"California," the intense, guilt-ridden John Murry song for which buzzy British blog The Line of Best Fit premiered the music video, started taking its final shape only when two scratch bass parts meant as an either/or proposition fit together as one.
Here's the embeddable music video.
The song appears on 'The Graceless Age,' out April 2 on Evangeline Recording Co. in the US. The album was among the best of 2012 in the UK from UNCUT Magazine, the BBC, and elsewhere.
The master built on basslines from an old Jerry Jones longhorn semi-hollowbody bass (of which Murry cryptically says "has a hell of a story of it's own, involving bank robberies and exploding dye packs and prison time"). Murry says, "I think that, of all the songs on The Graceless Age, it exemplifies what Tim [Mooney, co-producer] and I did together best. We'd built an entire song off of an out-of-tune bass, which accidentally helps give it that kinda drone-y, hypnotic quality. When we went to play everything else we did, like bells, vibes, and organ, Tim and I would have to pitch shift everything. It became a method, almost, limiting us to certain instruments and forcing us to experiment with messing with various organic instruments' sounds to create the sounds we'd normally get from specific instruments."
Murry says, "We stole the handclaps from another session we'd been working on for another band and then built the drum loop. Then we overdubbed the percussion. I played a bunch of weird guitar using an actual bow, an ebow, and a brass slide and wah to imitate the sustain of an ebow, and we reversed it on tape and made it warble by varying the speed, then recorded it again as it was being varied. We got the vocals done. It happened so quickly." Later, Sean Coleman overdubbed a piano part, which had to pitch-shifted from a piano that was slightly flat.
The writing came to Murry all at once. He recalls, "I was becoming addicted to narcotics – I'd begun abusing Percocet and Percodan and Vicodin and the like – and wrote it in a 30 minute wave of time; the kind of time I think Tom Waits is describing when he talks about songs 'coming through the window if you leave it open.'"
Contrary to the song's refrain ("I swear it ain't you; It's California I can't stand)," Murry confesses, "It's a bit of self-deception. California, as a State, isn't to blame for what happened. I am."