Personal Meaning in Lyrics

… A little bit about the songs “Symmetry” & “October Skies” by way of example.

I sometimes write poetry but it seldom lends itself well as lyrical verse. When I am inspired to write lyrics, however, my process usually leads me to superimpose words over a previously composed melody, sort of like poetry but constrained to fit that pre-existing melody. I’m sure most lyricists do this to some degree or another but I admittedly often do this at an operatic level; in effect I write a lot of instrumental music and sometimes I’ll hear the melody as being performed by a human voice and it’s not uncommon for me to write lyrics with melodies that harmonize with other instruments or even echoes of themselves.

But here’s something that people don’t often seem to notice: my lyrics are often personal, sometimes deeply so. This is probably masked by that fact that I’m not the one singing them and perhaps they’re also obscured by use of metaphor. Let me use “Symmetry” by way of example.  “Symmetry” is what it seems to be at first brush – three discrete voices all sung by the same person, oddly overlapping – but it’s more than that. Sometimes these voices reinforce each other and other times they seem to conflict or even contradict one another. This is because they’re all internalized voices inside the same man’s head, mine. I’d once replied in an interview that “I was going through a very rough patch in my life at the time” when I first began writing it (around 2000) but that doesn’t begin to encompass the array of health-related, marital, and career issues I was then facing and all of it on the heels of a couple of deaths in the family. I wrote “Symmetry” based on this feeling of ‘I need to face this squarely and I will somehow get through it.’ The song is representative of a head full of doubts, self-recrimination, and yet somehow reassurances all ricocheting around in the same skull. Let’s take a look at these lyrics again and listen now that you know those internal voices are all me trying  to come to terms with a seemingly-unraveling life, now that you know the pronoun ‘you’ in this song is me talking to myself:


Cast aside, a sacrifice
You redeemed your pride at such a price to pay
Remembrance in cold rain of a lifetime away
Ancient and bloodstained, a two-sided blade…
I can’t breathe!

Doubts that assail you at every turn
Echoes of failed youth and lessons unlearned yet today
Enduring the old pain, a dream’s promise unclaimed
Naked and unchained, a child again…
I can’t breathe!

Face the darkest night, a man alone, staring into the pyre (I can’t breathe!)
Burning bright, coming home, walking into the fire (I can’t breathe!)
There must be symmetry…

Small comfort in shadows and no peace in the light
In a world without heroes to continue the fight undismayed
Have you forgiven your own naïveté?
And cruel Fate that has dealt you a hand you’ve misplayed?
I can’t dream!

Gently wreathe your head, sins atoned, within a shroud of delusion (I can’t dream!)
Leave the dead, carved in stone, to find their own solutions (I can’t dream!)
There must be symmetry…

I’ve publicly stated several times that the song “October Skies” is about the sense of home as a place where my bones seem to resonate with the landscape. I wrote it to describe my distant childhood home in the Allegheny foothills, the overwhelming feeling of belonging there when I visit and the absolute surety that I will return someday for good. That’s very much true but it’s not quite the entire story.  I’ve done my best to put into words how deeply connected I feel to that area when I’m there, a resonance in my bones, but I always feel as though those words fall short of the mark. A few months back I went to the village graveyard in my hometown to pay my respects at the grave of a recently-deceased uncle (my father’s brother) and the nearby grave of my own brother. I wandered a bit and found myself standing at the foot of much older cenotaph still clearly marked “Warren Russell” – my grandfather’s grandfather – and the weight of our family history in that place was palpable to me. “October Skies” on the surface seems to be about this deep connection I feel to the landscape but it goes beyond that. My second wife Renée, although she has no real connection to those Allegheny foothills beyond her relationship with me, is the truest love of my life but is fourteen years younger than I. The recurring line “Although so far away I’ll return to them someday … and I’ll stay … but please know before I go, my dear, I love you ever more” speaks of my inevitable death and the fact that I’ll likely leave her behind to live for decades longer after I depart this world but that I love her like no other. There’s emotional pain but also beauty in that thought.

For those that might wonder why I chose Meagan to sing it rather than a male it is quite simply that I felt that her beautiful voice fit the subject matter. The song isn’t gender-specific.

