Syd - “Easy Magic” Liner Notes

10 years after my last solo record, and 4 years after I began this journey, “Easy Magic” is out.

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER DARIEL SIDNEY PRODUCED  BY ERIN "SYD" SIDNEY & ZAC CLARK
MUSIC BY SAM SMITH - DRUMS /// DYLAN ALLEN - GUITAR, BASS /// JOE BALLARO - GUITAR, BASS, DRUMS /// SAM BOLLE - BASS, GUITAR, RECORDING GEAR /// MIA DYSON - GUITAR /// GREGORY DOUGLASS - VOCALS
SONGS BY SYD WITH ZAC CARK, MIA DYSON, KARL LINDER & LEE PARDINI
RECORDED, MIXED AND MASTERED BY JASON MARIANI PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRIS CULLARI AND MARIANA SCHULZE
ARTWORK BY AARON TAYLOR-WALDMAN

0. Introduction

These are the liner notes that I shared with the folks who pre-ordered the record. I am especially grateful to them for their support and encouragement throughout the process.

Some of the songs have more details than others and I may even update this as I uncover more material related to the recording. But for now, the journey is over, the record is out and I’m thrilled to have this artifact to share with you. At the end of this series you’ll find my original letter introducing the album.

A note on how to listen: You will find links to stream, download and purchase the album throughout. Most people ask me what the “best way” to listen is, aware that the music business isn’t exactly known for it’s equanimity towards artists. Really, I just am happy you’re listening and each platform has it’s benefits.

Now, to begin, here’s the original video that I shared to introduce the album. Edited by the inimitable Rob Wilson and shot by Chris Cullari


1. One Good Reason

Another Night, Another Room, Another Phone Call
(Originally Posted Feb 2016)

It seems appropriate that I write about this song after having just come off the road. Depending on whether I'm coming, going, or haven't been out in a while, this song means something different to me. In that way it's reminiscent of "Back Home" -- a resilient old song of mine written in the very early days of my touring career and one I played almost every night for years. 

Right now, just coming back from a few weeks on the road, a couple of months before our first baby is born, these kinds of songs take on a whole other layer of meaning and singing them is a good way to check in. 

Right now, if I were to record One Good Reason, I'd sing and play it like this:

 

SHUT Up? Shut Up!

The day we recorded it was the first day of the Easy Magic session and we needed the energetic drive of this sort of frowny-faced-bad-ass full band approach to unite us all. We were champing at the bit to get something great on tape and we had just taken a pass at another song and felt unsure whether we had nailed it.

Listening back to the tapes from that day, all that anticipation meant that we had been simply talking too much between takes, and Sam (Smith, drummer) had noticed that. His playful "Shut Up!" after the count-in served as a firm reminder that whatever we were going to find wasn't going to come from yacking about it. 

So Sam (Smith) kicked us off with that no-nonsense determination, Sam (Bolle, bassist) kicked on a fuzz pedal for that extra middle finger of force and this version of One Good Reason was born. 


ONE GOOD REASON
(Sidney)

LEAD VOCAL + RHTHYM GUITAR - Erin "Syd" Sidney   BACKGROUND VOCALS - Mia Dyson
DRUMS - Sam Smith    GUITAR - Dylan Allen   GUITAR - Joe Ballaro  PIANO - Zac Clark
BASS - Sam Bolle

ENGINEERED, MIXED + MASTERED by Jason Mariani
ARTWORK by Aaron Taylor-Waldman

maybe someday I'm gonna let go
of the feeling there's shadow I'll see when I get home
out here every nights a weekend
it ain't hard to find a best friend
so why am I so alone?

I thought I'd head out on the road
I thought I'd get travelled
but I keep coming more unravelled
I thought I'd made my mind up
you know it ain’t easy
but I don't have one good reason
one good reason

most nights all that I can I see are shadows
faces I can’t follow, strangers I don’t know
like I’m on reruns, just watching every bad decision
it’s such a bitter vision
of every sentiment unsung

I thought I'd head out on the road
I thought I'd get travelled
but I keep coming more unravelled
I thought I'd made my mind up
you know it ain’t easy
but I can’t see one good reason
I got one good reason

then you ask me how I make my way
if I’m ever gonna make it
you’re gonna ask me what's my family saying?
whether I got one good reason
I got one good reason

to head out on the road
go and get travelled
I don’t care if I come unravelled
at least I made my mind up
you know it ain’t easy
I got my one good reason
one good reason


2. Can I Call You

 The jam where it began... (May 2013)

This song began in a cabin in Northern California where we (Mia Dyson and band) had just played for a few thousand people during sunset/moonrise.

