Likeness To Lily
Likeness To Lily was a “chamber pop” group led by NYC-based Susan Oetgen.
Susan and I met during The Nitrate Hymnal and struck up a friendship. I’m not sure what made Susan approach me about writing songs together, but she did and so we did. And it was, in a word, magical.
Coming from decades of writing from improv, typically without vocals, via repetition and “jamming,” writing with Susan was completely different. Typically, she would have lyrics and a vocal melody, but nothing else beyond the occasional reference point or desired aesthetic. But something about how and what she wrote made it almost effortless to write supporting music for her melodies. Without exaggeration, this was the easiest—and some of the most rewarding—writing I’d ever done.
I moved to Brooklyn briefly specifically to be in this band. This was a tumultuous time in my life, and I was by no means comfortable with... anything. In fact, I may have been at my personal worst during this period. The only thing I knew was what I wanted this band to sound like. But it wasn’t my band; I was co-opting Susan’s band and vision, and ultimately that friction led to my leaving the group entirely after the full-length was recorded (despite having another four to six songs completed or in progress – songs that, to this day, I’d like to hear realized).
Solitude’s Dollhouse (2005)
Due to logistical issues, the studio we were recording in had a real piano, but it wasn’t in tune. Rather than try and reschedule, I tuned the piano (rather poorly). Subsequent decisions—to record all the instrumentalists live and acoustic (bass being the most notable), and in the same small room with little to no isolation—were possibly also made in reaction to this sound. The result is surely a more intimate, acoustic, and chamber feel, but it almost sounds like it was recorded at home. It’s not bad, but it’s a very different kind of beauty than the polished sound of the demo we did a year earlier. Overall, it works well enough for the premise of the recording, and the musical soul that we bottled is much more in line with what Susan wanted, so in that way it was successful. (What I wouldn’t give to redo these songs with my piano!)
You can find out more about this album on Likeness To Lily’s website.
Track info for Solitude’s Dollhouse
This was the first song we worked on together, and it took some time to nail the rhythm, of all things. The chords came relatively easily, though it took some hours and multiple sessions to really make it cohesive. This was the key to unlocking our collaboration, as everything that came after got progressively easier.
little night song
Interestingly, this was the second song we worked out together. Susan wrote the opening melody (I never could tell if she had things planned or just ad-libbed with confidence), and the rest I wrote based on her vocal line. The piano part remained pretty much exactly as originally conceived, just dropping out in favor of guitar and bass in some spots.
life’s not life
This song was originally written to be carried by electric piano and string quartet, which is how it was on the initial demo. On the final recording, the piano part doesn’t hold up quite as sensibly on an acoustic piano, but it leaves much more air for the slide guitar (also, the string quartet parts were transferred to the piano). I do miss the strings, but having them would have been overkill. It ends up being a little of an ambitious arrangement for this ensemble, but not in a bad way.
Susan and I wrote this song in about five minutes at her apartment in Brooklyn and recorded it for the demo the next day. We kept it extremely spare and somewhat plodding. I think she already had the lyrics (and possibly the melody), but once I started adding the piano part, the notes were appearing faster than I could write them down. The final recording’s performance captures it quite nicely, though the demo version probably had more spark (mostly because the demo version was captured so soon after writing it, and we were so excited about it).
I struggled with the music for this until I tried the syncopated piano part, and when Susan heard it she immediately locked into the song’s groove. The bridge for this song was atypical of my writing at the time, but it made the dramatic arc of the piece, so I happily ran with it. For some reason the piano part there always reminded me of Peter Gabriel. I’ve never really written something like that since.
asleep under apollo
The guitar intro and outro were written much later (and slaved over, because I find writing for classical guitar very difficult); I spent hours trying to find the right balances of exposition and articulation to set up the song but not take away from it. The basic song was outlined on piano, but intended for the instrumentation heard here. Extra thanks to Francisco Roldan for his deft treatment of the intro and outro (and for his patience as I struggled to voice things properly for guitar).
mythology of you and me
Ah, this song was written shortly after “almost again”, and was much more piano-heavy in its original intent. I do think my playing of it was more square than what Jeremiah pulls off, so that’s a good trade. Like “almost again”, it has a bridge that treads the line between artistic and overwrought, and that kind of makes it work.
how can it be
Originally titled “sorrow like a stone”, this was written in the same burst as “almost again” and “mythology of you and me”. This one actually hit harder in the original piano-heavy version, but perhaps it was too cinematic that way. This version is dialed back and more art-house, and in so doing it fits with the rest of the album.
“Jewelia” was the first song to really be written by the whole group. I made several passes on it and all of them fell short. Susan had Jeremiah tackle it instead, and that’s exactly what it needed to find its final form.
I don’t even remember how this song came to be, but I remember that we wanted to keep it limited to just piano and voice. Susan had talked about wanting to play a little piano, so we would perform this with her playing the opening while she sang, and then I would take over the left hand, then the right hand. When the playing gets more “complex” is the point at which I would have taken over entirely. She would return to the piano for the repetitions of that theme, and I would play the counter melody on top of it. It’s a beautiful tune, and a great performance gimmick; I always wanted a better recording of this song, in particular, as it was to me the coda of our working relationship as well as the record.