Free MP3 "I'm a Liar" and song evolution

Here's a photo taken this past Wednesday of my pal Scott Malchow, mixing engineer and instrumental wizard, at his studio in Burnsville, MN. Scott's my main man for mixdown...whenever I'm done tracking a song in my own basement studio (christened Verkstad Studio...thanks to my Finnish cousin Micke Rundman for the Swedish-language studio name!) I take the audio files over to Scott, and he spins my rough garagey audio into rock and roll gold.

The green and red wave forms on his ProTools screen in the background of this picture are of a song we mixed this week. It's a three-track acoustic demo that I recorded about three years ago for a song that's been evolving for over a decade. Finally, the song has "arrived" and I'm finalizing a couple different recordings of it, allowing my brain to clear out the information and make room for new songs in the future. Here's an exclusive free MP3 download of the recording, a song never heard in public until now...give it a listen, and then I'll share the song's history and evolution:

"I'M A LIAR" (acoustic demo)

This song was conceived back in 1996 right after I moved to Chicago from the Pacific Northwest. It came about thanks to a very bizarre and unfortunate item that I was hearing about in the news. When you live in Chicago, local resident Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, is always making headlines. I heard news reports on radio station WLS about how Malcolm X's daughter Qubilah Shabazz had been arrested for plotting to assasinate Farrakhan. I wrote down a lyric of a chorus that went like this:

I'm a big liar like the Wizard of Oz
She's got intentions like Qubilah Shabazz
She's a minister's daughter with a sinister plan
I'm a big liar, but I do what I can

Obviously, this lyric is full of cutesy little rhymes and obscure references, which I always in enjoy when writing songs, however, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there would be something seriously wrong about writing a song like this. In the early '90s I had experimented with writing a murder ballad, and I tried to make up a good one, but the whole process just made me sick. So I had adopted a personal songwriting policy to never write a song about murder or suicide...there's just nothing cute, funny, or clever about those topics. And I still hold to this policy to this day. SO, that meant that this initial idea for "I'm a Liar" would be scrapped.

What I was left with was a "Liar" concept, and a pretty darn cool country-twang melody and guitar arrangement. I did some tweaking of the chorus, wrote some verses, but it never really felt right. I even adjusted the lyrics to be sung from a woman's point of view and did a junky lo-fi 4-track cassette demo with my friend Beki Hemingway singing the lead vocal (I don't think that recording survived...I wonder what happened to it?). But whatever I did to it, the song sounded forced and awkward and lame.

I took a couple years off from working on "I'm a Liar" until the Fall of 2000 when I recorded a whole ton of drum and guitar tracks with my brother Tim playing drums. We took a stab at the "I'm a Liar" structure, and it turned out pretty cool. I realized the key to saving the song was to genericize it, make the lyrics a much more simple country love-gone-bad story, and straighten out the melody and phrasing. Once I made those adjustments the song finally snapped into musical place, and it was done. Before I played and sang the final version of the song over my brother's drum track, I wanted to make an acoustic demo so I could learn how to best sing and phrase the song. So in about 2004 I fired up my computer and did three quick passes at the song: one with acoustic guitar and vocal, a second with National resophonic lead guitar and harmony vocal, and a third with a high vocal harmony. It was quick, it was single-takes, and it was a bit rough, but at least I had created a model for my full-band version. This recording is the demo version posted here. Finally I was able to finish an awesome full-band version of this song featuring Tim's drumming, my own guitars and bass, lap steel solos courtesy of Scott Malchow, and the recording debut of my friend Anne Lindell on viola. (The full band version of "I'm A Liar" turned out so cool that I'm gonna sit on it and keep it a secret until it can come out on a real album, sometime in the future.) A couple months ago I was scouring the session files on my computer to see just what kind of weird crap I've recorded over the past few years, and I stumbled upon this acoustic demo of "I'm a Liar." It sounded pretty darn good to me, so I did a few edits and prepared it for Scott to mix. It was so fun this week to hear Scott tweak these audio tracks...a little compression, a little EQ, a little reverb, a little automation of levels, and BOOM, my acoustic demo shapes up pretty good!

I'm pleased with the lyrics, too. They're cute, a little bit nasty, and they turn in on themselves like a linguistic mobius strip. Here they are:


she said she was leavin' me
she started for the door
I stood up and asked my darlin' "why?"
she looked at me with disbelief
she said the reason was because
everything I say is just a lie

I'm a liar - you can take my word
I'm a liar - believe what you heard
baby, you don't need no honest man
I'm a liar - and I'll tell you the truth
I'm a liar - and I'll show you the proof
I ain't perfect, baby, but I do what I can
I'm a liar

I begged her not to leave me
yeah, I gave her quite the speech
about how my love for her would never die
and she came runnin' right on back
into my waiting arms
but everything I said was just a lie

I suppose her motivation
was to get some sweet revenge
I'm surprised she had the nerve to try
well, the road of bad intentions
it runs far away from heaven
when everything you say is just a lie

Well, what do you think? Is it really a good song, or just a helpful songwriting exercise? One of the reasons I've been excited about blogging here at Blogger/Blogspot is that is seems like a good format for releasing, explaining, and discussing new songs. In fact, an excellent example that was inspiring to me is this great blog post by my musical pal Nate Houge. Thanks to all of you who've told me online or in person that you've been reading and appreciating this blog! I'm thrilled to know there are folks all around who are checking it out.

Speaking of songwriting, in a week I'll be embarking on a big 10-day tour in California, and I'll get to spend a few days in Los Angeles attending the ASCAP "I Create Music" Expo for songwriters. I've never done anything like that before, so I'll try to blog from the road about my adventures on the West Coast. I'll get to hang out in the presence of some of my all time favorite songwriters, including Marshall Crenshaw, Randy Newman, Sam Phillips, and Dan Wilson. Oh, and Beki Hemingway too....she's gonna attend along with me, and play a very fun and long awaited duet show with me in Manhattan Beach, CA on April 22nd. So maybe that songwriting convention will give me more insight into the evolution of songs like "I'm a Liar."

Thanks for listening and reading, and as they say in Sweden, Glad Påsk (Happy Easter)!


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