"I don't want to go to sleep tonight, I just want to sing this song
I don't think I'll get more high tonight, my mind is already gone"

Just in case you couldn't hear exactly what we were singing, there it is. Draw your own conclusions.

I write notes to myself along the way. Here's what I thought as I filed this one away in my workbook:

The first thing I'm hearing as I set out to write this next group of songs,
and it deeply moves me, but towards what I can't quite say.
That night in the cabin away from absolutely everything, the one lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. Could be an homage to that experience, but it feels like something else.

 

 

Refinement and First Try Recording (September 2013)

My bandmate Lee Pardini came up to our old house in Ventura and we spent a day working on a general refinement of the structure of the song. 

I couldn't get away from the lyric I had improvised when the song first appeared, so we recorded a demo with Lee on bass, me on drums and guitar and a very quiet vocal meant to be replaced.

You can hear the germ of the idea in there but it had yet to take shape. 

 

ONE NIGHT WITH A PIANO (Early 2015)

 

Zac came up to visit and together we found our way to the heart of the song. I love hearing Zac on demos, he has such a powerful voice. One interesting thing listening back to this (aside from the unfinished lyrics) is the way we're switching off line by line in the verse and we're each doing our best imitation of each other. It's hard to tell who is who. 

 

The "Easy Magic" session (may 2015)

Zac and Mariana had left to get groceries so Joe was filling in at the piano. Sam Smith and Sam Bolle had guided us into this beautiful musical trance and night had fallen.

Here's Sam Smith:

All the songs came together fast, but especially this one. What I particularly heard in my head was the single punctuated crack that comes in at the end of the song. I just hit whatever was nearby that wasn't a drum -- which happened to be a music stand. I hoped that when I heard the final mix, Jason (Mariani) would make it sound like out of some dream. And he did!

My other co-drummer on this, by the way, was Sam Bolle on bass. Those rolling 16th notes that I kept going on the floor tom were merely floating along with Sam's bass line, and I love times like that when multiple band members hold the rhythm together.

One FINAL STEP: Mixing THE SONG

Sometimes, as we are sitting at the studio mixing these songs, Jason (Mariani) will "solo" something for me to hear how he's achieving an effect. In this case, we thought you'd like to hear how Jason's helping Sam's drums pulse throughout the song. 

Here are the original drums without effects:

And here they are with the pulsing effect added (best in headphones):


CAN I CALL YOU
(Sidney, Clark, Pardini)

LEAD VOCAL + RHTHYM GUITAR - Erin "Syd" Sidney     BACKGROUND VOCALS - Zac Clark
DRUMS - Sam Smith    GUITAR - Dylan Allen    PIANO - Joe Ballaro      BASS - Sam Bolle
SYNTH - Oliver Newell     ADDITIONAL KEYBOARDS - Zac Clark    

ENGINEERED, MIXED + MASTERED by Jason Mariani
ARTWORK by Aaron Taylor-Waldman

underneath my breath
in the back of my mind
the last summer day
that took you away
you left me behind

I don’t need a reminder
I don’t want a sign
I want you to come back
as simple as that
back to where I am

can I call you when I can’t get to sleep at night?
when I wake up alone
I’ll tell you what I see when I close my eyes
you can tell me when you’re coming home

got your picture framed
just the other day
picked up a book you read
but you never finished with
when you were my age

I keep moving on
but that’s not what I want
I want to see you here
I want to hold your hand
You been gone too long

can I call you when I can’t get to sleep at night?
when I wake up alone
I'll tell you what I see when I close my eyes
and you can tell me when you’re coming home

can I call you when I can’t get to sleep at night?


3. Across The Earth

RAQUETTE LAKE, NEW YORK SUMMER  2011

 That's Teddy on the left, holding the banjo. The bachelor in question is on the left. The best man is to the right, assisted by the best dog.

