On why we repeatedly rewrite, rearrange, or remix our songs
This one is gonna be long…and rambling. Forgive me.
It started in 1998 when Alec and I were in underwater. We had just finished recording our first LP, I Could Lose, and we were about to do a live radio performance on WRAS in Atlanta. There was one song on the record, “Sub:Space”, that we weren’t thrilled with, the production and mix really didn’t work. Unfortunately that particular song was our favorite and we’d always planned on it being the single. We knew we could do it better. On top of that I had begun to play guitar a lot more. We had gotten really into droning guitar noise and gritty ambient textures, we were listening to a bunch of bands from the Kranky record label. So, we had an idea to rework five songs from I Could Lose with more sparse, guitar-based arrangements that we hoped would translate better on a live radio performance than our standard synth pop-trip hop set. It was exciting to take songs that had existed in one form for years and turn them into something entirely different, something that felt fresh to us. The radio show went well and afterwards we released the new tracks as EP 1. Even though the mastering on the EP could have been better, we had no mastering skills or gear at the time, that version of “Sub:Space” was the version we would play live for the remainder of our time as a band. A few months later we did another radio show and for that we (mostly Matt) created EP 2 which was quite the opposite of EP 1, entirely electronic remixes. Years later, after our second LP, This is Not a Film, Matt and I created EP 3 from five songs on that record - it was sort of a mix of the previous two, remix based but with reworked and extremely processed guitar parts.
In 2001 underwater broke up. Since then this trend has become a way of life for me. Alec and I were briefly in a band, The Wrist vs. The Futurist Party, that recorded almost exactly the same record twice because, again, we thought we could do it better. Then I was in Allegra Gellar for something like 7 years. We once recorded a record, Even The Color Green Will Leave, scrapped it and re-recorded it. The second version became our third album, Cassette, and ended up being our best selling record ever so we did something right. A couple songs that we abandoned from Even The Color Green Will Leave would eventually be reworked, along with a couple songs from our first album to complete our fourth album. It’s confusing. Eventually the members of Allegra Gellar were joined by Daniel Kopton on drums and started a side project called International Grey. International Grey only officially released three songs but half of our live show was shoegaze versions of Allegra Gellar songs. Then two unreleased International Grey songs we reworked with acoustic guitars and made their way onto the last Allegra Gellar record. Eventually, when D and I decided to start We Are Parasols, we reworked the International Grey single, “Maybe You Won” into the opening track for Infrastructure, “The Fool” and we reworked the song, “Maps of Florida” as “maps_v3” for our bite your_tongue.EP (Yes, versions 1 and 2 were both originally performed by International Grey and Allegra Gellar.)
That brings us to We Are Parasols. I think we’ve taken this process to a new level especially when you consider that our entire band started out as a reworking of a previous project just called Parasols. Parasols was sometimes my solo project and sometimes D and I learning how to work together. Most of the first We Are Parasols record, Infrastructure, was a reworked collage of Parasols tracks with a few covers added, including an underwater cover. Honestly, there were really only two new songs on that record! Since Infrastructure we have written a lot of new songs, Inertia and No Center Line were both made up entirely of new material. - OK, even there I sort of lied. There are two short instrumental transition tracks on Inertia, “in the code” and “new blood” that were underwater demo tracks from 1998 that we salvaged and reused.
Two of the We Are Parasols releases, bite_your_tongue.EP and the new EP, re:mixtape, exist for exactly the same reason as the underwater EPs, we devised a very specific sound and live setup for a series of shows and reworked existing songs to fit the format. But certain songs, “No Movement”, “Pollution”, “hush”, and others just keep getting reworked. Now might be a good time to mention that we have a collaboration record with the guys from Bloody Knives called Last Ice and that record, still to be released, has reworked versions of all the tracks from No Center Line as well as reworked songs from a long abandoned Bloody Knives record.
So, why? As I’ve mentioned, sometimes it’s to fit into a specific live show format but mostly that’s not it. Mostly it’s searching for a new pattern. It’s finding something new in a piece of art you thought you’d already explored as fully as possible. It’s knowing that there is no perfect version, only different versions, probably better and worse versions, but more likely just versions that express different elements of the same piece more clearly while obscuring some other elements. The song “No Movement” (the Infrastructure version) was the catalyst for the entire Inertia record. In so many ways Inertia was us exploring the story at the core of “No Movement” from as many angles as possible. And still, after all of that we thought there was still more in that song so we tore it down to it’s bones and rebuilt it as “Feel Machine”. To me, “Feel Machine” doesn’t just exist as a new version of “No Movement” but as an entirely new creation that is leading us down a different, whole new path.
I’m not one of those people who has trouble finishing things. I finish nearly everything that I start, I’m kind of obsessive about it really. But for some songs as soon as I’m finished I’m ready to tear it apart and start over from a different perspective. And even though I started this post by talking about an underwater song that we were unhappy with, that is not at all the usual reason for this process. The We Are Parasols songs that we’ve reworked are actually our favorite ones. We couldn’t bear to keep looking for some deeper truth or more honest way to express an idea if we didn’t absolutely love the song. Every version of “Pollution” has something about it that made it the perfect version for the time. I have never once been bored with “dim” but somehow we found a way to tell the same story a little differently when we reworked it as “On Small Screens”.
So…I guess I am searching for a kind of perfection but it’s in spite of knowing there is no such thing as perfection, at least not universal perfection. I think I’m trying to write songs that fit perfectly into certain moments and also songs that are strong enough, but pliable enough, to be completely disassembled and rearranged to be absolutely perfect for some other moment too. A friend told me that he really likes how static recordings are, that you can go back to them at different points in life and they will be the same even though you’ve changed. He finds comfort in that and I do too. I just don’t think songs are static. The only way a song ever stays the same is if it’s never played again…or heard again…or even thought about.
Finally, here are three examples of how songs have been reworked by D, Alec and I over the last few years.
The first version was a Parasols song. It was instrumental and D wrote and recorded the bass part.
The second version added the vocals, lyrics and the concept of an android sex worker who would become the protagonist for the Inertia record.
This version was reworked to be played during our minimal ambient guitar/piano based live sets.
“Feel Machine” strips the song down to its essentials and most importantly it’s essential emotion, anger. As much as I loved the somewhat slick and very “musical” arrangement of the original version we felt like simplifying redirected the focus to the vocals and lyrics.
This first version is again, Parasols. This is all just me actually. I was watching “Treme” at the time and it was very inspired by both the music and the devastation of New Orleans. D and I made the video together and credit We Are Parasols as the director. That’s the first time the full band name was used.
This version adds the vocals as well as a ton of new musical elements. It’s bigger and more distorted than the original with a focus on destruction.
Like “n.mvnt.mov” this was created for the live show at the time.
The newest version - Created for the new live electronic-duo set. The drums are all completely reworked by Alec and the chorus reaches a new level of distortion. To me the level of anxiety and rage in the song has continued to escalate as our anxiety and rage over climate change has.
“hush” was built entirely on loops and textures Alec created. It’s big and lurching and a centerpiece of the Inertia story.
This version was already built and recorded by the time we finished the Inertia record. I realized I could play the melody of Alec’s loops on a piano and strip the song down to its core emotions; sadness, fear…and a very anti-gun sentiment.
For re:mixtape we split “hush” into two different tracks. This is the first, “Hushed”, based on the intro to the original song but with added piano, vocals, and lyrics.
Finally, “Plug+Prey” mixes the original core of “hush” with the piano from the the second version on top of entirely new beats. As much as we love the Inertia version it was a sluggish drag to play live so for the electronic-duo set we seized the opportunity to inject it with a little adrenaline.