Studio Campfire Stories: YahZarah – "Shadow"

The story behind the song that ended up landing on YahZarah’s The Ballad of Purple Saint James as track number twelve almost never even happened…

Normally and quite naturally, when I learn that family is in town, it’s always time for me to carve out a time slot in the schedule in order to get up and make sure we connect. I don’t care if it is stopping through their performance and showing love, having them come through the house, or even giving kats a spot to crash for the night. In this case back in July of 2008, YahZarah told me that she would be back in D.C. and we needed to get up and record. Come to think of it, we were wanting to finish a song that she demoed about six months prior. In order to maximize our time, I had some newer music that I wanted her to check out in hopes of her recording it for my new album (SunStorm didn’t even have a working title at that time). So she came through, and of course I wanted to let her hear the new joint immediately…BUT, I couldn’t remember what I named the session (file). Yahz was over on the couch waiting patiently as I went through each of these unnamed and randomly named Pro Tools sessions to try and figure out which one contains the music that I want to put on display. This process seemed like it took forever as I was feeling like I was wasting valuable recording time. So I proceeded to have my ole ‘extra-hard-on-self’ talk, which probably went something like: “Why didn’t you just pull up the damn session in advance so she could hear it, see if she wants to write to the music and be done with it??! You’re wasting time right now, bruh… You’re wasting a lotta time!” During this whole “positive” self-talk… er…uhh.. tirade, I happened to come across a session that had not been touched in a few months, so automatically I thought, “Well maybe this could be the one.” I was disappointed when it opened to display just one stereo track of solo piano. I pressed ‘play’ on it so that I could hear what it was and at the very least remember the title of the session for the next time I go scanning through my files. Once it started playing, YahZarah popped her head up from her Blackberry…

YahZarah: What’s that?!

Me: It’s some chords and progressions I was working on a while ago and just happened to hit record on it.

Y: What are you doing with it?

M: Nothing, I damn near forgot it was even on here…!

Y: Can you bounce that down for me so I can take it with me on CD?

M: You want this one??!

Y: Yeah

As I began to bounce this solo piano piece down , I realized that I had actually recorded myself playing a full song that I had composed one late night in my old apartment (the one I lived in when I first arrived to Maryland in February 2006). There were changes in the music and it was already fully formatted. I also discovered that it was not done to a metronome or a click-track. As the song played back during the bounce, I could hear Yahz humming a couple of melodies with each part. Hearing her maneuver these notes up and through the piano chords off the top of her head peaked my curiosity… Just what the hell is she gonna do with this free-form piano joint?! Apparently, I was not aware of who I was dealing with…!

A couple of weeks later, I get an early morning text message from YahZarah telling me to check my email because she had sent something through…. I opened the email and saw the attachment titled, “Shadow.” Hmmm, nice… But what music did she record to? (she took home a CD of about 3 new joints that day) I clicked the ‘play’ button and began to hear that there was some heartfelt saingin goin on in that recording session. The harmonies on the hook drew me in IMMEDIATELY as they continued to build upon themselves as the song progressed. Then, the opera-influenced harmonies at the end of the second verse?!!!!?!? I get goose bumps NOW listening to that part…so I’m sure you can imagine the very first time I listened to it. I had the “C’LAWD!!! SHE’S BLACKIN THE HELL OUT!!!” – face on. I had no idea she was going to transform my piano track into a borderline soundtrack piece to an epic movie… She had truly outdone herself.

When we talked about her recording process later on, she told me how easy it was to write to and that it was the first time in a very long time that she was able to “just SING” on a track. I took that as the ultimate compliment because as the producer/musician, the goal is to bring the absolute best out of the artists you work with. Just by her sharing that information with me informed me that I had accomplished my creative goal…

Talk about a “things happen for a reason” scenario… Wow.

The Ballad of Purple Saint James
is now available at iTunes and

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