That's Teddy on the left, holding the banjo. The bachelor in question is on the left. The best man is to the right, assisted by the best dog.

This song was conceived on August 20, 2011. That's what the date says on this voice memo I've been saving.

I was at a friend's camp on an island in upstate New York for a bachelor party. 

That night in 2011, Teddy, a camp regular, was playing the banjo like he was leading the marching band at a rugby match on a pirate ship, and my friend Greg and I were just trying to keep up.  

These were the Hotels & Highways days and I was particularly on the hunt for a song.  I try to have a little slice of my brain set aside that's like an objective journalist following me along in life holding out his tape recorder. Unlike my inner artist who is shy, insecure and questioning, this inner journalist is not questioning, insecure or shy. He's got the assignment of his dreams, he's following along an artist at work.

I just have to train myself that whenever I hear that little confident journalist voice inside say "record this", and every so often...well, that's the kind of easy magic I named this whole thing after. 

That night, 5 years ago, in what seems like an entirely different life, that's what happened. 

It sounded like this:

For those who are curious (like my lawyer) that riff Teddy is playing is a rough approximation of a song called "Spotted Pony". It's a traditional song and is what is considered "public domain" -- we either don't know who wrote it or their copyright expired after a hundred years. Here's a video of serene fellow demonstrating that song. 

One Year and 2 months Later (Fall 2012)

November 26, 2012 should be considered the first session for "Easy Magic."

Jer Coons, Zac Clark and Dylan Allen converged at my studio in Ventura for a writing weekend. 

I brought this song to the guys and we very quickly recorded it. Jer played banjo, Dylan played guitar and bass, Zac played drums, we recorded all kinds of vocals. Jer went back to Vermont and started sending us mixes of our new song. 

We got pretty far in the mixing process and three things bothered me about the recording we made, all of which were on me. 

First, there was my vocal performance. I had taken on a character in the vocal that, at the time, sounded authoritative and confident but in the end just didn't sound like me.

Second, there was the lyric. I had used a Train metaphor, so the chorus was "We will ride a train across the earth." It was close, but no cigar, least of all because "riding a train" is a theme Patrick had explored with much more poignancy in the Hotels & Highways song "Train Whistle". The verses had more railway metaphors in them and all of this steam-powered imagery was somehow diluting the whole point of the song. 

Finally, I hadn't insisted on giving Zac proper drumsticks when we recorded his playing. He played a great, laid-back beautiful drum part...with giant brushes so the drums didn't have any impact on tape. 

Those three things, plus my uncertainty about what to do with the song (release it, don't release it...) stalled things for a few years. Yes, I said years. No, I can't believe it either.

Here's the last mix Jer made of that recording session. 

 Zac Clark, before his hair and beard achieved wizard length with the culprit brushes.

Zac Clark, before his hair and beard achieved wizard length with the culprit brushes.

 Jer Coons and Dylan Allen

Jer Coons and Dylan Allen

Then and Now Meet (Easy Magic Sessions)

The song I was still calling "Train Across The Earth" was at the top of my list to re-record in May.

But actually, the recording we made at my house isn't the recording you're hearing.

It turned out, once I came back to the sessions after all the guys had left, we had recorded it too slowly. Plain and simple -- a very rookie mistake. If we had just checked the tape, we would have known. But we didn't, and in a way I'm glad we didn't.

Instead, I was forced to re-examine that original recording with Jer, Dylan and Zac and discover that it had all the energy we needed. I re-recorded Zac's drums with sticks and I dug into to finish the lyrics and the vocal. 

What you're hearing today is the result of almost 5 years of work. It's essentially time traveling through different phases in my life, as I, *ahem* found my way across the earth.

It's always a slippery slope telling myself something isn't finished or isn't up to a standard. Whose standard? Will the work ever be done?

Every situation is different, and this one has a happy ending.

I was able to successfully navigate that question with a great deal of help from my crew and some skill of my own, if not efficiency.


