Track By Tracks: Better Than The Book - Hopes And Dreams (2019)

1. The Hardest Part:

It’s always great to introduce a new project with something upbeat, high-energy and motivational to get the mind in the right gear and blood rushing for the rest of the album, and the hardest part of working on any big project is starting it (the next hardest being finishing it), hence the title of the starting track of the album: “The Hardest Part”. 

The song starts with a calm and brief reflection on life since my previous Better Than The Book album “Two Years On” (which was actually recorded and produced in my bedroom back at my parents’ place way back when and released in February 2016), before launching into a high energy anthem about staying motivated to chase your goals, even when things get tough or you feel like you can’t face the world. No one ever said it would be easy, but when it feels like just one of those days, just remember the positives. Nothing’s really holding you back. Stop thinking; start living! The line “When it feels like just one of those days” was inspired and paraphrased from Limp Bizkit’s infamous “Break Stuff” from the album “Significant Other” which was the first vinyl I bought in a music shop, coincidentally on my first date in Brighton with my own significant other, Eva, both of which have a big mention later in the album. Of course, “The Hardest Part” puts a very different (and much more positive) spin on those lines.

2. Artificial Ignorance:

On the topic of nobody ever saying it would be easy, with any path you take following your dreams you are almost certainly going to encounter people along the way which seem to want to go out of their way to make it more difficult than it needs to be, and “Artificial Ignorance” is one of the more tongue-in-cheek ska-punk anthems of the album discussing the frustration of having your trust broken by others and not wanting it to happen again.

Much like its counterpart “Undead Education” on the previous album, this song is another upbeat one about life lessons, growth and realizing that things might not be as simple as they seem on the surface. While it can be intensely frustrating to have your trust broken, sometimes mistakes can happen by accident, or by trying to see the best in people you ignore their flaws and the red flags they might be raising, ultimately putting yourself into a position where your trust can easily be taken advantage of. It’s easy to blame other people when things don’t go your way, but sometimes it’s best to reflect from a more objective point of view. Only then may you realize that it was actually you who allowed things to happen the way they did after all.

3. And I Fear:

I’m sure everyone has their own vast set of fears and worries they carry especially when trying to achieve their own dreams and the lyrics of “And I Fear” share a handful of mine with regards to pursuing my own music and creative goals.

The opening verse contains a throwback to the track “Backseat Phobia” from BTTB’s debut EP “One Small Step” (December 2012), mentioning “I’m getting anxious about stepping out these walls. When did it get this way again? Seems like I’m going backwards”, which parallels with “Backseat Phobia’s” opening lines, “Heart beats like a military drum as I step outside of these four safe walls”, reflecting on a time where I was experiencing daily panic attacks and could barely leave my home, something that came back at a lesser intensity during the production process of this album. The rest of the verses share a variety of my own fears: what people think of me, people asking me how it’s going when it’s really not going so well, feeling like a disappointment or like I’m unable to live up to people’s expectations, comparing myself to others’ success, feeling pressured to conform to predetermined standards or career aspirations, and how the heck I’m supposed to make it all work out for the best. The chorus sings about how trying to be a people pleaser, rather than following your own passions feels like it’ll be the death of you, and the high energy interlude sings about how despite it being your own life, it sometimes doesn’t feel like you have a say in what you can do with it, yet the pressures of following someone else’s hopes for you feel like a waste of time taking you away from what you feel is important.

“And I Fear” is definitely not one of the happier songs on the album despite its upbeat instrumentation, though I feel it’s important to be open about these things, both positive and negative. I’m sure there are many people out there that can relate to such worries.

4. Meteor Shower:

Continuing from “And I Fear”, “Meteor Shower” is BTTB’s heaviest track to date documenting the struggle between self-actualization vs self-doubt, and the frustration of trying to reach your true potential even when the world and often your own mind seem completely against you with no hope of success. 

The frantic guitars, drums and rap/screamed verses paint a picture of the internal daily struggle that many creatives including myself go through, while the melodic choruses and later interlude, sing a motivational yet also seemingly futile outlook on how only you can try to push through it. If you want things to change, then you’ve got to make the change, face the problem head-on, break free from the cycles of bad habits, and fight for what you want, even if it seems futile, because if that meteor is going to hit you anyway, then you might as well grab a bat and start swinging for your life! 

The opening guitar riff, I actually wrote back in 2013 when I was in another pop-punk band, but it was deemed too heavy for their style so I’ve been sitting on it since then. I also feel like “Meteor Shower” is a darker spiritual sequel to “Make Your Mark” from the previous album with the similar frantic guitars, extended chords, and J-Rock vibe, yet this time a more desperate / less optimistic outlook on the situation. The opening line makes a callback and digs at “The Hardest Part” with “Nobody said this would be easy” being written off as an understatement, and the 2nd verse references “Head Above Water” again from “Two Years On” which was the last track I rapped lead vocals on. Originally, “Meteor Shower” was going to be track 03 on the album with “And I fear” following as track 04, which would have made that statement a little truer, but I switched the order later down the production line as the tracks flowed better this way IMO.

