Behind the songs
Bud Buckley started this project with a couple dozen acoustic songs that ranged from emotions about leaving the teaching profession and the youngsters he loved (and continues to guide) to songs about the state of the world he had to adapt to in his new life. Sonically he was thinking Damien Rice to Pete Yorn to Neil Young. He knew he wanted to layer his acoustic guitar and other acoustic instruments with rich vocals by himself and others. “ Quote “
Bud zeroed in on this particular selection of songs when Mark Zampella, producer of his first album, “Feel My Love,” suggested a unifying theme. The concept of time seemed to be oozing out of a bunch of his songs, so Bud chose this collection.
1. “Let Me Go” is a love song more than a break up song. Its only a breakup song in that it’s about somebody telling their lover that something much more powerful and inevitable has been calling and that it’s time to “Let Me Go.” Death is like that. Being deployed to Iraq is like that. So is being chosen to board the first starship. When Bud performs this song live, people often stop what they’re doing. “There’s a stunned silence for a second when you’re done,” collaborator James Braha tells Bud. “Sometimes, when I’m playing a dinner gig,” says Bud, “People stop chewing. Kind of worries me that I’ll have to drop a guitar and perform the Heimlich maneuver.”
The Neil Young-ish chord progressions give it a comfortable musical groove but one reviewer saw it this way, “Musically, listeners will find more Mark Knopfler in this album than Dylan and this song is a good example of that. The guitar here smacks of early Dire Straits and it’s well executed.” In the background Deni Bonet’s haunting violin moves the listener from heart to groin and back again. Helen Avakian and Beth Reineke haunt the song even more with their perfect harmonies in all the right places. This song has been a constant on web radio and appears on no fewer than five compilation CD’s, including Moozikoo’s Best of Indie and Quickstar’s Chill Out, a collection of the east coast’s best acoustic artists.
2. “Can’t Leave My Mind” is Bud’s ultimate love song to his wife, Cathy Lewis. “We’re apart as little as possible but when we are we talk to each other in our minds,” says Bud. His co-writer Kathy Feeney refers to this as “mutual infestation” in her typical way of supplying words for Bud’s thoughts before he can say them. Bud was stunned to be asked to sing this song at a funeral for a relative. “I hadn’t thought about it as a funeral song because it’s unthinkable to me that Cathy and I will have to face the loss of each other. It was a very moving experience for me and I hope it brings some comfort to those who do face that loss.” Reviewer Steve Perry called this ,”...another incredible sad song about being left without wanting to let go. This song has the most Dylanesque vocal line...”
When Bud wrote the intro, Helen Avakian and Terry Champlin, jumped on it and elongated it and employed it as a break before the bridge as well. The classical guitars sound very harpish and have been mistaken as such by one reviewer. Deni Bonet’s layers of violins take the song to an emotional level that Bud hoped for when he penned the lyrics while staying in NY without Cathy. “I fell in love with the augmented chord and have had to resist sticking it in everything else I write,” Bud says. “Being the king of the suspended chord change didn’t hurt James Taylor but I keep looking for fresh ways to express myself.” Steve Perry agrees writing, “Most of his melodies strike me as an attempt to test conventions. ... he tends to steer clear of tunes that are a mere reworking of older folk and blues pieces.”
3. “Underground” is another nod to Neil Young. He took this song to Helen Avakian around the same time that Neil released “Living With War” and Helen insisted he finish it instead of just using it as a useful exercise. “I’m never keen on putting my beliefs in anybody’s face,” says Bud. “I’m not ashamed of them but I truly will die for the right of you to disagree with me.” He wrote “Underground” while he was feeling that those rights were in danger of being wiped out. “I still feel there is always a risk of that,” says the former Journalism major.
Helen and Bud had hammered out the kinks in the song in a long marathon session and were stuck making it a little hookier. “Helen got up to go to the bathroom or to just escape, “Bud recalls, “and after a bit I hear the toilet flush and a cry of ‘I got it!’ and she came out singing the “Underground” hook.” Now whenever they hit a roadblock in the creative process, Bud tells Helen to “Go take a piss.”
