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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Imagine being the most powerful superhero in town. You can fly, you can shoot lasers out of your eyes, you can move very quickly. People really love you. You start to love you too. Then, people start to outright worship you…and you go along with it. Imagine doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons.
Truth is, I always found Superman boring, but I really enjoy what-if comic stories like Irredeemable and Injustice. They imagine their primary hero turning against humanity, using his powers for destruction and totalitarianism. Silver Savior is just into himself; he’d rather be loved than feared. He knows he’s the center of attention; everyone’s praise just feeds his messiah complex. To me, he’s Superman crossed with David Lee Roth, with a side of sacrilege. If he sees himself as a party, what better soundtrack in his head than ska?
This song would not sound the way it does without the incredible last-minute help from several friends. A few days before the song’s release, I realized I needed more crowd voices — many more. So I put out a call on social media, and a few hours later I had contributions from more than a dozen people, each singing their choice of harmonies. I am forever indebted to them making this song come to life:
Katrin Auch Susan Esther Barnes Stephanie Dowling ElaraSophia Jude Kelley Nat Loh Kimzey McGrath Tim Porter Sean Redman Blythe Renay David W. Ryan Deirdre Martin Ryan Erik Smith Hannah Wolf
Hey there. Welcome to a project I’ve been working on for the better part of two years.
Hero Falls is my first venture into original songwriting. I grew up loving “story songs” — songs that were more about characters and situations than mere professions of love or longing — so I wanted to write something in that tradition. These songs represent moments in time for different characters who have inhabited the town over several decades.
It’s not a musical, but there is a non-linear narrative at work thanks to Katrin Auch‘s skill at worldbuilding. Some of that backstory will come out as listeners connect the dots. That’s part of the fun for both of us.
This is the start of Hero Falls and I hope you like it.