artistic works

a selection of published albums and passion projects from undrgrndman

note from undrgrnd

I don’t believe that music comes from some inexplicable, magical place. While I am unable to explain some portion of the process, the great majority results from very real experience. And this is why we either love or hate an artist—either we identify with that experience or we don’t.

Like any other medium, in music, choices have to be made. My intention here is to showcase the work in its entirety—to reveal as much as possible of its technical and literary aspects, and the reasoning behind my choices. Of course, I have mixed feelings on this. The listener brings so much of his/her personal experience to a song that there is a danger in ruining the enjoyment by revealing too much. On the other hand, music is just my chosen medium of expression. Ultimately, I’m a writer, and perhaps a more nuanced presentation of the work will provide an added level of satisfaction for the listener.

And so, at the risk of revealing too much, I will pull back the curtains, and show the work in the most honest way possible. Spotlight songs, lyric excerpts, detailed descriptions—all aspects of the art at the forefront. That’s the hope anyway.

~ G.

album: riot

featured track: long way away (1984)

long way away (1984)

grey skies above me again.
has it ever been different than it is right now?
and the wind is not a friend.
does it ever end? will it ever slow down?

notes on long way away (1984)

our main character is stuck in a mundane existence, and enveloped in a cloud of oppressive pessimism (expressed musically as much as lyrically). yet he’s struggling with a vague remembrance of better days (of blue skies)...

politically, the song is a critique of tactics used to obscure the past (to cloud our remembrance of better times) — to limit expectations, and diminish hope.

“1984” simultaneously references the better days of past, and the dystopia described in Orwell’s “1984”, which suddenly feels all too familiar...

~ G.

featured track: things that they told you

things that they told you

things they told you don’t make no sense
what game they playin, this ain’t no chess
who they foolin? now who’s the fool?
watch out mama it might be you

all that you want in this world
you gon’ have it
all that you need in this world
you can bet
all that you fear in the world
they gon’ stop it
you’re not alone in this world
not alone

things that they told you

notes on things that they told you

there’s a line in Hamlet that has always stuck with me:

“... do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me.”

there’s a hustle going on… by the media, by the politicians, by the corporations...
if you’re not aware of the hustle, it’s you.

~ G.

featured track: (put in) for the weekend

(put in) for the weekend

they don’t like it when we think too long about it
they give us just enough to keep us all from shouting

we’re just waiting for the day to come
no more working for the worthless ones
we only put in for the weekend so we can begin to be...
what we’ve been dreaming that we would be

they don’t like it when we’re acting like we doubt them
so they give us just enough
they get nervous when we’re looking like we’re crowding
so they take just enough

we’re just waiting for the day to come
gonna take the floor and raise it some
we only put in for the weekend so we can begin to be...
what we’ve been dreaming that we would be

notes on (put in) for the weekend

on its face, this is a carefree, feel-good song (inspired by many great feel-good songs from the 70s and 80s). but it’s also an examination of this particular genre of song...

there’s a reason we love feel-good songs – especially in bad times. they offer an escape… a diversion. they free our minds from mundane, tedious, or serious concerns...
and that’s a beautiful thing. but in many ways, diversions are the ultimate control mechanism.

on the album, this song immediately precedes “long way away (1984)”. the songs are two sides of the same coin.

~ G.

album: thou shalt

chapter 1: best in show

from the first moment I saw you I knew that I could never be enough for you.

we meet our main character...

he is at once the pathetic admirer of an unnamed object of infatuation – and a scathing critic.

this object is clearly untouchable… perfect. he wants desperately to connect in some way, but understands all too well the difference between being the lover and being the beloved. so he simply observes... pulled into her seemingly perfect, online world. (we can easily imagine him waiting for hours in anticipation of the next update from his unnamed object of infatuation...) he knows the fiction. still, he buys into the game.

he is plagued by conflicting emotions. initial self-doubt is followed by a naive hopefulness which, in turn, gives way to a harsh realization: “I’m so stupid. that’s a real thing.” and so, there is a hint of anger in his admiration. he praises the the object of his admiration’s ability to play the game, proclaiming: “you’re the Best in Show…” and yet, this is ultimately a hollow superlative…an empty award. and our main character knows it, which reveals an interesting absurdity: he criticizes himself for his inability to participate in this world of show, while he simultaneously condemns others for their ability to successfully do so.

as the song progresses, his frustration increases. “show the real thing,” he pleads. but does he withdraw? can he withdraw?

A seemingly odd way to start off the album…“Best in Show” is sparse, dry, and hints at desperation. There are no background vocals…no serious musical accompaniment. And this was entirely intentional.

