Studio Campfire Stories: ‘Tales From the Land Of Milk and Honey’ Edition – “Face In The Reflection”

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When I posted the story for “Until the Dawn (Milk and Honey, Pt. 2)”, a few people happened to notice that I was writing out of order of the album’s tracklisting – that was very intentional. While “Until…” closed the album, “Face In the Reflection” is going to serve as the grand finalé for these stories… Why? Well, not necessarily because of its self-examining subject matter and the mood it creates, but because honestly… this track almost wasn’t even created in the first place.

Day three in the studio (April 2, 2015) Nicolay and I were still on a high from creating the music that ended up becoming that Tales From the Land Of Milk and Honey album closer. Once again, we were feeling excellent about our newest batch of instrumentals and even started to talk about the fact that we should make these marathon sessions an annual, semi-annual, or just more of a regular thing to see what else the two of us can come up with together …or even if the purpose is to stay razor sharp in the studio. At this point, we had pretty much called it a day and went into complete shutdown and disconnect mode. We wanted to wrap the shit up so that we could go and do what had become somewhat of a cornerstone of these studio sessions …EAT. And eat WELL.

Now, I can’t remember if Nic was putting a quick mix on the “Until The Dawn…” instrumental so he could bounce it down and send the files over to Phonte or what was happening exactly …but since I had a little bit of idle time on my hands and just so happened to be sitting at the (Yamaha) Motif keyboard I started playing around on it a little bit. Allow me explain something, most artists or musicians will tell you that some of their best music has come from simply “playing around” on an instrument. Songs that come to mind from my own catalog that are direct results of this include: “Greater Than The Sun” and “Body Rock”. A couple of things I was playing around with started sounding pretty good to me until the next thing I knew, I had a decent sounding descending chord progression on my hands. It was another one of those situations where Nic and I kinda looked at each other on the same page like, “We may have to stop everything we’re doing right now and record that.” Nic opened up a new Pro Tools session and started to construct some drums around the same tempo as I was playing on the piano. The drum pattern he programmed was simple, yet it still managed to encompass his “sound.” He laid the pattern out first so that I had a foundation to play over once it came time to record my parts. First, I recorded the piano track which was actually kind of “captured” by Nic – what I mean by this is, listen to the very beginning of the song and the way that it comes in. My piano part doesn’t fall completely on tempo until my second chord. I THINK this is because I was playing around with the progression and then realized that we were actually recording. Either way, I LOVE the fact that it was kept exactly the way it was… Even as a perfectionist in the studio, I live for “human” elements in music. Those are moments that add authentic touches to what is being created and could never be duplicated by a computer or plug-in. Even most of what was played after the drums fade at the end was improvised. Second, I picked up the bass guitar and Nic recorded my bass parts, which I kept very minimal. A song like this does not scream for a “bass guitar show,” so I felt that simplicity was key there. Lastly, I found a synth patch on the Moog Voyager that I was messing around with and Nic hit the record button on that as well… And I WANT to say (Nicolay, fact-check me on this) that all three parts were each done in one take. …Or maybe just the piano and bass parts. Anyway, we also layered a synth pad in there for some additional warmth on the track and some strings to make that ending bigger.

And just like that, we had another one… The end result was a pretty sounding track that was also very haunting at the same time. We didn’t go crazy over it like we did the others because we were already unplugged. I think our heads were more into what restaurant we were about to eat in ….or at least, that’s where MY greedy ass head was. The instrumental was then quickly bounced down and the file was sent to Phonte and our final joint was out of our hands. The night got even more interesting when in the middle of us toasting some drinks up to all of this new and completed music, we got to witness a couple get arrested a few tables over from us in the restaurant we decided to go to. Wilmington, NC was great to us in the entertainment department that day.

When I drove back to Maryland the next morning, what would become the “Face In The Reflection” instrumental was the only one that Nic didn’t email me, so as a couple of weeks had gone by I had completely forgotten how the song even sounded. That is, until I got a text from Phonte one morning that said……

“GMAIL”

I’ve said this before in stories and at shows… Whenever I get that “GMAIL” text…. That means there’s some fucking FIRE in my inbox.

When I first pressed ‘play’ on it, I was hyped up just to hear the song again. I  reacquainted myself with the music during the first few bars of the intro, but I FULLY understood it when Phonte came in and basically verbalized its tone. That simplistic, pretty, yet almost uneasy music came to life. Hell, when the hook came in?!

“Do you ever wonder why
You can never unify
The person that you are with ever person that you think you should be?
When you look into the mirror try
To keep it strong and not to cry
When you don’t feel the connection to the face in the reflection you see”

Tales From the Land Of Milk and Honey had  just gotten REAL. Even if you’re perfectly happy with your life, that hook will have you looking to find some shit to reevaluate. If this one catches you on the wrong day, it’s a wrap.

Hearing “Face In The Reflection” for the first time made the album feel complete to me. It served as the “ballad”, but it also touched upon a subject matter that is very relatable – this shit can hit home HARD for some of our listeners. The final touches were added by Nic who layered some organ in the hooks (which actually added to the “haunting” aspect of the song) and made the drums thicker by adding some crashes, accents and just beefing them up sonically, overall. And Tamisha Waden and Carmen Rodgers teaming up on them background vocals will have you calling around to talk your problems out with a professional while a single tear rolls down your cheek. The raw emotion captured and depicted in this song is undeniably the star of the show. When I talked to Phonte about it after hearing it, we couldn’t wait to hear the public response once the album was released. This is definitely one of those joints where you may have to hit that “pause” button on your player before advancing to the next selection in order to gather yourself a bit. Listen man, “Until The Dawn…” HAD to close this album… We didn’t want to leave folks staring into mirrors at themselves looking all sad and shit after all of this fun, uptempo music!!

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