The Stories of Bring Life & The Seeker

I grouped these songs together because both of them had their music recorded together in the same studio (White Star Sound in Louisa, VA) and then their vocals together in another studio (Audio Verite in Richmond, VA). Both had interesting inspirations.

“The Seeker” began with the riff that happens in the chorus - it literally came to me in a dream. I shot out of my sleep in my Lower East Side apartment, hummed the riff and then the next day had to learn how to play it - a feat that was more difficult than I would have cared for, but I think great riffs should make you have to try a little harder. Jack and I would later get together and actually make a song around this one section that I had lying around. 

“Bring Life” found its musical genesis one night when Jack and me got together at my Richmond apartment. We had a version of the album that we considered finished but our manager suggested we write one more song. A lot of our songs come from me but Jack also has a lot of ideas - be they music or drum beats - that he hums or beatboxes into his phone. Although, Jack has a tendency to not like any of his ideas once he plays them for me. We’re cruising through his voice memos and after about five or six, he plays about a second and a half of a beatbox drumbeat and skips it but I yelled, “WAIT! Go back!” Immediately, I could hear the whole song in my head and picked up the guitar. From day one, I had been dead-set that “Tell Me” would end the album but the second I hit the first chord along with Jack’s drumbeat, I knew that we had found a new, better album closer. I was aiming for something like Arctic Monkeys’ “I Wanna Be Yours,” the track that closes their album AM - the album that served as one of my biggest inspirations for our album - but we ended up getting something closer to something Mae would have done on Singularity, and I think it’s better for it. We ended up using another one of Jack's guitar voice memo ideas for the ending so that was good too.

For recording, we went out to White Star on a cold, snowy January day. White Star is located in a farmhouse in the middle of the woods literally in the middle of NOWHERE in Virginia. When it’s as dreary as it was, it’s certainly got a vibe. I was HORRIBLY ill with the flu and felt like I was going to die but we pressed on and over two days cranked out the music for these two songs. One thing I loved about White Star and working with Alex DeJong (from the band Sleepwalkers), was that they had all these keyboards lying around and we just started getting trippy and experimenting, doing things like plugging Korgs into my Line 6 delay pedal and playing them through amplifiers. We added a Yes-style synth solo on “The Seeker” during the bridge just because. We added digital mellotron on the choruses of “Bring Life” to make them that much bigger. The fun of it all certainly made having the flu a lot more tolerable.

Lyrically, “Bring Life” is the most important song on the album, as it is about me and Jack’s deceased mother. About 90% of the song's lyrics had been kicking around for a few years, attached to a very different sounding song called “Bring Life,” that I just wasn’t crazy about. I was walking home from work one day thinking about potential melodies and all of a sudden I heard “even though your grave lies in the shade” and knew that this was the song I had been waiting for that was meant for those lyrics. The whole song happened in about 20 minutes.

“The Seeker” was a lot harder. I didn’t know what to do melodically or lyrically. Sometimes in situations like this, I turn to someone who I think is maybe the best in the biz at writing catchy melodies - Patrick Stump from Fall Out Boy. Their song “Centuries” had just come out so I tried to emulate the feel of those melodies. Lyrically, the song has a dual meaning: the first being a commentary on what it means to be truly honest in songwriting - “live this feeling and reprise its pain.” That first verse is all about breaking down the walls that we keep up that deter us from being vulnerable. Only upon taking down those walls will the truth come out, and that’s something I try and do every time I write a song (here it was done with a possibly ill-conceived Berlin wall metaphor that I always feared would be lost on people, but what are you gonna do?).

The second meaning of the song is a plea from me to the listener, basically saying, “here I am killing myself so I can give you something honest and true. If you acknowledge that and put your faith in us, maybe we could be that band for you,” like bands such as Smashing Pumpkins and U2 and The Early November are to me. Whether I accomplished making all this clear? That’s for you to decide. All I know is that I love both of these songs and the wintery feelings which they evoke.

