Tumble Child - A Healing Adventure [5-16-18]
by Riley Godleski
Tumble Child was my very first EP release of original material. Its first public release was on March 24, 2016. It was a collection of 8 songs (from 11 that were scheduled to be on the record and tracked drums for in-studio). What I intend to do now is go into some detail about the meaning of these songs and the inspiration that brought them to life. I’ll give some images I personally attribute to them and talk about situations that I had during the time of writing them. Then I’ll talk about how they were recorded. First I’d like to cover where my head was at at the time.
In 2010, my father died of lung cancer. I was there at the time of his death and the few days leading up to it. I remember holding his hand, streaming tears onto it, and watching him fade away for hours and hours. I knew he was in pain even though they assured me he couldn’t feel anything due to the high doses of morphine in his system. I just wanted him to be released from this pain but still had so many things I wanted to know about his inner-world. 2010 ended up being traumatic in many ways that sent me reeling for years to come.
I was spiraling into self-questioning and doubt as to whether I could ever make anything work again. After awhile, I began writing music again. As I began to write more and more, I felt like the music was a curse because it had been born of pain. I hid it away for that reason and kept it to myself. It was for myself that I had written it, after all. It was my healing process, my healing music. I realized soon that the music was instead a blessing and I wanted others to hear it. I got together with an old friend from high school, Jeff Lynch, and we set out to record what would become one of the most incredible musical adventures in my life to date. I will now describe each song on the EP by order of it’s creation.
Middle Of The Road - This was a song I had written in 1996 and recorded on a tape cassette. The first demo of it was just me on an acoustic and my voice hadn’t quite changed yet so it was an octave higher than the Tumble Child version. Other than the octave change and the lyric ‘second chance, second dance’, I entirely preserved the song as it originally was in 1996. I had recorded drums for it and imagined a trumpet line being added but settled on keeping it one acoustic, one vocal for the record.
I re-recorded it in 2015 on my home computer with an SM-57 for both the vocal and the old Epiphone guitar my dad had given me when I was 6. These were the tracks we used on the final version of the song. Jeff imported the tracks, cleaned them up a little and mixed them to fit the rest of the record.
Tumble Child - This song, with the exception of the chorus and bridge, was another song I had written long ago in 2001. It was basically the song as it is now up until the first chorus, so I preserved the lyrics to that point and wrote a second verse plus the chorus and bridge to complete the song. I had a dream during the process of refurbishing the song.
The dream was vivid and powerful. Me and a friend were sitting in a cafe across the street from a seaside cliff. Our waitress came by our table and asked us what we would like to order. We started ordering and suddenly the waitress looked out the window as if possessed. She wouldn’t look away. She slowly took her pad and put it on the table. Then she took her apron and set it on the table as well without ever looking away from the window. We stopped our ordering once we realized she started walking away from our table slowly toward the front door of the restaurant. She crossed the street and leapt from the edge of the cliff. We were horrified and ran to the window to see anything we could. She emerged moments later, climbing a bare tree that had grown off the cliff. She climbed to the very top branches, holding tight. There was an intense wind and her long dark hair was wildly blowing. Then we noticed the sky suddenly turn to a dark grey and a shadow come over the girl and her tree. Accompanying this was an emerging rumble and a whooshing that was growing in volume. It was a gigantic tidal wave heading for the shore!! Everyone started screaming but stood there in shock. I began to run to the back of the building and left through the back exit door. Instinctively, I just kept running, not looking back once. There was a big grassy field in the back of the restaurant with a line of trees in the distance, so I ran for the trees. When I had almost reached them, I looked back expecting a bunch of people to be right with me. But I was alone and the restaurant had been swallowed by the wave! It was no more… Where was my friend? Where were all those people? Why did that girl sacrifice herself to the sea with such will? In total shock, I walked over the tree line, short of breath. There was a small town on the other side of the trees and a backed up line of traffic attempting to escape the storm. The mayor of the town started walking beside me and introduced himself in a casual manor, not breaking a sweat, while I remained adrenaline-driven and terrified. “Why aren’t you running?” I asked. He said “What, this? Hey, it happens. It’s all how you react.” Then, the dream ended.
I wrote the chorus of Tumble Child as well as the bridge, to be an homage to the waitress that sacrificed herself to the sea, whether by possession or humble honor. I thought it was so beautiful, at a time when fear is so rampant and tensions are growing, to give yourself over to the power of nature. I wanted that to be the theme of my record. I wanted to be reborn through the song and learn to respect the natural course of the universe. During this song’s completion, I was really undergoing a spiritual renewal and sense of self beyond the body. And I had been so far from myself for so long. The last point I remembered being so spiritually intact was as my child self. My friend/partner Cindy mentioned to me one day that she was able to connect with her child self through hypnotism and she felt more whole afterwards: as if she and her child self had been reunited. I was really taken by her story and made that a mission of my own. I really admired my child self. He was so free and saw beauty in every corner of the world. And oh how the songs did sing through me! I wanted that back. I wanted to be the Tumble Child and bring my child-spirit into the present so I may channel it into the music.
