Solitaire - The Power of One
I learned to play Solitaire when I was just a wee tot at my grandparents' summer cottage in the '80s. I remember sitting in my little red wheelchair at the coffee table, looking for direction from my Papa who sat across from me on the couch, puffing away on his pipe as he laid out the cards in front of me. "Lana-Bana, black on red, red on black, work your way down from King." Like any other game you eventually reach that win/lose moment. UNlike any other game, however, in Solitaire you are the one who decides whether or not you keep going. Maybe you missed something that would ensure the rest of your cards made their way to the coveted four decks, aces on parade. Win! Keep going. Maybe you're left flipping three cards at a time, over and over to no avail. Lose. Either way, it's all you. You can switch up the rules, reshuffle and start again or just stop altogether, go drink some eggnog and play again later. Whatever. It doesn't matter because your only opponent is YOU.
At the risk of sounding like a self-help book on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, you are in charge of you. You've got the power. You (I) need to remind your(my)self of that time and time again, especially when falling for someone new for all of the wrong reasons. It's almost like you can foresee the heartbreak. Wouldn't it be nice to opt out of the game, mostly because you've played before and it wasn't pretty? Just turn off the feel switch and move on? If it were that easy, I bet Solitaire would be the broken-hearted population's game of choice in order to preserve and protect themselves from future breaks. Please don't mistake the message, though. "Solitaire" (the song) is not about building walls or letting fear win. It's about finding independence, confidence and inner-strength when you need it most.
I showed "Solitaire" to my producer, Steve, almost three years ago, at the same time that I showed him "I Wasn't Crazy." His eyes lit up for "Crazy" and he was less than thrilled over "Solitaire." It was okay, though, because at the time it made sense for me to work on "Crazy" as the feelings were fresh and it was the newest chapter in my story. (It's all about timing.) I tucked "Solitaire" away with the thought that it might never see the light of day again. I was writing a ton and putting so much of my energy into perfecting my new material that I didn't think "Solitaire" would care--but it did. It kept knocking on my door and I kept bopping my head and tapping my feet to it. Listening to my messy, unorganized demo, I craved to recreate it. I was a bit addicted to the hook and I thought, this song is by no means a masterpiece, it isn't going to break any musical molds but it makes me smile and it makes me feel good. For that reason alone I felt it was important to get it out there as it may give someone else all of the same feels.
As Steve and I began to build production, I had already decided on a vocalist and was very excited to work with her. She was someone Steve gave me the name of a few years ago that I absolutely loved but needed the perfect song for. Well, over the past few years she found much indie success as the lead singer of a Boston-based band and was unable to join my project when I reached out to her. She was sorry but she was relocating to New York City, going on tour and recording her band's next album. I was truly excited for her but very sad for me. I stupidly assumed that because no singer had turned me down yet she would be no exception. I was crushed. I began looking for other singers but my heart just wasn't in it. Everyone sounded the same to me, I heard nothing special, I felt no sparks. I was ready to throw in the towel and put "Solitaire" in my Demo's 4-Evah catalog. I was feeling pretty defeated.
I bet you feel a "But then..." coming on. Am I right?
But then (yes!) one day I was listening to covers of Hailee Steinfeld's "Starving." I love watching other singers' takes on popular songs. This wasn't research anymore, it was just me obsessing over a new song and wanting to hear every imaginable version of it. In my jam session for one I came across Brazilian artist Anny Dias. I listened to her over and over. Talk about a voice that totally catches you off-guard. My ear drums were tingling - her voice was unbelievably cool. So cool that I listened to her entire YouTube channel (more than a few times), her SoundCloud page and found her on Facebook. I recognized this feeling. I had a bad case of Vocalist Obsession (stalker!) and I was determined to add Anny Dias to my growing list of featured artists.
You'd think the odds would've been stacked against me when I realized Anny lived in Brazil. I wavered ever so slightly--I did--but I wasn't giving up. I had nothing to lose and decided to send her a message. As I began writing I remembered that it was 2016 and FaceTime/Skype sessions existed. Hopes? UP. Way, way up. We could do this! Anny responded quickly to my message and she was excited. I had to read her response a few times to make sure my eyes weren't playing tricks on me. They were not! She really wanted to record my song! But who was I? Just a stranger from a few thousand miles away. (That sounds like a song lyric...filing that one away for later.) Seriously, though, I could be a total scam artist pretending to be a songwriter. How would she know? For some reason, however, Anny decided to trust me. I was pretty psyched and didn't even totally pause to think about obstacles, I only forged ahead.
