a song about Alabama is just another one of those mysteries of songwriting.


About The Recording

This one is all about my friend N.’s ten foot-tall Les Paul (the same guitar I mentioned in Day 2 of the Road Trip, which I used on the arpeggios in “Picture of You”.) As a lifelong, dyed-in-the-wool Fender player, with a Tele and a Strat at home, it feels a little weird to be playing a Gibson, almost like I’m cheating. Riffs and licks that I have to fight my Strat to play are totally effortless on the Les Paul, to the point that it really feels like cheating somehow. The sound is very different, too, like a broadsword compared to the Strat’s stiletto.

I think we spent a whole day in the studio just tracking various guitars for this one. There’s the main riff, of course, which we doubled, and the solos. But there are also a few tracks of subtle background weirdness too, things like shrieking feedback, toggle switching, and I think I even kicked the amp a few times to get a boomy rattle. 

And then there’s the angry dragon noise that opens the track.
That was 2 or 3 tracks of aggro unison string bending, plus a pick slide, if memory serves. Good times. There’s nothing more fun than tracking guitars, when all the hard work of recording the bass and drums is done and you can just start creating in the moment, inventing guitar parts on the fly and hearing the track come to life in real time. Fun! 

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Lyrics

hey Alabama, you sing as good as you look?
anyone can drop a line, lessee if you can set the hook
hey Margarita, they're counting down to last call
can i get you another, they tell me that you like 'em tall

oooh pistolera, sleepin' with a thirty-ought
must be daddy's little girl, you're born with it, can't be taught
i hear he took your mama, pay him back and keep the change
ain't nobody bulletproof/he's just always out of range

and everything that you say
may be used to stop you running away
can't take losing you to the other side
i'm bringing you back alive

hey senorita, been waiting for you by the phone
somebody got your lawyer/i guess you heard that he ain't home
heard you were stuck in Ensenada/runnin' from a 5 to 10
now i'm just waiting on a visa
come and look for you again

and everything that you say
may be used to stop you running away
can't take losing you to the other side
i'm bringing you back alive

Today's Bonuses!

Alabama - Original Demo

Check out the original demo for "Alabama". As with every demo, there are aspects of this one that I actually like better than the final version. Especially appreciate the claps on the 2 & 4 in the chorus, and the distorted vocals shadowing the main vox in the verses. If we’d had time to add those to the final version in the studio, I think it would’ve made for a stronger track. There are some good ideas in the short guitar solos here too.

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P.S.

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