The Contenders released their brand new album "Laughing with the Reckless" today and to celebrate we asked Jay Nash and Josh Day to tell us about the song "The Flood".
Jay Nash: This track turned out to be one of my favorites. The writing process started with this acoustic guitar riff that is almost indistinguishable on the record in its current state, but it really provided the underlying backbone of the song. It's this open string thing that is something of a cross between something that Neil Young might almost play and a jam band riff. The sound of it cast a little spell on Josh and me, and we started imagining the song should tell a story of a simpler time. When Josh added the backbeat, it easily settled into a groove that felt powerful and timeless.
Josh was telling me how he used to record his grandfather's stories before he died, and that he had some great ones about the great flood of 1940 that wreaked havoc on many western North Carolina counties, including his hometown of Wilkesboro. Together, we imagined a protagonist in this song that was inspired by Josh's grandad's stories. However, in this case, our imaginations ran with the concept. The central character here is running from some dark memories, and he is using the flood as an excuse to cut his losses and leave it all behind him. That part of the story doesn't have any historical root. We just liked the context of this historic flood where log cabins were literally floating down the river. In the case of "our hero," he doesn't feel a whole lot of sadness or remorse when he sees that his home has been destroyed, instead, we imagine him almost relieved.
Recording this song proved to be a lot of fun too. After we recorded the basic tracks of drums, acoustic guitar and my (Jay's) vocal, this song became something of a "Postal Service" project. I don't think that either of us started out with a clear and definite picture of what the final product was going to sound like, but somehow, I think that it ended up exactly where it needed to be. I started with the mandolin riff, which ultimately became the most prominent instrumental feature of the song. Next, Josh went deep down the rabbit hole with a bunch of percussion sounds… goat's toenails, chains, and a bunch of weird drums. I remember getting a rough mix back from him of the new parts that he had added, and being blown away by how much grit and texture the percussion added to the track. After that, I probably spent an entire day adding acoustic lap steel and electric guitar to the track. I say acoustic lap steel, because I played an old Silvertone with excessively high action, tuned to GDBGDB and used a lap steel bar. It recorded with a very cool, earthy snarl. The last bit was the electric part where I found myself seeking a tone reminiscent of somewhere between Mark Knopfler's tone on early Dire Straits albums and Mike Campbell's slide tone on "Won't Back Down." It's fun to hear how the whole orchestration ended up working out.
Josh Day: I loved the whole process of how this song came together. The storyline really helped us visualize what the track needed sonically. Jay came to the table with so many great ideas, and we just ran with it. From multiple guitar parts to the mandolin parts, these elements became the melodic hooks of the song. And all of the pieces of the musical puzzle started to fit together very organically. We both continued adding musical layers from our respective studios, which allowed me to spend time doing one of my favorite things which is creating percussion parts. I loved being able to dig into my library of sounds and add different elements to help bring more life to the drums, and the overall track. Super proud of how this track turned out!
Hearing is believing. Now that you know the story behind the song, listen for yourself and learn more about the album right here!