ACROSS THE EARTH
(Sidney, Allen, Clark, Coons)

LEAD VOCAL + RHTHYM GUITAR - Erin "Syd" Sidney     
BACKGROUND VOCALS - Zac Clark, Jer Coons, Dylan Allen, Mia Dyson + Joe Ballaro
DRUMS - Syd  GUITAR - Dylan Allen   KEYS - Zac Clark  BASS- Dylan Allen

ENGINEERED by Jer Coons, Daniel Wright & Syd
MIXED + MASTERED by Jason Mariani

Had our worries then we lost em
In Desert skies and canyon blossoms
As we find our way across the
Mountains and the valleys of the earth

The rails they rattle over rivers
We are passengers we're drifters
Storms may gather in the distance
We will find our way across the earth

Woah lose our troubles by the mile
Woah watch the sun light up the sky
Woah and we'll never say goodbye
We will find our way across the earth

Snow fall in a northern forest
An ocean break in California
it’s like the world was made just for us
As we find our way across the earth

Though we have no destination
We know there is some final station
But still we have today
to carry on, to find our way across the earth

and if it takes all day and night
if we’re not looking for what we find
then we’ll just head out tomorrow

We will find our way across this
No matter what the ticket costs us
We will find our way across the earth 


4. How Much Is Enough?

This song marked the re-start of songs arriving in the inboxes of my patrons. I felt I owed them a bit of an explanation for the gap, so here’s the letter I sent them in the fall of 2016 as I began to pick up steam again.

Welcome to the second half of Easy Magic.

I  knew when this project began that in order to stay sane and motivated, I needed to have a deadline to press record in a room with my friends and a deadline to kick off the regular release of new music, but I purposefully did not set a deadline to have this complete album in your hands. 

Our little Isla Gayle came into the world on April 25th and changed our lives completely, gleefully re-arranging our cardinal directions and challenging us to re-imagine every part of our life.

A sort of a clumsy, very tenuous equilibrium has emerged and I have begun to find the time to finish the songs.

I'm thankful for your patience and proud of my pre-fatherhood foresight to take it as it came. Both have kept this process fun, exciting and fulfilling. 

We are now most likely on track to put out about a song a month again, and there are 5 or 6 more to go.

“How Much is Enough” is the first new song in this second part of the journey. 


HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
(Sidney)

LEAD VOCAL + RHTHYM GUITAR - Erin "Syd" Sidney     
BACKGROUND VOCALS - Zac Clark, Sam Smith
DRUMS - Sam Smith    GUITAR - Dylan Allen   GUITAR - Joe Ballaro  
PIANO + KEYS - Zac Clark    BASS - Sam Bolle

ENGINEERED, MIXED + MASTERED by Jason Mariani
 

another story on a cover
one more way to lose each other
every day
it’s a terminal disease
and I am starting to believe
that we can’t escape 

So I go looking for distraction
No purpose, all reaction
hypnotized
miss the chance to wake up
from this dream I didn't make up 

forget to open my eyes 

how much is enough
I could wish for so much
throw the days away
when to say when
let's begin this again
a fresh start where its ending
enough is enough  
pretending 

another sunset another
made up mess is a memory
misread the warning and the signs
I keep looking but I’m blind
to what is happening 

Just when I think I’m all fixed up
I’ll make another wish up
fantasize
make a fortune, we’ll be better
oh the life we’d have together 

just gotta wait for that time 

how much is enough
I could wish for so much
throw the days away
when to say when
let's begin this again
a fresh start where its ending
enough is enough  
pretending 

the man I might be
the life I would lead
enough pretending


5. Pouring Rain

An "Unforgettable" Chorus Is Born

In the bright blue beyond this I will be a different man I promise you
If that's the way it's gotta be with you. 

For three years, whenever I would pick up a guitar, I'd play this riff and I'd come to the chorus and I'd sing these words and I would maybe do a little high five with myself think "ah, when I make my next record, this is sure to be on it."

Collaboration is a key to my process. Maybe *the* key. And in the spring of 2015, just a few months before this session was set to begin, Karl Linder's contribution to the formation of this song was his willingness to hold up a metaphorical mirror for me and help me see that I didn't mean a damn word of that chorus I'd been singing for 3 years.

Without the chorus to work backwards from, the verses were also meaningless.

So, with the weeks before the recording session dwindling quickly, I hit the road with Mia up the West Coast for a tour with a few simple creative goals of my own: write every day, fine tune what's there, and find the right chorus for this song. 

