Track By Tracks: Michael McFarland - Through This Fire (2020)

1. End of the World:

The studio where this song was written & recorded is in the basement of an old Victorian mansion, which in recent years has been transformed from a rooming house to and artists' conclave. The last weekend of each month, residents would host events featuring 6-8 acts (music, dance, storytelling, poetry), and each summer a 3-day arts & music fest. Since the COVID lockdowns, the mansion has been quiet, except the sounds from the basement. This song imagines the celebration they will have once when it's again safe to do so. The backing vocals in the chorus were all recorded by friends on their phones, or musicians in their home studios - many of whom had attended those monthly events - and then combined into a virtual crowd, allowing for a little bit of that shared experience even though we couldn’t be together in the real world. 

2. The New Contagion:
In the early weeks of the lockdown, I joined a virtual songwriter challenge group, with a new songwriting prompt each week. The first prompt was “Songs about Hope”, and the chorus for this song came to me almost immediately after reading the prompt. That night I went into the studio, and when I emerged the next morning, both the lyrics and the full arrangement for this song were complete. I do believe that hope can be as contagious as any disease, and it’s something that’s felt in short supply this year; the spark from that songwriter challenge brought me this song, which in turn lit the fire of inspiration that led to me writing most of the other songs on this record. 

3. More Than You Believe You Are:

This is the only song that was fully written and recorded before the COVID-19 pandemic began, in late 2019. It was prompted by the realization that some of the best songs already in my catalog were ones with messages that I needed to hear at the time I wrote them. My partner, when I shared that idea with her, asked me what I needed to hear at that moment, and my answer - that I was more capable, more worthy, more valuable than I believed myself to be - was the inspiration for this song. As a musical side note, I’ve often covered “All These Things that I’ve Done” by The Killers at my live shows, and it was in the back of my mind that I’d love to write a song with a refrain that becomes a big epic sing-along section, akin to their “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier”; I didn’t realize until after I finished writing this song that with “Heads held high, never look back, path to the future ain’t a well-worn track” I’d accidentally succeeded in doing so! 

4. Not Going Under:
The central idea of this song doesn’t come until three-quarters of the way through, when I sing the lyrics, “You could have sent me a life raft, but then I’d never learn to swim.” There are times in life when you need a helping hand - my song Lighthouse, from a previous release, centers around a similar metaphor of being lost in a storm sea, and speaks to that - but there are times when you need to grab onto a piece of driftwood and tread water until the sun rises. Sometimes staying alive comes down to the decision that, “I won’t let the undertow tow me under.” Musically, I wanted to write a power pop song and subtly infuse a bit of old British sailor songs into the vocal approach, which you can hear a touch of in the “Ho-up!” group vocals that show up throughout the song.

5. Get Down:
When I wrote this song, pretty much everything I’ve spent my life working towards had been put on hold due to COVID. Concerts were all cancelled, and all my other side hustles had dried up as the world shut down. Even though I’ve done my best to carve a path in life that allowed me to pursue and share my creative passions, I watched it all collapse in a matter of weeks. My anxiety medications stopped doing their job, and insomnia took over... so I thought I'd write a lyrical middle-finger to all the ways I’d “grown up” over the years. And what better way to sonically express that than with a demented carnival of biting guitars, accordion, tuba, and steam calliope? 

6. Invincible (feat. MixedFeelings 216):
I’d actually had the chorus lyrics of this song - or, at least, an early version of them - sitting on a metaphorical shelf for a few years before this became a fully realized song. When I decided to finish the song, in the midst of a global pandemic, racial unrest, and a pivotal election looming later this year, those lyrics had taken on a whole new meaning. I decided to go all-in on the blacksmithing metaphors - I’ve watched a lot of the show Forged in Fire, so those came easily - and then my co-producer, drummer, and mixing engineer Eric Bertagnolli suggested some gospel vocals to elevate the feel of the song. It was my pleasure to bring the phenomenal vocalists Charde Young and Deah Fisher from local Neo Soul/R&B group MixedFeelings 216 into the studio to provide the finishing touch the song needed.

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