Everything You'd Want to Know (And More) - "How Long Till Dawn?"

On this edition of Everything You'd Want to Know (And More), I'll be going over the writing, meaning, and decisions behind my song,  "How Long Till Dawn".

For me, this is a song about restlessness. The narrator has difficulty sleeping, thinking about what has been and what could be. He sees a black and white picture and imagines the subject looking back on all the things he should have done, but it's too late. Our narrator strives to avoid that fate, but feels so many things are out of his control, so he whispers, "How long till dawn?".

I started chasing the opening chord progression a few weeks ago and settled into a pattern that not only highlighted the melody I wanted, but one I could also perform. I'm much more comfortable with a pick, but this song required something more nuanced.

I'd had some trouble sleeping for a few nights and it felt like something was there, but the real inspiration came while re-watching the 4 hour Tom Petty documentary. In the opening of the movie, Jackson Browne refers to Tom Petty being the embodiment of the rock and roll dream. For whatever reason, the word "Dream" triggered everything else. The verses came together relatively quickly, though the pre-chorus gave me some trouble. I occasionally write melodies that have a very specific syllable count and that can really pigeon-hole things. This one got in my head, but I ended up writing out as many of these 3 syllable words and phrases as I could. From there I mixed and matched them along with the other sections of the verse.

The arrangement could have gone so many different ways. I was tossing around keeping it really quiet with some light synths while featuring the finger picking, but the restless nature of the song and picking pattern moved me away from that. Then I started recording a version with some pretty heavy fuzz bass that turned the chords into a choppy riff. While interesting, it didn't feel quite right.

I had just written another new song that I was really excited about and started to feel uncertain about "How Long till Dawn?". It didn't feel as strong and I lost confidence in the direction of the arrangement/recording. I played both songs on the acoustic guitar for my wife and she gave me some really helpful thoughts. Aside from the chorus, I had been trying to sing everything full voice. But she pointed out that some softer vocals would compliment it better. She was totally right!

I started over with a new recording and performance of the guitar as well. It all fell into place from there. The guitar turned out better than I thought and the lighter vocals really complimented it. The chord progression moves too fast for the long, spacey synths I had originally envisioned, so I had to adjust. I made the parts purposeful, but not overbearing.

I've really enjoyed utilizing background vocals as well, so this one was a great opportunity to do more. I added some "ooos" and "ahhs" to give it more color. The beat you hear on the second half of the song was originally playing throughout. It didn't feel right, but I knew I wanted it at some point. After recording almost everything else, I sat down to cut up the drum part and created the simpler beat to give the opening more space and room to build. I really love the congas that add more excitement to the beat as well.

The synths ended up having a "Stranger Things" vibe that I really enjoy. Though I don't know many Tears for Fears songs aside from the hits, I'm seeing some similarities there as well. I also enjoy the balance of the guitar and synths, keeping up with the dichotomy of my recent music. Overall, I'm really happy with how this one turned out and it may end up being a favorite!

- Nathan

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