The Story of Freefall

“Freefall” was born out of a simple desire to just write a song that I wanted to hear our band play. We had been playing in New York City for about a year at this point and I thought we were firing on all cylinders going into this new phase of music, kickstarted by “Heartbreakers,” “Lay Me Down,” “Masquerade” and “Tell Me.” I wanted to write something that sounded straight off of Stereophonics’ “Language. Violence. Sex. Other?” album, one of my all time favorites and primary inspiration for The Ivins. Just a balls out rocker with belting vocals. We started playing this one live and it was always a favorite of mine. However, it almost didn’t make the album. For whatever reason, with all of the other songs that had come into the fold, this one kept getting pushed down to the bottom of the pile. We had one last studio session booked with Pedro Aida at Audio Verite and I thought we needed to just try and go with this and see what happens. All it took was hearing a rough instrumental mix from the first day and we immediately knew that not only was it making the album, but it was gonna kick it off. Jack suggested adding the air raid siren and I LOVED how that sounded. Such a powerful way to start an album. Also, from accidentally pasting the siren into the wrong part of the song - the end of the guitar solo - Pedro and I realized the siren was actually in the correct key and worked in this second spot as well as the beginning. Jack’s drums just take off like a high speed chase and never stop grooving, Andreas Magnusson made the mix sound unbelievably large, and it really was the best way we could have possibly introduced ourselves to the world. 

The Story of Made Up Mind

It’s not every day you hear that a song took primary inspirations from Arctic Monkeys and…Limp Bizkit? As I have mentioned several times in these stories, the album AM from Arctic Monkeys made a huge impact on me and I wanted to write a song that I thought could have fit on that album. I had a principal structure but had no idea where to take the bridge. And that’s when Jack and me went to see Mr. Durst and Limp Bizkit in concert (no shame). During the bridge of the early 2000’s classic, “My Way,” me and Jack both commented how Wes Borland’s guitar work was so cool and we needed something like that. So the next day I plopped my self in a chair and attempted to write a section that sounded like Wes Borland’s delay-heavy guitar in the bridge of “My Way,” troubleshooting several different figures until I found a combination that worked. I wanted this song to be different in more ways than one so that’s why the b-section of that second verse had no musical elements in it; just the raw emotion of a vocal driving it forward with the funky drums. Written as a missive against complacent people in my life settling for things I did not believe that they should, I always felt I could have done better on the chorus. People seem to like those riffs that happen though, so can’t argue with that. Except when I had to play them on a bass. Definitely scolded myself for that one.

The Story of "Masquerade"

“Masquerade” is one of the oldest songs on the album and is definitely the oddball for how poppy it is. I remember so vividly writing it. I was about to go to bed one night but started noodling on my guitar and what eventually became those very Maroon 5-ish picking parts started coming out of me so I knew I needed to chase this idea. The whole song became, “what would Maroon 5 do?” Musically, melodically, everything: what would Maroon 5 do? Not then nor now have I ever sounded like Maroon 5 - even though “Songs About Jane” is one of my top five favorite albums - but I thought this idea could be cool and different and could have some universal appeal so off I went (a future manager immediately described it as "Maroon 5 covering a fun. song). I made a conscious effort not to write relationship lyrics on this album, as that had been a crutch in the past and I wanted to show some versatility. However, having recently gone through some hardships with several girls, I couldn’t help myself, and the song ended up being a hybrid about these two vixens who had kicked me to the curb.

One thing that happened with this song that I think is very emblematic of me and Jack’s writing dynamic was the creation of the bridge. As it is now, the song has that concise, killer riff. This was not the case in my original demo, as it went in a very different, drawn-out, Snow Patrol-meets-Coldplay, emotional direction. Jack heard this and, in a way that is very much his personality, just simply said, “eh, cut the whole thing, it’s gotta have some cool riff that starts like ‘dun-dun-dah-dun-dah-dun.’” I picked up a guitar, we went back and forth, and voila! The section was born in a matter of minutes. He could not have been more right. Hear the original version below with the old bridge. Also take note of my quiet singing - done at about 2:30am because I was on a roll, but didn’t want to disturb my neighbors.

Recording the song was a blast (as was everything done with Rocky Gallo). Love all the stacked vocals, love the cool bass chords our then-bass player James added to that quiet section before the last chorus, as well as all the trippy effects that our then-guitar player Cullen graced that section with, including that fade-in which was done live, completely analog.

The Story Of "Lay Me Down"

I came up with "Lay Me Down" in the parking garage of an IKEA.

