Wednesday, 31 July 2013

#20. Dancing In The Station (Xmas #5)

Matt Neal: guitar, vocals, percussion.

Lyrics & music by Matt Neal.
Written June 24 & October 2, 2012.
Recorded at the Port Fairy house, October 2, 2012.
Produced by Matt Neal.
Mixed by Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.

Every year for Christmas, I record a song for my fiancée. So far that’s five songs, of varying degrees of quality.

Her favourite one remains the first one I did back in 2008 when we’d only been officially going out for about a month and a half. I have to agree, it’s probably the best of the five.

It was a particularly nerve-wracking experience to give her the song. I’d written plenty of songs about people before, but I’d never written a song for anyone before. There’s a fundamental difference between writing about people and writing for people – in the former case, you’re usually writing for everyone except the person it’s about. With the latter, the song is for the ears of one person and one person only. I didn't intend for anyone else to hear these Xmas songs, but, fuck it, why not? I’m proud of each of them and certainly not ashamed by them. And this blog is nothing if not complete, as one of my friends recently pointed out.

Here we are, rockin' it '80s style.

Setting aside the horrific pangs of fear that come with laying your soul bare musically and presenting it to your beloved as a gift, the Xmas song tradition has become an annual songwriting and recording challenge. Each year, I try to find a new way to express something about our relationship, and each year I try to top the previous year’s effort (or, more accurately, the 2008 effort).

This song is the fifth Xmas gift for my fiancée and the only one to date that’s not literally about her – the sentiment of it being a love song is about her, but unlike previous Xmas gift songs, this one has little if anything to do with our relationship specifically. Instead, this happened to be a nice and lovey yet generic kind of pop song I just happened to write and serve up as a gift. The feelings are real but the intimate connection of the previous songs isn’t there (I think it might be my fiancée’s least favourite of the five Xmas gift songs).

You can tell from this photo that my feelings are real.

But this song just had to come out. I’m not sure why. It was one of those things where you’re strumming away, stumbling along with a melody, la-di-da-ing the chords, and suddenly, you hit a chorus, find a melody, and words form:

“And we’ll be dancing in the station every day”.

I have a recording on my phone of this and you can hear me fumble on the first pass of the chorus, just making up sounds as I go along, but by the second time around, those words are there, clear as a bell.

I had no idea what the line meant, but I knew I had to craft verses to fit it – the idea and rhythm of the phrase “dancing in the station” seemed too good to ignore. So the first verse is about thinking of your beloved returning to you on a train and dancing with joy when they arrive. The second verse is about that beautiful scene in The Fisher King where the hustle and bustle of New York’s Grand Central Station suddenly turns into a dance, and the fantasy and wondrous fairytale quality of that sequence (this actually inspired a regular dance to be held there on New Year’s Eve for a while I think). And the final verse is set in a space station, with the idea that you and your beloved could be the last two people alive after the earth is destroyed, just the two of you, floating in a space station.

The song was recorded at my parents’ “weekend away from the farm” house in Port Fairy, where I regularly go to songwrite or record. As I don’t have access to a drumkit there, I usually just program some drum loops. On this occasion, the loops I programmed initially sounded too fake, and I couldn’t quite get that country-fied Johnny Cash-vibe “train beat” to work. So I constructed a beat by sampling items around the house – the “kick” is slapping a box containing half a slab of beer, the “snare” is tapping a table, and the “shaker” is shaking a basket full of plastic clothes pegs.

As with many songs where the melody, chords, rhythm and  words just roll out, I can’t help but think I’ve completely plagiarised a pre-existing song. But I have no idea what.

On a final note, I’m particularly proud of the fact I used the word “fairytale” as a verb in this song.


This train is on my mind
and I just can’t seem to stop thinking about what’s inside
And I miss you all this time
and I just can’t wait to see your face at the end of the line.

And we’ll be dancing in the station every day

At the chime of New Year’s Eve
I wanna show you the magic New York make-believe
When the trains and bustle cease
I wanna take you by the hand and fairytale you off of your feet.

At the end of all mankind,
we’re gonna jump into a shuttle and leave this mess behind
and in space we’ll float entwined
and we’ll stay like this forever in a ship in the endless sky.

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