Thirty Rocks: Project Songs

Here are the songs I have created for the project. This page is a brief discussion on the themes and production of each song. It should be noted that I have had to alter this element of the project because of long term illness. I was unable to form and practice with a band to create songs in the genres of music I was listening to most predominantly at the time of each experience, so I turned to my trusty acoustic guitar, and have re-tracked parts of instrumental demos I made at the start of this project. Other songs have been created using MIDI instrumentation, most notably the use of programmed drums. The result is a slightly different feel to what I had initially intended, but I am quite pleased with the results.

Emotively, I found this part of the project quite difficult. I’ve always been quite reserved in public in that regard. The problems I encountered with my lyrics followed that pattern, as I was unsure how to express myself in that way. It doesn’t help that I’m always highly critical of my own work. It was also the first time that I have not worked with another songwriter to develop lyrics, so it was interesting to work without a partner with whom I could sound off ideas. I worked with a couple of vocalists on three of the five tracks, mainly because I didn’t feel that I was able to do the songs justice with my own voice. It is my intention to track real drums onto these songs at a later date once I’m healthy enough to reliably work with others.

Technically, I had to learn how to use software like Photoshop, Ableton, and Final Cut Pro X to compliment my initial skillset that included extensive use of Pro Tools DAW software. This made it a challenging, but rewarding experience.

I would like to thank James Williamson, Adam Lochery, Michael Werninck, and John ‘Taay’ Russell for their talents and support during this project.

1998: Feel the Rhythm

Vocals: James Williamson. Guitars: Paul Thomson. Words and music by Paul Thomson. Recorded and produced by Ramble On Music.

The original video was created by Brice Milleson (and used with his permission). I caught it as it went viral a few months ago, and I immediately recognised the location, but more importantly, the experience. The dry toboggan run in the hills above Kandersteg, Switzerland, was one of the (many) highlights of my trips abroad with my Scout troop in 1998 and 2000.

Musically, I wanted to create a piece that reflected the rhythm of the footage and the feelings that I associate with my friends as we crossed mountain ranges, and experienced the great outdoors so far from home.

Lyrically, I felt it was important to highlight some of the musical experience of the trip as detailed on my 1998 article. Feel the rhythm, feel the ride was a cheeky reference to the film about the Jamaican bobsleigh team in Cool Runnings.

Recording the song highlighted a few problems that I would encounter again in “Fall from Grace”. I didn’t like the quality of my voice. I can pitch, but I didn’t like it so I drafted in James Williamson, my songwriting partner and lead singer from Heart o’ the Run. It was a vast improvement. The music was tracked in Pro Tools 12 session, performed whilst watching the source video for reference. The vocals on the finished product were then tracked in a separate session in James’ living room. Creating the video, I used photos that I took on the trip in 1998 of the Oeschinensee and the mountains around Kandersteg. The opening slide is an image I wanted to reflect being literally “On Top of the World”, which was the working title of this song. The video used, as previously stated, was originally created by Brice Milleson, but it has been cut to fit the length of the music for the track, and a filter has been added to match the aesthetic of the photos at the start and end of the video. All video editing was done in Final Cut Pro X, and the images and titling were created in GIMP 2.8.

In a foreign land, mixtape in hand
I climbed the mountains and swam the sea
apphrehension, away from home
this was all so new to me

(Moments fade but this'll last)
On top of the world, I'm never coming down
On top of the world
I climbed the mountains and swam the sea
On top of the world

Summer sun, a ticket to ride
Follow me everything's alright
Time flies when you're having fun
Can't believe that the end has come

(Time to make this moment last)
Feel the rhythm, feel the ride
Get on board and enjoy your life
Feel the rhythm, feel the ride
Get on board and enjoy your life

1998: Black Velvet

Performed by Paul Thomson. Words and music by Paul Thomson. Recorded and produced by Ramble On Music.

