Song: If Only

This is from a series of posts about songs from my album, Broken Open.


Track number five of Broken Open is If Only.

I wrote the song, If Only only a few days after experiencing the breakup that formed the basis of the second song, Alone Again. I had been playing around with the basic guitar riff in the context of a standard blues progression for a few months and I started hearing the melody taking shape as I played guitar out in my backyard.  At first I was singing along but without words until the lyrics began to take shape…

You wake with me in the morning sun
You cry with me when the day’s undone

When I breathe
I can feel that you’re inside of me

Girl, if you only knew how I love you
Girl, if you only knew how I love you

It’s  a sweet melody and it ended up being kind of an ode (epitaph?) to my newly lost relationship – what was and what could have been.  My heart was very open (broken open, in fact)  and I was really feeling deeply my connection to my former lover, regardless my current situation.  I remember how painful it could be whenever I would see ‘two’ of anything.  I would burst into tears just seeing our two towels on the rack in the bathroom…

I see you in every place I go
I see you in everything I do

I hear you in everything I say
I feel you with everything I am

The pain of the breakup woke me up in so many ways and I was suddenly much more present whenever we were together.  The time we spent together just after breaking up was surprisingly sweet and I was seeing our connection on the deepest levels…

In your eyes
I can see the deepest part of me

And I felt that deep connection regardless of whether we were together or apart…

When you’re near
Or you’re a million miles away

Of course, when we were apart, feeling that connection could be very painful – but that’s a topic for another song.


This song had a nice quality when performed with just voice and acoustic guitar, but I wanted to create something larger.  I wanted something that could capture the exhilaration and uplift I felt in the crescendos (When I breath…) whenever I would sing the song. Rich Lamb really outdid himself on this one with the keyboard parts.  I know this was his favorite track of the batch of songs we recorded first and his playing really shines on the piano and organ. And once he laid down his parts, the song really began to open up.

I loved the organ riff Rich played during the instrumental breaks that I used it to open the song.  It’s one of the wonderful things about digital recording that you can often change the arrangement of a song even after parts have been laid down.

When mixing this song, I thought a lot about what instruments I could cut from the different sections so that the texture of the song could change as it progressed.  I remember reading about Quincy Jones‘ recording style when he was always looking for what instruments he could leave out to create more space in the song and I always try to keep that in mind.  It’s often true that less is more. It’s all to easy to end up with an undifferentiated wall of sound where you can’t hear any of the instruments clearly. I’m usually trying to go for something that feels and sounds more intimate.


The opening riff with the organ and guitar reminds me of Traffic.  I’ve always loved the keyboard textures that Steve Winwood used in that band.  I love three part harmonies and both CSN and The Roaches came to mind when I was recording them on this song.

Song: Distraction

This is from a series of posts about songs from my album, Broken Open.


Broken Open‘s fourth track is Distraction.

The roots of this song go back to my college days at MIT when I was obsessing over a woman with whom I had a brief relationship.  Surely just about everyone has had the experience of falling in love with someone and not being able to get them off your mind.  It’s pleasant enough – especially at first – but there is also a dark side…

I’ve been going crazy
Since I saw you baby
I’ve been thinking maybe
I can find a way for me to get free
Of this obsession that’s surrounding me
But I just can’t see
Anything but what you mean to me

You’re driving me to distraction
Can’t concentrate on anything
You’re driving me to distraction
Can’t concentrate on anything but you

The chorus of the song started out as a bass riff that my bandmate, Alex Rosen, came up with.  He used to play bass with no amp while working at the Senior House front desk (the dormitory we lived at) so he could practice during free moments.  He came up with quite a few bass riffs during those times and he would bring them to jams to see if we could develop them into songs. All of my compostions with Alex were done that way: Spontaneous CombustionEllen with the Squinty EyesLet Your Love and Pull The Plug.

Working up some chords to go with Alex’s bass riff, I managed to came up with the chorus lyrics, trying to describe was going on for me at the time.  For a while music was the only thing strong enough to break through that spell I was under.  Although I really liked the hook in the chorus, I was never too impressed with the meandering verse section we came up at the time.

When I was putting songs together for this album, I remembered another jam we used to play that had no words. It had a nice hypnotic groove and some interesting rhythms and I remember how we’d play it over and over going around and around.  At some point, I realized that it worked perfectly as a replacement for the original verse section and the final version of this song was born.

Don’t know if it’s showing
But my confusion’s growing
Don’t know where I’m going
I got no way of knowing if I’ll ever get free


This song was a lot of fun to record because I got to play the kind of grinding rhythm that always feels satisfying.  Rich Lamb came up with a great simple piano part – I suggested a 50’s rock and roll kind of thing.  The hammering drum part that Rich Pagano came up with as it moves into the chorus and also the way that he returns to a more straight ahead beat at the very end of the song are also great touches.

I had a blast making car sounds that fly around your head during the break before the guitar solo.  I got that sound by playing my strat with lots of whammy bar action through a Fulltone 70’s pedal (silicon fuzzface distortion) into a Fulltone Dejavibe (univibe clone) and then into a cranked marshall amp.


The grind at the beginning reminds me a little of the Smithereens – one of their early hits – I forget the name.

The inspiration for the car sounds comes Jimi Hendrix’s car crash guitar freakout at the end of “House Burning Down”– – definitely one of my favorite Jimi Hendrix ‘moments’.

The solo at the end reminds me bit of Eric Clapton with a little Stevie Ray Vaughan – classic blues riffs passed down through the ages.