Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Evolution of a Song...

A good friend of ours and one of the drivers of our charity team "The Love Bus," Stacy Jones, mentioned to me that she liked the "behind the scenes conversation" of what songs we were going to play with L Shaped Lot at Floyd Fest.  That gave me the idea of writing about how we came about playing the great Phish song "Rift."

First of all, Phish is one of those bands that live music fans typically either really love or really hate.   Musicians can approach it a little differently because the music those four guys make is on such a higher plane compared to what's out there these days.  The pure compositions can make even be-bop jazz, which is also a complicated style of music, seem simple.   One has to look to the likes of Steely Dan, Frank Zappa, and the composers of orchestral music to find compositions of similar complexity.  And even then you still are hard pressed to find anyone who flows deftly between genres of music while maintaining such a high level of creative output.  It is from these aspects of their music that BDL draws a lot of inspiration.  Joey has never even seen a live Phish show but has dug into Trey Anastasio's playing on a deep level.  On the other hand both Scotty and I have seen a lot of shows.

I can remember the genesis of the idea pretty clearly.  Joey was learning a couple different Trey solos, and one of them was "Rift."   I got my banjo and said, "You know, the intro and the piano solo of that song are perfect for the banjo."  I started playing it, and we laughed about how cool it would be to learn the whole song and perform it.  At that point it was nothing more than one of those, "Wouldn't it be cool if...." ideas.  (We have a lot of those.)  Throughout the weeks he kept learning more and more of the guitar solo (it's a very long guitar solo), and we figured out what chords were being played underneath; the two of us would play a little bit of it during soundcheck through the late spring and early summer months.

Around the middle of the summer, Ashley came up to us and said, "We should really figure out something special to play at the Big What Festival in late August."  As a lot of you know, this is a very small festival compared to the likes of Floyd Fest and some others that we play through the year.  But the difference is this festival is hosted and attended by all the people that we consider family.  Big Something was the host band, and we've developed a very deep friendship with these guys.  The land owner, Jeremy Bell, is one of our favorite people in the whole world.  And it's held at a place called Possum Holler!  It's the perfect storm of awesomeness.   And Wook was right, we needed something special.

So a few weeks before the festival, we met at our super secret Shelby shed space and started working on the song.  First of all, it's just a hard song to play.  One of the driving forces behind us learning it is knowing that if we could pull this off, it would blow some peoples minds.  There are very few bands that would even attempt it, much less be successful, and we loved this challenge. 

Let me give you an idea of what this song consists of.  If you play every note from one "C" to the next octave "C" you'll play 12 tones in all.   A majority of the songs we're exposed to will have chords based off only 3 of those tones, such as a typical blues song.  Most pop songs you hear will have up to 5 chords from the 12 tones.   But not this song: oh no, Rift has a chord based on every single tone, 12 different chords in all types of different combinations, which is almost unheard of. 

We discovered that Scotty can actually sing the second part while playing this incredibly hard poly-rhythm drum part.  It blew our minds, really.  We spent a few days working on the song, and started wishing each other "good luck" each time we started playing it (a habit that we're still in, actually).  It started coming together and we realized that we might actually pull this off.  After a little break, we met for one last rehearsal before going to the festival.  We knew we had it at that point.  As we were packing up from that last rehearsal, I can remember a moment when Joey was walking around in a dazed fashion looking at the ground and talking to himself, saying "I can't believe it...I can't believe it."  I asked if he was ok, and he just looked at me an said, "I can't believe I'm in a band that can play Rift."  I knew exactly what he meant!

So there we are, at the Big What Festival and we finally get to the point that we've been looking forward to for quite a while.  We get Jeremy Bell onstage to recognize him for all the work he's put into the fest and say, "This song is for you."  (He's a huge Phish-head too.)  And we played it...all of it.  I think we were just as surprised in the moment that we were doing it as the audience who had no idea.  It was quite an experience.

You can listen to the whole show here.  

We also just played the Camp Barefoot Festival near Bartow, WV and saw the most amazing light show that we've ever witnessed.  The festival actually had to get permission from the FAA (yes, that FAA) before they could allow it.  The light show basically consisted of the strongest lasers that we've ever seen.  I'll add some pix from our good friend Andy Cox.  You should "like" his page and you'll see amazing photos from the best festivals in the Southeast.   He's also the photographer that got the picture of us at Floyd Fest by the big "LOVE" sign that you see in our last album.

The owner of this festival, Scott McClain, is a huge BDL supporter and is one of those people that got behind us early, inviting us to his festival twice, hired us to play his sister's wedding, and most recently invited us to stay Sunday night and play the staff after-party.  Our festival sets were fun, but there's nothing like playing a party for a big group of people who just worked their butts off putting on a  festival of this size.  They were so appreciative, and we were happy to do it.

And so here are some pictures of lasers so strong that they are regulated by the FAA.  

Before I sign off, I do want to say congratulations to Joey, who got married in Costa Rica just a few weeks ago. Congrats, Beth and Joey!! We love you guys.

--Brian (with lots of help from Jenny Viars) and BDL

If you'd like to help us out with street team email us at

See ya down the road. 

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