I started work on this a little later into the project once I had access to some decent midi drum plugins for Pro Tools. I wanted to contrast  the good vibes and summer mood of the first song to reflect the crushing low that replaced the highs of my Swiss adventure. I made the decision early on to attempt to write a song in a genre I was heavily influenced by at the time. In spite of my long standing love of the genre, this is the first Californian style punk rock track I’ve ever written or been involved in producing. Programming the drum track from scratch was probably the most challenging aspect of this piece. I don’t have a background (or any skill!) as a drummer, so I had to lean heavily on drum tutorials on youtube that show prospective drummers how to build a beat. I also decided to look at drum beats written by some of my favourite punk bands of that era to get a feel for the groove; namely The Offspring, NoFX, and Blink 182.

The immediate contrast to the vibe of Feel the Rhythm is to take that sunshine filled summer and flip it on its head by using imagery of a storm brewing. I also wanted to express the idea of my granddad slipping away by using the feeling of the black velvet cord slipping through my fingers at his funeral as he was lowered into the ground.

I crossed a thousand miles and road tripped through the summer,
Under darkened skies,
As you lay there I can tell your race is run,
I can see it in your eyes,

Black Velvet, slipping through my fingers
Black Velvet, slipping through my fingers

A strong man fades away into the shadows,
Behind the poppy haze,
We'll carry you your last few feet across the ground,
A solemn march to rest,

Black Velvet, slipping through my fingers
Black Velvet, slipping through my fingers
Black Velvet, it's time we let you go

1999: Heartbreak Kid

Vocals: John “Taay” Russell and Paul Thomson. Guitars: Paul Thomson. Bass: Michael Werninck. Words and music by Paul Thomson. Recorded and produced by Ramble On Music.

In 1999 I lost my left front tooth on the playing fields of my school. It was an incident that I feel defined my personality and shaped my outlook on life [more on that here]By their nature the repercussions from that day warrant a level of significance to the event, so it seemed like a suitable candidate for a song.
As we approached the millennium, rap metal and nu metal were in vogue and  I was listening to a fair amount of Rage Against the Machine, Korn, and Machinehead. I felt it would apt to try my hand at writing for this year in a rap style, although the instrumentation and my natural guitar style seemed to pull me very much towards the hard rock side of the rock / metal divide. I found that the main benefit of writing lyrics for this style is that it allowed me to explore the event and its effects in detail because of the sheer volume of words required for content. Once I had produced the original set of lyrics I went to Glasgow to work with John Russell before tracking his vocal. It was interesting to see how he felt out the tiny changes that would improve the flow of the lyrics before making suggestions.
It was also great to catch up and work with an old friend and long standing band-mate, Michael Werninck. On a flying visit from Europe, he was only back for a long weekend. Nevertheless, the opportunity to work together again was mutually agreeable, and, on a Saturday afternoon in deepest darkest Dennistoun, Mikey nailed it in two takes.
The most challenging part of the song for me was the chorus vocal lines and harmonies. I’ve mentioned previously that I dislike my singing voice, and this was no tracking was no exception. It took a while, but with a little grit and determination, and half a pack of vocalzone lozenges, I was able to push my self-deprecation to the side and get the vocal lines down.
It's heartbreak kid when you lose your smile,
A blow to the head and the result was vile,
A rock in my path from which I couldn't recover,
The damage was done I was yet to discover,
As I lay on the field I looked up to the sky,
Blue turned to grey and I tried not to cry,
I got back up and I tried to compose,
I took a deep breath and found the nerve exposed.

I was taken by the hand as I sat on the throne,
A shroud of lies and a false truth sewn,
The confidence fades as a part of me dies,
The gas took hold and I closed my eyes,
When I awoke from my drug fuelled daze,
Something was different and I wasn't the same,
Cemented in place by the strength of the post,
The pain remains and I'm haunted by ghosts.