I remember it so clearly. Having just recently moved to New York, as one does, I needed to go to IKEA and while I was there, this riff just popped in my head and then the verses and chorus came with it, in addition to a high falsetto chorus melody. I proceeded to hum all of this to myself for HOURS (as we all know, IKEA is not a quick trip. There's so much furniture and meatballs, not to mention a plethora of 500 Days Of Summer references to make). I was starting to go a little cuckoo. But the second I returned from IKEA, I recorded what I had and I was thrilled. In that jibberish melody I had, the words "Lay Me Down" were included for whatever reason. So I kind of wrote the lyrics backwards based on that. Jack was responsible for simplifying the melodies in the choruses. He said the melody should work in tandem with the chords to give it a more anthemic Foo Fighters quality and he was right. It's catchier than it was.

One of my favorite things about songwriting is when you have a riff or a lyric or something that just sits around, never knowing what to do with it and then you write a song all of sudden and go "Yes! Now I can use this thing!" The ending of "Lay Me Down" was just that. I had the meat of the song for ages but never knew how to end it. I never knew what to do after that second chorus. So I decided to do a solo and then the obvious transition of going back to a chorus and ending the song. But then Jack said to scrap that and just end it. And I remember initially thinking, "Isn't it weird to end a song with a guitar solo without going back to a chorus?" To which Jack of course thought: fuck no! So I needed to make it longer. And then it hit me that I could finally use this riff that had exclusively lived in my head for years, always in this half time feel. Where it came from was kind of interesting, in that it was birthed as something to play over an existing song. For some reason, whenever I would think of the song "Belt" by Say Anything, I always felt this riff would have been awesome to have as a lead over the very end of the song and I would always add it when I would hum that song in my head. Since Say Anything so rudely never asked me how they should end "Belt," I finally decided to take it myself and popped it in to "Lay Me Down" and it's one of my favorite riffs I've ever written, as well as one of my favorite moments on the album. 

One of the main differences between the demo and the final, as you can hear below, is that the verses initially had a very cheesy Coldplay-esque piano part going over the bassline. Once I recorded it with Rocky, he very astutely suggested we scrap it. He could not have been more right. I love that bassline and scrapping it allows the bass to shine. Not to mention the piano just completely came out of nowhere. We had our old bass player switching to keys for a very brief period and I think I was trying to shoehorn something in for him to play but it just didn't gel in this one. But hear for yourself. Maybe you disagree with me. Doubtful, but who knows. I will say I also love how the original GarageBand synths made the final recording.

A final note on the recording process. A word that we came accustomed to hearing come out of Rocky Gallo's mouth was "girth." A great word. "Needs more girth!" The ending of this song was totally infused with Rocky's obsession with girth. So girth was added. First step was the solo itself. As you can hear from the demo, the solo itself pretty much stayed the same, but Jack was responsible for that very Thin Lizzy-esque dueling guitar octaves that really raise the back half of the solo section. Always love doing the "classic rock" back-to-back pose with my lead guitar player(s) when performing this one live. But the main girth is in the rhythm tracks. This is a little "Inside Baseball" for some, but there are probably six tracks of rhythm guitar going on here, all on different guitars. There is a even a distorted bass track where I played chords on a bass just to satisfy Rocky's insatiable appetite for girth. He was right. This song is big as fuck.

The Story of "Heartbreakers"

To me, "Heartbreakers" is truly the birth of The Ivins.

It was Summer 2012. I had just graduated from college and was about to fulfill a longstanding dream of mine and move from my hometown of Richmond, VA to New York City. The Big Apple. The Big Time. I was doing what so many budding artists had done before me and was moving to see what kind of noise I could make in the "concrete jungle where dreams are made of." It was an exciting time. Inspired by this move and inspired by the incredible rock n' roll music that had come out of New York, I knew I wanted to take my music in new directions. And one day, having recently heard an incendiary new Noel Gallagher song with a great, sexy "late night" vibe called "Freaky Teeth," I was sitting on my bed and suddenly out came this old school-sounding riff and BOOM! off I went. This was another song where everything happened insanely quick, and it was quite exciting. I have said this before and I will say it again, but when I went to the well to come up with melodies, I asked the question, "What would Adam Levine do?" As far as I'm concerned, he's the best in the game at catchy melodies so I took inspiration from classic Maroon 5 like "The Sun" to come up with the melodies for "Heartbreakers," and I think it worked out pretty well because I love the melodies in this song.

Lyrically, I was inspired by Bono in that not all of Bono's lyrics are insular. He tells stories in his songs. I had never done that before. Ever. Every lyric I had ever written up to that point had been 100% personal and about an experience that had directly affected me, so it was exciting to challenge myself to see if I could write a "story song." If I really was going to do a course correction for my musical life, I would need to dig deeper and cover new ground in all ways so I came at it full on.