At its heart, the song is a satire—its target being the lack of authenticity in modern society as a whole. The way we present ourselves to others bares little resemblance to the people we actually are. Technology simultaneously unites and separates us. While there is a beauty to the idea that anyone can be anything online, the reality is that this freedom, and the type of arm’s length interaction it encourages, creates a false sense of security in which people rarely showcase their best selves.

In order to match the overall theme of the song, the music needed to create a sense of isolation. For this reason, instrumentation is limited. The upper and lower frequencies are occupied by a sole keyboard part and a simple drum beat respectively. Old-school 808 kick, snare, and hat create an air of nostalgia, invoking an era that was perhaps more authentic and raw. This authenticity is precisely what the main character secretly craves.

The musical sparsity also serves another purpose: it creates the space in which the sole voice of the main character resides. As much as possible, the listener needs to feel connected to this character—if not actually in his shoes, then at least in the same room. For this reason, the voice is dry, seemingly unaffected, with little to no reverb or echo—in short, anything that might create a sense of distance between the main character and the listener was avoided. Imperfections remain—they, too, help to decrease the overall space and increase authenticity. (*On a related note: the coughing was not intentional, but was one of those ‘happy accidents’ that seemed to add to the overall feel of the song. And so, it stayed.)

A certain amount of thought and effort was put into extending the song—building it musically in order to truly showcase the main character’s frustration. While this resulted in some interesting versions which may be developed further (and possibly released later), ultimately, the sparsity and brevity leave the listener somewhat unsatisfied, which better suits the overall theme. On its own, “Best in Show” doesn’t fully deliver; yet, as the intro to the album, it provides the emotional backdrop—the starting point for the tumultuous journey which follows.

~ G.

chapter 2: the way you make me feel

the journey begins...

in the iconic video for “The Way You Make Me Feel”, Michael gets sage advice:
“why don’t you just be yourself… reach down inside and pull you out”. and so, “the way you make me feel” gets the journey under way...

our character makes the choice to withdraw from the game and embrace his true self. but what is that, exactly…?

chapter 3: small town thing

at the beginning.

home is built into you, and home can be a safe place. but it can also hold you back:

it's a small town thing. and the blood's so old.
it runs through the veins. and it's oh so cold.
it's the type of thing that won't let you go.
you can run away but they'll always know.

before our character can progress on his journey, he must acknowledge the weight he carries with him… and break it down.

chapter 4: no one

on your own...

but once you venture out from the safety of home... what are you left with?
no one.

and I know that I said you could trust me.
and it seemed like the right thing to say.
what's the point in being honest when a lie is what you want anyway.

chapter 5: sex and murder (session 2)

down the rabbit hole.

free from the safety – and weight – of home, our character is free to really reflect... and we follow him down the rabbit hole into his subconscious.

prompted by an unnamed and perhaps nonexistent therapist, his impulses, guilt, fantasies, and urges are expressed musically, rather than lyrically.

this process ends with a discovery...

chapter 6:
trail of tears / put the gun down

it's the end of the moment. it's the only way home.
I don't know where I'm going. I keep on walking.


deep self-reflection – if done right – may turn over some stones.

our main character’s journey leads him to confront and examine pain, on both a macro and then on a micro (or personal) level.

of course, confrontation and contemplation don’t necessarily bring resolution or ease of mind. sometimes they have the opposite effect...

I wrote the melody in “trail of tears” as a teenager...

at the time, I had just moved to Georgia – around an hour from the New Echota Historic Site.

New Echota, GA was the legislative, judicial, and literary center of the Cherokee nation in 1838 – when the Cherokee nation was forced to walk thousands of miles to give up its lands east of the Mississippi River, as part of Andrew Jackson's Indian removal policy. the Cherokee people called this journey the "Trail of Tears," because of its devastating effects – over 4,000 out of 15,000 of the Cherokees died.

visitors to New Echota can tour Cherokee homes, a school, a print shop, a tavern, and the tribal Supreme Court Building, to this day.

though many years have passed, I keep going back to this melody.

“put the gun down” was written and composed as a separate song, many years later. it arose out of a deeply personal experience of pain, brought on by a loved one taking his own life.

the combination was not thought out… it happened naturally during a live performance. it made sense. the two songs evoked the same feeling in me – one macro, the other micro.

as a songwriter, i find it easier to get to the truth of any matter, if i can draw parallels to personal experience. atrocities that occur at a mass scale – like the trail of tears – are difficult to truly comprehend… let alone feel. but personal tragedies can help evoke empathy for the suffering of others.

