Singer/songwriter/keyboardist Christie Swing
A few weeks ago I was able to do more songwriting, production and recording with developing artist Christie Swing (for my last efforts with Christie, see my blog post here from last December, https://killthehero.wordpress.com/2015/12/09/producing-a-developing-musician/). The atmosphere was somewhat hectic in the Swing home: Christie lives with several people, including her sister and her brother-in-law, who were expecting their first baby in pretty much a few minutes. Yes, labor, birth and recording occurred simultaneously. Nothing we could not collectively handle. Oh, we also recorded around the sounds of Christie’s amazingly handy boyfriend creating child proof gates out of an old bed.
Back to adventures in recording: Christie had two songs mostly written, a soft ballad about anxiety called Take A Breath, which was mostly done and just needed some tweaks and arranging, and a harder rock tune called Addicted which needed some lyrics and some overall direction.
We started with Take A Breath. Once we got the basic arrangement down, Christie spent an evening practicing, and we were able to record the song in just a couple of takes. The recording is sparse, with just two keyboard tracks and one vocal, which we both felt was exactly what this song needed. (Producing requires the ability to keep your brilliance out of a song just as much as it requires placing your brilliance into a song).
One thing that struck me about this song was Christie’s high vocal register, which I had not heard in her songwriting and performance before. I made a mental note to use that a bit more in our future projects…. then went on to the next song.
Addicted is a hard rocker about addiction patterns in relationships. When Christie played it for me she assured me it is written purely from imagination. In Christie’s words:
“Addicted” is an upbeat rock that is NOT a dialogue about my life. Please don’t worry, I’m fine. I swear. I have found out over the years that I am very good at writing morbid things and people tend to get worried. While I was in school, I turned in many creative writing projects to teachers. On many occasions, I was asked if I needed to “talk to someone” or if I was “being hurt at home”. No! God no! I’m fine! I just have a piece of Edgar Allen Poe in my soul.
That said… when she first played the song for me, she used only bass chords on the keyboard. I made a mental note to use those bass chords as the framework of the song, and to add a full band compliment of drums, bass, lead guitar and organ. We came up with the bridge (“Blood and tile…”) and I heard it as very Beatles-style segment, with the “doo doo doo” choral back-up just as John and Paul might have done. Something about the melody and the feel of the song just seemed to evoke that British Mod quality.
After finishing these two songs, there was water breaking, labor, and a night in the maternity waiting room. By the following morning, Christie was an aunt.
I found myself telling Christie about Sami mythology, something I have a profound interest in, and of Sarakka, the Sami Goddess who watches over pregnancy and birth (and who has some spare time for romantic liaisons with a bear). In Sami culture, after delivery a woman would eat a special pudding dedicated to Sarakka (we used rice pudding in the case of Christie’s sister: we hoped Sarakka would accept the substitution). As I spoke about Sarakka, Christie and I came up with the idea of writing a song to celebrate the birth of Christie’s niece by honoring the Goddess Sarakka. We sat down together in her studio room and began crafting a set of lyrics to go over a somewhat nebulous chord pattern, which would allow us a lot of room for instrumental and vocal improvisation.
Christie working in the studio.
Two talents Christie has, beside her keyboard playing, songwriting, and the singing she’s done on most recordings up to now, are her high register, which I noticed in Take A Breath and wanted to explore in further songs; and the fact that Christie plays an Australian wind instrument called the didgeridoo.
My concept for the song Sarakka was that it would be a piece that showcased both standard instruments (drums, bass, guitar) and folk instruments: dulcimer, which was used as the rhythm track; and didgeridoo, the low breathy and percussive wind sounds. There would also be a lot of room for Christie to explore her high vocal register.
I mentioned that the chord pattern is nebulous: it is a three chord pattern of Dm, Gm and Bb, all of which have a common d note, and a common f note if the Gm is played as Gm7: by using the dulcimer to play chords without including the 3rd (a natural use of the dulcimer) we could choose during the improvisations to either play with the full form of each chord, or to simply accentuate the d or f note to create a very droning, modal feel.
Here is the result:
Oh, and I also had a lot of fun with the lead guitar improv on this one. I thought Christie’s contributions to the lyrics were pretty great, and I was impressed that she could take a concept that she had very little experience with and embrace it so quickly, producing what I think is a pretty good recording.
See and hear more of Christie’s music on these sites: