Track By Tracks: Surface Of The Sun - Panacea (2019)


1. The Science Says:

While writing for this release I had multiple songs at various stages, not quite sure which would make the EP. I had a wide variety of strong songs to choose from and wasn’t trying to create anything new. Then, one day while just messing around on my acoustic guitar in my living room (which happens to be how I create most of my music), I wrote the opening riff to what became The Science Says. I really liked it. It reminded me of the energy from my song A Dying Star, the title track off the first album. I messed around with it a bit that day, but it didn’t progress much beyond that point for quite a while. Then, one day, the rest of the song came to me just like the intro riff did. Suddenly, I had the foundation for another song; one that had a vibe a little different than the others.

Before I even had the bulk of the music written the chorus lyrics had developed and with them the song’s topic. The verse, however, continued to elude me for some time. At one point I’d settled on a vocal melody and lyrics, but it never felt quite right. Every few weeks I’d revisit the verse and try something new, but nothing better came to me. The vocals remained that way for quite a while. It wasn’t until after I started recording the final instrument tracks that I sorted them out.

One day I took a break from recording guitar (I’d been playing, recording, and editing for a couple of hours), set up a mic, and started adlibbing like I normally do.

I decided to view the verses as having two separate halves (which aligned well with the instruments), with different melodies and energy. After a bit of experimentation the final melody was born, and the lyrics shortly after. I decided to include this song on the Panacea EP because of the aforementioned energy. It has a more constant, straight-forward drive than the other tracks, and I felt it complimented them well being together on a release. The intro guitar riff and synth sound are attention-grabbing, providing a shorter intro than most of my material before vocals arrive and carry the listener into the catchy chorus. The song follows a more standard arrangement until the bridge section hits. This is when things really get dynamic with multiple sections; one like a new catchy chorus; others that make you want to jump around. I think it’s an attention-grabbing first track that ends in a way that makes the listener want more.

2. Oblivion:

I started writing Oblivion before any of the other tracks on this EP (2014/15 I think it was), and it’s one of the few written primarily on bass guitar. And that was on purpose. I wanted to create something centered a bit more around the bass than my other songs.

The opening bass riff is where this song started. I was plugged in one day, had my bass hooked up through some distortion, and was messing around with a variety of different ideas, trying to find something a little groovy. After creating that opening riff, the rest of the song up to the first chorus came quickly (this whole section is one of my most favorite parts on the EP). But I got stuck on the chorus for quite a while. I settled on the bridge sections a few months later, but I don’t think it was until late 2017 when I completed the instruments for the chorus.

I experimented more with sound effects, ethnic instruments, and synth sounds on this release, and part of how I composed the first half of Oblivion was to allow space to augment with these additional sounds. I purchased a few new synth modules, which included ethnic instrument packages I was very excited about. Oblivion felt like the perfect song to test these new sounds and I think they added an awesome finishing touch. Oblivion is a very unique track that ebbs and flows, providing a few surprises along the way. The additional vocal harmonies throughout add to the multiple layers and emotion of the track. It’s groovy, catchy, heavy, and dynamic all at once. There’s a little something for everyone. With its unique, groovy vibe, and unexpected ethnic instruments, Oblivion is a great first single and teaser for the EP.

3. The Silence:

The Silence is my favorite overall song on this EP (and probably out of all the songs I’ve written). It’s the one I’m most proud of. It captures all the elements I love to have in a song. It’s surprising, catchy, and dynamic. It's where things start to get really progressive on the EP and are in a five-count (my favorite!). The arrangement is also very unique and doesn’t follow any sort of expected verse-chorus-bridge pattern.

I’ve always liked songs that take a riff, even a simpler one, and expand on and evolve it as the song progresses, augmenting it with new parts that build it into something larger. If done well, it doesn’t feel repetitive. Instead, it feels like a natural progression that creates anticipation and a sense of space that a listener can get lost in. To me, this is exactly what The Silence does.

Writing The Silence started with the opening riff you hear on the guitar, and throughout much of the song, but wasn’t written linearly. After the intro, I created part of a bridge, then back to the start, then most of the outro, then back to the middle. I moved a few parts around here and there. But overall the song came together very naturally. Even the vocal melodies, which I wanted to have more contrast with the instruments that usual, flowed out of me quickly. Matching the lyrics to those melodies also went smoothly.

The drums are an extremely important part of this song. They’re one of the main instruments used to help evolve the primary guitar riff. Chris Warunki (my hired drummer on this EP) did an amazing job on all the songs, and on The Silence his creativity really shines through. He composed some brilliant parts, and helped make the outro so huge!

The Silence is a very dynamic song that takes the listener on a journey through smooth vocals and flowing riffs, opening up every now and then into spacious soundscapes driven by unique drum patterns. The song has a way of coming around full circle, back to its foundational components, before unleashing during the final bridge and outro.

4. Panacea:

Panacea went through quite an evolution during writing. I think it started with three different ideas I had. Whenever I have an idea I really like, if I can, I quickly record it in a session I call “Random Ideas” (Something I’ve been doing since about 2007. I still have all my ideas going back until then, and reference and use them for all my work.) Panacea was born from multiple ideas captured in this session.

Panacea started with the chorus guitar riff, and while I didn’t write it with specific lyrics in mind (l almost always create vocal melodies and lyrics at the very end of the process), I did want a song that had more of a repetitive, chanting type chorus. This guitar riff fits very nicely with that idea.

Another one of my favorite spots on this EP is the transition in the middle of Panacea from a five-count to a four-count. After the heaviest chorus, the song starts to calm down, becoming more ambient and spacious while still in the five-count. Then, suddenly, I switch to a four-count, becoming even more spacious in a way that, to me as a listener, makes me feel like I’m floating along with the sounds. It actually surprises most people when they hear it, even though they don’t really notice the time signature changed.

Another idea for this song was inspired by Coldplay. They have a few songs that start with a more normal verse-chorus arrangement, then in the bridge section switch to a more repetitive riff that they continue to build upon until the songs end with a huge finish. I think it's brilliant and wanted to try something similar. So, after switching to the four-count, I realized I had the perfect riff to try it. From that point on the entire song continues to build upon itself until reaching one of the heaviest outros I’ve created.

Panacea is another very dynamic and non-standard song. It’s the longest on the album (just shy of nine minutes) and is quite the journey. It’s full of pulsating guitar riffs and sound effects, and to date has more lyrics than anything I’ve written. There are a lot of lyrics. From the chanting chorus to the swaying bridge where I stretch my singing abilities more than I have before, the changing melodies will make you want to sing along, especially when the second half really starts to build. To me, even though this is the title track, was the perfect way to end the EP. 

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