My second song, “Vampire’s Run,” just finished last night, is thorny — chromatic, key-modulating, choppy-guitared — where Tie & Suit is aggressively smooth and diatonic.
I have many notes…
I started off wanting to do something early-REM-like. The idea — kind of a bullshit idea, but I liked it anyway — was this fast arpeggio on the top three strings of the guitar: B-E-D-B E-D-B-E C-E-Eflat-C E-D-B-E A-E-C#-A E-C#-A-E A-E-B-A E-B-A-E.
REM wouldn’t have done the C-E-Eflat-C part — but the rest would have fit in. Especially that move at the end from an A chord to Asus2.
To fit some chords to this, I came up with E7, a weird C major and minor, Bmsus4, A, Asus2. The idea is that you’d play the chords as normal but with the high E string always open. (A Buck-like move.)
It’s not actually pleasing-sounding — but, again, I liked it and figured I could make something out of it.
The problem: I made the song 170 beats per minute, and I can’t actually play that lick on guitar that fast. (My personal speed limit is pretty slow, actually.) I could play it on keyboard, though, so I did. It’s the very first thing you hear in the song. I cranked up the reverb on the Steinway Grand Piano instrument, and I thought it sounded great. Like a demented Charlie Brown song.
Next up was to add percussion and a bass line. The percussion is pretty much the same thing as in Tie & Suit. The bass followed the chord roots — E C B A — except that, at the end, I threw in this little blues-scale-ish lick: A-Bflat-B-Bflat-A-G-E-G-E. Which was also total bullshit, but it totally worked, so I kept it. The interaction of that with the piano arpeggio thing just sounded really cool to me.
At this point, though, this didn’t sound like REM in the least tiny bit. It sounded like an ’80s goth instrumental. So I leaned into it — added guitar instruments Eighties Goth and Starlit Cavern. Added a bunch of echo-y things like Stutter Stack and Swirling Flutters.
Last summer I started writing a blog post called “The Vampire’s Run in the Anarchist Jurisdiction” which was about going for a run at night (instead of the day, due to the pandemic) in my neighborhood in Seattle. I wasn’t able to figure out how to write it without sounding like some very fortunate guy who had to adapt in some small way and was pretty fine about it. Wouldn’t add anything to the world, so I didn’t finish it.
But, since that title was just lying around being all goth-y, I snagged the first part of it for this song. And, well, it kinda fits — the song is very fast, and during the chorus it almost sounds like flying.
The song structure here is simple: verse chorus verse chorus verse chorus. But there’s a key change: the verse is in E and the chorus is in C.
This is one of my favorite modulations. The chorus gets a kind of floaty and slightly sinister sound — hence the flying.
The first time I remember encountering this was in Beltane Walk by T. Rex. I remember asking my uncle, a musician, to explain the sorcery behind that song — and when, some years later, I heard that same sorcery in Hungry Like the Wolf I recognized it right away.
(I am, by the way, a glam rock guy at my core. Give me T. Rex and Bowie and all their descendants.)
Anyway — if you hear a little Duran Duran in the C-G-F chorus, you’re not wrong.
The chords aren’t actually C-G-F, though — they’re C-G6-Fmaj7 in order to make the E note prominent all throughout the song. The melody of the chorus is just arpeggios on the piano: E-C-G, E-B-G, E-C-A, with the E repeated. While the piano in the verse is tightly horizontal, the chorus is a bit more vertical.
(There’s a little fun part right as we lead into the chorus — it sounds like that split-second when a vampire leaves ground and is a little shakily airborne. You settle in in a moment. In the first chorus we have B-F#; in the second it’s D-A-B-F#, which makes it sound like Pachelbel’s Canon; and in the third it’s A-E-B-F# — a little “Hey Joe” action.)
String and other instruments are doing a C-B-A thing during the chorus — which is cool because, as you’ll remember, that also appears in the verse. Those exact same notes, which sound somewhat discordant in the verse, sound sweet in the chorus.
The song comes alive in the last third while it’s repeating the chorus before ending. I was recording the piano part for that last chorus, and I was feeling a little down that this entire song was just all these arpeggios. I started improvising — and I worked up some bits to add some more melody and passion to the song. Went all pentatonic on this shit — plus the minor third for some bluesiness. Banging on the E flat a bit.
This part comes as a surprise in the song, I think, and it was just as much a surprise to me, but it’s my favorite part. Part of me thinks you shouldn’t add so much new stuff at the end, but then I remember how “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” has this alternate melody at the end. And I think of how The Adversary by Crime and The City Solution — a favorite of mine from a favorite soundtrack — invents a whole new song, with a different time signature even, around the 3-minute mark.
“Vampire’s Run” ends on a simple repeated phrase which I thought sounded romantic: E D-C D C-A. Vampires love that romantic stuff.
And it ends ends on a lone E note from the piano — which sounds like a question.
If you want, you can download the GarageBand file: VampiresRun.band.zip