For this month’s Track By Track, singer/songwriter/guitarist Fred Torphy of San Francisco-based rock band Big Light shares the story behind each tune on the group’s debut album, Animals In Bloom. Big Light makes their New York City debut on Saturday night at Sullivan Hall.Take a listen to some of the tracks from this album and then read Torphy’s take on each of them…
Animals In Bloom
Recorded from October to December 2009. We had a routine of recording for a week straight or so, then we’d break and do gigs another week. That’s how it kind of played out. So we were constantly listening to rough mixes in the van, hatching ideas. The main goal of the album was to take a core set of road-tested songs and turn them on their heads…
Good Time of the Year
One of our more up-tempo tunes. That’s why it’s the opening track. This was also the 1st song we tracked. It’s a about someone lamenting on a down-on-their luck friend. And the healing powers of going home to your roots. I fucking love the drum solo…
We wanted this one to be fuzzy. It’s actually one of the oldest songs written on the record. I started it when I still lived in Vermont. At the time I was surrounded by a lot of rich, coke heady, semi-obnoxious, girls who seemed to be full of feeling of entitlement. So Monster is about a fictitious person. She’s a total bitch, addicted to drugs, but somehow always can get into a sold-out show…
READ ON for Fred Torphy’s thoughts on the rest of Animals In Bloom…
I wanted to write a song in a minor key. This and Good Time are the only two songs on the record that someone else contributed to. Jeremy Korpas, our guitar player, helped write some of the lead guitar parts. It’s kind of wicked. We wanted to make an all-out face fuck guitar tune. It’s abrasive. For a while we’d hear crickets every time after we played it at a show. People we’re confused. I think it has some pretty good hooks. I used to tell people it’s about a dinosaur who smokes weed. that helped me to lighten the notion what the song is/was..But its actually a very personal song about real people..
The centerpiece of the album, for me. This was an incredibly hard song to record. For 90% of it, we actually tracked it as 3 different songs… tackling the three movements in separate pushes. But the lead vocal and acoustic guitar were done first as a live take. The rest of the music was added around the live vocal/acoustic. SO although it was heavily produced, the core of it is a live one-man-singing-with-guitar thing. It’s a love song, maybe the only overt love song on the album. It’s kind of like a romance story that takes place on the Redwoods with some high-grade LSD.
This is a pretty rocking number. My guitar solo in the middle was recorded through Jerry Garcia’s old amp. His guitar tech of 20 years lives in a little apartment that shares a kitchen with the studio where we made the record. He would lend us some of Jerry’s old gear from time to time, and this one particular modified Fender Twin was the best amp I’ve ever heard. We ended up borrowing it for almost the entire duration of tracking. Anyway, one day we ran cable into a giant empty where house room that was adjacent to the studio and brought in the Jerry twin and made it go as loud as it possibly could. That tone is priceless.
Probably the most stripped down song on the record. Steve harmonizes with my lead vocal throughout the song and I take the choruses by myself, which is a little different as far as our arrangements go. Departed is basically about being bummed out and not having any money, drinking cough syrup to get high…
Joel Cummins from Umphrey’s plays keys on this one, although there is so much happening on this track that it might be hard to in his parts down without listening closely. This song is repetitive as fuck, but that’s the angle. I wanted to make a song that was a little trancy. I actually wrote the song on the ukulele at a hotel in Hampton, VA during the Phish reunion. It’s about losing your head. My friends nicknamed me “Caution” that weekend because of my antics… So the song is heavily auto-biographical. I even mention real people. To me, the song is a total adventure. It’s one of my favorite to play live… I want it to burrow into people’s heads..
This is another old song of mine, one that pre-dates Big Light. But its also one of our signature tunes. gets requested a lot. There a pretty solid version on our first EP.. I was hesitant to re-record anything from the 1st EP but was eventually convinced that it was the right thing to do for 2 songs. This is one. I wanted to go as big as possible with it. If you listen to the ’98 version, you will see what I’m talking about. I just realized that Heavy is maybe the 2nd love song on the album… The jam that we created in the middle of the song was wild to put together. I think its a huge departure from the original.. We ended up really surprising ourselves with how much work we put into this one.
Parts of Nor-Cal can sometimes seem like a crazy place inhabited by wild outlaws. It’s true. Drive to Mendocino and take it all in. There’s a huge weed producing industry in full swing and a lot of people throughout the state rely on weed to feed their families. A lot of musicians take jobs trimming herb or whatever… It’s a very normal thing to trim herb for money. But the idea for Rainbow Eyes spawned from being around some of the weirder people who exist in this world. We meet a lot of these dudes at the festivals we play out here. Some of these people are great human beings, but others are fucking bat-shit crazy and if you don’t watch your beer closely you are going to get dosed. Rainbow Eyes is about that latter group.
Also on our first EP. I was able to turn the outro jam into a Use Your Illusion-era Guns N’ Roses-inspired send-off, gang-vocal included. Its long as fuck. I think just under 8 minutes. I wrote it as a send-off to George Bush sometime in early 2007. He still had a few years left, and man was I just pissed and disgusted at the time. Like “enough already, you asshole”… I had a previous life as a political activist and this song is as political as I’ll ever get. It’s weird though. These days I feel like the song could be about any asshole, current president included.