3 on Thursday – 2/2/23

Read time: 4 min

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Happy February! I hope you’ve been having a good week. Here’s this week’s 3 on Thursday, where I share

  1. The Making of “Tilt-A-Whirl” Part II: The Case of the Loud Wristwatch  
  2. What I’m Reading and Watching
  3. On Songwriting: Paint with the Brushes You Have

All right, here we go…

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The Making of “Tilt-A-Whirl” (Part II): The Case of the Loud Wristwatch

(The YouTube version of this post is here.)

When I recorded the guitar for “Tilt-A-Whirl” (Track 4 of my new album Up North) I made a huge mistake. I forgot to take off my wristwatch.

Since I was a kid I’ve had a watch fetish. I used to buy a different wristwatch every month. Not nice ones, ten-dollar ones from Pamida or True Value. The ones in clear plastic boxes in the spinning case.

This fetish continued into adulthood. I find myself wearing different wristwatches simply because I like them.

The problem was that on the day of recording “Tilt-A-Whirl,” I was wearing a Swatchwatch my wife got me for my birthday. As cool as it is (to me), the second hand ticks louder than a metronome.

Here, listen to it. 

Shouldn’t I have noticed that while recording?

No, well maybe, but it’s like the smell of your clothes. You get used to it and it just smells normal to you. It’s other people who notice the smell of your detergent. I always thought Ryan Johnson’s mom used the best detergent in the world.

So, no, I didn’t notice. Not until days later.

Could I have simply rerecorded the guitar? Yes, but I liked the vibe of the take I had. And there was no guarantee I’d get it again.

So, what did I do?

Let me tell you, and this may be a lesson you can use for all sorts of life experiences.

I covered it up. I Febreezed it.

I hadn’t intended to use any percussion in this song. But once I heard the watch ticking, I thought it could be cool to have little tapping hi-hats covering the sound. So I added them, and poof–the wristwatch disappeared.

Here, listen to the difference.

A case could be made that the recording would be better wihtout the hi-hats. But you could also argue the other way. Now that they’re there, I can’t imagine the song without them!

Before you think you’ve made mistake and try and correct it, ask yourself whether or not it’s–as Bob Ross would say–a happy accident.

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What I’m Reading and Watching 

(The YouTube version of this post is here.)

Every third or fourth winter I find myself reading North of Hope by Jon Hassler. It’s about a priest who works at a mission on an Ojibway reservation in Northern Minnesota. I read and reread it because the characters remind me of the people I grew up with and, as we all know, I’m a glutton for nostalgia. 

Outdoor Kids in an Inside World: Getting Your Family Out of the House and Radically Engaged with Nature by Steven Rinella. Just the title of the book was enough to make me buy it. I struggle as a father raising kids with so much technology at their fingertips. Finding balance for myself is hard enough, but then to help my kids with it often seems impossible, at worst, and overwhelming at best. One big thing this book made me realize was that if I want my kids to value being outside and getting into nature, I need to value it more myself by doing it first. They absorb what they see us absorbing. One of most practical and easy ways for me to do that? Build more campfires in the backyard.  

I just finished watching Barry on HBO Max. I enjoyed the first season most. The whole show is such an odd premise: a hired assassin takes an acting class. It had a dark humor I appreciate across the board, like Coen Brothers meets Parks and Rec.

Last Chance U (Basketball) on Netflix. This show inspires me. It’s about junior college students, trying to make it as basketball players. There’s so much on the line. Many already have kids. Their coach, Coach Mosley, reminds me of Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights. Actually, that’s it. Last Chance U is Friday Night Lights, except if it were a documentary about community college basketball.

3 of 3

(The YouTube version of this post is here.)

On Songwriting: Paint with the Brushes You Have

When I began learning to paint, I kept thinking if I bought a better brush or different paper, I’d get better faster. Truth is, those were just excuses for not painting.

Every time I paint, I learn more about painting than watching 20 YouTube tutorials and reading a book about painting. Don’t get me wrong, added instruction is helpful, but it’s essentially worthless without me actually painting.

As for songwriting, whatever you have to start with will work. You don’t need anything, really. To write a song, you need your thoughts. Those thoughts turn into ideas, and those ideas eventually turn into concepts that you can organize with nothing other than a working brain and your singing voice.

Sure, pen and paper, an instrument, a basic understanding of theory (this post!)—all that can be helpful, but not necessary. You’ve been listening to music your entire life. You intuitively know what to do.

No more excuses. Write with whatever you’ve got. Paint with the brushes you have.

Ok, that’s it for this week. Thanks for reading! As always, feel free to reach out to me for any reason.


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