 
  The view from our cabin.

The view from our cabin.

Inspiration In Eastern Oregon

The secret about writing every day is that, more often than not, the work that comes out when you Sit Down To Write is mediocre or frustrating. But the key is just to do it and you open yourself up to the possibility that you'll find what you're looking for, often when you least expect it. 

So halfway through the tour, I had kept my word and every day I had sat down for an hour to write. Little had changed until one night we had just finished playing on an outdoor stage next to a barn under the giant desert mountains of eastern Oregon, the campfire was raging, the locals were too, and I was headed up the hill to our cabin the woods.  

And in that one moment, I was Mythical Songwriter Guy. Overtaken by a melody and a lyric that I just had to record at that moment, mumbling to myself, fumbling for the phone to just get it down. 

I pulled a guitar out of the van and started working with the idea some more, trying line after line after line. There was still more work to do but I finally had the centerpiece of the song. 

 

One Last Thing...

  This guy = my secret weapon.

This guy = my secret weapon.

This was one of my favorite songs to record with everyone at the house. I meant every word I sang, and I loved everything everyone was playing. As usual, Sam Smith played the less-obvious drum part, making it sound as though it was always meant to be that way. 

As it came closer to time release the song, I wasn't satisfied with the impact of the chorus so I reached out to Mr. Chorus Impact himself, Gregory Douglass, to sing with me. I could write an essay about the reasons why having Greg on this song was important to me (decades of friendship, his bravery in love, the fact that he makes me look good) but I think the emotional depth he brings to the recording speaks for itself. 


POURING RAIN
(Sidney, Linder)

LEAD VOCAL + RHTHYM GUITAR - Erin "Syd" Sidney     
BACKGROUND VOCALS - Gregory Douglass, Mia Dyson
DRUMS - Sam Smith    GUITAR - Dylan Allen   GUITAR - Joe Ballaro  
PIANO + KEYS - Zac Clark    BASS - Sam Bolle

ENGINEERED, MIXED + MASTERED by Jason Mariani

feel like we’re driving in the pouring rain
feel like the sun will never rise again
i know it looks like it's our darkest day
baby, can we let the blue sky in?

the sound of hearing your heart break
turn around I wanna see your face
got so caught up in the mess we made 
there is something I forgot to say

I’ve got you I promise
we gave each other wedding rings
I said I do
and that’s the way I'm gonna be with you

I never know just where I’m headed to
just where I’m going can’t be without you
maybe it's simple maybe it gets rough
I  want to reach I want to feel your touch

I’ve got you I promise
we gave each other wedding rings
I said I do
and that’s the way I'm gonna be with you

that’s the way I'm gonna be


6. Poison

I call this "the song that nearly killed me" because I entered kind of a fugue state when recording this with The Sams -- that basically means I became very stern and yelled my face off during recording the vocals -  it was the only way I could think to sing it.

The next day I woke up so sick it was like the hangover from hell, with barely a drop to drink the night before, setting the scene for one of my most honest and embarrassing moments ever on tape, known in our little crew as "the time Syd cried and told us he loved us"....

But for the general public, it's a song about the ways we all take a little bit of poison every day. 


Poison
(Sidney, LInder)

LEAD VOCAL + RHTHYM GUITAR - Erin "Syd" Sidney DRUMS - Sam Smith    GUITAR - Mia Dyson PIANO + KEYS - Zac Clark    BASS - Sam Bolle

ENGINEERED, MIXED + MASTERED by Jason Mariani

so come on tell me something
are you here to make a show
the money means nothing
it’s just here to make things go

let me give you my neck
so you can choke me where I sit
hurry up, get the poison quick

I get the poison in the spotlight
I get the poison on the stage
I get the poison when I see you
you put poison in my veins

let me give you my neck
so you can choke me where I sit
hurry up, get the poison quick

I’ve seen men take poison
to say what they can’t say
I’ve seen men given poison
and then try to run away

let me give you my neck
so you can choke me where I sit
hurry up, get the poison quick

I get the poison in the guitar
I get the poison on the stage
I get the poison when I see you
you put the poison in my veins
poison in the guitar
I got poison on the stage
I got poison in the spotlight
you put the poison in my veins


7. So Easily

The last two songs on Easy Magic are reflections on my formative years playing music on the east coast, a time I will not soon forget.

