Toy Explosions
Making Heliotrope, Episode 5: Green

All songs are personal, but Green is exceptionally so. The lyrics and music came out in a sort of stream-of-consciousness during a lonely session in our former shitty rehearsal space near Belmont and Western. I don’t like to express in literal terms what my songs are about usually, but more broadly it’s about coming to terms with the things in my teenage years that made me the sort of broken half-grown-up individual that I am sometimes now.

We had two demos floating around for this song - one was a demo made in Charlie’s apartment that was acoustic guitar, sparse electric, and a cello played by our then-bassist. We also had a live demo from a local show we played that had drums. The core idea of the song was good, but we always had a really difficult time executing the arrangement in a way that made it easy to connect with.

Smash cut to the studio, months later. We have zero idea what we really want to do with Green, but Doug (producer) identified the song as having potential, so we recorded it anyway. Justin threw down some drums, and I put down a scratch (temporary) vocal and guitar track. Something wasn’t quite clicking.

So, I was freaking out a little bit. We listened to the demos again and Doug and I both agreed that the idea of having a string part in the song was appropriate. I didn’t know anyone who played cello who could help us out, but Doug said he “had a guy”.

So this is where it got interesting, for me at least. Doug says “Oh, I know this cello player named Eric. He lives on the East Coast now, but I could probably get him to do this song. I’m sure you know his work - he’s really good.”

Turns out he’s talking about Eric Remschneider. He’s kind of the go-to guy for bands who have an acoustic track that needs some beautification. But perhaps most notably, he played on the 1993 Smashing Pumpkins album “Siamese Dream”. Remember crying in your bedroom to Disarm? Or Luna? He was the guy who wrote and played those sad, sad cello parts that probably made you mist up the first time you heard it. Super cool.

So great, right? To a band full of people who grew up listening to those records that would be perfect, wouldn’t it?

Well, sort of. Like the Silversun Pickups (a really great band, by the way), it’s sometimes really hard for us to outrun comparisons to the Pumpkins. We’re obviously influenced by them a good deal, as well as their contemporaries from the 90’s alt-rock scene. Sometimes the comparisons are flattering. Other times, comparisons are used by critics as a way to call a band’s originality or creativity into question. So the debate in my mind was, on our debut record, did we want to willingly set up an easy target for people who might want to tear us down?

I thought maybe the issue would resolve itself. After all, the song wasn’t really gelling the way we wanted. Maybe we’d get Eric’s tracks back from the studio on the East Coast and just decide to shelve the song.

Of course, thankfully, it didn’t work out that way. We recorded final vocals and acoustic guitar and awaited Eric’s tracks to come in over the network. They did finally, and Doug started to slowly bring them up into the mix.

Man, what a trip. For anyone who has ever played in a band and had aspirations to do great things with their music, hearing a beautiful string section over a song you wrote is probably pretty high up on the list of awesome things. Eric really did a terrific job. He had absolutely tuned in to the emotional core of the song and emoted things that the band had never been able to accomplish in previous attempts. Now we knew… we couldn’t throw this thing out.

I asked Doug to mute the drums, and it finally came together. This was how the song was supposed to be.

—-

Artists are sensitive people. I’m no exception. This isn’t always a positive trait. Small things get under my skin and affect me for years after they happen. If one person says something negative about me or the band, no amount of other people saying positive things about the band will make a difference. In a way, the song Green is exploring those things that made me that way.

I could have let that doubt ruin this song. I could have let my fear of criticism relegate this song to b-side status, or worse, just taking up bits on some backup hard drive somewhere. Instead, I decided to embrace the experience and put it on the record. Most people tell me this is their favorite track on the album. It’s certainly mine.