The story behind Coordinates and what it took to bring together the 30-40 people involved in recording the album version and making a live performance video.
I picked up the guitar and began to sing a line- Coordinates, they don’t matter here. I strummed some 90’s sounding static guitar over big drums and sang it kind of like The Weakerthans. When songwriting, I am both comforted and overwhelmed by the idea that, at any point, you can scrap what you’ve just written and start fresh. And that’s just what I did here with this original idea.
The next melody that came to mind stuck. The spacing of the notes sounded like a violin. For years I had wanted to take a shot at writing a string arrangement. This was the first idea that organically lent itself to going that path.
I wrote all of the lyrics within a few minutes and never changed a single one. The structure was loose, but felt natural. I used the program Reason to write out the song using orchestral instruments. I spent a few days locked away in my room, relentlessly editing midi and writing new parts.
When all was said and done I had 24 tracks plus some guitars and vocals. I played it for my brother and told him I was considering the idea of commissioning an orchestra to record it for the record. When I told him later on that I had decided against it, he changed my mind.
I sent the demo to Minna Choi, a friend of a friend of mine from The Magik*Magik Orchestra, based out of San Francisco. They had done work with Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead and Death Cab For Cutie on their album “Codes and Keys”. She got back to me with some ideas about how we could make this happen. We considered doing this as a 4 piece, an 8 piece, and a 12 piece. 12 was the obvious choice for me.
She and her players recorded the tracks at Tiny Telephone in San Francisco. I wish I could have been there, but costs were adding up. My brother lent me the money to fund the song. I remember him telling me that I had to do this, and that he didn’t care if it took me 50 years to pay him back. He asked for the money about a year later, but still, Mike- if you’re reading, thanks for letting me borrow that money and, what happened to 50 years? You made me pay you back a few months later.
When the tracks came back I took them to Harrison Wargo’s studio to add drums and bass, and vocals, too. The song sat in this stage for months. It was a big production and I wanted it to be perfect. Time got in the way and the song sat. Harrison was busy with his group, Badboxes, and I was very happy about that.
I ended up taking the tracks to my friend Kory Gable for him to take a shot at playing the drums on it. JB from Bright & Early added angelic pad vocals, too. John O’Hallaron got his hands on it lastly for the mix and master.
As I began to play shows in Pittsburgh, I met a girl named Katie Morrow. She loved Punchline and Blue of Colors, too. She told me she played the cello, and invited me out to see her play with the Pittsburgh Symphony. She was sixteen years old at this point. Her passion and skill was inspiring. We continued to chat and discussed the idea surfaced of putting together a group to perform “Coordinates” live. I had Minna re-arrange the song for an 8 piece ensemble.
Katie tracked down some players she knew and got them on board. Bonnie Myers-Toward, Stephanie Nicol, and Robin Hasenpflug had all inspired her to play music in the first place, and she knew Karyn Drumbosky and Julia Brooks from playing in the Pittsburgh Philharmonic. I recruited some of my drummer friends- Nick Revak, from the Gene The Werewolf, Jason Capela from Before You, and Mark Surovchak- a friend from High School who was now the music teacher/band director at the school. I recruited my strange (like me) friend Amy McClain from Dayton, OH to play violin. She brought along her friend Josh VanTilberg to play violin as well. I was thrilled that the few people I knew who were orchestrally sound were involved in this little project. Altar TV offered up their studio and wonderful production skills and there you have it.
We had 4 hours to meet, rehearse, soundcheck, and record. I believe the 3rd full take ended up being “the one”. We all knew it, too.
Above is the live version. You can hear the album version via iTunes, Spotify, and Bandcamp.
Thanks for reading you guys,