Everything You'd Want to Know (And More) - "Fever Dream"
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, "Fever Dream".
The root inspiration for this song is based on the physical feelings of having a massive fever (food poisoning in my personal experience) and images of the butterflies at the Milwaukee Public Museum. It's a really weird combo.
This song began with what is now the intro chord progression. I had made this voice memo a while back that had it's own melody and was considerably shorter. It was originally intended to be the verse of the song. I listen to my own music a lot, and from time to time I notice similarities. Things like starting melodies on the third, or choruses that start on the relative minor chord. It doesn't bother me really, it's part of my style, but I do make efforts not to repeat it if I do make these observations. I treat it like a challenge of sorts in order to prevent my song from getting stale. So following that voice memo chord progression, I went to a different chord than I would normally go to for a chorus (subdominant for those playing along at home). As I played around with it, two melodies emerged that ended up being the verse and chorus, relegating the original demo to an intro.
Once the verse melody was established, the opening line of "A fever dream in a butterfly net, there's always holes but you never forget" came out quickly. I don't know why, really. I think those words just fit the rhythm of the vocal and I had a crystal clear visual. The feelings that go along with that kind of sickness somehow collided with my memories of the museum. The Milwaukee Public Museum is one of my favorite places in Milwaukee and I have strong memories of it throughout my life. They have a live butterfly room, which is cool, but I always remember the outdated science part of the museum near the end of the rain forest section. There are mock drawers with butterfly samples pinned down, presumably for preservation and cataloging. So the rest of the lyric is a mishmash of those two inspirations. It's an odd sort of narrative, but it makes sense in my head!
The chorus had a strong melody, but it was really short. I didn't want to just sing "Would you believe" over and over again, so I started working on a second part of the chorus. There was a line I was working on for a while that had the lyric of "Hard to recognize the truth", but that was too on the nose. Not mention, it was crazy high in my range. That little melody turned into the last bit of the intro melody.
With nothing else in the tank, I started thinking back to some of my recent inspiration for the soundscape I've been working on. As I've said, I really have enjoyed the choral elements and that has a very specific story. A number of years ago, I had heard of another Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) project called Volcano Choir. Concurrently, the song "Pompeii" by Bastille was on the radio. I kept thinking they were the same thing, "How cool that someone FINALLY added a choir to a band, beyond the studio capacity!!!" I was so excited, but then I learned the terrible truth. The song was not by Volcano Choir and neither band had an actual choir. I was super bummed. For the longest time, I kept waiting for someone else to make that sound, untilI realized that I could do it myself! "Pompeii" has a really strong vocal hook of a male choir singing "Ohhs" and such. So I tried to see if something like that would fit in this new song. It's pretty poppy, but in the end it's kind of a cross between the "Pompeii" vocals and the end of "Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" by the Police.
Tempo was a real struggle for me on this. When I sit down with my acoustic, I play it about 15 BPMs faster than the recording. But the groove I created sounded so good at this tempo, I couldn't bring myself to re-record it. As usual, I consulted with Kristen and she confirmed my tempo felt good and if anything, it should be slower! The percussion section for this song ended up being my trusty pocket operator, the conga, and knee slaps. I don't know why, but the knee slaps had the very specific sound and energy I needed.
While I used a ton of tracks on this song (35 in the end...), it's mostly due to doubling each vocal part to give it more of a choral feel, and individual tracks for single guitar notes on the "whooooa" section (also doubled.) The same effect could probably have been done with less tracks and more studio trickery, but if the tracks are available, I always prefer to record at the dynamic level I want and do less automation.
I really love the track and the sounds created. It sounds lush without overdoing it (at least to me.) I hope you enjoy!