I tracked the whole number at home and arranged with MIDI instruments using Reason. I put a scratch vocal down with my SM-57 and recorded my Jazzmaster electric guitar as overdubs. When Jeff imported it into the session in-studio, we ended up keeping the original MIDI keyboard tracks, percussion and Jazzmaster tracks from my home demo. I redid the drums & vocal tracks and Jeff replaced the MIDI bass with real bass as well as the lead electric guitar in the pre-chorus.
Shattered View - This song was originally conceived and demoed in 2004. I had been listening to XTC’s Nonsuch and Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds an awful lot - you can definitely hear the influence in this song. But I fell in love with the exotic nature of the MIDI steel drum over a kalimba. There was something about that combination that really got me in some way. I found this recording again in 2014 and decided to redo the song. The lyrics were foolish so I sat down with my ladyfriend Cindy and we came up with new lyrics. I had all the syllables as spaces and we filled it in word-by-word. It was definitely a 50/50 effort and in the end it was a really compelling story as well as musically dimensional. We definitely wanted to express something that was real for me at the time with the lyrics so she asked me many questions while we were brainstorming about how I feel about them. It ended up describing much of my own personal anguish but also my recovery.
I redid a demo of it with new lyrics at home using MIDI instruments, vocals and my Jazzmaster guitar. We carried through nearly everything to the end. We kept my MIDI bass track, piano, organ, kalimba, steel drum and gamelan vibe tracks from home. We also kept my original Jazzmaster electric guitar tracks. I redid drums & vocals and brought in a cellist/violinist to replace the MIDI strings. Once mixed, it definitely had a powerful presence. I hope one day to do a version with horns during the chorus.
How The People Dance - I have always been able to pluck from that ethereal musical plane, but sometimes more than others. I really will hear the music - perfectly orchestrated and prearranged - in my head and then I have to manifest it using my musical knowledge. Almost all of my music has been directly translated from that voice. How The People Dance was no exception. I was in the basement apartment I had in Hatfield in 2012. I had come up with the first half of the song a day prior. I had an intro, verse and chorus. But it had no ending. At this point it was instrumental and had no words. I often write this way to stick to the intuitive message, filling in lyrics later. I was sitting on my bed in the dark feeling just terrible and lost. This was the height of my depression that year. Through the absolute silence, without any distraction, I heard the most magnificent progression looping in my head. It just so happened to be perfectly compatible with the chorus of How The People Dance. I quickly took my phone’s voice memo app and vocally recorded the parts I was hearing. Then I figured out on a guitar the chords that I was hearing under the lines. Even when I had completed the arrangement, I didn’t understand the mechanics of it, but when I listened back to it, it sent a chill through my body as if it was some kind of message from the beyond. And now How The People Dance was ready for lyrics.
Feeling like the world was bearing down on me, working at a Mom & Pop home improvement shop and still only drumming minimally, wondering what will come of my situation, I hummed the melody throughout the workday trying to find lyrics that would fit. One day, they all just started spilling out and I wrote them down. They all phonetically worked and had a message about tension and denial. This can be interpreted to mean many things and I encourage each listener to find their own meanings in my songs. They are all fairly big picture but touch on new articulations.
I recorded this song originally at a very slow tempo, as it was conceived. I layered MIDI instruments at home and a scratch vocal. I brought this song to Jeff originally in 2013 at our friend Kyle Mangini’s home garage. There I tracked drums and vocals. Jeff replayed the bass line verbatim to what I had on the MIDI bass track and played an electric guitar track. We later brought the sessions into the new studio in Shelburne, MA. In the end, we sped up the original tracks to a better tempo and I redid the drum tracks. We kept the original tracks from 2013 and the original MIDI tracks I had done in 2012.
Like Home - This song came together very quickly. Again, I came up with the guitar chords and melody first and added lyrics lastly. But once I got the first line done, it all spilled out. The chorus was the last thing to come and did suddenly when I was getting socks out of the sock drawer the morning after writing the other lyrics. It can happen anywhere. This was a song loaded with imagery for me and I wanted to paint those pictures with simple words. It’s about the subtle beauty of human connection. The rain on the roof has always brought me to that spiritual “home” - and sharing that feeling with the woman I love could not be topped by any experience on this earth. I know so many people can relate with that inner impression and I wanted to put that to song.
