This was the first song I ever wrote for Anna and I to really sing together. I love the sound of her voice on this recording. When we sing it live we have a kind of game in which we stare intensely as possible at each other — which is super funny to both of us because she’s like sister — every now and then one of us straight up loses it and laughs.
I still prefer the demo of this song to the recording. Dave (Sardy) and I had a series of spirited debates about this song which ended with a compromise and a switchblade being pulled (as a joke, I think). The song is about the mind-numbing process of touring: the endless parade of people, places, overwhelming experiences and the quiet observer at the center of your mind growing ever-distant from reality.
Steven and I wrote the basic structure of this song in a hotel room in Kansas City. The words were written in the bunk of a bus in Cologne, Germany. I was reading a collection of Milan Kundera’s stories and was struck by “The Hitchhiking Game” in which a married couple pretends one night to be strangers to one another, the charade leading to all manner of mixed emotions. I miss the line about the virgin bride too.
True story: this song was originally called “Something You Own.” It had no guitar. It sounded kind of like Grizzly Bear or Animal Collective or something with all these harmonies and a sort of “umpa” keyboard line. Then one day I pulled out a guitar and an amp, played the song with a Stones-y beat and thought “oh fucking hell yes.”
The Cure was my favorite band growing up. This song is about the song “The Perfect Girl” — and all those great Cure songs to which I knew every single word — and how much music can mean to you when you’re a kid and how as you get older you hold tighter to ANYTHING that means as much to you as a song did when you were fifteen years old.
So much of this record was written about the two and a half years we’d spent on the road after playing shows in Silver Lake, going from living in apartments to living on a bus — and the experience, all of it, was predicated mostly upon the popularity of a record written about a real person whom I’d loved. It was really strange: singing about her every night, as if the whole thing was some kind of bombastic eulogy for a muse that had long-since become a ghost.
This was the first time I ever wrote a song with any idea that someone might hear it. This whole record felt like a love letter to all the deepest things I love about music. I knew I wanted the opening lines of this song to pair up with the closing lines of the last song. Birth and death — and all the love and loss and hope and anguish in between.
Another song in which I still prefer the demo version; in this case it was kind of Wilco-y with an acoustic guitar and piano harmonies. This is about my dad who met mom when he got out of prison, trying to stay clean, how idealistic they were, how hopeful for a future for all us children not yet born.
The first of the two anti-war songs on this record, I think this whole group of songs (you could include The Winning Side and Neda) stemmed from a desire to tell the stories of people at war that weren’t being told at home. We had a lot of vets at shows on this tour and I wish I could say we did something lofty like start a letter-writing campaign to increase VA funding or something but mostly we just tried to get them laid.
This song is about the two incidents during the war in Afghanistan in which US drones mistakenly bombed Afghani wedding parties. I guess I wanted to say something about the idiocy of trying to win “hearts and minds” with bombs. In retrospect, it seems obvious. The guy screaming during the bridge is Daren in a drum room with a megaphone. We each auditioned and he had by far the best all-out scream. Double points for him because the drums on this song kick so much ass.