Self-Retrospect #7: ‘Snug’

The Self-Retrospect posts are the ones where, instead of talking about how other artists’ songs or albums impacted upon my life, I egoistically attempt to elevate the stature of my own music by discussing it in a similar fashion. (Notice the use of the phrase “other artists” in that sentence.)

In this seventh edition, focusing on the corresponding seventh track on the Projects compilation, things get a little bit quiet…


On 21 March 2003, I recorded a mostly improvised piece called ‘Soothing Effect’. The title was intended to be somewhat ironic, as a listen to the track will demonstrate:

[audio:|titles=soothing effect|artists=david ding][download ‘Soothing Effect’ mp3]

I was going to say “a quick listen”, but at just under eight minutes in length – the longest track I’ve ever put out – it’s anything but quick. Like ‘Apple Tree’, this used  a Sonic Youth-style tuning (GGBBDD in this case). Unlike ‘Apple Tree’, however, this one also stuck firmly with the Sonic Youth aesthetic, i.e. it’s fairly fucking noisy.

This was pretty much the culmination of my SY emulation attempts. There wasn’t really a way I could have pushed it further on that front. (Which is not to say that their influence on me dissipated, by any means – just that when it did show up, it was less overt.) As if to commemorate this, the next song I did  – the following weekend – was possibly the quietist, most subtle track I’d ever done.

Of course, this new track was mostly an attempt to emulate another band, Beat Happening. I’d come to know Beat Happening through two books: Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life and Everett True’s Live Through This. After being intrigued by both books’ accounts of the band and their lo-fi, low-tech, DIY approach to songwriting, recording and performing, I went and downloaded some of their songs (via Audiogalaxy – without a doubt the greatest P2P file-sharing system of its time!), like ‘Our Secret’ and ‘Hot Chocolate Boy’.

And ‘Indian Summer’, of course.

It’s essentially impossible to mention Beat Happening without mentioning ‘Indian Summer’. Whether or not it’s their best song is debatable, but it’s certainly their most enduring. And I can’t deny the influence it had on that song I went on to write, called ‘Snug’.

For the bulk of its less-than-bulky two minutes and thirteen seconds, the instrumentation consisted of just one clean electric guitar and an unintrusive bass. Atop this, I recorded some detached, unenthusiastic vocals, singing lyrics which were probably a little too twee for comfort. I made a deliberate point of avoiding any rhymes.

All of which makes it sound a bit lame. And perhaps the bulk of the song is a bit lame. But its saving grace – perhaps even a coup de grâce (?) – is the instrumental bridge. For about 18 seconds (from 1:17 to 1:35-ish), four or five extra guitars come in, each playing delicate little lead lines, combining to create this warm, lush blanket of sound. (This might have been where the title of the song came from. I really can’t remember, so let’s say it was.)

This part, along with the extra guitars’ little encore at the end, managed to lift the humdrum majority of the song and take the whole thing to a higher level.

Well, that’s what I thought, anyway. Have a listen for yourself, see if you agree:

That instrumental break had a couple of different parents of its own. As I said, Sonic Youth’s influence didn’t go away – and my love of the more mellow, intricate guitar work on the (underrated!) A Thousand Leaves album, such as on ‘Hoarfrost’, showed here.  I’m not sure if my timeline’s in check, but this could also have been about the time I was deep into the Velvet Underground’s self-titled third album and ‘Pale Blue Eyes’ in particular – another spark.

But the key inspiration for that part was actually from quite a different breed of song. The intention was that there would be two cycles of verse, pre-chorus and chorus with just the single guitar and bass – centre-panned, so the stereo image was as “narrow” as it could be. And then, in one moment, all these additional guitars would come in, placed “around” the original instruments, with two of the guitars panned to the extremes – hard left and hard right. Directly contrasted with the preceding narrowness, this makes the bridge part sound big, wide, …expansive.

It’s not a particularly original or inventive trick. I’m sure it has been done a zillion times by a zillion different acts. But the single instance of this that stuck in my head – and which is still one of my favourite moments in any song – is in the Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Stand Inside Your Love’. The song’s verse keeps the guitars near enough to the centre. There is an increase in intensity in the pre-chorus (“But for the last time…”), but things remain relatively narrow. Until it kicks into the chorus, with Billy singing the word “dreamed” and those hard left and right guitars crash in …voom!

Mine didn’t go voom, but I think I got the effect I was aiming for.

Having the use of mixing technique as the key element of a song means you have slight problem when it comes to performing it live. Without the big multiple intertwined guitars bit, the song is reduced to its insipid core – and I don’t really think it’s strong enough as such.

Also, particularly when I first started playing gigs, I’ve always found it a lot more difficult to play quiet stuff in front of people. It’s so much easier to be loud and abrasive.  When I did my first “David Ding” show (accompanied by my friend Peter on drums), ‘Snug’ was actually on the setlist. However, when it came time to play it, I chickened out and decided to go straight into ‘Flare’ instead.

The only public airing ‘Snug’ ever got was not very public at all. It was at a little show I put on with and for some friends …in my living room. In that quite intimate setting, it was still a bit limp. Since then, it has remained outside of the live repertoire. And until I’m in a position to get five other guitarists to join me on stage, I have a feeling it’s going to stay out there.

I’m not sure if that counts as me letting the song down, or it me. Either way, there’s a letdown in there somewhere. Oh well.