Lyrics and Inspiration
The original lyric inspiration for the song came from my fans, specifically my friend Jon Gerome, who came to all of my shows when I started Unpaved Highway. I started by writing the verse’s opening lines: “I want everybody standing up in front of me. Stand up. I can feel you standing right behind me. Stand up.” For me it expresses how I feel during live shows. I effectively feel the audience's hand on my back, pushing me up, lifting me to do my absolute best. This is more than a call to raise your hands to the sky, so I take it further…. “Raise my assent like a church gallery. Lift me up. Restore my faith in a higher calling. Lift me up.” One of the greatest musical experiences I have had was going to a gospel competition at a church way outside of New Orleans. It was not only the music that was inspiring, but the people in the church that made the experience special.
The second verse reflects on our societal relationships. “We may be young, but we’re not getting younger. Live it up.” Particularly, I wanted to focus on youth and how we must use our inspiration TODAY. You might notice that it becomes less of a sentence structure in the second half. I drew more on charged words, knowing it is about “we” or “our,” but coming full circle back to how the “we” inspires “me” to keep the support alive. “With hearts alive, inspired, never compromise. Live it up. Bursting with passion, burning enthusiasm. Light my fire, ablaze with desire. Strike it up.”
I started with a lot of other ideas for the verses, but after careful consideration and feedback from my friend and writing partner, Brian Kaye, narrowed the themes down to these.
The pre-chorus lyrics go back to the opening theme of the cyclical nature of love and support via music. “That’s the power of Rock ‘n’ Roll. I give you everything, my heart and soul,” and “You give me strength, you give me all. Invite me in and let me touch your soul.” This last line refers to Paganini, who could shred on the violin, but also play the most beautiful melodies that would reach inside of you to find your soul.
The song uses “Stand Up” 44 times. Not a record, but is the thrust of the arrangement. The chorus is a fairly straight forward. We’ll stand up for your beliefs (political, religious, etc.), we’ll stand up for your feelings (injustice, celebration, etc.) and we’ll stand up for who you love (against disease, family, etc.). Whatever provokes you to take action is never a small event. It is an event that can strip you down and make you feel naked. But, that is why it is important to find like-minded people and generate enough verve to create a movement. “When you feel completely exposed. We’ll know why we’re set to explode.” The final chorus has a tag on the repeat to BE yourself, LIVE true to yourself and BELIEVE in yourself. BE + LIVE = BELIEVE. Yes I am aware they are spelled differently, but I am taking artistic license on this.
The bridge was mostly written by Brian. “When you stand with me I'll stand up for you. I won’t back down. We'll stand together for what is true.” I love how it turns the table for the artist to stand up for the audience and shows unending determination and camaraderie to defend the truth.
There are a few unintentional and hidden (in plain sight) references to the names of famous songs. Every element of the song draws from different artists who have inspired over my musical career.
I recorded the guitar parts in May, using my Guild and Carvin amp for all the electric guitar takes. I recorded 6 rhythm parts consisting of 3 distorted tracks, a cleaner (crunchy) track and a clean track up an octave. I also recorded extra octave up for the opening riff section that makes it sound like a keyboard or using a POG, but it is a separate take. The slide guitar parts were thrown in there on the spot. I did 4 takes over the F and G chords. I was not even sure if they would be used. We used the SM7B on the middle of the guitar amp, capturing the entire cabinet. It was loud. You could see the sound waves moving across my pedalboard, making the screen wavy, like heat coming of hot pavement creating a mirage.
Sometime later I decided that the riff sections sounded too barren on the repeats. They just needed something. In my home studio I brought up the bass track and looped it while I recorded a few passes. I had learned about fretting behind the slide from John Bollinger and it absolutely saved this part at the end of each phrase. I sent it to Dave for his feedback and he loved the part. Since I had played only against the bass, I inadvertently created two problems. First, it was too little without the slide part and too much with it for all three sections. My happy compromise was to keep it out the first time and add it the second and third times. The other problem took more time to solve. The background “Hey” shouts were good without the slide, but stepped all over the slid part. One morning I had an epiphany that the shouts could be moved when the slide comes in. You probably can’t tell, but they are a measure earlier.
We had considered several changes to the form of the song, mostly to make it a shorter song. For instance, the final chorus was going to have a guitar solo instead of the repeated chorus, which would have meant taking out the riff section before it and going from the bridge to the solo, then the “BELIEVE” part and out. Nothing we tried made a major impact and we settled on the original order of the parts.
It Takes a Village
The keyboard parts were performed by the keyboardist from Legasi. The parts were completely original and are the audio files he recorded in his studio. We considered using the MIDI files and different sample libraries, but after hearing them in the recording we knew that it was going to fit well.
The background vocals were arguably the most difficult part of the song, since it drives the audience participation and has to be impactful. The owner of the recording studio, The Cave, and our lead engineer, Dave Sogliuzzo, suggested that he bring in some of the neighborhood girls to sing the backgrounds. I conducted them several times through each of the vocals lines, since singing in time to the track proved difficult, until we felt we had enough to piece together the part. It was a great afternoon with the girls. Originally I recorded the lead and background vocals for the song, which sounded good, but we found that there was not enough differentiation between the lead vocal and the background vocal, even with the girl backgrounds. The girls did not sound grounded enough on their own, even with the great work of our mixing engineer, William Hall, so my voice was retained for only the backgrounds. Therefore, the hunt was on for a killer lead vocalist.
I found Tim Orrahood from the band Vaccine. Tim used my vocals as a guide. When he came into the studio he asked if he could change up the melody to fit his voice and style. I wanted him to make it his own and only provided guidance where it was necessary. One lesson I have learned is that my songs are not as easy to learn and perform as they may seem. In fact, it usually takes me a while to really get my melodies to sound smooth. Tim did an incredible job. He spent several hours recording the main vocal, backgrounds vocals and a couple spots where we wanted him to go over the melody to get a different performance. The end of the song was also really important to have Tim give his soulful flourish over the fading guitar. There was some consideration to end the song short on the last ‘Stand Up’ or to let the guitar fade alone. However, the guitar sounded naked which is why we had Tim give us some extra takes for the end. Trust me when I say it sounds best with Tim’s performance.
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