Brian McDonald: A new Voyage.
Track By Track in detail - behind the songs that form the complex melodic pomp rock epic Voyage!
"Voyage" Album Song Notes
First, there is the obvious contradiction with the song title - no question
that this is the opposite of an intimate ballad. The rhythmic energy
matches the intent of the lyric of a soul yearning for another. In the
verses this in the form of reflection (e.g. "Now I'm standing on the bridge
looking across understanding, the place we use to come together when love
wasn't so demanding ." etc. ) After the last chorus section ends, there is
the sound of a single heart beating faster, then the music moves into an out
section where the opening/verse chord progression is restated musically with
more strength, urgency, and energy as the guitar lead harmonies and vocals
move across shifting time signatures.
Where You Are, Where I Am
The first idea that came for this song was the line in the choruses "Don't
let the world take this moment out of our hands . . . ") This sounded to me
like something from an old Motown tune; people that heard the early rough
idea of this tune started naming so many of their own favorite old songs.
In it's final form, the song turned out to be a bit of a nod to several
influences. It goes without saying that almost every rock or popular music
writer today owes an enormous debt to the innovations and song craft of
pop/rock groups of the 1960's from the Motown writers and groups like the
Beach Boys and the Beatles, either directly or through being influenced by
those who were influenced by them.
Early last year, as I was listening to
some old songs I had written when I was very young, the melodies, harmonies
and rhythms there when I first started writing rock tunes had their roots in
songs from these influential groups. I really felt this jump back to the
past after the strings had been recorded for the basic tracks and I sang a
scratch vocal to get a feel for the tune, so I knew this was on the same
path I wanted to go for along with the first tune I had written for this
release "Out of Time".
From the production standpoint, bringing in the string quartet and solo
cello for the song was a way of paying a bit of tribute to the Beatles. And
there is the short bridge section where the background vocals go off to more
of a layered approach reminiscent of a Phil Spector or Beach Boys harmonic
treatment. And the vintage synthesizer sound in the solo pulls you into the
1970's when you might have heard a Moog or Arp synth take a lead. Playing
with these fragments of the past created the backdrop for what are some of
my favorite lyrics on the album.
Shadows Of Angels
This tune was really a blast to record - from the vocals to the
"progressive" rock elements in the bridge and out section, each part was a
lot of fun to bring to life. While I recorded the rhythm guitars on this
one, the guitar riffs in the out section were played by Reb Beach and add a
great rock fusion feel.
Lyrically, at the heart of this song is the question of what happens when
life is over and will we ever see those we love again? When people have
lost someone they love, they sometimes feel as if they're living in the
shadow of an angel; that is, they feel as if the person is still here and
they can almost reach out to them. The chorus lyrics are made up of this
wondering and following this, deeper questions come at the end of the song
"Where do they run? On the wind of a Summer storm? Or in strength of an
eternal lover's arms? In the breath of a child's prayer? Do you believe? I'm talking to angels ..."
Musically, in the out section there is an underlying ascending riff played
by the guitars and bass that keeps repeating as the vocals and lead guitar
"search" over the top of it - this is meant to get across a feeling of
climbing the rungs of a ladder but you can't get past a certain point before
you slide back to the ground and start over again. This moving foundation
in the music for the last section's are mirror the lyrics that saying this
with words. All meant to portray being in a place where you might talk to
someone you feel is still there, but logic and unanswered questions keep the
mind in an endless loop. So, the song is not a statement of faith or of
disbelief, instead it's a restatement of one of the oldest unanswered
questions of all time.
Listeners are asking me who is the "Phoenix" and who is "Angel Blue" in this
song? The "Phoenix" is music, "Angel Blue" was a personification of people
who live and breathe music because it can't be separated from what they are.
They go anywhere and do almost anything to chase dreams driven by a deep
desire to be surrounded by music. This will end up taking you to some
interesting places - the lyrics focus on these things. So, the "Phoenix" is
both sublime as well as a force that speaks to primal instincts. Throughout
its history, music had been used for almost every purpose and intentions
imaginable; and sometimes, it seems to be alive itself as it hits the
airwaves and moves listeners.
Out Of Time
"Out Of Time" was the first song written for this album. I wanted to draw
upon the things I liked from writers and groups in the 1960's and 70's when
I first began paying attention to rock music. Lyrically, it's about a rebel
who has checked out of reality for several years and now comes out of her
haze still throwing punches at the world. As she wakes up she sees the last
person she remembers, a guy who is still crazy about her. The lyrics "I
thought I lost you, now you're coming through the door, out of time, feeling
like a stranger" - this is "out of time" from the perspective of feeling
misplaced in time, not of running out of time.