Given that the music had a sexiness and that "after midnight" quality to it that I had never previously explored, I wanted to write lyrics that complemented that feeling. What happens after midnight? One night stands. Not all have sinister intentions. But this one in particular pertained to the "heartbreaker": the one who gets off on the chase; finding out as little as possible, getting in, getting out, and leaving the other person in their wake. This is a much more interesting character to write about. So in the story I created, you have the female perspective in the first verse, and the male in the second. Only what you find by the time you get into the man's story is that both people think they're the sharks feasting on the night's prey, while little do they know that they are playing the same game. What happens when a double-crosser is also getting double-crossed? Maybe when, the next morning, they aren't overcome with the feeling that they have accomplished something, that the other person cared just as little as they did, and that ultimately they too do not matter, one might feel a little empty; like the wind had been taken from their sails. Maybe not. But in this story, as revealed in the bridge, that is what happens. However, which one is it? The guy? The girl? Both? Up for interpretation. As the chorus says, heartbreakers feed on the loneliest lows and only see what the lights don't show. They're ones that we all encounter, male and female. So even though this is a "story song," I felt it could still universally relate.

I remember playing it for the first time like it was yesterday. I came at my NYC move very naively and kept trying to casually secure an apartment while I was in Richmond whereas, given what I know and what anyone else who lives in New York knows, this is a pipe dream. So early in the summer I had booked a few shows for times where I was sure I would be living there but as time went on and I couldn't get an apartment, my move got pushed back. But I still really wanted to play a New York show, so I kept the ones I had booked and drove up to do my first one with my move still a few weeks away. August 19, 2012 at The National Underground, a bar in the Lower East Side owned by Gavin DeGraw, located about three blocks from where I would end up moving a year later. It really was a great "Welcome to New York, bitch!" introduction because I ended up getting heckled by a drunk rando that night, who walked up to me in the middle of my set, essentially told me I sucked and inquired if I knew any Muddy Waters. Jarring first experience aside, I remember playing "Heartbreakers" and really surprising the people I knew at the show so I felt it was a positive direction to be moving in.

Fast forward a year to fall 2013 and we were off to Virtue & Vice to record with the great Rocky Gallo. What's great about the recording is 1) Those very Beatle-esque "ah's" in the choruses I believe totally came from Rocky and 2) The song is a rare instance on the album where I don't play all the guitars. Cullen MacDonald, our guitar player at the time whom I knew from back in Richmond, was actually quite instrumental in shaping the sound of The Ivins. His ambient, pedal-heavy style was something that was always very attractive to me and something I wanted to explore so getting him in the band really freed me to write stuff that I just wanted to hear him play. When we were learning "Heartbreakers" to play as a full band, I hadn't written anything for lead guitar parts, so I told Cullen to run with whatever he wanted and I loved what he came up with. There's some footage of this recording process in this short clip I made for our then-mailing list subscribers: 

Will always love this song. Always gets people's heads bobbing at shows and it has the unique ability to fit literally anywhere in the set. We've opened with it, closed with it, played in the middle, it just works. I'll play it every night until I'm dead if I have to.

The Story of "Roam The World"

I always say that the best songs are the ones that come easiest. "Roam The World" was one of those, though the version you hear on The Code Duello is quite different from the original.

To give some background, back in February 2014, at the behest of a friend of mine, I took part in an online community project called February Album Writing Month, or FAWM. The point of this exercise is to try and write 14 songs in 28 days. There is a very strong forum community of artists listening, critiquing, motivating and there are different prompts every day to try and inspire creativity. It's pretty damn cool. Now, I only made it four and a half songs because, you know, #LifeHappens, but one of the songs that came out all at once and extremely quick was a quirky, world music-inspired song called "Roam The World," complete with Eastern-sounding three part harmonies, bongos and everything. I had never written a song that even remotely resembled this sound before and I was really excited that this wacky idea just popped into my brain and out through my mouth and fingers in probably only an hour or so.

