Finding My Way Back: Conclusion
Are you there, blog readers? It's me, Arlanna. I didn't want to leave you hanging on the edge of that cliff for too long.
Where were we? Oh yeah—Luke.
It had been quite the harrowing ride trying to find the most perfect artist to feature on my song "Find Your Way Back to Me." I always pictured myself holding tryouts for this kind of thing: sitting in an empty club (think Peach Pit After Dark) with a clipboard and pen (not sure why I haven't upgraded my thoughts to the 2010s but just go with it) calling out "next!" as each person takes their turn on stage, one worse than the next. I become more and more frustrated, holding my head in my hands, rolling my eyes, pulling my hair out, crying out "I'm done! I've had it! I give up!" I throw my clipboard on the floor and begin to walk out (again, go with it) and just as I get to the door, I hear the first strums of a rich, acoustic guitar. Whoever is playing, damn, they know their way around the strings and frets. I hear a second acoustic, a third. I continue to listen, my back to the stage, my hand on the door, more confused than Kelly Taylor deciding between a trip around the world with Dylan or an engagement ring from Brandon. I hear someone playing the shaker. How many people are on stage right now? I hear a voice. "I know I could lie but I'm telling the truth, Wherever I go there's a shadow of you." I know this song. I love this song. I love this voice Finally I turn around and there, inside a single spotlight is one fellah wearing one Scally cap, playing one guitar with one shaker and one loop pedal at his feet and he's singing one of my favorite songs, "Wherever I Go" by OneRepublic. (Do you see a theme here?) I don't say a word but continue to watch and listen, making my way back to my seat. I pick up my clipboard, toss it on the chair beside me and continue to be serenaded in the Peach Pit After Dark by one of the best voices I've heard in too long. Not only does this guy know his way around a guitar but he knows his way around a song. He captured every note with a timbre all his own. I tend to get critical when someone covers one of my favorite songs by my favorite artists. I turn my nose up and "tsk, tsk." This was different; it was better. I continued to listen. This guy loop-covered song after song after song. "Perfect" by Ed Sheeran, "Say You Won't Let Go" by James Arthur, "Sunday Morning" by Maroon 5, mash-ups of Sam Smith, Taylor Swift and Charlie Puth; I heard Drake, Jason Wade, the Chainsmokers and, one of my more recent favorites "Sucker" by the Jonas Brothers. Then came a song that I didn't recognize (an original) called "Last First Kiss" and I knew—I had entered a whole new world and I was never going back.
Suddenly a pair of hands were waving in my face and I was transported from the Peach Pit After Dark back to my kitchen table, earbuds in my ears, Luke's YouTube page staring back at me from the screen of my laptop. "Lannnn...Lanaaaaaa....do you want mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes with dinner?" My Dad. I told him I was right in the middle of holding auditions for my new song and asked how dare he interrupt me. "Sweet potatoes, Dad. Sweet potatoes." Rather than staying annoyed, however, I knew I could retire my clipboard and pen because I had found the voice of "Find Your Way Back to Me" and, believe it or not, I was walking on air. I never thought I could feel so free (ee, eeee). But I was faced with a new, albeit familiar, challenge—getting Luke James Shaffer to agree to a collaboration. I decided not to even entertain the idea that he would be unreachable, too busy or :::gasp::: not up for it.
My Luke Discovery happened over six months after writing "FYWBTM," in January 2019. A new year had dawned and with it came a renewed sense of confidence that Luke, after months of searching, was the artist whose magic would bring to life lyrics like "through the ashes of a thousand fires there's a light that still burns within" and "don't notice you're breathing in time to the best part of your story." After sending Luke messages via social media and email, I received a response not 24 hours later. From the few paragraphs Luke wrote in the first of what would be many emails back and forth, I knew without a doubt that he was a tried and true artist. Case in point, he told me that he writes a song, or an idea of a song, every single day and could see how much writing music meant to me, too. "I appreciate people like you," he wrote. #worldmade
As Luke lives in DC I knew we would be working remotely. If you've been following my blog you know that my most recent experiences with remote collabs weren't without its challenges, however I had a feeling this time would be different, and I'm not just saying so after the fact; I truly believed that my most challenging moments with this project stopped when I found Luke. I was right. I'm about to state the obvious here but collaborating over the miles requires top-notch communication skills. Too many times I've dealt with laggy and/or unclear responders who don't read or listen thoroughly to what I've said. It makes for a very frustrating, nearly impossible experience all around. Then there's Luke, who gets an A++ in Communication (I minored in Communication in college, okay? So I know everything)—he is open-minded, listens to direction perfectly without me having to explain something 53 different ways, gives options and offers solutions. And, not that this is a must, but he does it all with perfect grammar. I'm just sayin', that's super hard to find these days. #diamondintherough
Luke only needed two passes at recording vocals which is pretty amazing considering we'd never met, had only communicated through email (where I'd told him the meaning behind the song) and he'd only heard demos of the song—mine and Steve's. The reason for the second pass was I felt that Luke's range would sit more comfortably a step lower and I also asked him for some ad libs. When Luke sent over the second pass he said that he hoped the ad-libbing was okay because he wasn't "great" at it. Perfect example of someone who seriously underestimates their abilities: the ad-libs Luke came up with are what stick in your head long after the song is over and also happen to be my favorite part. Also, fun fact: Luke is playing most of the guitar on this track. Kid does it all!
