Chop It Up is a classic example of the random collision of ideas floating around in my head when I put a tune together. It involves, as for most people who create stuff, extrapolating bits and pieces of ideas from radically different sources to try and concoct something original and new (to varying degrees of success!).
The world music scene has been making cross-cultural sounds for a long time now, so I suppose that my inclination to mix things up originally came from this. In addition, I have the internet to thank for all the incredible information I have at my fingertips. If it were not for me obtaining a copy, probably via my digitizing brother, of African Fingerstyle Guitar by Gerhard Kubik, I would never have discovered Daniel Kachamba, an unknown, deceased Malawian guitarist, whose style of guitar playing I can safely say revolutionized my view of how to play fingerstyle guitar. I spent hours poring over the songs he recorded for Kubik to try and understand the deceiving simplicity of his technique. After grasping what his right hand was doing – a thumb-index driving rumba in which the index finger plays occasional bass notes for extra rhythmic attack – I started applying this to all manner of songs and compositions. Chop It Up, therefore, is straight up Kachamba rhythmically speaking. The difference is that harmonically I incorporated minor key infused lines and licks inspired by Malian guitar music as well as, and perhaps more importantly, the slaying guitar on the Kenyan collection, Before Benga vol. 1 (listen here) – particularly the scorcher, Usimalize Mali by Williamu Osale.
Then of course come the lyrics, always the last part to exit the creative womb! I’m not a huge fan of analyzing my own lyrics, probably because either they don’t make much sense or they hit too close to home for me to want to revisit where I was when they bubbled up from my subconscious. In this case, all I can say is that they were inspired by a period in my life when I was spending a lot of time in the Maryland woods chopping and sawing logs up into firewood and lumber. The latter was part of a project to turn a bunch of felled oak trees into flooring, which involved me and my dad strapping the wood to pallets on a trailer that we hauled in a pickup to a Mennonite run saw mill in the far reaches of western Maryland (hence the line: “Hook it up, tie it with the right knots, Hand it to the bearded men, who route and plane in the name of God”). It felt like a trip into the 19th century, what with old barns and houses decorating the landscape (aside from the occasional McMansion) and these pious, hard-working men in the middle of the beautiful, mountainous countryside taking our wood and milling it up into flooring for us at an extremely reasonable cost. The name of the place? The Hicksville Planing Mill. Perfect.
Once the wood was brought back we needed to let it dry a little longer, so as to have a low enough moisture content that the wood wouldn’t warp once put in. I was constantly amazed at how much wood moved and warped even in the best drying conditions (strapped down with stickers to help it all breathe, etc. Hence the line: “Load it in, lay it in the right way, even when it’s tied down it’ll still take its own shape”…Read what you want into that one.
The rest of the lyrics are essentially hazy phrases that I conjured up to express my general befuddlement at the strange, wonderful, melancholic loneliness of life.
It was great fun putting all this together with Yann, who was at the recording/mixing helm and who did some excellent keyboard work on this, harmonizing with my guitar line and adding nice bass lines. I also love the percussion by Renaud Ollivier who provided the deep calabash pocket, and thanks to Pete Vilk and Paul Clifford who added some really tasteful percussiveness (shakers and such) to the whole thing.
Solo Instrumental Guitar Video here
Guitar Tab here.