Lyrically, it comes from a very real place but, given the severity of lines like "even if I die I'll roam the world with you," was given a little bit of songwriter's embellishment. However, that line is actually where the song began. I had some gibberish melodies in my head and then the tag I kept coming back to was "but even if I die I'll roam the world with you." At first, I resisted, incapable of escaping visions of the B-52's, but I couldn't shake it so I ran with it and tried to answer the question, "what the hell does that even mean?" So I went with feelings that were fresh. At the time, I had just spent a weekend with a girl I had been involved with off and on for over a year at that point and when we parted ways at the end of the weekend, I couldn't help but feel that this may be the last time we would ever see each other. I had no evidence to support that theory, but I just had this feeling (I ended up being right - that was February 2014 and we have not seen or spoken since). So when I got back to my apartment and this song just started pouring out of me, I felt I needed to give this person a proper sendoff in song. Not a "kiss off" song by any means, just putting down how I felt for the first and last time. Thus, the only love song and, really, the only truly positive lyric on The Code Duello was born. Check the original version right here:

Now, fast forward a few months to Summer 2014 and we are assembling songs to go on this album. "Roam The World" had been a song that was purely relegated to my time with FAWM, had never been performed live, but had always stuck with me. I really liked the song. So I started to wonder what it would be like if we played it. I sat with it one night in my dad's garage and started to pick it apart. "Maybe we drop the key to make it darker," "maybe we give it a fuzzy slinky bassline to make it sound like Garbage," "maybe we cut this section and write a new one." I made an initial demo and showed Jack, and this is where Jack's usual "producer" instincts kicked in. I heard "make it shorter" about four times and then once I trimmed as much fat as possible, we realized that we were on to something really cool and unique and unlike any other song on our album. The last piece of the puzzle was that we needed a new bridge. Funny enough, Jack picked up the guitar and came up with that bridge part, followed by the phenomenal rhythmic drumming that goes behind it. Once I sealed the deal with the bass over top, we were ready.

We recorded the song back at Sound Of Music with John Morand, the same place we recorded "Mountains," and it couldn't have been a better choice to capture the massiveness of the music we were going for, able to utilize their huge live room once more. 

Come 2017 with album's release looming, when the time came to do a video, we knew that the vibe of this music lent itself so well to a visual so it wasn't even a choice as to whether we would do one for this song. We partnered up with a great director/videographer here in Nashville, some fantastic actors and shot our performance in an airplane hangar. Eat your heart out, Backstreet Boys. It's a great way for people to get introduced to the album and properly introduced to us and I couldn't be happier with how the song sounds and how we look in the video.

The Story of "Nothing Left To Say"

So a bit of necessary background before I get into the guts of "Nothing Left To Say."

Obviously those who know us know this but for those who are new to the band, while The Code Duello may be The Ivins' debut album, this is far from our first album. In reality, we have been putting out records and playing in bands for nearly 15 years, the latest and biggest of which was called, simply, The Jim Ivins Band. This was more of an acoustic-driven pop rock band – think Goo Goo Dolls, Matt Nathanson, Gin Blossoms, Third Eye Blind. We put out five releases – four of which you can hear on Bandcamp – and it was on our fifth release – 2012's Everything We Wanted, which is on iTunesSpotify, etc. – that we moved to New York. On that record is a short song called “Emergency,” which has these cool vibey synths, distorted vocals and huge rocking guitars. Once we moved to New York, I thought, “what if we made the whole band sound like that song?” and that was kind of the impetus for The Ivins.

The process for making that transition, though, was a long and evolving thing. For instance, a song like “Masquerade” was written early while I was still thinking “Jim Ivins Band with a twist.” That mindset during that early time period in New York (January 2013) also produced a demo that I called "The First Place," which you can hear below. To me, the song always felt a little, as Metallica would say in "Some Kind Of Monster," "stock." Meaning, pretty run-of-the-mill, nothing groundbreaking, nothing great. Except the bridge. I thought this typical little pop song could use an edge so, in an attempt to try and write a killer riff like Switchfoot on "Stars," I wrote this heavy, kind of off-kilter bridge, which you can hear come in at 1:55 on the demo:

This bridge always stuck with me so fast forward a year and a half to Summer 2014 when Jack and I are woodshedding songs for the new album, I played some demos and we agreed that the song as a whole didn't work but we liked that bridge and thought maybe it could be the basis for a new song to be built from scratch. Jack picked up a bass, I kept playing the guitar and we grinded it out. We bashed our heads against the wall all day unable to crack the nut but finally what Jack was doing on bass set off an idea storm and it finally clicked to what you hear on the song now.

That high flying melody in the chorus was actually born from a keyboard melody that Jack wrote that day. We thought keys could sound cool and give the song a bit of freshness and then the next day when I went to write the lyrics, I thought, "well what if instead of keys, that's what I sang?" So I wrote to that.