English is Anny's second language and even though she can sing it beautifully, Skyping/FaceTiming wasn't ideal. We settled on emailing. Not only is Anny a singer but she is also a songwriter, producer, guitarist, pianist, videographer and recording artist. She has bucket-loads of talent, to say the least. She is also sweet, open-minded, creative and willing to do whatever I asked for the song. Although working with Anny was relatively easy, considering our only communication was through email and Facebook messenger, it showed me that working this way required much patience. It's a completely different experience for me not having live recording sessions with the singer of my song. Instead of giving her notes in real time (i.e. "sing it higher here," "throw a harmony in there," "let's try some ad-libbing") and receiving instant results/gratification, I spent hours alone listening over and over to each and every vocal file she sent, making notes and sending those notes back to her. It's not easy to get your tone, point and meaning across in emails. Not only that, but I missed the working relationship and personal connection I developed with other artists when working face-to-face in the studio. Regardless, Anny proved to be a total professional, understood each and every note I gave her and delivered an incredible vocal performance. Her voice is so unique, her accent adding a huge dose of special to "Solitaire." Although Steve loved Anny's voice, he wasn't convinced that her accent was going to work with the wordiness of the song lyrics, making things tricky with timing and clarity. We tried cutting some words and rephrasing but I was too married to my lyrics at that point. In the end, Steve worked it out (no surprise there) with only some minor nagging and whining on my part. I have loads of faith in Steve and his talent so he doesn't mind. Right, Steve?
Since we weren't working with Anny in person, our sessions didn't always require a recording studio. While we started out in the studio, Steve also worked at his home studio in Newport as well as traveled to my house on the south shore a few times. It was a different way of working for us and, for this particular project, worked out okay. That being said, I definitely prefer the energy, hi-tech gear and sound-quality of a recording studio. Let's just say the Altec Lansing computer speakers I received as part of my high school graduation gift don't really do much for the ears. Then again, how many people can say they've kept their subwoofer and speakers for 20 years and still party like it's...1997?
Recording guitar was one session we definitely needed to book studio time for. It wasn't until Anny's vocals were in place that I became convinced guitar was the missing component of the song; what would give "Solitaire" it's "love handles," so to speak. Although Steve had a guitarist he planned to record with at his home studio, I felt strongly that it had to be a guitarist whose talent and passion for playing and recording knew no bounds...no offense to the guy Steve had in mind. For this particular project I wanted a musician that I trusted and was already familiar with my music, so I asked my friend and insanely talented musician, Cory Paza. If you've kept up with my blog you already know Cory played bass at my Hard Rock show a few years back. He also directed, shot and put together my first music video for "Euphoria." Cory killllssss at bass and also plays drums and guitar, is a member of about twelve different bands, produces, teaches, directs, photo and video-graphs and, well, is pretty much the jack of all trades in the music business. Our session was a total success with Cory's melodic ideas, professionalism, comfort in the studio and, most importantly, super smooth playing. "Solitaire" finally sounded like the song I heard in my head but couldn't quite make happen all by myself. Excitement ensues.
After a LOT more of Steve's magical production dust, my notes, his tweaks, my patience and our time, "Solitaire" was complete. Rough mix one, two, three. Final mix one, two, three, four, five, fiveA, fiveA2...Master. MASTER!!!
I made a promise to myself that I would be an open blog about my journey, discussing not only the ups of music-making but the downs, too, as is life. Writing "Solitaire" was exceptionally easy, as I'm alone with my own thoughts, ideas and creativity. If I want to change something, I change it. If I love something, I leave it. Recording "Solitaire," on the other hand, was one of my most challenging projects to date. When it became time to add others to the mix (punning!) I began to get a bit, er, annoyed, to put it mildly. Not only do opinions and ideas oftentimes clash, thus causing me to question my own ears, but it is also very trying to work around others' lives; to fit into each others schedules all while making sure the music remains a priority. Patience quickly runs dangerously low--or out altogether. It can get incredibly frustrating, especially when you become too convenient. That's one thing I've learned over the years: Don't become the "okay, no problem!" girl. I still matter and so does my music.
That being said, I would never choose to make music alone. Yes, I'd like to better understand production software, know my way around an orchestra and even dream of building my own recording studio someday, but only to become a better musician. So while Solitaire may be the game of choice when it comes to protecting my heart, when it's time to make music -- GREAT music -- I want all hands on (the) deck. 😉
Please, if you're a fan of smiling (who isn't?!), check out the Official Video for "Solitaire" featuring all of my little loves. My niece, nephews, cousins, and babes of my closest friends are not only the stars in my sky, but they are the stars in my video. Pretty darn special if I do say so myself. Every time I watch this video I laugh, I cry and I am reminded of how fortunate I am to be on this musical journey, for every mile seems to get ever more beautiful the farther I go.
"Solitaire" has also had some presence on the air waves thus far. Not only did it premiere on 95.9 FM WATD on New Year's Day but it has been played on Boston's #1 Hit Music station Mix 104.1FM and has been picked up for regular rotation on over 60 radio stations in Europe via Deuce Music Radio show. Whaaaaat!? One little idea turned into one bigger song which turned into one heck of a ride. The power of one.
Thanks for keeping up with me and my music and for your continued support and love. I'm living my dream right now, people. Completely.