I tracked MIDI instruments and arranged at home. My partner Cindy played the acoustic. When I brought these tracks to Jeff, some of them had been tracked with a busted mic cable and I didn’t realize how much air noise was on them. He couldn’t filter it out but wanted to use the original tracks because he thought there was a certain magic there. So we decided to take it in the other extreme direction and make it sound like a tape. I think he did a wonderful job making it blend as well as it did. We did not re-track any of this song for Tumble Child. All the tracks you hear are in their original form from the home version, including my MIDI drums, piano, bass and gamelan vibes tracks.
Flash In The Pan Devotion - This song was brought about as the result of years of tension between me and my world. I felt abandoned by my ex-girlfriend without closure, hurt by the situation I was in and like I had been stranded in the middle of the ocean. I wanted to write a real rock song and sat down one day with my Jazzmaster guitar with a riff that I had recorded on a voice memo using my voice a couple days prior. It was really fun to play and felt like a release. Lyrics for this one were easy as pie - they just rolled out. The bridge was the last piece to this one, which I came up with in the shower one day - completely intact and pre-arranged. I got dressed quickly so I didn’t forget it, and recorded a voice memo immediately.
I recorded a full demo of it with MIDI instruments. When Jeff imported these tracks, we ended up keeping the original MIDI organ and Arpeggio but replaced the rest of the tracks with real ones. I redid drums and vocals. Jeff recorded guitars and bass. When it was finished, it was so kicking! It really satisfied the craving to release my inner tension and helped me heal old wounds.
Block Tower - I was playing blocks with my son Emmett. As a toddler, he got a real kick out of building them up real high and then knocking them over. He was so determined to do it this way and I found it to be a very poetic representation of what we all do in this world: build it up, knock it down. Build it up, knock it down. Over and over. In my life, I felt like I was running in circles and getting nowhere. But as the second verse says: “There’s a spiral in your path” and I realized that there really is no way to walk the same path twice. You notice something else the next time around so it’s really expanding like a spiral. It was therapeutic to write these lyrics as well. Most of them are like my higher self speaking to me from a more knowing place, guiding me home.
This song came to me in a similar way that How The People Dance did. I was waiting outside a shop in Northampton for my friend to come out. It was raining and I was reflecting on how everything was feeling so raw to me at the time. A song came into my head with a Paul Simon-like guitar pattern in a minor key and a melody began over it. When I got home, I broke out my MIDI keyboard and opened Reason to record piano and the melody as a cello track. I instantly fell in love with the sound of the cello. I then wrote a chorus and bridge but had no lyrics - only chords and a melody. There is a version of this song that is merely MIDI cello and acoustic guitar but plays all the way through the song as you will hear it on Tumble Child. I then layered other MIDI instruments and a vocal once I wrote the lyrics. Peter Kearns, a songwriter/singer/musician from New Zealand, sent keyboard tracks for the second verse and bridge of the song. They were haunting and the perfect addition to the song.
This was the most difficult song to record and mix in-studio. I imported the tracks from home but we ended up replacing all tracks with live instruments. I brought in a violinist (Zoe Darrow) and a cellist (Kimaya Diggs), recorded live drums and vocals. Jeff tracked the acoustic guitar and Eric Arena tracked the electric guitars. Jeff suggested I do a military drum line at the end of the tune with four on the floor and I thought it was a great idea. He also contributed the harmony at the end of the song. When it came time to mix, Jeff had to separate all the sections and do individual mixes to make it blend together. It was quite a trial, but in the end, the vision had come through in tact and it brought tears to my eyes.
All That I Have (I Give You) - This was the final installment of Tumble Child. I brought this song to Jeff while we were on a band trip and he put it in the van stereo. “We’ve got to record this and make it part of the EP” he said. It was the first driving Pop/Rock song I had written in a long while that was simply fun. I was finally feeling like there may be hope because we were now in the midst of a project that was straight from my soul and nothing compared to that feeling of finally accomplishing something I had wanted to do for so many years. The lyrics for this were very easy and came along with the melody.
The song was literally written within an hour. I recorded a home demo version the next day, layering MIDI instruments, guitar and vocals. When we pulled this one into the studio, we replaced some tracks and kept some of the originals. Jeff redid bass and guitars. I redid vocals and live drums. An over-all simple production, this song ended up being one of my favorites on the record. It had a great deal of confidence and yet lyrically rested on a humble, giving bed. My love for The Beatles came though in this one for sure. Paul McCartney’s writing in particular has always blown me away. This song was written in that vain.
For me, Tumble Child (the EP) was an epic spiritual journey of transformation. It brought out all my most fragile feelings and made beauty out of them. When we began the process of recording this EP, it was a tumultuous time for me. When it was complete, a huge weight lifted from my shoulders and I felt like I had fulfilled a major artistic purpose in my life. I will always cherish this body of work as being profound and healing. I hope some of you can be reached in the same way.
The cover art was done by Cindy Kunz. I can’t imagine a better visual depiction of this work.
Click the link below to listen to Tumble Child on YouTube.