Song of the Day and Notes on Song Cycles

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As a fan of old school record packaging (I miss vinyl and the tactile experience of holding large artwork, pulling out the sleeve, and reading every inch of it), I always want to include liner notes with all my records.  And even though everything is moving to digital, I’ve still insisted to Centricity that we include a digital booklet for all downloads.  Come on, I have to have somewhere to write my liner notes!

With my newest release – a remix EP made for core fans – it seemed imperative to include a written piece in order to help give people a context and help explain the concept behind this little labor of love.

Since liner notes seem like the kind of thing that rabbity folks would dig, I thought I’d share them here as well as another one of the remixes for you to hear.  For your consideration:

As a music enthusiast (read: geek), I’m endlessly fascinated by songs – the seed they spring from, the process of their birth, and especially the different ways they’re able to escape the confines they were born into and take on a life of their own. Songs represent a holy kind of magic, or maybe grace is a better word.  Either way, I’m grateful that I get to participate in the mystery of it in my own modest way.

Song Cycles is an invitation for whoever might be interested (read: a geek like me) to eavesdrop on the songwriting process. We wanted to pull back the curtain a bit to show the journey of a song – from the work tape we record to capture ideas as we create them, to the demo I turn in to my label for consideration, and finally the defining moment when it becomes the song that you hear on the record.

But there are also the rare occasions when a song breaks free and finds another life, independent of its author – and that’s when things really get fun. So we thought we’d nudge these songs out of the comfort zone of the little nest they were born into and see if they could fly on their own (with a little help from someone other than me).

Which brings me to the best part of this project: Derek Webb.

Derek is one of my favorite artists whose music never fails to challenge and invigorate. His work is always asking listeners — both lyrically and musically — to reassess things we think we know to see if there might be more to be learned from chapters we’ve presumed closed.  He excels in the art of asking us to reconsider, to think again, further, and deeper.

It seemed perfect, then, to turn these songs over to him to reconsider and re-imagine them from top to bottom.  As a fan, it’s a great honor to hear Derek’s artistry on display in my songs as he breathes new life into them and takes them to delightfully unexpected places. I’m so grateful for his participation in this project and I believe that you will be, too.

Thanks to fans for listening and caring about these songs, and for being interested enough to spend some time with me in the creative process of working out these songs with fear and trembling in hopes that they find a home in people’s hearts.

Thanks also to Taya, Kipper, Jacob, and Gus who love and support me though it costs them.  Thanks, too, to John, Steve, Guy, Jeff and the rest of Centricity/Eaglemont for helping me conceive and deliver this project. Special thanks to Derek Webb for being that rare combination of excellent and kind.

Derek Webb’s remix of “Jesus Use Me, I’m Yours”


21 Comments

  1. Adam Bennett

    Awesome stuff Jason. I love it! By the way, I didn’t see when this is going to be released. Is it out already? I checked the RR Store but didn’t see it available yet.

    Blessings

  2. Sad Person

    I’m disappointed that anything concerning Derek Webb would be promoted on this site. Some of the recent things he has said concerning the homosexual community, etc., should be alarming to any orthodox Believer.

  3. Joe james

    Sad Person –

    Who defines “orthodox” these days? The loudest mean-spirited evangelical who claims to possess the corner on all truth? My understanding of orthodoxy is that it leads to orthopraxy (right thinking or believing = right action and living). If the evangelicals who claim to hold orthodox views on homosexuality, yet treat their homosexual neighbor unlovingly, I can only conclude that they are not orthodox. Calling Christians to rethink their language concerning homosexuality and their behavior toward the homosexual community, is not un-orthodox… it’s orthodox. Jesus said that a good tree bears good fruit. Is Derek Webb the tree of non-orthodoxy, or is it the evangelical right? The answer lies in the way the belief translates into behavior. Which one loves their neighbor in action?

  4. Jen

    Adam: it is, but it looks like the RR Store sold out. You can still get it on Jason’s website.

    Long live the liner notes! I like my music with a side of reading material. 🙂

  5. Debra Henderson

    Jason thanks for sharing this post, I love the liner notes. Thank you for fighting to keep them as part of your offerings. Please know we appreciate it.

    Selfishly I was so nervous to listen to this cd thinking that I didn’t want these songs to change, I love them. Still I have so enjoyed this glimpse into the seasons of their life’s journey. Each season has a beauty of it’s own.

