Behind the Music in Tennessee River Shakedown: Half a Mile From Heaven

Half a mile from Heaven is the second track on the record and the second song that was written for it (we break that trend with the album's third song).  I actually wrote the song front-to-back instrumentally while driving myself to a pre-check for a colonoscopy. #TMI  I guess that prospect put me in a good mood? #SMH #TMI

Anyhow, when I came back from the appointment, I picked up my guitar and quickly found the chords and the key (C) to go along with the Bb (flat 7) that frames the song's transitions.  I wrote the verse part around a bass line idea I had heard in my head--and Jimbo Hart actually plays that part on the actual track.  (also: the chorus bass line on that tune is one of my favorites of Jimbo's and that really says something because he is freaking amazing. And no, I didn't have anything to do with writing that or any of his other parts on the record).

When we got in the studio to track the tune, guitarist Will McFarlane started messing around with some Keith and Ronnie sounds and that of course was VERY exciting to me as a lifelong Stones fan.  I told Justin Holder that I wanted the song to be a dance song that was dressed in a rock song's clothing.  I think he achieved that feel quite nicely.

The tracking of the song happened really quickly on this one--and that was cool. What was NOT cool was that the vocal line I had written for the verse completely sucked.  Seriously, it was TERRRIBLE.

The good news is that we had scheduled six weeks between when we were tracking the instrumentals and the vocals in order to accommodate Jimbo's (and Jason Isbell's) tour schedule. So, I had some time to fix it.

In that same session, we laid down the basics for a song called “Not Alone.” Jimbo really liked that tune and so he had engineer Spencer Coats put a whole bunch of slap delay on the vocals that were recorded live while we were tracking. During playback, we all remarked that the vocals sounded a whole lot like John Lennon on the double fantasy album (the effect, that is!).

Anyhow, that effect made me think that a Lennon vibe might be something that could tie the room together for the record, as the songs we were recording seemed a bit too eclectic for an EP. So, I drove back home that night from Muscle Shoals thinking about how I could make Half a Mile from Heaven sound more like Not Alone?

A week later, I was watching a movie with Kaye, and the Beatles' “Glass Onion” came on. The moment I heard that track, I was like “Hey, THAT is the sound I need for the verse on Half a Mile!”  So, I started messing around with some vocal sounds/vibes on the computer. The question I was playing with was “What would happen if Mick Jaggar and John Lennon had a baby together?”

A few weeks later we found the answer on the verse, they would have a child that sounds a lot like a cross between Tom Petty and Elvis Costello….

Couple other production notes:

(a) After a long day of vocals, Spencer Coats listened to the playback of the bridge and was like “man, why don't we just fuck around with you doing some crazy shit. Like, just go in there and sing a bunch of ooo's and see what happens?”  A hour later, I'm standing at the back of Studio B doing these operatic falsetto “ah's” that were eerily reminiscent of the falsetto scene in the Queen Movie Bohemian Rhapsody.  I literally have never had more fun singing in my life!

(b) The bridge breakdown was entirely Jimbo's idea--the way the bottom just drops out.  There's also a cool bass inversion they did with Jimbo's bass line such that the line that climbs into the final chorus is actually jimbo's part played backwards on the computer.  Its cool.

Lyrically, I had just heard a Podcast with Shania Twain where she said that good songwriters use bridges to crystalize the story of a song in 8 bars or less.  Well, I clearly don't know what I am doing then as a songwriter, but for that one song, I made sure to follow Twain's advice. So, if you want to know what the song is actually about, listen to the bridge!

More later.   Thanks for listening, and turn this song UP!

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