Because we love talking about ourselves, here are some thoughts on Phone Message Song, which is featured on our 2021 album Try It Now!
The storyline lyrics for this one really flew out of my noggin, coated with nerdiness and pop culture references. The idea is like a rom-com situation where this couple - a guy and a girl - have been friends for a while and everyone all around them can see they are made for each other, except they themselves: like Beatrice and Benedict in Twelfth Night to use one example. The line I often get asked about is "why all your friends think I'm gay." The point is to answer why the guy hasn't asked the girl out yet, when obviously they are perfectly matched. "Oh well," is the logical answer of their friends, "he just must be gay." Suddenly, though, our male protagonist realizes that he does desire her in a deeper way than just a friendship! The chorus comes from the 1958 film The Long, Hot Summer with Paul Newman and his wife Joanna Woodward. The film is a mashup of some William Faulkner tales, and Faulkner actually helped write the screenplay. I just threw that in there because I love Faulkner. Anywho, in one scene, Joanne's character asks her fiancee, played by Richard Anderson (the Six Million Dollar Man's boss (?), why he wants to get married and he gives a pretty dry, clinical, and what she calls a pitiful answer, and follows up with "I want you like a man wants a woman." That's pretty much it; this guy's confession that no matter the cost, he wants her to know that he wants to vacate the friend-zone and see if they can be a bit more than just good buddies. I tried to capture the innocence and naivete of a not-so-suave suitor. The African thumb piano solo, aka kalimba, aka mbira, was just a bonus. The band gets really stoked when we can nab an album credit for some irreverent musical accompaniment.
I love the low-fi vibe of this wistful tune. This song was fun to record for me since I got to exercise my rare and undercooked ukulele chops. On the song's bridge Pete showed up some mad finger plucking skills on the dangerous kalimba that, if played improperly, can result in a nasty bout of tetanus. Steve's smooth bass licks tie the song's parts together like a tasty ballpark pretzel. And the bass seemed to enjoy all the licking.
This song pretty much came in fully formed by Pete in terms of composition and structure. All Rich and I had to do was figure out what was rattling around in his brain. My memory of recording this final version is Rich and I face to face recording ukulele parts at the same time, with Pete singing off-mic to keep us on track. We don't do much of that, but it's always fun when we do. (As I write this, I'm working on mixing our version of Donovan's Sunshine Superman for a future album, and we did the same face to face thing, this time on acoustic guitars. More on that another day). We actually had another version mostly done, where it was Rich on uke and me on acoustic guitar, but we scrapped that one and started over for some reason. Once we had the ukes and vocal done, Pete recorded a cool little kalimba solo. We have gone back and forth over whether it's a kalimba or an mbira. Still don't really know. But we can all agree that both the kalimba and the mbira belong to the lamellophone family of instruments, even if we don't know what a lamellophone is. After that, the only thing left to do was record a bass part. I wanted a bouncy feel to it, and found that the best line for the verses was a simple romp straight up the major scale. That old Do Re Me finally came in handy after all, but for the record I have never licked my own or anyone else's bass.