In Depth

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. 


DRUMS - Sam Smith    GUITAR - Dylan Allen   GUITAR - Joe Ballaro  PIANO - Zac Clark
BASS - Sam Bolle

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. 




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.


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):

(Sidney, Clark, Pardini)

DRUMS - Sam Smith    GUITAR - Dylan Allen    PIANO - Joe Ballaro      BASS - Sam Bolle
SYNTH - Oliver Newell     ADDITIONAL KEYBOARDS - Zac Clark    

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


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.

(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 

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. 

(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


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