They say, "write what you feel" and at that moment when I went to write the lyrics, what I felt was writer's block. So I wrote about it. And then I expounded on that idea. Going deeper, the song is about trying to keep your art fresh in the face of art having existed for so long. Everything has all ready been done, so how do you make something unique and cool? So, as the song goes, "how do you say what no one's said when there's nothing left to say?" I was then able to tie this into the music industry kerfuffle that we had found ourselves in at that time, with outside forces taking hold of us and multiple people having conflicting visions and us really not knowing what to do. That's where the heart of the song lies.

Lastly, we recorded this song with the great Bill Leverty. One thing I knew I wanted to do sonically was make this powerful rock song but have the choruses be heavily synth-driven. Much like "The Everlasting Gaze" by Smashing Pumpkins. When you hear that song, it sounds like it's just this massive wall of guitars (which is part true) but when you really listen, it's incredibly synth-heavy. We tinkered with keyboard sounds for ages and then we finally got the right one and it killed. Again, you may listen to the song and only hear guitars, but listen to the instrumental below. So much synth. 

Love this song. Packs such a punch. And I screamed my head off hitting that chorus high note because I wanted those choruses to kick in huge like Brandon Roundtree on a Conditions song. I'll never be as good as him but this is me giving it my best shot.

The Story of "Out Of Air"

Both lyrically and musically, "Out Of Air" is a microcosm for this album as a whole.

Not only do the lyrics deal directly with our struggles in the music industry and putting our career into other people's hands for the first time, but musically I feel it best answers the question, "what does The Ivins sound like?" 

The vibe on this one is heavily inspired by Stereophonics' Language. Sex. Violence. Other?, one of the two most crucial records I was drawing inspiration from when writing this album (the other being AM from Arctic Monkeys). I wanted to capture that "late night" mood on this track and I think we accomplished that in spades; from the hypnotic bass and drums to the subtle synths to the dreamy guitar patterns permeating throughout - the song's got a vibe. Written back in New York in Spring 2014, it has some of my favorite lyrics on the album, while also containing one of my favorite riffs on the album (though because it's happening in the chorus under a bunch of vocals, you can't really hear it too well. This instrumental goes OFF!). 

The most notable thing about this song, though, is its guest star: Bill Leverty from Firehouse. Bill is, in my opinion, easily one of the most underrated guitar players of all time...and he also happens to be my cousin. The guy has been my hero since I was a little kid and it has been a lifelong dream of mine to collaborate with him. Sooooo yeah: getting a guitar solo from Bill Leverty - aka a guy that's sold over 8 million albums worldwide and won an American Music Award over Nirvana and Alice Chains - on one of my songs is pretty damn mind-blowing. He did it in like 30 minutes and it elevates the track in a way I could never have dreamed of doing on my own. 

As you can hear on the original demo - featured below - I had what was more of a melodic hook guitar line; I wouldn't even consider it a "solo." But as we got closer to recording and Jack and I started to think more critically about the song, we thought it needed something bigger. We wondered if Bill would do it and he graciously agreed and fit us into his rockstar schedule to bless our song. I truly love this song for what is represents, both musically and lyrically - a real turning point in the creation of The Code Duello.  


The Story of "Mountains"

I knew "Mountains" was special the day I wrote the riff.

It was Spring in New York City in 2014 and I was getting inspired by the monster sounds of Linkin Park's aggro new album The Hunting Party. You may hear absolutely none of that album in the song "Mountains," but that's the thing about true inspiration: it's not copycatting, it's just a starting point that sends you down a rabbit hole towards something new. It was an interesting situation in that the big riff in the beginning came first, then I knew it needed an intro so I started building something on the bass and then just kept adding and adding until I had something I deemed truly epic, complete with an Edge-like hypnotic delay guitar riff to go with it. Once I had it, I couldn't get it out of my head, and it became my favorite riff to play; a title still held for me to this day, as I always look forward to the end of our sets when I get to play "Mountains."