“October Skies”

The foothills of my home sing clear, calling to my bones…
Fields of darkened loam lie there, waiting for the snows…
And although so far away, I’ll return to them someday … and I’ll stay…
But please know before I go, my dear, I love you ever more…

The hillsides burn so bright, they stay, dancing in my eyes…
Lurid autumn light, gold flames coloring the sky…
And although so far away, I’ll return to them someday … and I’ll stay…
Sure as coldest winter nights give way to warm days in due time…           

The pine and hardwood stands, above, looking down below
Running through my hands, the blood of the river flows
And although so far away, I’ll return to them someday … and I’ll stay…
But please know before I go, my dear, I love you ever more…

I love you, ever more…

The top picture hints at the autumn landscape of which I speak in “October Skies”. This picture was taken at Allegheny State Park; I don’t know when or by whom or I’d credit it accordingly. I found it on the ASP facebook page a few years ago and downloaded a copy. I haven’t doctored the colors or contrast at all and although I can’t speak for the original I can honestly say it often looks just like this. In fact this picture doesn’t really do it justice; sometimes it’s absolutely breathtaking.

Songwriter First, Guitarist Second

Good Music Transcends Genre

Bottom line upfront: “Cool! Another Band is finally going to cover my music!”

I’m sitting here looking at the nearly 80K Spotify streams of the “Presque Vu” mini EP since its release 28 days ago and reflecting on just how little that actually means in one respect but how cool it is in another. We’re looking at producing a video for the EP’s second track “October Skies” and I’m still pursuing other opportunities for the songs on the EP but I have to admit a large part of my mind is already fully engaged in thinking about the next album project. Still…

My official job description for most of my twenty three years in the US Army was Guitar Player. Sure, I did a lot more than that (I could tell you stories) but at the core of things my job was Guitar Player. I was a fair enough hand with it but I wasn’t comfortable in describing my own playing as anything beyond “adequate” or “competent”; it wasn’t false humility on my part because I worked directly with a lot of people that were better at it than I on almost every appreciable level. (I still do, in fact.) My strength – my passion, actually – lay in my ability to compose and to arrange music for ensemble work. I truly began to identify myself as a composer/arranger first and a guitar player second throughout the second half of my career even as I began slowly building a catalog of my original works.

I joined ASCAP as a publisher member in 2002, a few years after I signed up as a songwriter, and I began looking heavily into copyrights and royalties and things of that nature because I’d decided I was going to record my original music with the intention of shopping it around to other bands. Following deployment/re-deployment and a series of health issues I finally ended up recording nine songs in 2007 using local singers to record my lyrics over my music and it was satisfactory for its intended purpose as a demo recording. (You might be interested to note that this demo contained the song “Presque Vu” now part of my 2019 mini EP of the same name and “Invocation” from my 2018 CD “Symmetry” as well as a pair of others that will see new life on an upcoming album project of mine.)

I was unable to garner any interest in anyone recording my music at the time and quickly realized that I needed to do it myself and so, long story short, I began networking with guitarists and singers and slowly cobbling together a catalog as “Quicksilver Night” along the way. Remember MySpace? It seems quaint now but I managed to establish a few long-term musical relationships there. Milt Gore is one of several that immediately comes to mind with our collaborative “Mönster” in 2011; in a nutshell my message to him was basically “Hey I wrote this music and here’s the written melody and a demo recording; could you double and ornament the melody and then solo your ass off where I wrote virgules?” and his reply was essentially “Sure, why not?” There’s more that story and more similar stories but I think you get the gist of things.

Now here it is 2019 and I have currently have 29 songs commercially-available as Quicksilver Night plus twelve more with various other groups but I’d still yet to get another band to perform my original music … until now. I’ve said it often enough, “good songwriting transcends genre” and I have reached out to Paul Bidanset of local bluegrass favorites Brackish Water Jamboree. (Grab a look and a listen here Paul and I are currently in talks about them performing and perhaps recording their own version of “October Skies”; he’s amenable to the idea and I couldn’t be more thrilled. I greatly look forward to hearing their treatment of the song sometime soon. I will provide additional updates as they become available.  

Some Harmonic Perspective

Seeing the Forest for the Trees…

“It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.”

The above is the first verse of “The Blind Men and the Elephant” by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887). You can find it at multiple online sources but you probably already know how each blind man perceives the whole of the elephant differently than the others based on his limited experience with a small part of it and how each man “was partly in the right and all were in the wrong” per the last line of the poem.

This post is about the same sort of perceptual bias in a harmonic setting and will delve a bit into some music theory; my apologies to anyone that is put off by this but my underlying point about seeing the whole picture in the following paragraphs should still make itself apparent if you even if don’t have a background in music theory.

Listen to Quicksilver Night’s song “Presque Vu” and note a sort of harmonized guitar fanfare at around 03:29. Those three guitars and the bass look like this “on paper”:

It took me a while to accept this figure in my composition because it sounded right to me but it seemed to me at first as though it shouldn’t work. You might note that there are parallel perfect fifth intervals moving from beat one to beat two and then again from beat three to beat four. This bothered greatly me at first – I’m a bit compulsive – but then I stopped thinking about the figure as a series of four separate arpeggios (serially Emin7, G, Bmin7, and then D) but instead as a repositioning of notes within the same chord so Emin7 across beats one and two and then Bmin7 across beats three and four.

