State of Hero Falls, September 2020

August came and went without a track being released, which broke my streak. It’s not the end of the world, but you know, it kind of feels like the world is ending, and that’s part of the reason I’ve slowed down considerably on Hero Falls output.

Actually, let me break this down.

1. As I’ve been working from home, I have seen a sharp decline in my creativity and interest; it’s been difficult to remain productive, even though I have ideas for more songs and more characters. As COVID-19 drags on and the world feels very different from just nine months ago when I started releasing tracks, I have not taken refuge in this project. I would rather just spend my time doing other stuff, like playing games. My daily commute was actually a great time to work on lyrics or listen to snippets of songs and refine ideas. As soon as I lost that compartmentalized space, I lost momentum

2. My collaborators are dealing with the same pandemic issues in their own lives, which affects their speed and interest as well. Things that I thought would be quick turnarounds have dragged on weeks and months instead. There’s been some hurry-up-and-wait to this, because I am relying on their kindness. This stuff takes time and energy; I’m not going to demand either from my friends.

3. I can’t lie that I had also hoped more people would be listening to and talking about the songs by now, so the soft reaction hasn’t helped my motivation either. Original music is always a tough sell, but I’m giving it away for free, you know? I really thought the comic-book hook would help it stand out, but when I post about it, those posts are rarely shared. I appreciate the few bucks here and there, but I actually want to be paid in exposure. (I am considering buying some Facebook ads — just as friends are leaving the platform in droves!)

So, it’s been easy to back-burner this. I was mixing the next track tonight, so something will appear before too long, and I have another song partially written that I would like to invite several friends to play on. After that, I’m thinking I might revisit some of the characters I’ve introduced and tell a standalone story with them. So far all the songs have been origin stories or moments in time; Kat suggested I try writing stories first, then translating them to songs, and I’m not sure if this is what she meant, but it makes sense to me to do, like, a three-song EP that works like a three-issue comic arc. Dunno. I’m kicking that around.

So I’m not done with Hero Falls, but it’s been hard to want to create more of it right now. I’m expecting this funk to pass, so stay tuned.

Song: “Another Hero Falls” (Dan’s Demo)

I am honored and thrilled that Moorea Dickason agreed to sing the final version of this track, but I lived with my guide vocal for so long that I kind of grew to like it. I also wrote the song in a different key, so I wound up rerecording everything for the final version. That makes the demo something of a relic.

So, since I’ve been battling some tech issues and could not finish the current track in progress before the end of the month, I thought hearing how the song evolved between demo and final would of mild interest — and it would at least cover the July release!

“Another Hero Falls” (Dan’s Demo)
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July 2020 update

I record everything in Logic Pro X…and my Mac died this month. I have since had it repaired, but it did put me a bit behind schedule on the next song. I have the core instrumental track with vocal now, and I’m doing early mixes while I add a few solo instruments and embellishments here and there. I realized today that it’s a product of multiple influences — it’s sort of Barenaked Ladies by way of Tom Lehrer.

It’s coming, eventually.

Song: “The Dinner Party”

It’s about time we got to meet the main villain in Hero Falls. The Crime Minister has been running the underworld and more since 1973. This song explains how he came to power. Bon appétit!

I am incredibly grateful to have Jackie Perez Gratz and Travis Kindred both appear on this track, contributing cello and bass, respectively. The addition of real strings is not something I expected, but it totally made me believe in the track more once I had them. Jude Kelley was, as always, super helpful with the organ parts; he not only played the Mellotron choir voices but he suggested them as an addition to what I had.

Also, it’s not clear in the song, but The Crime Minister has a very distinctive real name — Talmadge Garvin Blevins — so a sincere thank you to the real Tal for letting me use his name for such a murderous scoundrel!

“The Dinner Party”
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Song: “How Does This Work”

I grew up with two parents.
I feel fortunate for that, as a lot of my friends didn’t. Everybody deals with something like that in a different way.

Kelly Argyle grew up knowing her dad existed, but not really knowing him — he was always working, gone for long periods of time, never seeming to have time to spend with her. That kind of resentment builds up, but her mom was always making apologies.

When her dad died during her freshman year of college, she learned the surprising truth: Her father was Wyldchild, a cosmic superhero who’d been killed in a battle in another galaxy. She’d never really known him, and now she never would. Kelly wasn’t sure whether she should be sad or angry.

But when a glowing gold bracelet comes hurtling in from space, attaches itself to her wrist, and goes dark…well, then she knew which emotion to feel, and she questions both the presumptive motives of her father and the alien artifact that she cannot seem to remove.

More happens after the song, of course, and she starts to make sense of it all with a little help from someone special. But we’ll leave that for another time.

Of special note for this angry, angsty riot grrrlly track: F-bombs fly in the lyrics, so if you prefer a clean/radio edit, I made one available for free on Bandcamp. I know some of you listen with kids in the car so I wanted to give you the option….but if you go clean, you’ll miss a bit of vulgar wordplay of which I’m proud. 🙂

When I got to know Stephanie Dowling as a co-worker, I really enjoyed her company and energy. When I found out she also fronted a cover band in Los Angeles and sang a song in Fallout: New Vegas, I thought, well, I gotta work with her. She came over to my house and recorded the vocals live, soaking up any and all direction I gave her, and I’m very grateful she was so dedicated to making this character snarl and bark and sneer.

Also thanks to the real Kelly Argyle for letting me hijack her name!

