Editor’s Note: Here’s a new thing where Frank McGinnis of American Film History REALLY GETS INTO IT with other songwriters. If you’re a lyrical genius and you’re interested in doing this with Frank, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here I present to you a new series called “Tune Tales” in which I attempt to muse on paradoxical elements of creating a song. Many of us songwriters would love a forum in which to talk about how we write, but in normal conversation it comes off as self-indulgent and long-winded. I wanted to create this proposed forum and ask good songwriters to go there.
“Kinda Nice” by Hiding Behind Sound is at once lulling and tense. Sonically, it feels to me like a walk in the woods with sudden weather changes, while you rise and fall among ambient thoughts and major reflections. If I were forced to give comparisons I’d say it’s almost like if Radiohead circa The Bends took an aural time machine to the mid-aughts, discovered The National, and went back to 1995 sparkling with arrangement inspiration. Read the responses to my questions for Sammi Niss, the brains, heart, hands, and feet behind Hiding Behind Sound.
DWP: I know that songs come to us who write them in strange ways. Can you recall anything about the seedlings of this song? Was there a guitar line? A melody? A lyric? An idea that first sprouted?
HBS: I wrote most of this song standing outside on a break during a band practice for one of the bands I am in. It started with just words, which is how I usually start, but pretty quickly became a little melody in my head. I really was just standing there listening to the birds chirping nearby.
DWP: As abstract of a question as this is, what is this song “about” or what kinds of things does it “explore”?
HBS: I guess you could say this song is about being in the moment and pondering over life’s different questions. All of its realities and uncertainties and decisions that surround us all the time. Just kind of floating in a moment and taking it all in.
DWP: Do you have a favorite lyric in the song? If not a favorite, can you just pick out one lyric and explain the intent behind it?
HBS: I really like the shape the lyrics make through the whole first verse.
It was kinda nice
Listening to the birds outside
And what I heard coming from this different world
With my eyes closed it seemed mirrored to me
Like from a dream
But I was drinking all the whiskey
While you were asleep
I hope you’ll forgive me
It’s not quite a standard form and I like the way it oddly flows. If there IS intent behind it, which I’m not sure I was thinking about when I first wrote these words, I guess it’d be just trying to bring the listener into this world I’m singing about. Setting a scene, you could say.
DWP: Regarding the arrangement, were there elements that were already in your head as you were writing it? A certain instrumental overdub or a vocal harmony, etc? Or was it a very basic skeleton before you started recording it and things were carved out in the studio setting? I guess I’m asking you to describe the evolution of the arrangement.
HBS: Like most of my songs, it started with lyrics that stand alone from any sort of idea of a song. Then I find that when I’m playing guitar and working out guitar parts separately that certain lyrics “fit” and a song sort of takes shape from there. So with this song, when I went to record, I had the basic idea of what one guitar would be doing–kind of the base of the whole thing–and I built the guitars up and out from there. I tend to do a lot of overdubbing in my process of recording and figuring out the arrangements. And this song, like most of the record, was built in two different sessions; the second being recording all the drums and percussion and extra bits of magic in the studio with Kevin McMahon at Marcata. We had a lot of fun on this song with the hugeness of the end and extending the “California fade-out.”
DWP: In your mind, does this song call upon any of your influences in a direct or semi-direct way? Such as “this is my ‘Tonight, Tonight’ by The Smashing Pumpkins” etc?
HBS: Oh huh! Hmmm… I think of this is more as my Lawrence Ferlinghetti piece. Haha. But I guess I could say… well, I can’t think of a singular song but Ferlinghetti meets The National maybe. But that feels a little too high praise of myself!
DWP: OK, fun silly question time: If this song had a sequel, what would it be called?
HBS: “It Was Just OK.”