~ G.

chapter 7: father

are you ever going to help us, father?
can’t you hear your sons, your daughters?
it’s getting harder every single day.
it’s a struggle just to keep the faith.
will you lead your lambs to slaughter?

a cry for help.

in “father”, the walls finally come crashing down on our main character.

confronted with real suffering and a feeling of utter helplessness, the emptiness of our most deeply rooted institutions suddenly becomes apparent. they offer no support, no solution.

in many ways, “father” is a plea to these longstanding institutions—a cry for help from our main character. but, it is a cry knowingly made in vain, for at this point, our hero is well aware that no help is coming.

are you ever going to help us, father?” he cries, with a definite hint of anger—perhaps betrayal—in the voice. here, the word “father” is broadly used. it represents all forms of paternalism—any source to which we look for guidance and assistance. it is biological, sociopolitical, and spiritual paternalism. regardless of the form it takes, the features are the same: it seeks to control more than nurture; it breaks down more than it builds. but our main character finally recognizes this paternalism for what it actually is—an absentee father…a golden calf which demands obedience, but offers little in return.

of course, the journey doesn’t end with the final beat. home is in sight when Father demands: “i want more.” ever demanding and never satisfied, Father’s tantrum (think veruca salt ) provides an opportunity to really let loose musically. the temple truly comes down at this point. the winds are blowing. but our hero has seen and heard enough...

musically, the constant driving beat creates a sense of moving forward, a feeling of no return. the quiet space of each verse acts as the calm before the storm, culminating with the frustrated exclamations—or realizations—of our main character. “do we really have to drink that water?” “will you lead your lambs to slaughter?” each one more severe. these realizations give way to the chaos and confusion of the chorus, though it lacks the traditions and comforts of a typical chorus—there are no repeated phrases, no lyrical pleasantries cycled ad nauseum…just a single question from our main character.

in fact, the chorus plays like the beginnings of a riot, like a rally about to go wrong. the aggressive synths act as a replacement for traditional chorus vocals. like an angry mob, they twist and turn and yell and scream. the drums support them with what appears to be a concerted roar on every fourth beat. the wobbly, descending notes of the strings add to the instability of the situation—the listener should feel as if everything could topple at any moment.

something was needed, though, to carry the song forward—to propel the listener from one stage to the next, while still maintaining—and, in actuality, enhancing—the overall theme of the song. to accomplish this, spiritual-evoking vocals and hand-clapping were added. there is something tragically beautiful about spirituals. they are both an indication of colonialism—i.e., domination over another by means of physical force and indoctrination, particularly through education and religion—and of the resiliency and defiance of an oppressed people. here, they support the theme of paternalism, and reveal a growing dissatisfaction. “won’t be long, it won’t be long…the devil’s gonna hear my song.” this is not a literal devil, though it could be. rather, it suggests chickens coming home to roost. if the father ultimately fails to address his children, his children will find other means.

the strings which run throughout the entirety of the song are somewhat interesting. it would be difficult to pinpoint a specific musical pattern, because they were played straight through without any forethought or preparation. but there is a method to the madness. they embody the plight of the main character—abandoned, lost in the wilderness, yet continuously moving forward. they’re like the winds, keeping the weary odysseus from reaching home, but ensuring that he is prepared upon arrival.

lastly, it should be noted that “father” was the final addition to the album. for weeks, I held off on the release because i felt that something was missing. after the main character is confronted with true suffering in “trail of tears / put the gun down”, and before going off alone into the desert that is “the dream” and “tease”, a realization of things as they actually are needed to occur. “father” supplies that moment. once i recognized that need, it came about effortlessly, and was essentially completed in a day. not surprisingly, “father” remains sort of a personal favorite for me.

(*additional note: the final piece of the puzzle was actually the intro to the song—the last thing recorded on the album. the words are ancient Greek, from Matthew 1:23. Such a musical language…otherworldly. I recorded this once before as a teenager. why they came to mind yet again, i’ll leave for you to consider. but it does just seem to fit, though, don’t you think? )

~ G.

chapter 8: the dream


free from all pretense, he will complete the last leg of the journey alone.

our character confronts his unconscious again, this time – in a divergence from "sex and murder" – with no (imagined?) therapist or analyst to make sense of it all.

In order to truly see yourself, you have to go to the dark places...

“A dream is a small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul…"
~ C.G. Jung

chapter 9: tease

and finally, confronting external temptation.

in "tease", we hear a stark contrast with the character we first met: gone is the self-doubt, naiveté, and anger displayed in "best in show". he is no longer just an observer...

he is now an active participant in the game. yet, he is unimpressed...

"there are several good protections against temptations, but the surest is cowardice."
~ Mark Twain

chapter 10: thou shalt

our hero emerges.

“..the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."
~ Joseph Campbell

chapter 11: love come

“the ultimate adventure, when all the barriers and ogres have been overcome... the final test of the talent of the hero... to win the boon of love (charity: amor fati), which is life itself…”
~ Joseph Campbell

Copyright ©undrgrndman 2019