That resolved that particular bit of cognitive dissonance in my own head but then I realized that’s not the entire story either because there’s a sustained Asus2 on the rhythm guitar across the measure. So instead of two beats each of Emin9/A then Bmin9/A … although that is technically correct … the measure-long flourish is merely a repositioning of the notes across in a full measure of an A13 chord.

It’s sort of like looking too closely at first and all you see are pixels but as you “pull back” in view you see the measure is not one beat each of Emin7, G, Bmin7, and then D but more Emin9 and Bmin9, two beats each. Then if you perceptually pull back a little further and the sustained chord and the bass make it clear that it is really one contiguous dominant chord – A13 – across the length of the measure. The aphorism about “not seeing the forest for the trees” easily applies itself to music.

Streaming & Promotions

Some Ruminations and a Recommendation…

“It seems to me that older musicians can’t legitimately complain about the musical tastes of younger generations while simultaneously refusing to engage those younger generations on their preferred platforms.”

– Warren Russell (That’s right, I said it. I’m quoting myself. LOL)

I have a lot of musician friends and acquaintances that have significant fan bases but minimal Spotify presence that will heartily complain about the younger generation’s musical preferences – and rightly so IMO – but in effect do next to nothing as far as trying to offer that younger generation a viable alternative. In fact I know quite a few that seem to passive-aggressively sabotage their digital presence on these streaming platforms or even actively discourage streaming of their catalogs on those platforms. I am not here to discuss the relative merits of streaming, however; I’m here to talk about promotional things.

Let’s be frank here, there’s no “Quicksilver Night” as a live performance band – although some modicum of success might develop an ad hoc touring ensemble it most likely won’t – and Quicksilver Night as such is a really just a recording project, a creative outlet for me. There are no live performances; there’s no merchandise table; there aren’t any meet-and-greets. I am also essentially my own label so while it’s true that I don’t have to answer to anyone at a label I am also handicapped when it comes to support for logistics, marketing and promotions. Where to turn?

I had some minor success getting a couple of songs onto some Spotify playlists late 2018 and early 2019 but it wasn’t until February when I decided to try out another promotional service, Parkbench 13, whose introductory package netted me a few thousand spins of “Symmetry”. While this increase in streams is financially negligible the concomitant increase in followers from 45 to 354 was a welcome change for the better because that meant that those followers would now be informed whenever Quicksilver Night releases new music and, more importantly, I raised my digital profile at Spotify and made the algorithm take notice, so to speak. I peaked at 4,093 monthly listeners on March 1st and slowly subsided back to 30 to 40 monthly listeners after that.

As the impending release date for the “Presque Vu” mini EP approached I decided to employ Parkbench 13 again and after exchanging emails and phone calls with a dedicated representative – a very knowledgeable, articulate, and straightforward representative – I went ahead and pulled the metaphorical trigger on a promotions package from them that offered to send my music “to over 300 Spotify curators” with their stated goals “to get placements in 5-10 active playlists with a total following of over 50,000 users” and also claiming they’d also promote my song “to a network of approximately 200,000 Spotify and Apple Music users.” The email concluded with “Our goal is to hit over 20,000 streams, 15,000 new monthly listeners and a minimum 1000 new followers.” (I am well-aware that 20K streams at $.005/stream is only $100; I was looking at this as an investment in gaining audience. Hopefully some of those will decide to stream other songs of mine and more than once, right? But I digress…) Friday March 3rd was the official release date of the “Presque Vu” mini EP. I began with 34 monthly listeners and 357 followers and by May 10th, a week after release, I was at 9,113 monthly listeners and 2,893 followers with over 13K total streams of the “Presque Vu” mini EP.

I broke 10K monthly listeners on May 12 and 20k streams of the “Presque Vu” mini EP the next day (with 12.5K streams of the song “October Skies” alone), ten days into what the representative at Parkbench 13 told me would be a “four to six week” campaign. It’s May 17 as I type this sentence, two weeks after its release; I woke to 23,103 monthly listeners, 3,517 followers, and nearly 58K cumulative streams of the “Presque Vu” trio of songs this morning. I’ve every expectation of a continuing rise over the next few weeks and although I’m sure the curve will further flatten – I know the current level isn’t sustainable – I am immensely pleased.