    For those interested, you can get your copy of “Song Cycles” here on Jason’s website:
    http://discrevolt.com/artists/jasongray/

  6. LISA GILMARTIN

    What I love about the Song Cycles CD is that each version of the same song is so different from its original, yet comfortingly familiar. I agree that “Jesus Use Me, I’m Yours” is the best, but that’s really splitting hairs, as they are all great! And I can’t imagine a world without liner notes…..

  7. Sad Person

    Thanks, Pete. I know it’s not in the spirit of the RR to bring up contention. However, I don’t have any one in the RR’s email address to express the concern.

    I do love the music and writings that flow from here, though!

    Signed,

    Happy (because of Jesus) Person

  8. Tony from Pandora

    Has Derek ever said homosexuality was admissable? I’ve followed Caedmon’s very closely since My Calm//Your Storm, and I don’t recall Derek or the band saying homosexuality was okay. He seems simply tired of the hatred of the person and not the sin. From what I’ve heard, he says simply to love them the way Christ loves them and let the Spirit do the rest.

    But I’ve not been to a Derek Webb concert in some time. I don’t know what was said on his tour with Jennifer Knapp.

    I’m admittedly partly blinded by my thankfulness to Derek Webb and Caedmon’s Call. They turned me on to a a little-known singer/picker/songwriter who opened for them for a couple years…. I’ll give you a hint… his name rhymes with ‘Candy Deterson’…

    I would also accept rhymes with ‘Flebo Mormon’… and ‘Dustin McBoberts’… and ‘Gandra McFracken’.

    Jason, I bought this album, and I thank you for putting it out. Just like you wrote, it’s really cool to see a song through the different processes… thanks for letting us in on that.

  9. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Maybe I’m missing the point, but… it felt to me that the Sacred Sandwich article is, well… maybe missing the point? It seems to me to come from a certain bias of scripture that holds certain expressions of grace in contempt, like where it says:

    “His (Paul’s) diatribe against the Galatian church is just more of the same misguided focus on an antiquated reliance on doctrine instead of love and tolerance.”

    Because it’s satire, I assume they are making the point that “love and tolerance” is spineless and “reliance on doctrine” is preferable. Both labels are caricatures, in my opinion.

    Love, real love, is not spineless. Doctrine is absolutely important but easily becomes a kind of idol. Of course tolerance isn’t infallible, in one application misguided, in another righteous. Reliance on doctrine isn’t infallible either, especially since there is such a variety of doctrines to choose from.

    Maybe I’m misreading it, but it hit me as a little self-righteous, a little assured of itself. Of course the truth leads to deeper humility more often than not.

    And besides, Galatians is one of the great documents of grace, revealing our love of legalism for the madness that it is. “What happened! you were running a good race! Who cut in on you?!”

    But again, I might be missing what they’re going for.

    Alas, none of this has anything to do with songs, remixes, liner notes or anything in the post.

  10. Fellow Traveler

    I wasn’t the one who initially brought up Derek Webb, tolerance, etc. So I was just contributing (briefly) to an already off-topic conversation. 😉

  11. tim gilmartin

    well said, jason…but, i agree, the focus of this stream should be on the incredible remix album you put out….your music is a such a blessing to us all..agendas aside…well done, jason

  12. Loren

    …As for liner notes…. I’m in the geek section! I’ve downloaded one album (AP’s “A Far Country”) and while I’ve loved the songs I still feel I missed some vital information that might have been in the liner notes. To say the least, I’ve been leery of downloads since (even if they’re an incredibly good deal)! I’m glad you’re including them.

  13. Fellow Traveler

    I’m a cheapskate who tends to go digital, but the loss of liner notes always leaves me a little sad. So digital booklets are cool.

  14. Jen

    squirrel!
    (off-topic? sorry. ;))

    Digital booklets definitely help… I admit I buy a lot more music digitally than I used to (darn Amazon deals! but it does expose me to new things I might have never heard.) And I hate it when I buy a CD but find no liner notes inside. RR artists seem pretty consistent with including some good extras though. I don’t mind springing for a special edition when it’s an artist I *really* like…

    Yes. Nerd. But a thrifty and discerning nerd. 🙂

  15. Tony from Pandora

    Sorry, Jason… I didn’t help much…

    I think my favorite is the remix of ‘More Like Falling In Love’

    I loved the radio version with the ‘sing-a-long’ friendly “whoo-whoo’s” so I was taken aback by the piano intro. It’s really interesting to see how the style of music changes the tone of the lyrics which are given a new light. And the addition of Derek’s vocals singing the haaa,haa’s over probably my favorite line in the song ‘Cuz all religion ever made of me was just a sinner with a stone tied to my feet… it never set me free’ sent a shiver down my spine.