The song truly found its legs in the Summer and Fall of that year. I would leave New York in July of 2014 at the behest of our new manager that we had signed with in May, who had heard the initial four recordings that I mentioned in the "Tell Me" diary - "Heartbreakers," "Lay Me Down," "Masquerade" & "Tell Me" - and thought that we were about to go to the promised land. He thought that it would look way cooler for us to break out of our home of Virginia, so off I went. The plan was for me to go back to Virginia, Jack and I would re-group and tighten up some new songs, we would finish recording our album that summer in Texas with a record producer friend of our father's and our manager's - this person is who brought us together - and then world domination would imminently follow. At the time, our manager thought that "Masquerade" was THE song and it was going to be yuuuuuuge because it sounded "like fun. covering a Maroon 5 song" - a comparison I have no problem with, considering those bands are very successful - but his tune would soon change once he heard "Mountains." 

Our "liftoff" plan never came to fruition because one week after we met our new manager in May, Jack broke his finger in a game of coed beach volleyball (ironic considering Jack was a two sport college athlete - football and rugby - and had never injured himself before). Nevertheless, we locked ourself in our dad's garage for a few days and tightened up some songs and sent them to our manager so that we could be ready to hit the studio whenever Jack finished recovery. His exact words upon hearing the "Mountains" instrumental were - "Don't you DARE fuck this up!" So now THIS song became the one that would ensure record deals, tours, models popping bottles of bub in the club; you know, the usual stuff that successful people enjoy.

Once Jack recovered, we were set to hit Sound Of Music in Richmond, VA to record with the great John Morand, a local legend who had recorded with everyone from Cracker to Carbon Leaf to Lamb of God to D'Angelo. We recorded in their enormous live room that used to be a church and we recorded the drums to analog tape to give them an even bigger, warmer sound. The session was also notable for an happy accident that occurred out of pure frustration. The "Edge" delay guitar that comes in the intro was originally a lot smaller and tighter sounding. I thought of it as kind of building the suspense before the giant riff kicks in. Well, I was having some trouble nailing this all the way through in the studio. I would get about 98% of it and then some little thing would go wrong and we would have to start again (because typically we like to do things for real here in Camp Ivins and didn't want to cheat and program the delay. Archaic by today's standards and methods? Maybe. But it's just how we roll). On about the 10th take I got super pissed and just accidentally took my hand off the strings and stopped palm-muting them, which completely opened up the riff and completely up the section of the song (this is why doing things for real is superior - happy accidents become possible). John and Jack stopped and were like "WHOA! What was that?!" So we kept it. It may be a little "Inside Baseball" for some reading this but you can hear the difference on the original "Mountains" demo that I have included below.




The other difference that may be noticeable to some - other than the Rob Zombie-esque super low octave distorted "We've come too far" vocal going into the last chorus - which got vetoed while recording vocals - are the lyrics in the chorus. This song is about our struggle as musicians to achieve our dreams. It's about fighting and sacrificing everything to get to where you know you need to be, no matter what anybody says. No compromises. The current lyrics are:

(Oh) We've come too far
(Oh) We fell so hard
(Oh) We've come too far to pay for a loss of who we are

But as you can hear in the demo, those lyrics were:

(Oh) We've come too far
(Oh) We fell so hard
(Oh) Hell's deep inside but heats our souls 'cause it's who we are

Basically saying that we know that we live with the desire for this unusual, sometimes hellish lifestyle but this struggle also happens to be fulfilling because it's just who we are. Typically, I am extremely protective of my lyrics and almost never "take them to committee" but our manager insisted that since this was going to be THE song, that it needed some notes. So I sent a draft to him and Jack, Jack contributed a line to the second verse, but it wasn't there yet. Our manager felt that we needed to drive home that "we've come too far" motif and that if it repeated, it would get stuck in the listener's head that much easier. Of course, because I'm the "artist," I naturally balked at this and felt that he had no idea what he was talking about (ignoring the fact that this man had been the head of A&R at Sony for over 20 years so he actually did know what he was talking about in a very big way). So Jack and I sat at our dad's house one night and just went back and forth ping ponging ideas on what it would be. I don't remember what Jack said to alley-oop me on the lyric but he said something which triggered "we've come too far to pay for a loss of who we are" in my head and we both knew that was it. Basically, we've worked too hard - I have been playing in bands and in clubs and writing songs for 13 years - to do something that isn't who we are and we will never acquiesce on our dream. And you know what? Our manager was right. It is better. #PersonalGrowth

