It's been about 4 months since my EP released on the internet so I thought it would be nice to spotlight each song.
The fourth track on my EP is Sphairistike and you can listen to it here.
After I had recorded my other 3 songs, I thought ‘I don’t know when I’m going to be in a studio like this again – let’s make something weird’.
I came to the studio with 2 riffs which I had been playing in practice sessions with my bands for a while without either of them turning into songs. I had recently bought a loop pedal and I really liked how building up a looped riff left my hands free and allowed me to focus more on singing. Riff 1 was called Getting Away and I wrote that after tuning my guitar into DADAAD (which was what I thought drop D tuning was). Riff 2 was called Cycles and I wrote that after wanting to experiment with finger tapping (I realised that I was doing it the wrong way later).
The original idea was to make one song which could be split into 2 for the release, thereby making my investment go a bit further.
Writing the lyrics came after a 6 month break from recording after I had a few bad performances and didn’t feel as good about music. After writing a lot of songs about other people, I decided that this one would be a song for me.
The 6 month break contained a lot of anxiety and awkwardness – a lot of weird things happened in my personal life and I had taken temporary withdrawal from university.
The lyrics to the Getting Away part are about how I saw myself and what I wanted to be within my really anxious and awkward stage. It presents itself as clever wordplay about tennis (Sphairistike is the original name of the sport of lawn tennis and was played on an hourglass-shaped court, which is where the first verse came from – things were so simple at the beginning and no one knew this would evolve into one of the world’s most popular sports) and coming to terms with growing up and not living up to the expectations you set for yourself – evolution isn’t always a good thing.
20 was a weird age, I felt like I wasn’t on track and that most successful people were already successful by 20. This is what happens when you don’t do any actual research about the music industry. Shortly after my 20th birthday I wrote a long Facebook post about not feeling like I was ready to be 20 which, 5 years later, I cringe even thinking about. In a way, I may have been consciously writing parts of this song in a way that I would cringe at later. Part of the song references someone I knew who I was very awkward around at the time of writing and it’s still a difficult listen.
Getting Away also features a really long word – floccinaucinihilipilificate – which I had been wanting to use in a song since I was 15 (it means ‘to value as worthless’). In some ways, that’s an achievement but in other, more correct ways, it’s just a choice. I’m much more proud of how I wrote the pre-choruses – having them counting forwards to 12 and then backwards from 10 was some of the best writing I think I’ve ever done. My experience in the worlds of engineering and robotics has given me an appreciation for the times when something incredibly simple actually works and the simple fix often outperforms an overengineered load of awkwardness.
Getting Away ends with the chorus repeated in distorted vocals. This was because I discovered that hitting the distortion pedal on a looped section makes things crazy in an instant with minimal effort and I wanted to recreate that in the studio.
Cycles is a more upbeat acceptance of growing up and that it’s ok to make mistakes because there is in fact plenty of time to make things right, which is something I needed to hear at that time. I wrote the lyrics to this part on the nights before studio sessions and on the trains on the way to the studio. It’s some mushy inspirational phrases that sounded clever to me at the time and I still smile when I listen to the song today. You can still almost hear me laugh at points in the song.
When I recorded the vocals for the first time, I hadn’t actually sung the words out loud until I got into the vocal booth. I hadn’t sung at all since my last few bad live performances. My cue came and I couldn’t find the note. I let out a nervous whimper. The producer played the first note on piano to the rhythm and I was able to get the words out. He carried on with the piano and it added a new layer to the composition so we decided to include it alongside the relatively thin guitar line.
Cycles also developed into a more piano-driven ballad and became something which would be at home on an advert for a building society. This was fortunate as I wanted to try to get at least something from this EP into some sort of sync deal.
I made some interesting choices with percussion as well – for the first verse we sampled some ping pong balls bouncing and for the second verse we used tennis balls and a book (the book which I found out about sphairistike from). We also recorded a wobbleboard accompaniment which sadly didn’t work out well in the final mix.
The title, Sphairistike, is Greek for "to play with a ball" and was the name of the sport which became tennis. The name was an example of the trend among 19th century sportspeople (who are we kidding, they were all men who wouldn't allow women to play sports) to idolise the Ancient Greeks as the peak of sophistication in sport and athletic ability. This is why we have football leagues like the Isthmian League, early football teams like Corinthians and the rebirth of the Olympic Games in 1896, all of which had amateurism at the centre of their ideologies, deriding professionals as lesser sportsmen than those who competed for the love of the game. We see this taken to extremes today with the NCAA in the USA but if I went into that, this post would be much longer.
Anyway, the title fitted the song because after writing lyrics to Getting Away, I realised that I was showing the same levels of perceived refinement about my abilities alongside the self-gatekeeping and the underlying fragility of my sense of self. I came around by the time I wrote Cycles because I made a pun of the title - "you think your situation's very sticky". I didn't actually record it in quite the right phrasing but it should have been able to be misheard as "you think your situation's Sphairistike".
In the end, the title tied together the 2 parts enough that it wouldn't make much sense for them to separate and take their original titles.
I’ve stated over the last 3 posts that Sphairistike is a niche song and therefore belonged at position 4.
My real reason for having it at the end is that this EP represents the 5 stages of grief. When I saw a counsellor after my first big breakup, they mentioned that grieving the relationship is a process I was going through and that making this impulse purchase of an EP recording package was linked to it.
Flare is denial with its misrepresentation of a situation as being beyond anyone’s control or expectations; I Hope It Rains is quite clearly anger; Sweets For My Sweet is bargaining with the hope that things could change if I brought something new to the table; Getting Away is depression and realisation that things won’t be the same again and Cycles is acceptance that this is the way things are and will continue to be.
In short, I often say that art is just what you have ready to show when your deadline comes around and how you justify it and this song is just one more example of that.