A few years ago, The Bigfellas were slated to headline a Fourth Of July Festival on Guemes Island in Washington. That sounds like a great gig - but ended up comically the opposite (we covered this here last 4th of July).
To mark the occasion, I wanted to write something new for it. Every fourth of July for me meant two things: 1) Reminding people to 'Fuck The King' since that was the reason for the season to protest no taxation without representation, and 2) Make fun of people who were delighted by fireworks.
We never did perform it that weekend. We cut our set short by 30 minutes to get the hell out of there for the ferry. But you never throw away a song you like, so it make its way to the Hiya album four years later.
"Fuck the king" was the first lyric I had. I learned my lesson from "I Wish That I Were Gay" and "On The Green" before with the Chubbed Up album teaching me that nobody can air a song with curse words in there. Thus, "Fuck The King" became "Screw The King", no sweat off of my back.
At the time Obama was president and although I voted for him twice and found him to be one of the best presidents of my lifetime - I didn't want to give him a pass about continuing the post 9/11 Bush era Patriot Act surveillance of American citizens. It was also the age of agitprop Tea Party protests, ostensibly about fiscal deficit concerns but largely more attended by retirees who just didn't like Obama being president. In the surveillance third verse, I wanted a lyric about it something to the effect of "It wasn't until the black guy that they hit the streets" but it never quite worked and just added more confusion to the song.
As it ended up, there were three discrete verses in "Independence Day": 1) An oversimplified telling of the American Revolution, 2) Teen angst about trying to be independent of one's parents, then 3) Having a beef with surveillance of law-abiding citizens. Whether or not these things tie together in the song is for you to decide.
The fife-and-drum type intro/bridge/tag is one of the favorite pieces of music I've written. It's a weird series of descending chords the drifts between Db and Eb all in a weird 12/8 tempo.
Then the verses' chords and time signature snap into a straight snare-dominant 4/4 time. In my head I always thought it had a Modest Mouse feel although I think it didn't turn out that way.
As for the chorus, there are four lines. The first two I don't think are that catchy - but totally are there to set up the "This is what it feels like to be free" last couple of chords and melody which I still love.
It's not an easy song. But when it was time to record the solo Hiya album, that whole album was a pastiche. A third of the songs had Spud Davenport laying down drum tracks first then Andy and I in studio doing everything else, another third was Kevin Walker starting on drums or us starting from drum tracks, etc. But the other third of songs (My TV Friends, Like A Maggie's, So Long and Independence Day) we tracked live in studio - meaning we all just played it like a band, recording all tracks in one take.
In the modern studio era, live tracking isn't done very much anymore. For efficiency, the musicians play to a click track to keep them on time, punching in any section that wasn't played correctly. It definitely saves a lot of studio time and money. But it can lead to players just trying to not screw up instead of delivering a true performance.
But we (Kevin Walker on drums, Jeff Johnson on bass, Mike Mannion and guitar, me on keyboard) had been playing in what became The Water Spots so we rehearsed the songs well before recording day. Also a great time/money saver to have all the players have their performance down pat.
I really want to give props to everybody who played on Independence Day. Again, I think it's a difficult song with three distinct different parts with different feels and time signatures. We wanted to wring a Revolutionary War era sound out of it while still sounding like driving rock.
Take a listen. Kevin is nailing that fife-and-drum feel on the verses while it still sounds like rock; fucking amazing. Jeff never abandons the beats while he then jumps to high notes between lyrics lines to make sure the song doesn't go dead. Mike gives the song some rock credibility but also gives a straighter feel than my jangly rhythm in chorus and verses, plus his vocals in the chorus really keep those "Screw the king" lines from sounding too thin.
I have great memories of recording this one. One of the best studio experiences I've ever had was live tracking with these guys.
Then there’s one last piece of the puzzle: The trumpet in that Revolutionary part. Normally, my friend Moises Ortiz has been our go-to trumpet player in the studio but he wasn’t available. But on the album I had Barry Dorr playing trombone on several other songs. Great guy, an engineering professor - and like most people on my recordings, can be compensated with album credit, friendship and a nice pastrami sandwich lunch. He’s a killer trombone player and says he plays trumpet "a little". But he stepped up on a VERY difficult horn part we arranged, kind of like the trumpet in "Penny Lane". Granted, it was an overdub with a couple of takes and punch ins. But pretty damn spectacular for a non trumpet player.
Listen, Lyrics, Personnel
If You Like It ï¿½"
Since I don't play this one often and it's not one of the songs from the album that have gotten to be played on radio, I don't often get feedback on it.
Or if you're ever seeing me play Thursdays at Goodbar in San Diego (Pt. Loma), feel free to demand it. I'd be happy to oblige.
Meanwhile, have a great Fourth of July. Fuck the king.