Interestingly, I’ve seen nearly nothing in terms of traction at Apple Music or iTunes and when I asked about this I got a straightforward reply, a rare thing: “Because of the blended and somewhat unique genre of the music our initial response from Apple Music has been unenthusiastic.  We believe that it is best to focus on Spotify promotion because the Playlists seem to be more receptive.” There you have it, unequivocal and helpful to boot; I can easily live with a statement that basically validates some level of originality in my music while telling me in no uncertain terms that I should invest my promotional energies elsewhere than Apple. I should probably make a point of adding here that earlier in the campaign Parkbench 13 provided me with spreadsheets that contained contact information for numerous music blogs and playlisters that only accept submissions directly from the artist. I just sent out emails to some of those to those yesterday and I have just begun fielding responses, too early in the process for me to be able to comment intelligently but I am encouraged by the initial reception.

In summary then I suppose I’ll say that as far as I’m concerned the folks at Parkbench 13 have been extremely useful to me in increasing my digital profile and if this is something that is of interest to you as an independent musician then I suggest you check them out as well. Start at

“What’s Next for Quicksilver Night?”

Well, since you asked…

Check out this excerpt of an amazing photograph “Into the Valley” by my friend Bob Hembree. An impressive vista, isn’t it? It was taken December 4, 2018 at Monument Valley, Utah. I’ve licensed this photo for use as the album cover of Quicksilver Night’s forthcoming all-instrumental “Asymptote” album, a hugely eclectic offering that I hope to release both digitally and on CD later this year (but to be honest I’m probably overly optimistic about the time frame).

An all-instrumental album might seem a little bit like an odd choice but I’ll tell you how it came about. I posted this earlier in the year and it still applies for the most part so rather than reinvent the wheel:

“My musical output in terms of instrumental parts far exceeds my ability to write meaningful lyrics and as a result I have a huge backlog of instrumental pieces, most them guitar-driven, just waiting for the right axe slinger to come along and make those songs his or her own. To this end I’d like to announce a forthcoming full-length instrumental album by Quicksilver Night . . . covering a range of rock subgenres. We will begin recording this album in early 2019 upon completion of the “Presque Vu” EP and intend to release it – in digital and on CD – before the year is over.” But wait, there’s more…

You might notice that little gap in the quote above; taken from my old website, it used to say “…featuring the incredible Jason Cale on guitar…” but that’s no longer entirely true. I realized that it was unrealistic of me to expect Jason to give me an entire album’s worth of melodic and solo material in such a relatively brief time and thusly simultaneously bottleneck both my workflow and his. He’s got numerous other musical projects going on; I’m thrilled to be a small part of it but I don’t intend to monopolize his time. At the moment the “Asymptote” album is set to include the following songs, all of which are well-into the tracking phase and in some cases already nearly finished (in alphabetical order):

1. “Dream Sequence Gunmen” – featuring Nazim Chambi, a fun but driving instrumental rock song that reminds me of a hybrid of “Tomorrow Never Knows” and “Highway Star”

2. “Hephaestus the Cuckold” – featuring Farzad Golpayegani, a powerful prog metal number replete with ringing anvil strikes

3. “Mister Wizard” – featuring Jason Cale, is odd-meter funk with elements of prog, blues, and a whiff of jazz

4. “Power Curve” – featuring Jason Cale, as the title suggests, is powerful and melodic, sort of Van Halen meets Argent in Ozzy’s living room

5. “Trompe L’Coeur” – featuring Nazim Chambi & Anne Epperly, piano-driven and classically-inspired with melodic electric guitar passages and sweet flute interludes

In addition, by way of a heads-up: I can guarantee you some neoclassical flash from my good friend Milt Gore but we haven’t titled the track yet. I also have a tentative agreement with Gordo Bennett regarding the song “Continuity” but scheduling remains problematic; we’ll see. I’ve gotten positive responses from Jeremy Barnes, Andrew Negoustorov, and Jay Rakes regarding their involvement but we haven’t yet hammered out specific details; I will do my best to keep you informed as meaningful updates become available.

As to any questions about the chosen title, you can easily look up the definition of “asymptote” but you might be wondering why I chose it as a title. It’s not arbitrary; I’ve actually long been fascinated by the idea of a line getting ever closer but never quite reaching something, always approaching but never quite getting there. It’s a mathematical term that has useful philosophical implications in my book. The story of why I actually chose “Asymptote” as the title has to do with two things: 1) My working title of the album was “Mister Wizard” after the track of the same name but once I expanded the album to include other featured artists I didn’t want to name the album after one of the tracks and perhaps thusly create the impression that I value the musical contributions of any one of my collaborators over that of another and 2) I was looking at Bob Hembree’s “Into the Valley” and thinking in terms of vast distances and the idea that the horizon might appear close or distant but we can never quite reach it because we perceptually create it ourselves.  While the road might be suggestive of a line toward the horizon I was thinking of it as might allegorically pertain to our lives and our ambitions.