This is the unedited email from lead singer/songwriter Daniel Botkin detailing his vision of a new album that will ultimately unfold like chapters in a novel, weaving an orchestral folk odyssey through rich harmonies, dynamic instrumentation, and vivid story-telling.
Hey swimphateam! I did a brain dump, and put what I could down on paper to share the vision I have for this album. I apologize if it's cluttered. My head is a little cluttered at the moment. I also shared a Spotify playlist with you all. A lot of these notes coraspond to songs in that list, so familiarize yourself with it. It will give you something to do while I lay down some screech tracks.
Length: 12 songs
The record is a journey into a strange land, starting with “A New World”, a song about heading into the unknown, looking for a homeland (Like those who first came to America in search of “the New World"). The album ends with a song about a spiritual home, or the promise land. The songs in between are a search for a place to belong, and an exploration of related themes. The central idea is the choice between finding your kingdom and finding your kindred spirits; between ruling your life alone or loving your neighbor; the choice between a crown and a crowd.
"The only princes, queens, or lords
are the ones who win the wars.
You can set all of the borders
if you’re not sharing the ground.
And the only ones who bend the knee
have all fallen by sword.
You can give all of the orders
if there’s no one else around."
There should be a journey in the songs. They should flow, and not all sound the same. The record should be a dynamic, emotional rollercoaster, with a thematic feel. Again and again, I return to Coldplay’s Viva la Viva as a prime example of a complete album. Other albums I like right now are John Mark McMillan’s Borderland and Augustana’s self titled record.
"A great typeface is a beautiful collection of letters, not a collection of beautiful letters.”
While the magnitude of Titans came from the sheer size of its wall of sound, American Blood’s grandeur should come from its completeness, its progression, and the beauty of its story.
I don’t have a particular sound in my mind when I think of this album, but I think of this as a “no frills” albums. Selfishly, I want the lyrics to carry more weight. Think of this as a more orchestral album, as opposed to a “rock” album. More movement, less power chords. Polyphony, but not a wall of sound. Heart-wrenchingly epic.
I want these songs to be really singable, and to play up the harmonies. I want to try something on this record. I want most of the depth & ambience to come from the backing vocals. Basically, if we feel like there should be a pad, we should sing it. If we think we need to saturate a chorus more, do it to the harmonies. (Think Bon Iver). Everyone should sing. Even if it’s not a “harmony” song, we should be thinking of ways to add more vocal layers. Our trademark is that we’re a band with 4 man voices, so let’s work it. Another idea I have is that at some point it would be really cool to feature a different lead vocal from one of you guys. say on a verse or bridge or something. Or we could have different parts “dueling" or something. I love the timeless, vintage-sounding harmonies at the very end of Viva la Vida, also.
For me personally, a lot of the songs are a return to the joy playing my guitar, and I want to maintain that purity. I envision thick, doubled rhythm guitar parts with nice reverb and compression.
I’m really liking the guitar sounds of Bon Iver, Nuvo Amor, John Mark McMillan, and Lord Huron. This might be more of a guitar-centered album, and I see lots of opportunities for the lead & rhythm parts to mimic one another. (Lord Huron has some good examples) But I want to hear your melody ideas, Chris. I think there’s a ton of room, and can’t wait to hear what tasty bits you add. I love what you said about having a few parts that are nicely saturated, instead of a bunch of parts that are hard to distinguish. I can also hear a lot of slide and pedal steel sounds.
I have this crazy idea for some of the melodies. Check out The Diary of Anne Frank, and Main Title/A Nasty Headache on the spotify playlist, to hear what I mean. I want to sample that old school, lo-fi string sound. Basically, I want it to feel like an old, romantic movie (in very specific parts). There’s this amazing nostalgia and sense of classicism that those sounds evoke. I think a Meletron sound might work, if it was sonically bent in the right way. I hear it for moving melodic parts, not so much block chords. It could be a signature sound on the record. I love the way the song Borderland starts as a guitar song, and ends with an epic string instrumental.
(A good example of a similar sound used by an indie band can be found on the playlist. Overdone and Feel by Bombay Bicycle Club)
I don’t have a ton of ideas for the rhythms, but I want to hear more Jason. I basically want it to feel like we set up a mic in a room with Jason at the kit. I want the creativity to flow, and I want the sounds to be prime, but most of all, I want you to feel permission to use “sleezy” drum parts, and just let go and play the hell out of your kit.
Aj, I don’t know what the bass will be like on this one. I want you to feel a lot of freedom and creativity to come up with melodic lines. The chords I’m playing are a little more open and need some support, so I think it will make your parts feel bigger and more dominant. Someplace on the record we should have a bass intro of some kind. Because we’ve never done that.
I’m looking forward to this album a lot. Excited does’t quite describe the fire in my chest. I believe in these songs, and I believe that we can make them great, together. God bless America.