The making of "In the Water" and "What's the Color of Her Hair?"
Updated: Aug 30, 2021
In 2019 I moved into a house with a couple of friends in Antioch, TN, a town outside of Nashville. I had been living in the metro area for 6 years prior, but wanted out of it for a second. The years leading up to the pandemic had been extremely hard for me, as well as all of us. I had been dealing with mental illness and was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. Medication and therapy helped, but it was starting to not be enough. I decided to check myself into a mental institution to seek some form of treatment. There, I was a part of a group therapy program that focused on forgiving our past, learning better coping mechanisms, and finding ways to love ourselves. Sounds corny, but it was necessary. They inspired me to try harder at music and all other aspects of my life. Around this time, I began to discover the sound I’ve been inching towards since I was 12 years old.
At the house there was a two-car garage I would use as a studio. In the summer of 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic, I kept my JBL sub and M-Audio speakers in their boxes and brought them out every morning and hooked them up to the power strip I had on the tool bench. I would plug a Universal Audio Apollo Twin interface into my Macbook and load up Pro Tools or Ableton. I’d roll a green Game blunt and wave to my suburban neighbors “goodmorning.” Then I’d get to work.
Everyday that summer I’d spend about 8 hours in the Tennessee humidity sweating bullets onto my guitar. At the time, I was playing a Taylor Grand Auditorium acoustic - still am. I worked through old songs, new ideas, and collaborations with friends who would stop by during the day. Through those sessions, I was able to develop a sound that felt like me. I wasn’t trying to stand out, I was just trying to make something I wanted to listen to. That’s when the auto-tune really came into play.
I was obsessed with the texture auto-tune brought to my voice. When I was working on these two tracks, I committed to the hard tuning, and began to discover the beauty of sound design. I had been adding audio samples to my demos of people talking, babies crying, and bombs going off for years. I was learning how to build sonic universes.
When I first got the idea for “color of her hair,” I was Facetiming a friend and asked about my old girlfriend. He said she was good and working in a bakery. I started smiling and reminiscing. For as long as i’ve known her, she would dye her hair a different color every couple months (except for when she went blonde, that stuck around for a while. What a babe.) So I asked, “Hey man, what’s the color of her hair?” I hung up immediately and wrote the song as is pretty much.
For the production, I was out in the garage and plugged my acoustic guitar directly into the interface. I stood an SM57 directly in front of my mouth and performed the song in one take. Afterwards, I applied the auto-tune and was done. I was blown away with how rich the vocal manipulation came out on the track. There were two auto-tuned audio files panned left and right, one in the normal pitch, and one in a higher register creating this tenderness that countered the harsh electronic effect.
With In the Water, I had the hook for a few years, but I can’t remember when I wrote it, It had been floating around on my voice memos and hard drives for quite some time. The moment the song became a priority was when my buddy, Adam Brade, and I were messing around with reverbs and delays using a slide on an electric guitar. I recorded a few tracks, reversed them, and positioned them in a call and response kind of way. After that, I started adding the sirens, protest noise, and other sounds of mayhem and realized this was the right song for that hook. I added the stomps and claps, then had my drummer buddy, Aaron Trnka, record a version of the percussion and send the audio files back to me. After that, I had Marta Palombo, an incredible artist I produced in the past, write the background vocal arrangements for me to sing. Then I started working with some new friends and tracked the sub bass line thanks to Ohtom and Superb. Before I was finished, my buddy Allan Fine gave some final notes about the overall composition. We tweaked a few parts and called it a day.