On the instrumentation side of things, The electric piano throughout the
tune is an old Wurlitzer and to me gives the song a bit of a 1970's pop
edge. Reb Beach is playing the lead solos and riffs as well as one of the
rhythm guitars - listen for the solo in the out section and the guitar
scream at the end. The chorus melody and harmonies in the vocals feel like
they could have lived in a 1960's pop song, but in this production treatment
they quite a bit more forceful than a 60's pop tune would have sounded.
My father was in the US Air Force, and as a boy growing up overseas in this
military environment in the late 1960's and early 1970's, there were a lot
of interesting experiences. In the early 1970's, we lived at Clark Air Force
Base in the Philippine Islands where my father was stationed. This song is
a personal bit of history from that time, where I encountered many emotions,
some hidden, some portrayed in a very personal way by GI's that lived
through a lot of intense events. Many people don't realize that in 1971/72,
the Vietnam War was still winding on and there were constant airlifts coming
across the South China Sea. Sometimes you would meet soldiers coming
through as well as civilian families; people fleeing their homeland,
displaced forever from their homes and villages.
So Patriot Dreams was from a situation very close to me and is based around
personal reflection on these times and the push and pull between my
patriotism and the realities of this war. At the end of the song, the lyric
fast-forwards to the present where it's now 2003 and my recurring dream
comes alive when what is thought to be real "shatters like a curtain of
glass" when the image of a young soldier with a bayonet appears out of
nowhere during a Veterans Day Parade. Though this ends up being yet another
dream, it's a personal realization that "the ghosts of chosen sons still
whisper secrets from the grave."
Musically, the chord progressions move back and forth from light to dark in
a trade off of major/minor chords and vocal lines moving above them. This
was a way to capture the mood I was after in the words - the importance of
honoring good people who have sacrificed everything, while also gaining
understanding of the personal paths we take in understanding past, present,
and future wars, and the love of freedom and other basic principles we hang
onto in times of crisis. Despite the conflicting emotions I continue to
experience, I believe strongly in honoring good people who have sacrificed
so much. In the case of Vietnam, it wasn't until many years later that
people would recognize the difference between men being called by their
country to fight and ownership of the political and military decisions that
brought them there. Now, I think most people understand that it's these
decisions that should be scrutinized before committing human lives to war
and to consider in a different light those who have willingly put their
lives on the line in the name of God and Country after the fact.
The Night You Said Goodbye
The only song that wasn't written specifically for this release, this tune
was written back in the 1990's and has more of a traditional rock ballad
form. I like it on the album, so thanks to Magnus Söderkvist who suggested I
re-cut this one and include it on this release.
This tune came out of a waking dream and seems to have written itself in the
15 minutes or so it took to bang out the lyrics, harmony, and melodies on
the piano. The theme is of a young man living in a port town in the late
17th or early 18th century, he sees a strange ship coming in on the ocean
("a sailing vessel yare, with a shape I've never seen") He hears the
captain of the strange ship call for crew to "sail her into fate". The
young man raises his hand, to the dismay of the older sailors in this small
port town, then he packs up and boards the ship which soon casts off. The
ship ends up being a time machine and he is off for more of an adventure
than he thought. At the end of the song, time is fast forwarded to the
present day; the young man is back, no longer a young sailor, but now is the
captain of this ship and looking for crew to set sail again.
The music has a progressive rock leaning, particularly in the middle bridge
and out sections. I've always been a fan of the Hollywood swashbuckler
movies of the 1930's - the violin solo in the bridge section and at the very
end of the song is a nod to Erich W. Korngold, who wrote the great music to
so many of those movies.
Between Heaven & Heart
The backing instruments on this song include the string quartet throughout
providing a nice background for this intimate ballad. The treatment is
sparse with the chamber orchestra accompaniment and light percussion until
the drums enter at the second verse. The lyrics focus on a man that comes
home after being away for several years and finds that the woman he loved is
no longer there. Paging through some old letters he finds lyrics from an
old song that he never thought was of any worth, but now the meaning hits
him in a different way - the song now speaks to the heart of where his life
Musically, the song builds slowly in intensity from the second verse but
releases at the acoustic guitar solo in reflection. The last chorus brings
in the string section and restates the central emotion of the song of a man
at the crossroads between heaven and heart.
One of the more intense story pieces on the album, this song has some deeper
roots. As a boy, learning about the Normandy invasion that took place
during World War II had a huge impact on me. This was partly due to the
environment I grew up in - when I was younger I would listen to soldiers
that had been involved in modern conflicts, it became very evident that
there was this underlying intensity of emotion in the things they said and
in the things they left out. So when I first read up on the Normandy
landings in my youth, this historical event hit me hard. It was, of course,
an event that happened decades before I was born, but I was fortunate to get
some first and second hand details of the event from GI's, friends and
family. It was always interesting to me that the men that were there didn't
go around broadcasting the fact they were there, even though this was one of
the most significant times of their life and critical turning point for the
world as well. This struck me as key to the character of those events and
of those who went through it and other major battles.