I've gone away
I'm not the same
I have changed
Runaway
I'm not the same

The part was replaced but the damage was done,
When you're incomplete it's hard to have fun,
Catch me if you can with a snap to despise,
Avoiding the gaze of the electric eyes,
Always out of frame I think you'll find,
With a trick of the hand and a sleight of the mind,
To cap it all off it will play on your thoughts,
You're there but you're not; a fucking paradox.

2013: Fall from Grace

Vocals: James Williamson. Guitars: Paul Thomson. Words and music by Paul Thomson. Recorded and produced by Ramble On Music.

Fall from Grace is about losing a lover to addiction [more on that here]. It was the first time I was knowingly in a romantic or plutonic relationship with anyone, so I had no past experience from which I could draw. The whole situation seemed completely nonsensical to me. Why would anyone continue to engage in activities with the knowledge that it will lead to their own very immediate destruction. I wanted the song to reflect the fall and rapid decline of my former partner, and that she managed to hide her situation from me for so long.

I decided to work again with James Williamson because we were bandmates during the time I was involved with these problems. It also made sense to write the song in a style similar to that of our old band Heart o’ the Run because I felt it would reflect the music that influenced me around that time.

I was planning on filming and producing a music video for this song, the visuals following the Clyde canal path from lock 24 to lock 27. We often walked that path in the evenings, and it was the route of the first walk we took after she was released from hospital. Despite my best intentions, my lungs conspired against me and colluded with the weather, so I wasn’t able to capture the footage of the bike ride for the video. Hopefully I will be able to complete it through the summer months.

Things were going fine,
Then we went off the rails,
You always know you're right,
When you know you're wrong,

Why can't you understand,
Where you're going or where you've been,
Why can't you understand,
Where you're going or where you've been,

I've watched you fall from grace,
Seen your wings undone,
But I'll stay here by your side,
I will catch you as you fall,

Why can't you understand,
Where you're going or where you've been,
Why can't you understand,
Where you're going or where you've been,

Another side of you has come to light,
But in time we could make it right,
But here we are; our song remains the same,
You've made your bed and there you lay,

Time ain't on your side,
When the writing's on the wall,
Your story's yet untold,
What will you become?

Why can't you understand,
Where you're going or where you've been,
Why can't you understand,
Where you're going or where you've been.

2013: Piece of Mind

Vocals & Guitars:  Paul Thomson. Bass: Michael Werninck. Drums: Adam Lochery. Words and music by Paul Thomson. Recorded and produced by Ramble On Music.

This song was probably the most cathartic of all. It felt like a gushing release of everything I wanted to say at the time. Set immediately after the breakup that follows on from the theme of the previous song, Piece of Mind was an idea I started putting together before my health failed. In October 2014 it had been a year since the breakup, but the wound still felt pretty fresh. I felt it difficult to reconcile the care and attention I had lavished upon her without question during her times of need with the times I was ignored and locked out of her life when she would binge. I wanted to express my anger because it felt like I had been used. I wanted to let her know that it wasn’t ok. It’s a song about taking control.

I recorded this song as a demo with no vocals in a rehearsal studio with Adam Lochery and Michael Werninck in November 2014. They have both since moved to Australia and Spain respectively, so the only way for me to complete it within the timeframe of the project was to use the workable elements of the demo and retrack my parts and add vocals. I would relate the style to my heavier and darker influences at the time, namely Red Fang and Mastodon.

I know you need me
You know that's true
But that's the last time I carry you home, babe
I may be lost but you're alone

You know how I feel
You must be out of your god damn mind
As you come and you go
You know how I feel
You must be out of your god damn mind
As you come and you go

The party's over
You've turned your back
It's the last time you'll sink your teeth in
You leave your mark but I won't bite back

You know how I feel
You must be out of your god damn mind
As you come and you go
You know how I feel
You must be out of your god damn mind
As you come and you go


To get my peace of mind
You'll get a piece of mine
To get my peace of mind
You'll get a piece of mine

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