The 10 Songs That Influenced "Amputee"
Beyond The Song is a series of blogs and Spotify Playlists that will showcase the 10 songs that inspired each track on our debut album, TRANSDUCER.
This month we'll be featuring the 10 songs behind "Amputee" - the first track off the album and the debut single from Rival Waves.
1. Foo Fighters - "Floaty"
I'd always been really attracted to the acoustic guitar chord progression at the beginning of "Floaty" off of Foo Fighters' self-titled debut. I just thought that Emaj7 chord just had something magical about it. I wanted to leverage that chord, and its subsequent progression in that intro, in a more important, central theme in a song.
I just thought there was more to explore within that theme Dave Grohl laid down on those demo tapes. That was the initial impetus and the skeletal structure of what "Amputee" would become. It just kind of grew organically out of that line of thought.
I love everything about this record (it's quite possibly still my favorite Foo Fighters album) and feel "Floaty" is an extremely underrated song.
2. Radiohead - "Bones"
While so many alternative rock fans point to OK Computer as the album that made Radiohead one of the most important bands of the last 50 years (and it's quite difficult to disagree with them), I've always been partial to The Bends. It possesses some of the band's finest rock and roll moments. "Bones" happens to be one of my favorite songs on the album, and I wanted to include a little tribute to the band on "Amputee". That distorted tremolo/delay effect electric guitar throughout the songs is such a great piece of ear candy in their song, that it was something we wanted to call up in ours.
The original idea for the intro was simply to have three whole notes on an electric guitar accent the acoustic guitar intro on "Amputee", but as we were recording the song for the album, our producer began playing with panning and delay effects on it, and I eventually said "Hey it'd be really cool to capture that effect from those whole tremolo'd chords on 'Bones', can we do that?" The rest is history.
3. The Clash - "Train in Vain"
Hands down, The Clash are one of my Mt. Rushmore bands.
From the political and social commentary of their lyrics to the intensity and immediacy of their music, everything we try to create musically aims for Joe Strummer and Mick Jones territory. And if we never quite reach that level, the journey in the attempt of writing something we'd hope they'd be down to say they made is always a self-satisfactory exercise. To that end, the overall musical energy and phrasing of "Amputee" stems from one of The Clash's biggest hits off of the band's iconic London Calling album.
I loved the simple vocal phrasing in the verses between the main lick. The vocal melody is catchy and memorable and a large reason for the song's lasting success. It was definitely something I sought to capture in mapping out the vocal phrasing for "Amputee".
The short bursts of melody in the storytelling amidst a love song dealing with the end of a relationship are definite parallels to the two songs. While "Train In Vain" didn't happen to be a direct influence in the "Amputee" lyric, the fact that they are both upbeat songs with such similar lyrical topics is something that is definitely not lost on me.
4. Pearl Jam - "Supersonic"
This track's influence is all about that punk rock feel wrapped up in modern alternative rock production. The overall energy, the attacking chord chugs, the big propulsive drums, the angular countermelodies, the half time middle eight - all influences on what would become "Amputee" - and pretty much the sonic palette of TRANSDUCER.
Those that know me (Joel) know the influence Pearl Jam has on me musically. I've been a die hard fan of theirs for more than 25 years, and have attended more shows than I care to admit. 2009's Backspacer was not as timeless as, say, Ten or VS; nor as focused song-wise as their 2006 self-titled album, but "Supersonic" is definitely a highlight as it captures the energy and feel of a band hitting on all cylinders. Something Rival Waves strive for each time we come together to push sound waves around.
5. Bruce Springsteen - "Brilliant Disguise"
Believe it or not, this song was the original lyrical blueprint for "Amputee". The self-doubt of being in a relationship is one of the most difficult things to deal with - and one of the most real. I always thought Bruce Springsteen used his insanely gifted songwriting skills to capture this enigma in a 4-minute pop song.
I aimed to do the same with how one is left feeling not long after "you turn away". The concept of feeling like a part of you is physically missing. That aspect of a phantom limb that used to be that other person. The concept of a heart removed, of a person left colder, lighter, after the dissolution of a relationship that helped to forge an identity of an "us".
This is a level of understanding love and relationships that I believed "The Boss" was capable of expressing in a song - and it was the lyrical bar I aimed for in "Amputee".
6. U2 - "I Will Follow"
"I was on the outside when you said/ You said you needed me/ I was looking at myself/I was blind, I could not see"
Another lyrical influence from the deep recesses of my childhood that has remained constant and proved a surefire influence on "Amputee".
Think what you will of Bono as a front man or U2 as a business entity, but this band have always been able to write a song, convey a feeling, put one hell of a show, give fans a real experience and convert people from the coldest cynics to banner waving, anthem singing true believers. What's not to be influenced by? Especially in their most punk and fearless salad days.
7. Pixies - "River Euphrates"
Surfer Rosa was one of those seminal albums for 10 years old me. It was an album that a college-aged cousin passed down to me via mixtape and gave me the following commandment "listen to this. this one is important." A few years later, when Kurt Cobain informed the rest of the world just how important the Pixies were, I felt like I'd had a head start on the future.
While songs like "Gigantic" and "Where is My Mind?" would go on to leave indelible marks on my musical psyche, "River Euphrates" and its use of dynamics and intensity throughout really influenced not only the original loud/quiet/loud dynamic arrangement of "Amputee" but subliminally gave a pre-pubescent me the blueprint and muse I've been chasing ever since.
8. Nirvana - "Heart-Shaped Box"
If the Pixies were the Rosetta Stone for my musical influence, Nirvana was my Magna Carta. It codified everything important in the music I loved without adding any more than was absolutely needed. While the songwriting was Beatle-esque, the volume and energy rivaled The Stooges, MC5, or The Who, and the aesthetic was more punk than punk and heavier than heavy.
The influence of "Heart Shaped Box" on "Amputee" most notably shows up in the bridge of our song. By far, the hardest and heaviest part of the 4 minutes and 20 seconds of "Amputee".
The screams, the distortion, the tom laden drum fills - all pay homage and derive influence from this one of many masterpieces that comprise Nirvana's second album, In Utero.
9. Mutemath - "Noticed"
Bringing a Police-influenced new wave/pop tinge to some really great musicianship in the form of a top-notch love song, Mutemath remains one of my favorite bands of the 2000's - but their self-titled debut album stands heads and shoulders above everything they've done since. Which is saying a lot as they've covered so much artistic ground since then.
"Noticed" influenced me writing "Amputee" in a much more subtle way than many of the other songs on this list. While stylistically the two songs differ quite a bit, I continue to hold this band's musicianship and attention to song craft and arrangement in the highest esteem. I feel that anytime I write a song (especially while writing this batch of songs), I ask myself how Mutemath would approach the arrangement or the drum part or the tempo or the intensity or the...
10. Foo Fighters - "Headwires"
The vocal melody for "Amputee" was quite subliminally influenced by "Headwires".
I'm pretty sure this came from repressed memories of listening to Nothing Left to Lose on repeat in the early 2000's. It was one of my favorite albums of that era of my life and spawned quite a few of my favorite Foo Fighter songs - "Learn to Fly", "Generator", "New Skin", "Aurora", and "Breakout" for starters.
"Headwires", however, really seemed to capture that loud/quiet/loud aesthetic more than any other song to me. So it was pretty clear as I revisited that particular album during our mastering session that that song was quite the influence on my psyche as I fleshed out the vocals for "Amputee".