The first of the pair centers around my solo project bandmates Sam and Dylan who answered my call when I had this idea for this project and brought with them to California a flood of memories.


Easily Now
(Sidney, NEWELL)

LEAD VOCAL + RHTHYM GUITAR - Erin "Syd" Sidney
DRUMS - Sam Smith    GUITAR - Dylan Allen
PIANO + KEYS - Zac Clark    BASS -  Joe Ballaro

ENGINEERED, MIXED + MASTERED by Jason Mariani

 Today I woke up back in Boston
on that summer in back bay
I keep rewinding this old tape
so worn out it barely plays

I listen for the reason
that I keep writing on this page
when just as easily
there’s so much else that i could be

I could give up so easily now

But you showed up in California
man, I still can’t believe you came
we picked up where we left it
just some kids that won’t accept
they live too far away

I have worried and I’ve wondered
I know that nothing stays the same
but when we start to play
without words we seem to say 

I won't give up
I won’t give up so easily now

I won't give up
I won't give up
I won't give up
I won't give up so easily now

Sometime long after we are done here
when our signal starts to fade
I will look back on a spring day
I didn’t give up for a change


8. Closer To The Fire

The final song on the record is dedicated to my longtime collaborator and Hotels & Highways bandmate Patrick Thomas Cupples who is very much alive and well (that was starting to sound like an obit) and with whom I shared some of my “second chapter” of musical growth. Post solo career, as I learned to produce, got back into drumming and started a new band, Pat was there every step of the way, a constant creative force and companion.

There’s more to come from us, I’m sure, but from the perspective of this song, I wanted to dwell on the memory for one more moment.


CLOSER TO THE FIRE
(Sidney, Clark)

LEAD VOCAL, DRUMS + ACOUSTIC GUITAR - Erin "Syd" Sidney
PIANO, KEYS + BACKGROUND VOCALS - Zac Clark   
ELECTRIC GUITARS - Joe Ballaro + Mia Dyson  
BASS - Dylan Allen

ENGINEERED, MIXED + MASTERED by Jason Mariani

 closer to the fire that we started with
when we were younger and the fight wasn’t over yet
closer, I keep getting closer
the longer that it takes to get over it
the harder that it gets to uncover it
closer, keep getting closer 

Now I would go back if I was capable
to that hotel we had a drink or two
live life
burn bright
words came out burning hot
a fire that we couldn't stop 

Was there ever that flame or did I dream it up? 
Did we burn it out or did we give it up? 
The closer I get, the further it seems 

closer to the fire that we started with
when we were younger and the fight wasn’t over yet
closer, keep getting closer
the longer that it takes to get over it
the harder that it gets to uncover it
closer, keep getting closer 

we had it right in our hands and then it burned away
when you built a city out of closet space
State lines
midnights
down 89, 91 and 95 

When the road hit the wheels we would do anything
to keep that getaway feeling burning through our veins
The closer I get, the further it seems 

I get so afraid to just dig in the dark
I feel so alone down there in the well 

I’m closer now
closer than I’ve ever been
I’ll light it up you see what you can do with it 

I’m closer now
closer than I’ve ever been
Follow the fire maybe start it up again


Epilogue

Thank you for listening and for reading. As an epilogue, here’s the original note I wrote in 2015 when this project began. Until next time….

Erin “Syd” Sidney
September, 2018
Ojai, CA

Welcome to the Living Liner Notes for “Easy Magic”.

This spring after Apple Music launched I wrote an article bemoaning the lack of meaningful credits on streaming and digital download services. 

In that post I pledged to do something to continue offering liner notes for my work as the majority of listening shifted online. Liner notes are something I see as an essential part of the album art form. 

A booklet and the music - that simple multimedia experience ignited the imaginations of generations of music makers and fans. I want you to be able to press play and read along.

This is my take on that basic idea.  I’m making it available only to those of you that pre-ordered the album at first. Once the album is finished, I plan to make this site public so people can experience the music as I intended. 

-originally posted November 2015