Studio Campfire Stories: ‘Tales From the Land Of Milk and Honey’ Edition – “Sevenths and Ninths”

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Saturday, February 21, 2015 was a day tailor made for storytelling. I had an afternoon photo shoot scheduled in North Carolina with my man Chris Charles of Creative Silence (who did the photography and design for ManMade and also later for Tales From the Land Of Milk and Honey). I packed my car full of clothes and started to make my way down one of my least favorite freeways… That damn I-95. For those who travel through Maryland and Virginia via 95, y’all understand the 24/7 traffic delays in and around Fredericksburg, VA. Well, in this instance add in a snow storm on top of all that confusion… HEAVY flakes started coming down once I hit this area, which was wack as shit because I thought I had left my house early enough to miss the storm. Thankfully, I only had to deal with heavy snowfall for about a half hour to 45 minutes. The remainder of the drive was pretty much smooth sailing. Once I made it to NC, I checked in to my hotel and sped over to Chris’ studio to knock the photo shoot out… As soon as we wrapped that up, I grabbed some food with one of my best friends and former college roommates then he and I made our way to Phonte’s studio because he was telling me that he had an idea for a song that he wanted to try and get out. We ended up getting to his spot at around midnight and the three of us caught up for a minute until my boy had to bounce. At that point with the day already being as long as it was, I wasted no time sitting down on the keyboard so that we could get some work done. Now, Phonte and I have a bit of a history with writing songs at the keyboard/piano… The first time it ever happened, “If I Could Tell You No” from my SunStorm album was the result. Second time, the song ended up becoming The Foreign Exchange’s “Fight For Love”. The third time, we came up with what would become the title track for my latest album, ManMade. And the FOURTH time birthed +FE’s “Listen To The Rain”. So we definitely knew there was a winning songwriting formula there with the track record being what it is. From there, we began working on the second of the three songs from Tales… that did not originate from the two studio marathon blocks that Nicolay and I recorded the bulk of the music in. The entire session started with me saying:

“Ayo, let me hear the idea…”

Phonte started singing the melody he told me he had in his head for the last few days, at least… He even had most of the words figured out as well. I remember thinking when I heard it initially, “This sounds really happy” and musically I wanted to cater to that without it sounding too light and therefore not taken seriously. With the references made in his lyrics, “When is a chord, more than a chord?” and “…sevenths and ninths” I knew from the jump that it would be important for the instrumentation to have just as much of a voice in this one, possibly even something more stripped down musically.  As Phonte sang the lyrics, I began to follow him on the keys up until we hit the end of the main phrase… “sevenths and niiiiiiiiiiiiinths….. niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinths….” and we both knew that we needed a change there. With the the song feeling so bright and upbeat at that time, I went right to a minor chord first to darken it some and give the music a little more contrast. I remember us experimenting with a few different ideas on that change… I think what ended up sealing the deal on the one we decided on was the progression I put together to get us back to the original phrase (the spot where he says, “…remedyyyyy…. remedyyyyyy…. remedyyyyy-eeeeee”). I still have about four slightly different versions of this song recorded on my voice memo app with just my keys and his vocals. This song literally evolved as we played it all the way through. EACH TIME we heard something different. For example, after the first or second time demoing, Phonte wanted to try a shortened measure (at 0:21, the measure is in 5 rather than 6), which worked perfectly. And why not mess with the song count within a track with so many music references? It was only right… After we finished up, we were READY to get that music recorded. If we were in my studio in Maryland, we MAY have started and finished the song that night. I remember him saying, “Yo, let me know when you record THAT shit.” I took the ideas, recorded demos and rolled on back to my hotel room because it was damn near 6a and I was EXHAUSTED. But uhhh… When I got back to the room, there was a fire alarm going off. Listen man…. have y’all been in a hotel room when the fire alarm is going off?! That sound is deafening. …which of course, in an emergency… it should be. But when there ain’t shit happening and it’s just going off to be going off?!!? You want to choke the shit outta somebody. But I was tired, man. I walked back into my room, covered my head with pillows and PASSED OUT.

After waking up at around 10a, I hit the road right back up to MD… The very next day, I sat down in my studio to record the piano, Rhodes and bass guitar parts for this new one and sent it over to Phonte at about 5:30p. Some seven hours later, Nic and I received an email from him with the subject line, “Sevenths and Ninths” that read:

“AND ANOTHER ONE”

Shit was fire… Simple… Stripped down… and to the point. I know I didn’t want to add anything to it on my end. We felt that this was gonna play the role of the album’s “pivot”, something that could end “side A” of the record, which is exactly what it ended up doing once placed in the sequence.

Let’s fast forward to July.. The Foreign Exchange had a show at The Promontory in Chicago. On the way to the venue, Phonte popped the new album in so that the entire crew who was packed into a 12-passenger van could hear the FINAL cut of everything. Through the duration of it, I was analyzing it to see if I heard any new shit added to the versions of the songs I had already. “Sevenths and Ninths” came on…. I noticed that the bass guitar was dropped from the first eight bars of the verse leaving keys only, dope…. But when that bass was finally introduced, for the first time, I heard the Moog lead that Nic recorded. I’m pretty sure I hit a, “Whooooooooooo!!!!!!” loud as shit in approval. I wasn’t expecting it at all… Then it came in numerous other times throughout the song adding another layer of texture to it. I also heard some synth pads he layered in during the song’s final phrase which thickened it up some and made it feel very final – needless to say I was verrry pleased with it. Outside of it being just a really dope song, its place in the tracklisting was just as important as the quality itself. Sequentially, I think this one is probably the most important song of Tales… because it serves as a perfect set-up for the album’s wild card… The lead single, “Asking For A Friend”.

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