One other note about the writing process was that the lyrics did not come easy for me. We recorded the music at Sound Of Music and then were going to my longtime friend and collaborator Pedro Aida's Audio Vérité studio to record the vocals a week or so later. A few days before we were set to go at Sound Of Music, I had NOTHING. No ideas. Not a single line. All I had were the "Oh's" that we had agreed upon and then a bunch of gibberish melodies. I have a set of lyricists that are my lyricist Mount Rushmore and in these situations, usually I go to them to find some inspiration: Brandon Roundtree from Conditions, Jesse Lacey from Brand New, Ace Enders from The Early November, Bono, Jon Foreman from Switchfoot and Billy Corgan from The Smashing Pumpkins. This was a major "What would Billy do?" moment, so I did something I had never done before: I wrote a poem. A long one. It all came out in a stream of consciousness in just a few minutes and once I was done, I stared at it for a minute and then that was enough to be the springboard to take a few lines from, and build more around them (I actually went back to this poem to get some lyrics for another song on the album called "The Seeker").

So there you have it. "Mountains." Even the title sounds huge. It's such an interesting amalgamation of influences that made this thing. For instance, when we were coming up with the pre-chorus melodies, I took a "what would Adam Levine do?" approach, but then those "Oh's" in the choruses sound straight off a Def Leppard song. And I love it for that. "Mountains" is this tight three minute gumbo of elements from all over the rock spectrum and for that, it is possibly my favorite song on the album. It sounds absolutely MASSIVE thanks to the phenomenal mix from Grammy winner Michael Rosen and I highly recommend listening to it cranked to 11 in your car with the windows down at night on the highway.

The Story of "Stockholm Syndrome"

We've all been there, right?

An emotionally damaging relationship that just won't seem to go away even as the years go on and on. Sometimes, after a while you start to "sympathize with your captor," so to speak, and you try and justify your behavior to yourself and to those around you. But sometimes, enough is enough, and one day you wake up and just say to yourself, "I can't do this anymore." This is the story of "Stockholm Syndrome."

Musically, I love how this one came to me, and I remember it so clearly. I am a HUGE fan of Garbage and always wanted to make our music sound more like them but never could. Until one morning, as I'm getting dressed to go to work, I hear in my head this fuzzy bass line that sounds like something Garbage would have done on one of their more rocking songs like "Why Do You Love Me?" or, alternatively, like something Melissa Auf der Maur from Hole would play. So I hummed it in my phone. Then I heard a guitar line for the verse. Hummed it. Then another to go under it. More humming. Then I heard a melody for a chorus and what I heard in my head was Shirley Manson singing something - so I sang gibberish syllables into my phone in a high falsetto voice, followed by beatboxing. These recordings sound hysterical but it is now an integral part of the modern writing process. So without further adieu, here is my ridiculous voice memo where you can hear the ideas coming to me in real time, titled "Garbage Hole Bass," because of the Garbage and Hole comparisons I mentioned.

Once I returned home from work, crafting the song on my computer became like putting together a puzzle. Once those pieces from the voice memos were put into place (there were more memos but I'll spare you), it was time to finish it. I knew I wanted something sexy like Garbage's "Hammering In My Head" so that's the vibe I chased. Upon completion, the song went through minor alterations over the next few months and then Jack and I did some "woodshedding" to cross the t's and dot the i's before we hit the studio. 

Something Jack is really great at is taking a song that I bring to the table and saying "you need to cut this section" or "it needs this little thing" that seems small but ends up having a significant aural impact. The way these exchanges typically go is that he says something, I get apprehensive because what he just said seems to make no sense, he presses on, we see how it sounds and then I'm like "Oooooooh." In this case, it was a guitar part for the end of the second chorus that goes into the bridge. There was originally a whole 20 second bridge section before the halftime breakdown and Jack said we needed to scrap it. So I said, "OK, then how to we get from the chorus to the breakdown?" And he literally said, "OK so it needs these octave slide-downs then this bendy thing." Like I said, I didn't get it at first but once we put it in, it made the transition from the second chorus to the bridge that much more interesting and we were off. You can hear the old version in the original demo below:

We recorded the song at the beautiful Blue Room Productions in Herndon, VA with the great Ben Green, otherwise known as the guitar player for Virginia pop punk greats Fairweather.

Ben was integral in getting the phenomenal sounds we got on the song and was an amazing sounding board for new ideas as well. In just one day, we had a song in the can that we initially were just going to waste on a standalone single but we ended up loving so much that it opened our teaser EP we put out last year and is now also included on The Code Duello. This has become one of my favorites to play live and I can't wait to play it for all of you!