“Underground” is the only song on the CD where you hear any electric guitar, provided by Scott Petito on a Steinberg. Bud had sung his voice out the previous day in the studio on “Meltdown” and was grateful to have Helen and Beth Reineke support the choruses.
4. “Keeping Secrets” has been called the album standout by Creative Loafing Magazine. It started as a birthday poem Kathy Feeney had written to Bud when she was still in High School. “Kathy collected a set of impressions about our mutual love of abandoned buildings. Especially barns and churches. So she wrote me this gorgeous poem.” When they met in the summer of 2006 to hammer it into a lyric, they had a difficult time. Bud finally suggested they focus on what the images might represent. Old churches and reflective ponds suggested loss of faith of any kind and hiding secrets below the surface. “You ever have a relationship like that?” he asked Kathy. She indicated she had with a bit of a squirm and they went to work on that angle writing a breakup song. When they finished, Bud asked Kathy how her boyfriend was. “We broke up yesterday,” she said. And the writing session had served as great therapy. No charge.
In the studio, Helen Avakian took Bud’s original opening riff and expanded it into a flamenco style series. Deni Bonet supplied gorgeous counter point. Scott Petito’s piano fills give it a balance that says, “It hurts but we’re mellowed out now.” Bud admits that he had to grab Kathy Feeney and drag her in the vocal booth for motivation when he recorded it. He told her, “Look, girl, I haven’t been dumped since 1983. Sit on that stool and look bummed.”
5. “Elevator” was first conceived of by co-writer Kathy Feeney while sitting in a lobby at her Swarthmore College in Philly and watching people at the elevators. Most of the key phrases are hers and Bud sought to give the music a gliding up and down quality. “When I do it live and solo I slide up and down the neck changing octaves and inversions,” Bud says. “ I had heard Deni Bonet do a bit with Kimberly Rue that reminded me how she might give me that quality.” He didn’t have to suggest much before Deni jumped all over it and produced one of the most playful electric violin tracks ever. “I also loved how she simulated the cables twanging in the shaft as if they were shedding strands,” he says. Deni’s a genius and she makes me laugh my ass off too.”
Helen Avakian and Beth Reineke also get playful with their harmonies which Helen claims were devised by her while Beth was in the bathroom. What is it with this girl and the act of urination?
6. “The Silence There” is Bud’s most obvious flirtation with the concept of time, the unifying notion on the album. “It is one of the few times in my life that words and music came to me at the same time,” he says. It was such a mystical experience that he was defensive about explaining it to Helen who demanded clarification on its meaning. “Hey, does Bob Dylan explain his lyrics?” he demanded. Now he admits that it speaks to the notion that it’s pointless to entertain regrets about the past or waste time wishing for the future. “Just take good care of the now,” he suggests and everything else will take care of itself.” That’s the way he claims to live his life these days. Like the song says, though, “It’s a challenge not to flip backwards in this chair,” and look back with regret. But he feels that he could only be met with silence, “because nothing productive can be said. It’s done. Move on.”
Reviewer Steve Perry says, “It’s a good groove about having too many memories. This is definitely a song for those thirty and over.”
Scott Petito’s stand up bass and slide guitar give this a swampy feel as do Chris Carey’s drums, “I always wanted to record a swampy song,” said Chris.
7. “I Still Remember (How That Feels)” is Bud’s song for his daughter Bree from whom he was partially separated by divorce when she was 7 years old. “We were extremely close but when that got reduced to every other weekend I think we both probably tried to protect ourselves against the loss,” Bud recalls. As she got older and developed an adolescent social life, the visits became fewer. “I’m not one to force myself on somebody. I just let it ride.” But characteristically, the present is perfect for father and daughter. I love doing this song. “Helen changed the key on me to make sure I could hit the level of emotion within my range. A lower key makes it tender and warm as opposed to whiney a step or two higher.”
Deni Bonet’s superb violin is complemented here on flawless cello by Bud’s former elementary school student Laurel Pistey. This along with Helen’s spare background vocals is the Damien Rice feeling Bud was looking for when he first conceived of this project. Bud and Helen double acoustic guitars.
“Throughout this production I kept thinking about how I owe my son Jason a song. He’s a very very special dude to me and I wait for the proper moment to give him one he deserves. I suspect I’d have to sound more like Radiohead, however.”
