Singled Out: Foam Ropes' Telescope
"One third of your songs are about travel," my producer Jamie Siegel blurted, when we did our play-by-play through the Foam Ropes album. Jamie has made six albums with me (with different projects), so he would know. However, I would argue that although the imagery and metaphor I used in Foam Ropes' "Telescope" are mainly travel-related, the song is primarily about loneliness.
Jamie and I co-wrote "Telescope" in our usual fashion - Jamie provided some riffs (especially, that main guitar hook) and chords and then, I escaped with those ideas, moved them around and filled in the holes with lyrics, melody and arrangement. Jamie's little four-note guitar riff was the genesis of the song - the jumping off point Originally, Jamie played it in a much slower tempo. In December 2014, we recorded the hooks and some skeletal chord progressions at JRock Studios in NYC and then he sent me on my way to make a song out of it. Played slow, it reminded me of melancholy, self-pity, loneliness. These are some of my most familiar dark spaces, so they are pretty easy to draw from.
It was New Year's Weekend 2015. My friend Matt invited me up to his cabin in Vermont. For the New Year's celebration, Matt invited his family over and some friends - couples - from Boston. There's nothing like being surrounded by couples in a cabin on New Year's Eve to remind you of your own annoying singlehood. Cards Against Humanity provided me hours of distraction from creeping feelings of loneliness. But when the clock struck midnight, everyone kissed and Matt jokingly blew a kiss at me from across the room. My heart burned, broke and sank.
The next day I awoke and turned my attention to the Foam Ropes scratch tracks. I played the Telescope riff over and over as I dwelled on the emotional hangover from the previous night. That little four-note hook was also alone, yearning, and afraid. The first notes are hit quickly, like an adjustment, to the fourth note, which is held long…like a distance. In a self-pity swirl, I thought, "I am going to spend so many of these New Year's Eve's alone. It's like, no matter how hard I try to focus on dating or looking or getting myself "ready" for a relationship, I can't seem to bring it to fruition. I can't focus this telescope on what seems very, very far away…unreachable…practically impossible to attain." I thought about my recent complaints to my mother about my singlehood. She said that one problem was that I travel so much and never stay in one place. "It's hard to hit a moving target, Derek." But…I didn't want to stop travelling or even moving. To become a hittable target I would have to try to stay still. And I am afraid to stay still.
So, there was my chorus.
"If I shift to right, won't bring in sight, or focus this telescope.
Mother's advice: it's hard to hit a moving target, but I'm afraid to stop flying."
In the last choruses, I become more transparent: "Mother's advice: it's hard to love a moving man, but I'm afraid, I'm afraid to stop flying."
The verses are my justifications. In the first verse, I list the things I love about by my jet-set single life.
"Depart New York evening, morning Puglia greets me. So goes my life.
Love engines over oceans. Love rock and roll and oh…hums of hotel lights."
The second verse I argue that love isn't possible for me anyway - I've tried before and it's just not in the cards.
"I won't be too long. Believe I belong singing songs alone." And furthermore, "I've given a fair try. Toronto to Thailand - I tried." Toronto is where I was once married and Thailand was, well, the setting of yet another unsustainable affair.
In the outro, I make my mind up. I several times repeat my resolution: "I'm afraid to stop flying."
Honestly, it's a serious bummer of a song hiding in a bouncy tune. This lyrical gloom is probably why Jamie was inclined to position my melody in a quicker tempo, over a traveling, upbeat orchestration. We have long agreed that sad lyrics sung over happy music is a fantastic juxtaposition. So I agreed to this arrangement and production of the song you hear in "Telescope," track three of the Foam Ropes debut. In mixing, Jamie printed the more emotional takes over the performances that were perhaps more well-performed. I appreciated that. You can hear me lose my voice, because I started to cry…during the first damn verse. "Telescope" came out great. We agreed it was a favorite.
But as our album wrapped, I felt a void. I felt that an acoustic, slower, more isolated performance of "Telescope" was needed to honor its overall concept…and those moments I had on New Years Day in Rutland, Vermont. So, I talked Jamie into producing a "Telescope reprise" as the last track of the Foam Ropes album. Oli Rockberger played that gorgeous Hammond and frankly, I got to really sing my heart out this time. After "Truth in Fables," the "Telescope (Reprise)" is my favorite of my own vocal performances on the album.
Foam Ropes will be performing "Telescope" and seven other songs from our debut album on Tuesday, June 16th at 11:30 pm at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC.