Several people who have listened to Chant Unchant have commented on the inclusion of information about certain songs in the liner notes. I unfortunately didn’t have enough room to include lengthy descriptions, but I can do that here. This will occur in two parts, one for each disc. If you make it through this, Part II will be up soon.
1. Git Outta My Face, Sucka
Vocals: Fiona Kohl Citrone
Organ: Tom Bennett
Lead Guitar: Bert Mingea
Drums, guitar, bass, percussion: John E. Citrone
When my kid, Fiona, was around 4 years old, I handed her a mic and told her to go nuts. Her delightful gibberish became the inspiration for this song. That opening vocal fill was created with very little editing (I think I cut out one note to make it fit 4/4). The part when she says, “I don’t need your sassafries” — I asked her to say, “I don’t need your sassafras.” I like sassafries better. I also asked her to say the closing line, which she now insists was an act of coercion.
This song is intentionally Zeppelin-esque, harkening specifically to “The Crunge.” In fact, most of my music can be traced to a specific time, style or influence. One day I will write a truly original piece. Maybe.
This one began on rhythm guitar played to a click track. Next came bass, then drums. Then tweaking began, sprinkling in Fiona’s voice samples and rhythmically coordinating it all. Then Tom and Bert added their solos, Bert retracking his shortly before skipping town for Boston.
2 Remi and the Runaways
Vocals: Katie Sacks
Drums, guitar, bass, Rhodes: John E. Citrone
I wanted to write a coming-of-age song centered on a girl who experiences her sexual awakening with another, more powerful and independent female. Remi meets that female, escaping the abuse and neglect of her home. This song meets with a variety of responses — from “This is my favorite on the record” to “It’s too melodramatic.” What I was really shooting for was an auditory representation of how I felt when I first watched the late-70s rebellion film “Over the Edge.”
I originally sang the song, and many demo versions exist of me straining to make it convincing. At the last minute, I asked Katie to sing it, and it made all the difference. She is such a terrific vocalist, and having a female singing about female protagonists helped immensely. Despite its inherent melodrama, it’s one of my favorite songs on the record.
3. Jellybean Fiasco
Drums, guitar, bass, Rhodes, voices: John E. Citrone
This song depicts a brewing confrontation regarding some jellybeans. Fiona named the song, vacillating between “Jellybean Fiasco” and “Jellybean Catastrophe.” Jellybeans are important enough to have a song written about them. This is not up for debate.
This was written completely on bass to a click track before any other instruments were added. Multi-tracking alone presents many challenges, the most daunting of which is making the song groove as if a group of musicians were playing together. I hope I have succeeded in cases in which I play all of the instruments. I think this one works. Second came the rhythm guitar, as I hoped the melodies could guide the rest of the development. After I laid down the drums, the Rhodes part fell right into place. The guitar solo, the last I performed on the album, is a blatant tribute to/rip-off of the solo Frank Zappa plays on his masterpiece “Inca Roads.” The spoken section is a blatant tribute to/rip-off of Mike Keneally’s “Ugly Town.”
4. Dr. Nikolas J. Buttergurdy’s Magikal Elixir
Vocal: Aaron Marshall-DeCicco
Drums, guitar, bass, glockenspiel, Rhodes, keyboards, percussion, vocals: John E. Citrone
This, at its core, is a story about vanity, a running theme on this album. Buttergurdy takes his vengeance not on the person who jails him, but rather his jailer’s daughter, Lily Corn, who is vulnerable because her dad, the town Constable Dunderloop, wasn’t a very attentive father. She falls prey to him as he presents her with an elixir that will make her young and beautiful again, thus winning back her father’s affection. Of course, that’s not the case at all. The Good Doctor gives her — and her daddy — a big surprise.
Aside from the bookends — the beginning section and its reprise — this song was written on drums. The entire mid section was improvised with music layered on afterward. The lyrics were a virtual afterthought, as the original lyrics (a song called “Swim,” which was performed once live by the band) had nothing to do with magical elixirs. The story was the last thing to present itself.
When Aaron came in to sing this, I knew very little about her, much less that her specialty is musical theater. And so she brought Lily Corn, in all her vain anguish, to life. We have since become great friends. I hope to one day make this thing a full-scale musical. One day.
Drums, guitar, bass, midi programming: John E. Citrone
This is a song about a waterfall. A red waterfall.
This was written in Finale, then transferred via midi to ProTools. I replaced the programmed bass with a real one, added drums and guitars, tweaked the arrangement, and here it is. As the piece took shape, I envisioned red water falling from rocks. Maybe it was blood. Probably just water.
Drums, guitar, bass, vocals: John E. Citrone
Here’s a fun piece of fiction about my wife and child being raped and murdered by a young man in the early West. Yes, I was absolutely thinking of Nick Cave when writing this, specifically Stagger Lee. A little country death song never hurt anyone. Right?
Wrote this one on acoustic guitar. Actually, I wrote the word and vocal melody while driving someplace, which always requires reaching into the glove box and grabbing an old envelope or napkin or singing into my cell phone to capture them moment. There are a few glitches here and there in my performance, but it was raw and real, so all mistakes were left in tact.
All voices: John E. Citrone
Antahkarana is the Hindu concept of the entirety of the mind, including the highest levels of consciousness. One evening I had the closest thing I’ve ever had to a lucid dream, during which I was surrounded by berms of earth. I could feel it. The sky changed colors. I saw it. I woke up for a moment, then sank deeper into the dream. This happened over and over throughout the night. The animals around me, the bugs on my skin, the smells, the everything. It was really happening. And I don’t even believe in any of that shit.
I stacked vocal line on top of vocal line, with minor pitch corrections here and there. But all the voices are mine.
