Fun With Word Clouds

As I work on demos for the next album, I’ve been thinking a lot about lyrics, naturally. Then I decided to have a little fun with the lyrics on our releases so far, and make word clouds out of them.

Here’s what happens when you plop all 40 Sci-Fi Romance original songs into a word cloud generator (I used wordclouds.com)

All Lyrics wordcloud

I was a little surprised “Don’t” made such a strong showing, but I realized it shows up in the choruses of at least four songs, so there you go.

Then I broke down each album, and tried to generate clouds in thematically-appropriate shapes. Here’s our latest, Dust Among the Stars.

Dust wordcloud

There’s “Don’t” again. I think it’s mostly from the songs “Autumn Waltz” and “Please Don’t Cry.” Here’s a look at The Ghost of John Henry.

John Henry wordcloud

“Love” feels about right. Finally, the first album, …and surrender my body to the flames.

Surrender wordcloud

Ok, I know I said, “finally”…but, actually finally, I decided to do one more. The EPs don’t really have enough songs on them to have a ton of lyrics, but since the site had this one more particular shape that was perfect, I decided to do our EP October, where all the songs were inspired by classic horror movies.

October wordcloud

There’s “don’t” again, but “Dead” and “Break” seem totally appropriate. I really like these. I’ll probably do one for the new record, and if you make any for your band, or your favorite artists (or authors), link to them in the comments or or Facebook or Twitter. I’d love to see them.

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A Burning Ember to a Grove of Trees

A Burning Ember to a Grove of Trees CoverHere we are, less than ten months after releasing our album Dust Among the Stars, with a surprise EP. It combines new recordings and previously released singles in one collection, most of which share a message of (cautious) optimism despite our current social calamities, and it was important to me to get this out before the 2016 Presidential election. These are our most political songs, and I’m sure I’ve never written an “important” song, but these are probably as close as I’ve gotten.

The EP kicks off with a brand-new song “In the End,” which was written in response to the constant howl of this election season, and recorded the first week of October. So that was, like, last week. It was the unexpected chance to jump in the studio and record this song that made the EP possible.

I’m basically a folk singer, and I felt like I had to get something out there about all this noise. Because the thing is, the votes are going to get counted and one of the candidates is going to go away, but we’re still going to be stuck with each other, and I think people have lost sight of that. I’m not a political party kind of guy, I care about human beings. I care about empathy and I’m terrified at how easy it is to lose that for other folks. You know, Woody Guthrie wrote “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitars, but Pete Seeger wrote “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender” on his banjo. I think that second one is the sentiment I was going for the most.

To go along with the track, I also made an immersive, 360-degree music video shot inside the studio, showing four of me performing all of the instruments. This’ll probably hurt your head:

Lyrically, “In the End” focuses on all of us bearing some responsibility for how we treat each other, and the fact that when people are hurting, we have to turn *to* one other, not turn *on* one another. That sentiment ties the track to two previously-released songs on the EP that come from the same emotional place – “Just to Win the Fight” and “A Mile of Ground.” Both of those were released in slightly different forms in 2012 and remastered for this EP. They focus on the human aspect of struggle and conflict, and the human cost.

Two cover versions of folk standards “Goodnight Irene” and “House of the Rising Sun” round out the EP. Our take on Lead Belly’s “Goodnight Irene” is being released for the first time, and was recorded during the Dust Among the Stars sessions.

The title of the EP, which has more words in it than the release has songs, is a metaphor for fear, which we could all do with a little less of, and is adapted from a line in “Just to Win the Fight.”

“Fields” Music Video

My folks were both raised in small, rural towns in Texas, but moved to Houston in the 1970s, where I was born. I spent my childhood, then, living in the suburbs and for holidays, summers, different events, shuttling back and forth out to farm and ranchland and towns too small for grocery stores. I spent a lot of time there.

A few years ago, my grandmother started experiencing rapidly declining health. I had moved to Los Angeles by then, an even bigger city even farther away, and felt tremendous remorse at not being around. I spent a lot of time thinking about the days and weeks I’d spent as a kid with my grandmother — and the self-sufficiency that kids were just expected to have. The here’s-a-dollar-walk-into-town-and-buy-some-candy-or-something-be-back-for-dinner laissez-faire approach to childcare that was so empowering and fun and formative and now has almost been literally outlawed. It’s a shame. The song “Fields” came out of those memories.

As I was working on this album, my grandmother passed on. While I was packing for the trip to go back to Texas, it dawned on me that while the emotional ties I have to that area will always be there, the literal and physical ties were now almost gone. Even now, I could no longer navigate the roads with no names that I drove so many times to get to her house. So I took a camera with me, because I didn’t want to forget those scenes and images that to be honest I took for granted for too much of my childhood.

A lot of footage I shot on that trip made it into this video. Maybe that could seem morbid to some, or too personal, but to me it’s a celebration. This was a difficult song to sing in the studio, something I tried not to shy away from in the video, and it was a difficult video to put together. But this is all very deeply a part of me, and wrapping it in a few bars and pictures and handing it to the world like that felt like the best way I had of sharing it.