8. “Meltdown,” was James Braha’s lash out against a bad stock deal. The Hindu astrologer turned precious metals trader, is Bud’s long time guitar student who is converting his degree in acting and his experience as a writer of six books into song writing. Bud contributed a number of lines and rearranged others and took it up tempo and gave it a guitar hook. Helen, like she has in all of Bud’s songs, provided the finishing touches. “We did this with James’ blessing fifteen hundred miles away. He had to relearn it after we recorded it. But he loves it all the more now and I’m thrilled to have him on the album. He’s a dear friend.”
Bud grappled with the idea of using the “god damn” lines but decided to give James his artistic head and beg forgiveness to those who might be offended later. Meaning no disrespect to the devout, Bud feels that it is as common an exclamation as “Praise Allah,” when somebody blows up. Or a “Thank God, when somebody’s favorite ball team scores a victory. “So who’s really more disrespectful?” he wonders.
Again, Deni Bonet’s violin supplies the underlying power riff against the acoustic guitars. Helen and Beth supply exactly the right background vocals at the right time. It is unclear if there was any bathroom inspiration on this one.
9. “Tattoo,” is the most different song on the album and the one most singled out by lovers of adult contemporary music. Strangely, that is a very wide age range, which Bud is grateful for. Reviewer Perry seems to be a young guy but says, “Tattoo is a little Brazilian number that I think is Mr. Buckley’s best..” Bud says the initial thought belongs to Mark Zampella, producer of his last album, “Feel My Love.” Mark was out of studio time for Bud with other projects heavily booked. Bud was unhappy with one of his tracks and lamented this to Mark. “It’s like my tattoos,” Mark said to Bud. Asked to explain that, Mark said, “People ask me if I regret these tattoos. I tell them no because they just represent who I was at that place in time.” Bud was mollified and vowed to work hard on his next release. But he wrote that phrase down. When he began to organize it into a lyric it seemed to lend itself to how he and Cathy came together and so it became a love song as well.
The music came about as a doodling of major seventh chords against minor sevenths. When somebody mentioned that they liked the doodling, Bud wrote it down and continued to develop it. He and Helen Avakian originally recorded it as a demo in the summer of 2006 in a different key. Helen discovered during the final recording that Bud sang it in a far more mellow vibe in a slightly lower key. “That’s why you pay a great producer and I clearly didn’t pay Helen what she is worth. I love how she beats me up,” Bud readily admits. She then expanded on Bud’s groove and used the Brazilian strum technique to make the samba more obvious. Scott Petito tried several bass lines that Bud fell in love with but settled on the stand up bass to focus the song where it belongs on the vocal and the lyric. Still the interplay between Scott’s piano and Helen’s acoustic lead on the instrumental section is luscious. The light and perfect percussion by Chris Carey shows he is far more than just a rock dude.
10. “Crowded Memory,” started as another attempt by Bud to turn a Kathy Feeney poem into a lyric. When he left New York behind to resettle in southwest Florida, Kathy had written him a beautiful and thoughtful goodbye poem. The only line that survived was “Miles and Years mean nothing against our friendship.” But her thoughts and feelings and their history of a student and a teacher who remained a close friend and mentor permeates the song. Marisa Lozito, A parent, of a student in Kathy’s class, had made a poster as a parting gift for Bud. It was the cover of Sergeant Pepper but she had pasted in the heads of his students and him and retitled it “Sergeant Buckley’s Lovely Hearts Club Band.” Noticing that poster which still hangs on his wall, Bud let the lyric write itself.
The music came about while he was teaching a classical guitar lesson. He fiddled with a chord accompaniment to the classic lines a student was trying to master. The result was the most inventive chord progression on the album. It inspired the luxurious Stienberg fretless bass by Scott Petito which Bud had hoped for all along. Helen’s back up vocals, again call into recollection the work of Lisa Hannigan on Damien Rice’s work.
The song has wide appeal as a song that works for a lot of occasions. It is used in a public service ad for a drug/alcohol rehab in California and is on a cancer research benefit CD as well. As a goodbye song at graduations and other departures, it is an obvious favorite but others just like it as a great song for no particular event.