8. I Am the Scorpion
Lead guitar: Mark Gibson
Drums, bass, guitar: John E. Citrone
In mind here is the scene from “The Crying Game,” during which Forrest Whittaker retells the fable of the frog and the scorpion. I have a tendency to follow my nature, which is often cruel. I try my best to squash that visceral part of my personality, but often it shines through. Scorpions do what scorpions do.
Guitar first on this one. It’s sloppy and nasty on purpose, considered a sister piece to “Hammer Fight!” on disc 2.
9. Stockard Channing
Drums, guitar, bass, vibraphone, glockenspiel, percussion: John E. Citrone
The piece is divided into four sections (including a recapitulation of the opening theme at the end), each of which could be named after a Stockard Channing film. Take your pick, but I see it thusly: Grease, Smoke, Moll Flanders, Grease (reprise).
A percussionist friend left a set of vibes in my studio, so I improvised on the spot, then composed this piece around the result. Not sure what I was going for, but it’s a nice little journey, with lots of interesting terrain.
Saxophone: Eric Riehm
Violin: Philip Pan
Drums, guitar, bass, keyboard, percussion: John E. Citrone
Kudryavka is the name of the first dog launched into space — later renamed Laika — by the Soviets on Sputnik 2 in 1957. She burned up upon reentry. One of the scientists responsible for blasting her into orbit later expressed deep regret for sending her on a death mission. This song is for her and all the other animals that perish in the name of “human progress.”
I had been listening to a lot of Dixie Dregs when I wrote this. That may be obvious. Went through several versions till I settled on this one. The drum solo is completely dissatisfying, but I find that when I solo in the studio, it never comes out … good. My live solos are so much better. Maybe someday I’ll record a good one.
11. How It Used To Be
Drums, guitar, bass, vocals: John E. Citrone
An opportunity to lampoon John Mayer while lambasting the younger generation for its shitty taste in music (see: John Mayer) and its abuse of crowdsourcing should never be squandered.
Man, I wish I still had the original guitar track for this, but here’s how it rolled out. At around 3 a.m., I was closing down the studio, and this idea came to me. Simple but poignant, and so I layed down, with no click track, the basic framework. The next day, I went to build the rest of the song, and I realized how out of time everything was. But I went forward recording bass and drums. Worse, the guitar was a quarter-step down from E natural. Somewhere between D flat and E sharp. It was nearly impossible to resurrect, so I just recorded everything again to the original drum track, which still had fluctuating tempos. But since it was the penultimate song, I wanted it done and over with. So here it is, warts and all.
Trumpet: Mike Ulmer
Drums, bass, Rhodes: John E. Citrone
This was a submission for a documentary film a friend worked on called “The Unbelievers.” It was turned down, but I liked where it was going. Cinematically, I was thinking of the movie “Moon,” starring Sam Rockwell. It’s a wonderfully dark film. That was on my mind when I rebuilt this one for the record.
The original trumpet stem mysteriously vanished from my hard drive. Mike was kind enough to rerecord it from Nashville and send me the track via email. The beauty of modern digital tracking made manifest.
13. A Very Important Bicycle
Drums, guitar, bass, glockenspiel: John E. Citrone
One day I came upon a bike, red with yellow rims. I thought, “Well, that must be a very important bicycle.” This depicts a ride on that bicycle.
This is an old, old song that was performed live in a lesser form by one of the Dovetonsil lineups. I once wanted to hire someone to play it, since I am an average guitarist at best. But over the years, I would revisit it and get a little better at playing the parts. At times, you can here me get tipped up, but I left all that shit in there, you know because 1. it’s organic and 2. I’m lazy.
14. Rocka Rocka Rolla
Drums, guitar, bass, vocals: John E. Citrone
A song to keep me in check, to remind myself there is value in the simple pleasure of rock-and-roll. The original tracks were lost during mixing, so I had to rerecord the whole damn thing.
This was another track for which the original stems disappeared. The drums and vocals were intact, but the guitar and bass went POOF. So I had to record them again. That’s when I remembered it was recorded without a click. You can feel the song speed up by the end. It’s minor, but there. We’ll just call it punk.
15. Kitty with a Man Face
Drums, guitar, bass: John E. Citrone
When my kid, Fiona, was 3 or so, I would wear a shirt with a crazy illustration of the Cheshire cat, who wore a huge smile exposing human teeth. Of course, when she saw it, she shouted: “Kitty with a man face!”
This was supposed to be longer, but I the drum part I recorded was too fast for me to execute on guitar and bass. (This is called writing beyond your ability.) So I kept the part I could play and left the rest to be revisited in the future. But I really like the brevity of the piece the way it is. Kind of comes out of nowhere and leaves before you know it.
16. Salem: 1642
Guitar, bass, hammer & crow bar, recitation & moans: John E. Citrone
I’ve always been fascinated by witchcraft, but not because of its supernatural implications. That’s all horse spittle. I am, however, intrigued by the cruelty heaped upon the odd and the outcasts by the religious establishment — which doubled as the government in the colonies — often resulting in murder. Giles Corey refused to stand trial, so his sons could receive his land as an inheritance. He died a gruesome and painful death at the hands of religious fanatics. The words are lifted verbatim from an anonymous 18th-Century poem called “The Man of Iron.” I added the closing verse, in fairness to Corey.
This started with the guitar, going for a very slowly developing Sunn O)))-type approach. I recorded it with the intent of adding some sort of spoken-word piece, but it wasn’t until researching the fate of executed Salem witches that I came across the poem about Corey. Everything snapped into place. The clanging in the second half is me striking a crowbar with a hammer, then pitch shifting it down for longer duration and tone.