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Gumble Origins: Sandy

Song name: Sandy

Written: September-October 2015, February 2016

Music by: Eli Gumble

Lyrics by: Eli Gumble

Release date: 9 February 2024

The story:

Sandy started life as a plan for a short vlog called My Best Summer Ever where I would describe the story of how I went on holiday to the beach and met a girl from Australia, we hit it off and spent every day together on that beach, I was sad when she had to go home but when school started up again I found out that she had moved to my town and transferred to my school so things looked like they were going to be great... before remembering that this wasn't actually my life and it was a film called Grease.

While I was scripting this vlog, I looked up a synopsis for Grease to make sure I added all the right details to the story. Towards the end, one line struck me - "Sandy watches [the car race] from afar, concluding she still loves Danny, and decides to change her attitude and look to impress him". I looked up from the screen and sat back in my chair. I had been in this situation before.

My first proper relationship was very much rushed into by both parties. She knew from the outset that I didn't smoke or drink alcohol and a few days into the relationship, she told me that she would give up both of those things for me. This was completely unprompted but it was what I ideally wanted from a partner so I supported her decision. A few months down the line, she told me that she started smoking again, I told her that I didn't want her to do that, she told me that she felt like I was trying to change her and the relationship broke down over the course of the next hour.

I feel like her words would have actually meant something if she hadn't previously repeatedly told me that I should get my nose pierced.

Anyway, this sort of emotional rush got me thinking 'this is song material'. I started with a '50s progression for the verses since I was referencing a film set in the '50s. I don't really know how to justify the rest of the chords.

The lyrics for this song took me a few days. The chorus took shape quickly, the rest was more difficult. The secondary theme of the lyrics was geology, which I knew a bit about from my time studying a geotechnics module in university. The size of particles in a solid determine some of that solid's properties. Sand doesn't have the smallest particles but it's at just the right consistency where (when it's dry) it can be poured into containers like a liquid without sticking together and can completely fill it up, unlike pebbles, which would leave a lot of air gaps. And if you've ever been to a beach (or watched Star Wars Episode II), you'll know that sand is coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere and you'll find it where you least expected it for a while, even after you've left the beach.

The line "She's in my hair and in my pockets and even the food I eat" is a reference to how I dyed my hair the same colour as hers, I was spending a relatively large amount of money on her and I told her a few days into the relationship that I was noticing that food tasted better. A further link from the song to real life was that we had planned to go to London Comic Con together and she wanted us to go as Danny and Sandy. That weekend was about a weeks after the breakup was finalised and the events of that weekend instead inspired my song I Hope It Rains.

The chorus was a satisfying piece of writing. Belting 'she's not the one' felt good (on so many levels) during the writing process and it fit nicely with the pause that I left after the down-up strum so the chorus was built from there. I have a document with some original lyrics to Sandy which are mostly the same but have the chorus starting with 'She's not the one that you'll never forget'. I'm not sure when I made the change but I never really forget anyone so 'she's not... the best that you can get' made more sense. Whenever I listened back to the songs while recording it, I got a Gillette advert voice saying "The Best A Man Can Get" in my head at that line.

I think I wanted to put some sort of sandcastle imagery in there but sometimes a song just fills up with other things and you realise that you would have to remove some of the narrative to fit it in so you hold it back.

Back at university, most people who knew my music told me that Sandy was my best song. By the time I played my last gig there, I would move back from the mic to hear the crowd singing the last chorus with me. It's a magical feeling and I hope to feel it again some day.

The recording:

Recording Sandy took at least 4 separate attempts. My one-take recordings in 2016 didn't feel quite right and neither did the initial attempt at making it orchestral in 2017. At some point, I started all over again, electing to use an acoustic guitar rather than my electric through an acoustic pedal.

I'm going to preface this next fact with the warning that if you saw this detail in a film, you'd boo the screen: this acoustic guitar which used to belong to the girl I wrote the song about. It's a relatively cheap Elevation brand guitar which was converted from left hand to right hand when her sister decided she didn't want it any more (this girl had a weird family life because her mum was in a cult and favoured her younger sister who hadn't outright left the cult), so there's a distinctive odd sound I can't quite put my finger on about it. I was with her when she got a much nicer guitar and decided to give me her old one. It wasn't the best guitar but it was better than the 3/4 size one with very worn out strings which I had been using.

I came back to the song in 2021 and got the strings and solo to my liking but the intro and the silences before the choruses seemed a little off. My solution for the intro was a whispered count-in but the first strums of each chorus seemed to lack the punch I have when I perform the song live. I didn't want to re-record the guitar because there would be a noticeable difference in sounds so I put the song to rest for a bit.

In early 2024, I decided that Sandy would be my next single and thought about how I could complete it. I thought "this needs waves - do I have my own recording of waves?". Turns out that on a trip to Felixstowe in 2022, my girlfriend (not the girl I wrote the song about - this isn't a Slumdog Millionaire-like story of big lucky coincidences) got chocolate ice cream on her hat and went to the sea to wash it. I decided to film her in case she got hit by a big wave. These wave sounds covered the gaps and worked as a rolling percussion during the mid 8.

Fully satisfied, I used a BandLab preset to master it and sent it off to Distrokid.

The artwork:

In 2014 I went on a university field trip to Aberdovey in Wales to do geological surveys in an abandoned quarry,

to see a bridge made from recycled materials which one of the lecturers designed and to perform soil analysis in boreholes in Borth Bog. Some fun activities but I withdrew from that year halfway through and switched from Civil Engineering to Systems Engineering when I came back so I never got to use those skills anywhere else. On the way home, we went to see the installations at Dinas Reservoir, part of the Rheidol hyroelectric power plant. It was a bleak day with a lot of rain. I distinctly remember one guy who had normal trainers on instead of the waterproof hiking boots the rest of us had looking very glum indeed. As the group walked back from the dam to the minibus, passing the shore of the reservoir, I took a few photos, thinking "this is the bleakest beach scene I've ever seen. I don't know who the person I captured is and there would be no way of identifying them because I didn't really know anyone on my course - how can you when you can't really talk in lectures?

No editing was done to the image - this is what my camera took plus some text. It was a seriously grey day.


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