“How Does This Work”
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Song: “Bad Scientist”

The road to jail is paved with bad inventions. Poor Jeff Hammond dreamed of being a superhero, and he became one, if you consider high-school science teachers heroes (and I do). But he wanted to help fight the never-ending war on crime in a more tangible way, so he used his big ol’ science brain to invent gadgets for the heroes to use. But staying an anonymous donor backfired once the technology itself backfired — with disastrous results. And now that he’s the target of a manhunt, he just wants the officials combing the city to know that they’ve got this all wrong…

I don’t remember exactly where the idea for this came from, but it became an excuse to indulge my black sense of humor. I really liked the sympathetic character, trying to do good but just not having the skills necessarily to pull it off. The idea of a gadget-maker who wound up being seen as a serial bomber — or serial killer — stuck with me. In the earliest concept he killed all the heroes he tried to help, which made him a huge target for other heroes, but as I wrote the lyrics, I realized it was better with a lower death toll. Most of his screw-ups have been injuries, but…alas, poor Epitome, I knew her well.

I am very happy that I was able to collaborate with Jude Kelley, my bandmate in Palette-Swap Ninja, for the solo on this track. I’ve been enjoying at least trying to play all the instruments myself, but when I pitched the idea of an organ solo to Jude, he almost immediately sent back the scorching B3 run you hear in this track. I immediately felt it elevated what I had, so I said “Great, that’s it” and added a few more keys to the mix so it wouldn’t come out of nowhere. Jude makes everything better.

“The Sky”
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Song: “The Sky”

I can’t write love songs. I’ve tried. This is as close as I get.

I wound up getting really invested in this, and I’ve written a lot of backstory. Cirrus and Stratus got their powers together, while they were married — something I haven’t seen a lot of in comics. They can fly, but they aren’t terribly powerful; they work as reserves and scouts for the bigger heroes. Stratus felt a lot of civic duty, and Cirrus sort of went along with it, but then Stratus died after being struck by lightning in 2007. Five years later, Cirrus is visiting his grave, still coping with the loss as best she can. If she can’t move on, she’s going to at least keep going.

There’s more to her story. She’s interesting.

Fate put Kimzey McGrath and I together in an 80s cover band and I found my singing soulmate. I am so happy with the vulnerability she shows here; it’s sweet, it’s wistful, it’s remembering the good things when you’ve lost a loved one. It’s how I would want to be remembered.

“The Sky”
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Song: “Your Own Devices”

They say you should write what you know. Every day on my commute, I am mildly inconvenienced by people who are lost in their personal technology — folks who text while walking, while biking, while driving. It’s one thing to interact while you’re sitting or standing on public transit, but every day I see people cannot put their phone down long enough to walk up or down a flight of stairs. They slow down, engrossed, oblivious to the people they are blocking behind them. It’s an epidemic in San Francisco, anyway.

I started thinking about someone for whom this is not a mild inconvenience. Emery Sylvain understands technology but, in 2015, loses his link to humanity after he loses his daughter to a distracted driver. Society’s obsession with their phones has gone too far — and he’s going to roll it all back.

“Your Own Devices”
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The Release Plan for Hero Falls

So, I originally thought HF would be an EP because I only thought I was capable of writing four or five songs. Then I realized, hey, maybe I can stretch it to 8 or 9 and make it an album. Then my long-time friend and much more experienced musician friend Joe Iadanza said “Dude, albums don’t have impact anymore. You should release singles.”

But…that was my whole plan, for two years! I’ve got most of these songs close to done! I have go fever! I want to tell the world! But he’s right. Singles are how people discover music now, and having a constant stream of new content will help new people discover the thing — more opportunities to share socially and increase the chance that it appears in new people’s feeds. Plus, I’m doing a comic-book thing; what’s more on-brand than the idea of monthly issues?

So I’m planning to keep writing and recording steadily, with a release cadence of a new song every three or four weeks. I have various weird story and character ideas that span a bunch of different musical styles, different vignettes from different times in the history of Hero Falls, and relationships between songs and characters that may or may not be evident — but they’re in my story bible. Also, I’m thrilled that more and more of my vastly more talented friends are agreeing to contribute to tracks.

I am very excited about this year, and it’s hard for me to keep such a deliberate pace. But it’s for the best. Thanks, Joe.

Song: “Another Hero Falls”

Back in 2008 I read Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will Be Invincible. That sparked an idea for a duet between a frustrated villain and a disillusioned hero, each preparing to compromise their values to become successful in their fields. Problem was, I was not a songwriter, and I doubted I could become one. I tried anyway, but it went nowhere. I revisited the idea when the context of Hero Falls suggested itself, and I still liked the idea of an unappreciated female hero turning villain because she was smarter and more capable than the bad guys she was catching. I focused on that and fleshed out Fyrefox as a character. And now, it’s the namesake track.

I feel amazingly fortunate that Moorea Dickason agreed to sing this. I’d met her through Brian Adam McCune when we needed a vocalist for the 5th anniversary Rocksmith concert. I got to sing with Moorea that night and I was blown away by her power and energy. When I reached out to see if she’d be interested in singing something for HF, she chose this song, and I’m very glad she did.

I know what led Fyrefox to this decision and I hope I get to share that story someday. I also know what happens to Fyrefox next but I’m not going to tell you.

“Another Hero Falls”
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Everything you've heard is true. Musical tales from The Quantum City by Dan Amrich