Once we had all the pieces, it was time to finish the puzzle. In other words, production time. This is where it always gets a bit sticky. Steve has mad production skills. Mad production skills. Steve does not have mad scheduling skills. In fact, I don't think I've ever met anyone with worse scheduling skills. True story: I offered to handle his calendar years ago as a side job. (So glad that never panned out because I'm pretty sure after working with him for nine years he is a lost cause in that department.) Luckily I have mad skills in patience. And Steve has mad production skills. Oh, right. I already said that. That aside, Steve and I managed to schedule a few sessions at my dining room table. One was mildly successful (Steve had this great idea for a clap sequence and the two of us clapped it out using my little Snowball microphone, Chrissy coughing in the background), one was downright terrible (Steve forgot the drive that held all of the song files and had to go home) and the third, well, that's when Steve the Wizard showed up in all his magnificence.
I often joke that Steve's last name (Catizone) fits him perfectly because he turns into a friggin tiger when he's in the zone, and he was in the zone that sunny day in May. I loved almost every idea he threw at me and he turned the composition that had been sitting in my head since day one into a super-reality. Suddenly, all the frustration and anger I had felt towards him over the last couple of months melted away and we created a song that made me look at him and say "Did I really write this?" He smiled and replied "You sure did." Later in the day, long after Steve left, he sent me a text that said he was listening to the song on repeat and this was our best yet. I agreed wholeheartedly. #pattingourselvesontheback #wearethechampions
The song was done and all I needed was the cover art, one of my favorite parts of finishing off a project like this. In my opinion it wasn't enough to feature Luke's voice on the track, he had to be the cover star, too. #youreasupermodel Luke's Instagram is pretty awesome to see. Not only is Luke a fantastic photographer, his friends are, too. I had my eye on one particular photo of Luke taken by his friend Red Eye Easy (aka Will). There were a bunch of photos I liked but this was my favorite—it seemed to capture Luke perfectly as a musician. I also loved the yellow-gold tone in the photo (my favorite color for those of you who don't know), his hat was super cool, there's a ram head lamp (hello), plus I had the same songwriting journal that is sitting on the couch beside him! #signssignseverywherearesigns I asked Luke if it would be okay to use the photo. Not only did he say that it was more than okay but he sent me a few others that I could choose from as well. Is this guy for real? Maybe I was still feeling the bruises from past cover fiascos but this was just so damn easy. I considered each and every photo Luke sent. I played around with the text and fonts but I was drawn back to the photo that is now the cover image for FYWBTM everywhere.
I don't know how I was lucky enough to find Luke, but that's exactly how I feel: lucky. Working with him not only restored my faith in the music business, showing me just how much talent is out there and willingness to put making great music above all the bullshit, but he restored my faith in people. Luke is open-minded, kind, patient, willing, eager, hard-working, dedicated and, best of all, lives and breathes music like me. This was a dream collaboration—seamless, painless, effortless. It was fun from start to finish and the end result makes me proud enough to say, if I may be so bold I wrote a really great song. Even better, I made a new friend and found my new favorite artist whose music is at the top of my playlist. (Literally, "Last First Kiss" and "How Sweet the Sound" are #1 and #2 at the in my Top 25 Most Played songs on Apple Music.) I share Luke James Shaffer's music with every person I come in contact with and hope to work with him again in the future, especially if the songs we make sound anything like this one.
Oh, you want good music....gooooood music? Then check out Luke James Shaffer right the heck now.