So, inspiration for the song came from reflecting on all these things; it
all happened so long ago, but it still has this impact. The story has been
told in a good number of documentaries and movies, but for me, I wanted to
do this song from the angle of personal reflection of learning these things
as revealed in individual stories. The lyrics are made up of snapshots of
this watershed event remembered, with the hard rock backdrop giving it the
edge and driving harmonic structure to push the idea through. To mirror the
lyrics via musical reflection, the out section has a series of chords
ascending in chords in the strings hitting dissonances in their own time
signature over the steady pulsing beat and ending on the powerful
destination chord to signify the success of the effort to get the allied
armies foothold on this territory that cost so many lives.
The introductory section was originally meant to be a very short orchestral
sweep into the main body of the song. To create a greater contrast and to
provide context for the story, I decided to create a longer introduction so
as to get the listener back in time to just before the event. Sounds and
news bytes in the form of clips from that time period were composed into a
orchestrated piece of music I wrote specifically to set up the main section
that kicks in very aggressively. The solo sections and riffs feature Reb
Beach on guitar who really kicks the emotion into high gear for the song.
Reb also added the cool counterpoint guitar on the tag at the end of the
tune that accompanies the news flash sound byte - this gives the finish an
World Made For You
This is story piece about a guy who will stop at absolutely nothing to
achieve for himself the fame of a star he is obsessed with. This came out of
a collage of stories I heard over a period of few years where I saw this
type of story unfolding in real life in two similar stories of obsession in
the news. When I turned this concept into a rock tune, I liked the impact
of singing from the vantage point of the guy that went over the top. In the
end, he gets the recognition he wants, but in a twisted sort of way - he
becomes famous for killing the star he was obsessed with and for his end in
the electric chair. As his life is ending he believes that he has achieved
the ultimate success and that he will finally meet up with his obsession.
Musically, this is a straight forward rock tune with some cool guitar riffs
and sections featuring Reb Beach - both the bridge section and out section
have some outstanding solo work.
This was a departure of sorts for me writing these lyrics - it's a summary
of the Arthurian legend in an extended rock song format. In form, it's the
most developed song on the album from a harmonic and melodic perspective
with the music painting a picture of this legend and also reflecting on it
(e.g. the lines "Legends and history are made of these, out of truth we
find so hard to believe, standing on ashes and rags of Kings - what are we?
Just the same it seems, made of dreams . . . " The song has many separate
parts which are all variations of the same harmonic structure. The
harpsichord throughout the song continues underneath it all and I had a good
time playing and recording it. It's featured at the beginning of the out
section which also brings in some brass section riffs to provide
counterpoint to the underlying uptempo progression.
This song came out of some very personal writing - the emotion is central
to my own life and how we're all trying to understand ourselves and the
people who have profound influence on our lives. There are multiple meanings
and intentions coming together in the lyric One facet of the song speaks to
the coming together of the pieces of an individual person - we're all made
up of so many parts, and at different points in our lives we have these
moments of realization where we end up understanding ourselves better.
Another facet is an invitation to the people closest to me; a call to
understand each other's need to trust and the importance of building and
finishing the "bridges" that span the divides between us as friends and as
The melody written for the bagpipes emulates an ancient aire to give a
feeling that these "bridges" between us go deep and are in fact very old
connections that have their roots in many past generations of family. The
choice of this instrument as well as the type of melody it is playing also
is meant to signify honor and trust. The cannon fire at the very end are
sounding the first part of an unfinished 21-gun salute; a statement of a
life that's in the middle of its course and not yet over.
Also, there is
some harmonic play between the blues-based acoustic guitar progression that
moves along with minor thirds and the vocal lines which move back and forth
between minor and major thirds in the vocal line at the beginning of each
verse - this was a way to give the feeling in the music of the two-fold
purpose of the song; a statement of the coming together of our day to day
interaction with others and the strengthening of the underlying bonds
between us. They are both part of the same "song", so to speak, but simply
putting them together is only the beginning of understanding the pieces of
ourselves and each other we find along the way.
Extra tracks on the Japanese release:
Language Of Love
Straight forward rock tune with lyrics focusing on how two people speak to
each other without words in the heat of passion. I was originally going to
record this at a much slower tempo with more of a swag beat, but it felt
great at this accelerated tempo when it was time to record; more of a sense
of urgency to it. The out section boosts the energy even further as the
rhythm section goes into double time -I'm playing the guitar harmonies and
you can hear a few Reb Beach riffs and stingers towards the end.
Only You I Need
Written for piano and voice, this song is about a man trying make sense out
of the love of two people ready to go their own ways. The lyric asks "How
can we leave this when only in moments like these we're alive?" In the end,
this question remains unanswered. Musically the lyrics are echoed by the
"inconclusive" hold on the suspended dominant harmony in the instruments. I
wanted to add this song to the album to add an intimate mood and dimension
to the end of the album contrasting the different sort of "intimate" that
opens the album.