5. Brighton:

Time for some positivity with this next track which pays homage to the wonderful seaside city I grew up near and have many fond memories of, “Brighton”.

The lyrics in this one are mainly sharing great memories and are chocked full with tonnes of references too. From the top and first verse, for those unfamiliar with Brighton, North Laine is a shopping district located north of The South Lanes (or just The Lanes), where I’ve spent countless hours exploring since my teen years, and they have a great gelato place there with tonnes of amazing flavors (Earl Grey anyone?). When I was a child, my dad took me to The King Alfred leisure center in Hove which had 3 flume rides where you’d go down on mats, my first ever experience of those kinds of water slide. Unfortunately, they’ve been removed now due to structural concerns I think... though that was years ago now. “Hove, actually” is a common phrase and in-joke in the area too. Since Brighton and Hove are pretty much merged together, when people reference a place in Hove but cite it as Brighton, others would correct you by saying “Hove, actually”. The Palace Pier is the main pier in Brighton and has a load of rides, a games arcade, and fairground type stalls for winning plush prizes of sorts, and I would probably be horrified if I learned how much pocket money I’d spent playing Time Crisis or House of the Dead II or air hockey there (Great fun though)! 

Onto the next verse, my first big gig I went to in my teen years was to see Alice Cooper at the Brighton Centre (supported by Twisted Sister), The Dirty Diamonds tour and as per Alice Cooper’s usual style he was executed by guillotine on stage partway through the concert to be resurrected later. Skipping ahead many years, my first gig with my S.O. Eva was Reel Big Fish at the Concord 2 supported by Less Than Jake and Zebrahead, some of my biggest heroes, and I caught a pick and got one of LTJs set lists that night too! My brother and another friend and I went to see Andrew W.K. at The Haunt a few years back and it was CRAZY! People from the audience were moshing with him on stage and it even got to a point where I was stuck at the BACK of the stage unable to get off because it was so packed, and all this while I was carry a bag of takeaway food and an umbrella too if I remember correctly! It was a crazy night! Next, a tribute to a pop-punk band I played bass with from 2012 to 2014 and even co-wrote and produced an EP for ,“Lights, Camera, Attraction!”, whom I had many great nights gigging the Brighton scene with. Fond memories! 

Onto the pre-chorus, when I sing “It’s not my home town”, my home town is actually Burgess Hill which is 20 minutes away from Brighton by train, hence the later chorus lines, and moving onto the chorus, Brighton has a stony, not sandy beach and you can get some great Fish and Chips on the seafront. The West Pier is a derelict burnt out pier very close to the shore which used to be operational until the 1970s but has been closed since before I was born. It has a history of extremely back luck since then despite plans to renovate and reopen it and is now basically just a skeleton of the previous structure but looks beautiful in a different way now, though as a child I hoped I’d get to go on it one day. The final line of the chorus is a play on “home is where the heart is” and on top of trying to show how much I love Brighton is also a nod to the hugely accepting community that Brighton has. Regardless of your race, beliefs, gender, sexuality, subculture, etc... anyone can find a home and acceptance in Brighton. 

Onto the 3rd verse and back to North Laine, G A K is the Guitar Amp and Keyboard Centre, a HUGE guitar/music gear shop that all the musicians in the area know of. The riff playing alongside “where I got my first stomp box” is played on that very distortion pedal (a Boss OS-2), with my most recent purchase from GAK a Squier Jaguar. Dave’s is a local comic book shop which I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve spent more there than at the Palace Pier, and One Piece is a fantastic manga series my brother collects and I read as soon as he’s finished with it. Burger Brothers make hands down the best Burgers I’ve eaten in my entire life! Seriously go try it if you’re ever in the area: classic with chorizo is my go to! The sample at the end of the track is a compiled field recording from Brighton seafront.

Man I love Brighton!

6. Get A Haircut:

From a city, I love to the town I currently live in, which after 2 years of being here I’ve just about warmed up to (the flat and neighbors are great at least). I shan’t name it here, but aside from our rented moving van being broken into on the first night as well as the stories and news reports of bodies turning up (amongst other things...), “Get A Haircut” is about my first impressions of the new town and was written in my first week after moving here.

