Singled Out: Dulcinea Renee's Pictures Of You
"Pictures Of You," which is off my new album Smoke and Mirror, puts a smile on my face every time I hear it. Like most artists, I don't necessarily enjoy hearing my own material played back to me. It's kind of awkward. As a singer/songwriter, when you have that special moment hearing your own song back and you authentically are pleased with the whole thing, it's a rare moment – and this song is a reflection of that experience for me. The collaboration of writing this song with a close friend (my producer), a unique and haunting mix, and a short glimpse into the deeper truths of my life is what this song is all about. Barely 2 minutes long, last song on the record, and not even one we sent to radio – but it is my absolute favorite. That however, was not the case when we first began writing it.
On occasion, my producer Chelsi Lee Marie will use a co-songwriting session and mix it with a vocal lesson. It is always fun, but sometimes pretty intense. She is constantly pushing my vocals new places, and leading me to convey the deepest stories and secrets of my life and who I am. She then helps me find a way to keep the story simple and catchy, while exposing those ideas in such a way that perhaps others will relate to. For some reason on this particular day, Chelsi insisted on me writing on piano instead of guitar, and then she kept leading me to expand on melodies. She wanted me to be metaphoric, but also kept asking me to simplify. Then there were notes she wouldn't budge on (which at the time were not in my comfortable range), and she made me leave them in the song. I told her I didn't like the song, didn't want it on the record, and that the words were cheesy. I remember I just kept going, "this one is my least favorite," "I don't wanna sing this," and finally, "can we just write a different song and leave this one off?" On top of that, Chelsi and I rarely take more than 30-60 minutes to write a tune, but this one was taking closer to a few hours.
Chelsi had a vision for this song that I couldn't quite see yet. She had arrangements in her head that she said were similar to something along the lines of The Cranberries meets Brandi Carlile, with rootsy acoustic in one speaker and eerie piano or organ in the other. I'm so glad she decided to continue pushing this song forward. After a couple weeks' break from it while we worked on other material, we finally had the 9 of the 10 songs we intended to write for the album completed. Chelsi said we could either write one more song, or re-visit Pictures of You. I was 17, busy in school, and decided to just try one more time finishing the dreaded Pictures of You. This time though, Chelsi moved the piano parts to be played as sustained organ, and it communicated a different feel. At this point, I finally started to warm up to the song more. And, after I got the vocals down, I became super excited and left all my initial hatred for this song behind. I'm a huge Cranberries fan and of course a Brandi fan, so doing anything that's even remotely similar to them was sure to get me pumped.
The studio experience for this song was a little different than usual, and tons of fun, because I got to play the organ parts myself. I remember standing in Jay Hallstrom's beautiful studio with headphones on and listening back to the organ with the effects in the track, and I was just freaking out at how amazing it all sounded. After the organ parts were laid, Chelsi directed Jay to masterfully play all the parts she had written for the song. The bass parts are amazing, and I smile every single time they pass by. She astounds me with her musical abilities. Singing over the track was a huge treat for me, especially after I heard the harmonies back. Chelsi put this really haunting, surreal effect on the ending harmonies that give me chills every time I hear them. I'll never get over how cool all the harmonies on this album are. I love every single one of them.
When we got to the mastering lab and Levi Seitz got to this song, he suddenly turned around in his chair and smiled. Looking at Chelsi and I he just said, "man, that's the coolest organ part EVER." I'll never forget the look on Chelsi's face when he said that. I was so stoked to hear that someone else thought the organ was as cool as we did! Then when he heard the note on the bridge that I initially had labored to hit, he looked at us and went, "she hit that like it took no effort at all." It is an easy note to hit now, but not then. Hearing someone as professional and business-oriented as Levi compliment my vocal ability was insane, and I'll always remember how that felt. All I can really say about that is a huge thank you to all the vocal training and hours of dealing with my stubbornness that Chelsi puts up with! The two of us actually laugh through most of our time together. We both have crazy humor that never ends. Sometimes she even insists on having costume contest days at the studio, even though there are only 3 of us competing!
Getting to work through this one tough song and hear that haunting, magical sound at the end of it all is priceless. More importantly, I wrote that with Chelsi, who is my mentor and one of my dearest friends. The story is about my life, someone I love, someone I miss, what I've been longing for, and daring to say it. I hope that the hunger, and even the anger the tune conveys, fills the loneliness and ache in someone else's soul who is going through a break up or a loss, and that they are comforted by its warmth.
Hearing is believing. Now that you know the story behind the song, listen for yourself and learn more about the album right here!