  16. Joe Thayer

    I received my autographed song cycles cd yesterday in the mail(Thanks Pete). I stopped all my business, put on the cd, reclined in my cozy cool bed, grabbed my magnifying glass, and read my liner notes as I listened to a tremendous cd. Thank you for this concept Jason. As a songwriter myself, it was so cool to hear the progression of a tune from genesis to completion. I especially like the work tapes. You are a wordsmith unquestionably. But your melodies are so strong. So many of your tunes could be played instrumentally and still stand up. The work tapes reveal the quality of the song before it goes to the producers to work their magic.

    I had a couple questions not related to liner notes if you would forgive me. My first question is how much say do you have in the arrangements and production once the song goes to the label? This record is about the progression of the parts. Do you keep your fingers in the pot to the end or do you leave that to trusted producers? How ’bout the mix? As per Derek’s remix, you can hear how profoundly arrangements can change the mood of a song. I love his creativity.

    My second question is how much say do you have in the decisions about effects and compression used on your vocal tracks? Your voice as an instrument is remarkable. I have heard you live several times in a solo performance and really appreciate the tone, dynamics, range, clarity, and overall quality of your voice. As an audio enthusiast (read: geek) I am especially interested to any opinions you have on compression and limiting.

  17. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    I have a good deal of say in the production. Hopefully you’re working with producers and players you already trust so you don’t feel like you’re on the defensive, without a voice, ready to do damage control. Of course sometimes there are differences in opinion, and in those cases I try to defer to my producers. It’s honoring to let them do their job.

    All of it is an imperfect science and sometimes it works in your favor and sometimes not, but at the very least it helps lead me into unexpected places, and i value that. The danger of my involvement is that I might get exactly what i want and nothing more. Does that make sense?

    I do keep my fingers in the pot as much as I can. Some producers think I do that too much, but at the end of the day it’s my name that’s on the record. Sometimes budgets are prohibitive. But hopefully you’re working with people you like to work with and who like you and so we figure it out.

    In a case like this, I worked with Derek because I’m a fan. I was happy to be hands off and see what he would do. I didn’t want to spoil it by interfering : -)

    He did do one remix that we weren’t thrilled about – a more acoustic version of “I Am New” that I think you can get for free when you sign up on my email list – but he graciously did another when we asked.

    Re: effects and compression. I’m blissfully unaware of so much of that stuff. I’m not a gear guy. But I am a fan of compression for the most part – especially on vocals. Purists might not like me for saying that, but I like the quality it gives my voice. I feel like it cleans it up a bit and adds an intensity to it that I like.

    I can’t say that I’m a big fan of the vocal mic that we’ve used in the studio for the last couple of records. I don’t know the model, but there’s something about how it sounds with my voice that makes me feel like it distorts a little on the high end and also makes my esses (the consonant s) sound weird and distorted. I already have one speech impediment, I don’t need another : -)

    There are a few spots where it sounds autotuned, too, though I know the mix engineer didn’t do that. So the vocal mic hasn’t been perfectly married to my voice. But you make do with what’s available to you, and really most people never notice that kind of thing.

    Thanks for asking, I hope that answers your question!

  18. Joe Thayer

    Thank you Jason. This post is more helpful than you know. I am always interested in the conversation about bringing into this world the tunes and art that God inspires. The toil of it often gets me down. There is a letting go and a simultaneous caretaking that has been tricky for me to balance. So any conversation about the creative process is most helpful for me. I have recorded and produced my tunes in a home studio, so finding the right sound is part of my experience. I perhaps would have been well advised to avoid the recording arts and leave it to the pros. I have been left chasing my tail too many times. It is all learning though. And this record is a nice look into the process of one of my favorites. Thanks again. (try a sound delux 251 on you vocal through a pendulum pre…..ug, there I go again. Gear lust is a disease.)

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