Finding My Way Back: Part One
2018. Remember those days? When Harry wed Meghan...Thai soccer team rescues...false ballistic missile alarms in the South Pacific...Biebs and Baldwin...tide pod challenges...death by crockpot...and, most important, Apple finally woke up and created ginger Emojis. Why did I underline this, you might ask? Because in 2018 I wrote "Find Your Way Back to Me" which, unbeknownst to me while writing, ended up being my most favorite collaboration with a totally amazing artist and super cool ginger named Luke James Shaffer. I mean, coincidence? I think not. But I'm getting ahead of myself. It wasn't an easy ride, finding Mr. Shaffer, but nothing worth having ever comes easy, am I right?
About 425 days ago, give or take, the summer season was waking up after a very long, wet winter. Perhaps you were crying into your iced lilac latté over the death of skinny jeans (I still wear them) and I had just returned from a day of zoning applications and pesky, incomprehensible by-laws. I needed something strong to clear my head so in addition to my usual cocktail of lemonade and iced tea on the rocks, I decided to treat my ears to a little album I fell in love with when I was 21 years old called Room for Squares by a one Mr. Johnny Mayer. My obsession with this album was at a time when I was writing a boatload of songs while beginning to think seriously about showing my music to others. The nostalgia of tracks like "Why Georgia," "83," and, ironically, "Back to You" hit me like a ton of bricks.
I was reaching an age milestone soon—reached it, loved it, moved past it—and beginning to wonder if my lack of full-speed-ahead writing was because I was getting old and tired and had nothing left to say. I missed spending an entire weekend in the recording studio where some of my favorite moments in life took place. I'm not one to embrace change of any kind yet it seemed like I couldn't get away from it lately. Not only with new jobs, friendships, loves lost and loves found but in music, too. These days collaborations come together—written, recorded and produced—with a laptop, a mic and a set of travel speakers by artists and producers all over the world in hotel rooms, on the beach, even from the comfort of a couch in the family room and, sadly, the absence of a live recording studio. I was feeling very out of the music loop. I hadn't worked with producer Steve Catizone in almost two years. His life had changed a lot, too and I hadn't seen anything new coming out of his world lately; I wondered if he was still making music. I hadn't performed at an open mic for a while, hung out with my favorite musical people or even seen a live show. I began to wonder, would making music ever feel the same again? Was I still able to write music I cared enough about to share? My pal inspiration went on a vacation and I didn't think he'd ever come back. Until that afternoon 400-something days ago.
While strolling around in my yard with John in my ear and Chrissy #lovebugpuppy on my feet, you could say I was epiphanized. Inspiration never left, silly rabbit, he had just been masquerading around as my most recent daily musings about finding my way back to what makes my heart pitter-patter (other than Chrissy, cookies and Dean Cain circa the Lois and Clark years); the same something that had remained constant and strong inside of me amidst all of life's changes: my love for creating music! :::cue a choir of angels::: Not only did I find inspiration, but I also birthed a chord progression, hook line and lyrical story all in the same afternoon! (It was one heck of an afternoon. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.)
It took me 25 tries to write "Find Your Way Back to Me" (and never with a bridge) until I was just okay with it. It wasn't until I actually sat down to record what I thought would be an unfinished demo that the song came to me in a magic, sparkly, floaty pink bubble from start to finish. (Think Glinda appearing before Dorothy in OZ.) Usually I listen to my demos for days, sometimes weeks before I'm ready to send them off to a producer. I criticize, criticize, criticize until I get so sick of myself that I send it with almost no expectations. This time was different. I listened twice through with a huge smile on my face and couldn't wait to send it along, this time with super, sky-high expectations. I was ready to find a singer and get crackin'. Wait—was that excitement I was feeling #wellhellotherestranger or did I just eat too much of my chimmichanga? #holaamigas
I had reached out (because that's the phrase we choose to overuse in 2019) to my old pal Steve to see if he was still working in the biz. Turns out he was in the process of opening up a new studio on the north shore which, unfortunately but not surprisingly, was not wheelchair friendly so if I wanted to work with him, it would have to be in the comfort of our own homes. I decided to go with it because I felt like this might just be a big song—I would still love and feel proud of it 10, 20, even 30 years from now—and Steve knew my sound well. Steve's response to my demo was what I had hoped for. He loved it, was excited (he doesn't eat chimichangas) and also complimented me on my production. There is a small wish I always make when I start working with a producer on a new song: please let them feel a connection to it because, if so, there is an added layer of determination and enthusiasm coming from both sides and that's when you know it'll be a real banger. (I don't know how I feel using that word, either. How did it feel for you? Natural? Ugh. I'll work on it.)
Just a few days after sending my demo, Steve sent me an mp3 explaining that it was a very rough cut of the song with some work done to it. Some work? Not only was it a beefier, stronger production but a totally different person was singing my song. A guy. Wait, I know that voice. Steve?!?! Even though he made some big changes to the falsetto parts, which allowed him to record them in his range, I was blown away by how cool it sounded. I had heard Steve sing some melodies while working on other songs and knew he used to play in a few bands back in the day, but I didn't realize he had such a rockstar voice. He explained that he heard a male vocalist on this song and wanted to get an idea of how that would sound. This is why we work well together; I had written this lyrical story from a man's perspective and never looked back.