The track starts with a field recording of my walk into town along a very busy main road (a big contrast to the peaceful sounds at the end of “Brighton”), and proceeds to be a bitter venting song about the public verbal abuse I received on 4 separate occasions in my first week here alone. All in all, it wasn’t a great start to life in a new town. That's not to say I've not been used to this kind of stuff happening in the past, as growing up I was bullied a fair bit and been made fun of in the street plenty of times for my long hair, especially in my teen years (complimented as well though). It had been a long while though and it was a demotivating shock...

That said, every cloud has a silver lining, and a song came from it so that's always nice! There’s not really much to say about the lyrics, they’re fairly self-explanatory. “Get A Haircut” is a bitter song about being different and being bullied for it which I’m sure many can relate to.

7. (The Travelling To See Eva Song):

Back to positive things, “(The Travelling To See Eva Song)” is an upbeat ska-punk song following the thoughts in my head as I’d catch the train to see the love of my life, Eva, back when we were still doing long distance. It’s definitely one of the more fun and less serious tracks on the album, encompassing all those feelings of excitement, joy, and slight nervousness when going half-way across the country to see my significant other back in the day. 

The sung lead vocals follow the journey, while the additional rap backing offers extra commentary on the less according-to-plan elements of trip. Also, although electric organs have been featured in the BTTB discography since the “Two Years On” album, “(The Travelling To See Eva Song)” is the first BTTB track to feature an organ solo, as well as a duet between organ and 12-string electric guitar. The brackets in the name of the track are because a (good) final track name was never decided for this one, and so the working title was used instead. The track also features much commentary on the British railway service including a parody PA announcement in the final chorus.

8. GG:

Continuing with more positivity and nostalgia, “GG” (short for “Good Game”) is a synth-infused pop-punk anthem about good times playing video games!

The lyrics make references to dusty cartridges, RPGs, kart racers (like Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing), saving the princess (which for me will always be Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda), playing games late into the night or on rainy days when you don’t want to go out, beating each other’s high scores, catching and trading Pokémon, playing co-op, exploring new worlds, along with rage quitting, screen looking, and button mashing amongst other things.

Most of the instrumentals for “GG” were actually written back in 2015 for a quick competition and while it didn’t seem to fit into the following album “Two Years On”, the time seemed right when putting together “Hopes and Dreams” to finish off the lyrics and spruce it up to be a fully fledged song. I feel like this track is sort of a successor to “Cathode Ray Days” which sang about fond times growing up with TV, though with the electronic elements, and its placement in the album, it feels more like “Head Above Water” instrumentally. Some of the vocal “whoas” in the final chorus were actually re-sampled from “Head Above Water” and layered in for this recording too, as they just sounded so darn perfect to me on that 2016 track!

9. You’ve Got A Lot To Say:

“You’ve Got A Lot To Say” was a track I had been thinking about for long time and to start with was simply supposed to be about being there for a loved one when times are tough, and working through it together. 

When I first started playing with the idea, I felt like I knew what I wanted to say, but whatever I wrote nothing ever felt right to me and I ended up putting the idea on hold for a long time. In September 2017 however and without going into details, Eva’s mum passed away and “You’ve Got A Lot To Say” took on a whole new meaning after that. I wrote the rest of the song while we grieved. 

“You’ve Got A Lot To Say” is dedicated in memory of Muoi Muoi Ma.

10. Hopes and Dreams:

“Hopes and Dreams” brings together much of the themes from the identically titled album for a heartfelt J-rock inspired climax broadcasting a message of staying true to yourself, shedding away the bonds of negativity and self-doubt, and pushing forward towards your goals no matter what.

The opening lyrics echo the opening words of the album with a twist now that we’re ten songs on from when we last heard them. The next half of the first verse references back to the “One Small Step” EP, lifting lines directly from “Leaving Home” while the lead guitar replays the opening riff to “Watching Airships”. Some of the lines from the 2nd prechorus were actually taken from unused ideas from the original “Leaving Home” lyric sheet from back in 2012 too. The 2nd verse paraphrases quotes from a cartoon series I grew up with and meant a whole lot to me Avatar: The Last Airbender and subsequently and more so, The Legend of Korra, and the song climaxes with a repeated anthemic ending with gang vocals singing the chorus in counterpoint with “Nobody said this would be easy”, a line sung at various places throughout the album. If you listen carefully too, you can hear the opening riff to “The Hardest Part” in the left speaker during the final few repeats of the gang vocal chorus before the band cuts out leaving just the crowd vocals, piano and lead guitar singing through.

“Hopes and Dreams” was partially written during the “Two Years On” album and was originally part of the same song as “The Bigger Picture”. I couldn’t fit all the ideas together at the time though so I decided to put the ideas which would later become “Hopes and Dreams” on hold, and focus on the other ideas which would mature into becoming “The Bigger Picture” for “Two Years On”.  I think that decision worked out well for both of the albums.

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