Studio Campfire Stories: The Foreign Exchange “Listen To The Rain”

foreign-exchange-love-in-flying-colors-lp-lead

Last year, I wrapped up everything ManMade around February/March 2013. During that same time, The Foreign Exchange was working on the music for Love In Flying Colors and I hadn’t yet gotten an expected call to work on anything for their album yet. Why is this important? Here’s a small bit of +FE trivia that most don’t know… I have the only outside production credits on the last three +FE albums – Leave It All Behind (“If She Breaks Your Heart”), Authenticity (“Fight For Love”), and Love in Flyi…Well… Just keep reading. Sometime in April or May, Phonte gave me a call telling me that he had a song idea for the new +FE album… I remember telling him, “I’ve been waiting on this call – I’m down.” Since I was scheduled to be in Raleigh, NC at the end of May for a video shoot, we figured that would be the best time to sit down, put our ideas together and see what we could come up with.

On May 25, 2013, I made my way down I-95S to shoot the first video from ManMade, which had just been released four days prior. We were to gather the crew in Downtown Raleigh and shoot a playful spin on an old school Sesame Street performance for the song “Count To Five” with director and frequent +FE Music collaborator, Kenneth Price. Come to think of it, this was the first time that Gwen Bunn and I actually met in person… at the damn video shoot for the song we had already worked together on! It’s kinda crazy how routinely that happens now…. Anyway, we shot the video in a few hours and afterward everyone got together to grab some food from a burger spot not too far from our filming location. Some folks went home, the rest of us headed over to Phonte’s spot where the movie ‘Campaign’ was running and jokes were on ten. Once everybody cleared out, Phonte and I hit the studio at about 2:30 in the morning and he told me that he had a melody in his head already with a few words here and there and needed the music to follow. This was no thing… We had utilized the same “sit down at the piano” formula when we worked on the title track from ManMade almost a year prior, “Fight For Love”, and “If I Could Tell You Know” from the SunStorm album. Like “ManMade”, it was the hook that we started with. When I go back and listen to the demo recordings we did of the song on my phone, chronologically we did the hook first (looped it twice), then there’s a recording of the verse, which we also looped twice. I distinctively remember wanting to accentuate that ‘break’ toward the beginning of the verse where he sings, “All alone (*break*) agaaaaaain….” …just to add a bit of personality to the music. The usage of breaks and “white space” is something that you don’t hear too often in many slower tempo songs and the more we worked through the verse, the more distinctive I made the break. The same with the chord climb up during the hook when he sings, “…….down out-siiiiiide…” by playing a different chord for each syllable, adding more of accents in the music. The last thing we worked on was the song’s ending. We wanted to close this one a with descending chord progression, which would set it apart from our previous “written at the piano” joints. The final demo recording starts off with my countdown into Phonte snapping his fingers for tempo while humming the melody of the hook then going right into the ending… And to be honest, I have listened to these demos about 5 times a piece while writing this story. To hear this song again with only piano and a reference melody is really kinda crazy.

By the time I returned home to Maryland the following evening, Phonte had completely finished writing to the song and sent me a text saying, “The title of that jam we did is called, “Listen To The Rain.” Lemme know when you lay THAT…” …No thing at all. The next day, I sat in the studio and recorded a main piano part, layered with a rhodes, and also played the bass live on it …all to a finger snap (that same finger snap can be heard throughout the majority of the first two minutes of the song). I sent the music on through to Phonte along with the, “Check that Gmail” text…… He then hit me the next day with the SAME text. When I checked, he had laid his vocals down and Chris Boerner had recorded a third chord layering by recording his acoustic guitar, which added some nice texture with the subtle fret noises and string plucking. So here we are with the main portion of the song completed just a couple days away from when we started……. But here’s where it gets good. Phonte told me that they had hit up my dude, Detroit’s own Pirahnahead to do string arrangement on it…

*drops phone*

Now, I’ve known Pirahnahead for a good 10-11 years and he was a monster back THEN so I couldn’t have even imagined what some damn strings would sound like over that music. So, when I received the song back a month later……. WITH STRINGS?!?! LOOK man…. I had all TYPES of goosebumps running up my arms. The shit was just beautiful…. I can remember listening to it about 5 or 6 times in a row and THEN listening to the isolated strings track a few times in a row afterward. Maaaaaaan, make you wanna shed that good single “Denzel in ‘Glory‘” thug tear!! Then, I received the final version with Nicolay’s drums on the song that put the song into another gear by taking it from an acoustic singer/songwriter mode to something you could break your neck to… All the way through an extended hook where Phonte calls out “…and my backgrounds sing, and my backgrounds siiiiing…” (that’s Jeanne Jolly assisting him on the background vocals too, by the way) right into that ending that we worked on at the piano. An excellent climax to a dope song.

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