We were off to a good start...until we hit a snag thanks to the smallish (huge) problem of me falling instantly, madly in love with the incredible voice of local artist Terence Ryan. Finding Terence was similar to finding Yuni Rain ("I Wasn't Crazy") in that he was the first singer I listened to in my search (thanks to Matthew Reid's radio program "15 Seconds of Fame" on Mix 104.1FM) and I didn't want to go any further. The difference between Terence and Yuni was that Yuni responded immediately, eager to work together. Terence...not so much. He didn't say yes, he didn't say no—he said nothing at all. I tried mutual friends, I left countless messages on every one of his social media accounts, I emailed his manager a few times. #crickets After about two months of my special stalking, praying to all the Gods of all the religions (it took me two hours each night to get through my prayers) and listening over and over to Terence's music actually hoping I would hear something that I didn't like about his voice, an email from his manager appeared. "Arlanna, Terence doesn't collaborate with other artists." My emotions went from the highest peak of a roller coaster to the parking lot in about 0.56783421 seconds. I'm no stranger to rejection but it took me a long time to get over that one. It may sound dramatic but just ask my family and friends. They might say something along the lines of "The names 'Terence' and 'Ryan' have been banned from all conversation with Lana." In the meantime, I soothed myself with Steve's version of my song. Sometimes I have such tunnel vision with my music that when one thing doesn't go my way I get whiny and bratty and, well, it ain't pretty. My advice to you if you find yourself around me when I'm in this state of mind? Duck.
It was around this time that I went to see A Star is Born (version four) and a new branch on my obsessive-compulsive tree sprouted and grew like a champ. Although I'm a dreamer, I did not try to "reach out" to Bradley Cooper's people with the hopes of him recording my song. What I did was I read every article out there with the words "A," "Star," "Is," and "Born" in the title so I didn't miss a thing about the making of the movie. One of the many (many, many, MANY) fun tidbits I learned while reading was that Bradley, who never considered himself a singer, became one for this movie due in large part to Lady Gaga's confidence in him, encouragement and love for his soulful voice. Of course, all of this got me thinking about my own song. Maybe I loved Steve's demo so much because "Find Your Way Back to Me" was meant for him. Maybe all he needed was my confidence and encouragement to make it the best it could be! Then, out of the blue, Steve asked me if I had heard any of the music from A Star is Born as it reminded him of my song. That was all I needed to hear! My decision was made—Steve would become my next featured artist. When I explained all of this to him he laughed nervously and said he was happy to record my song, but wanted to make sure we did what was best for it. I gave him no room to argue. Even though his version wasn't what I imagined when I wrote it—I would have to say goodbye to the falsetto hook that I wrote the entire song around—I'd get over it because this is what was meant to be! #ohLana :::smh:::
The first and only vocal session at Boston's Cybersound studio with Steve turned out to be a very strange day all around. Mine and Steve's roles were reversed—he was in the isolation booth and I was at the console hitting record, checking volumes and giving notes. More often than not I found myself saying things like "good, okay, but next time try to sing that chorus with a little more oomph" and "why don't we take five and give your chords a break?" It felt weird and just...wrong. I know Steve was worried about disappointing me. His voice quickly showed signs of strain from singing the same things over and over again. Doubt began leaking through the cracks in the wall of confidence I worked so hard to build. The more takes we did, the more frustrated I became. It wasn't Steve's fault, I was pushing him to sing a certain way that he physically could not. We both left the studio that day feeling very underwhelmed, to say the least. Bradley Cooper singing "Maybe It's Time" was not Steve singing "Find Your Way Back to Me." I do love Steve's demo and still listen to it now and again, but Steve wasn't meant to be the featured artist and we both knew it.
Fate works in mysterious ways; it's not that it didn't play a part, it just took me on a few detours. I was in talks—for a minute only, thank goodness—with one of the very first contestants on NBC's Songland (a show that I love, by the way) to record my song but let's just say his britches were about 20 sizes too small for him as he rode atop his extremely high horse. No matter how he tried to spin it, music was not his priority. This was an entirely new experience for me and a total deal breaker as well. It made me realize how lucky I've been to have worked with such incredibly humble yet overwhelmingly talented people thus far. As they say, you've gotta kiss a lot of frogs. #ribbit I am truly grateful, however, for this last little detour because not only did it not discourage me in any way, it fueled my fire to find the very best singer out there. Just when I thought I had heard them all, along came that magic, sparkly, floaty pink bubble once again, and a ginger appeared before me. No, not the ginger y'all are thinking of (pink crown, sparkly dress, wand). No. This was a man wearing a Scally cap and beard, holding his guitar...and his name was Luke.
To be continued...