The journey through Oz started with a couple of musical notes. I was playing around with scales and started to play the notes to “Somewhere over the Rainbow”. I really never liked the movie in the 1930‘s, but that song has always stirred emotions for me. That lick progressed into a song called “Please don’t hate me” which has nothing to do with Oz, but it was in the same key so I went with it.
That night I decided to download the original book by L. Frank Baum to come up with words for the song. I was surprised at how much darker the book was than the movie and found myself immersed with the story and the characters. I was surprised at the level of adventure (and violence) in this story versus the “feel good” movie. I did not realize for instance that the Tin Man was once a human who had an unfortunate run-in with a cursed ax. The ax progressively chopped off all of his limbs and ripped out his heart. He was repaired by a Tinsmith but in the process he had lost all that was human about him (his heart). He seems to have a thing for axes, because he kills a lot of stuff in the book and chops them into pieces.
Then there was the Scarecrow. He was born yesterday, literally, and placed on a cross in the middle of a field. He had one eye that was painted larger than the other and must not have been very intimidating because the crows picked on him a lot. He would get his revenge in the end of the story as he ripped the heads off of a bunch of crows as they attacked his friends. Needless to say, these things never made it into the movie.
I took notes as I read the book over and over again. I started to envision what each of the characters was about. I watched the silent films about Oz and found them to be just as dark as the book. I then picked up my guitar and spent weeks playing melodies that I thought incorporated the characters and stories. I wrote a bunch of really bad stuff and then some stuff that I thought sounded ok. I found myself playing in keys that I really never played in before. The story kinda warranted a departure from the norm.
I wrote a few lyrics, then sent some basic tracks and my notes to my brother, Johnny. He took the songs further than I could have. He always lives his life through his heart, and he writes with it as well. He engaged with the characters on a personal level and I think he did a nice job of looking at the world through their eyes. Of course, he tried to relate their lives with his own experiences. I guess that is one of the great things about the book. It is clearly an abstract children’s story but it represents our own fears and hopes.
So that is the first part of the blog. More about the studio later.
Chris “Jag” McLaughlin