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Writing A Concept Album

For a while now I've wanted to right down some of the thoughts about my old band kidikarus' one and only album. I know there will probably be about 8 of you that actually listened to the record, but for some of my close friends and bandmates, I figured they might want some insights into the record, and a jam session with 3/4 of the band last week brought back a whole slew of memories. I'll try to remember as much as I can about the recording and writing process. It's been about 5 years since the band disbanded, but I still think and miss my band almost every day.

If you want a physical copy of the album, email me at mburkholder@gmail.com and I'll try to get one to you.

Have a listen while you read. The first track is at the bottom of soundcloud (I will try to get better quality mp3s soon!)

https://soundcloud.com/matthew-burkholder

1. Satus

will you take me, my heather?
accept, this sacrifice
i'll lay down my life for you
... but her calls yoke, is stronger than this ring

This song was written and recorded in about 10 minutes. I wrote the lyrics near the end of the writing for the record. I recorded the main guitar part and the vocals at the time time, and rushed it way too fast. Something that I regret about the album was that I rushed a lot of things. When the second guitar part was added, it cleaned up the track a bit. I loved the vocals on the word ring. The her referred to Martius' commitment to war, again, the words were written quickly, just as an introduction to the story. Satus is latin for "Start". It ended up being a nice intro I thought. People often heard but her calls yoke as butter calls yoke. That always cracked me up.

2. American Patriot

the rain falls down on them
he hugs her to his chest
don't you shed a tear
americans, we have no fear

he went out over seas
and wrote faithfully
she slept uneasily 
and he killed, faithfully

it doesn't matter who
so the soldiers fall on foreign ground
americans, we believe in God
so why am i so scared?

The bulk of the lyrics to this song were actually written a short time after 9/11. I think we all knew what was coming after the shock of those planes hitting the towers died down. We knew war was coming. We knew who was going to be at the helm. We knew soldiers and people were going to start dropping on foreign soil. These lyrics started the whole story of Maritus Vir. The title "American Patriot" sometimes felt sincere, but other times satirical. I was imagining a soldier going off to war, unnamed, like a pawn of some international game of chess. "So why am I so scared" was inspired by Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. I often think that war is just the reaction of a scared nation. The music for this song was inspired by the song Second Best off of Pedro the Lion's Control, an album I was listening to a lot of when I was writing. I am pretty sure this was the first kidikarus song recorded. Dan's guitar riffs on this song are some of favourites. I regret saying the word "americans", I wish I would have kept the character a bit more anonymous, but I guess I tipped my hand.

3. Dear Hero

i see you 
i swear i do
yes when you awake
you'll bear your mistakes

so i'll bury my face
on the scale

i take refuge in a church
where the light it hurts
release me from duty
this falling on my sword

so i'll bury my face
after the war

prepare your heart, for the living word

This song wasn't written for the story and was originally entitled "Dear Matthew". One of the great things about writing a story using fictional characters, is that I could freely reveal some of my own struggles through them. It was a very liberating experience, and at the time in my life, part of some deeply needed therapy. I had a pretty horrific dream and when I woke up I quickly wrote down the two verses. I later adapted this song by adding two quick chorus'. The album had three main characters, Maritus (the husband), Heather (the wife), and the Holy Spirit. I ended up making it a song from the Holy Spirit to Maritus. This song is about guilt, it was about my own guilt from depression, suicidal thoughts, and my constant questions of faith. For Matitus, this was a song about the guilt or war, the lack of the value of life in killing, and his own questions of faith. The second verse was inspired by the Pedro the Lion song The Secret of the Easy Yoke. I rushed the recording of this song too. Later, when we were listening to the track, Shane said "why does the ending sound hollow?" It was because I never did a bass track for it! I completely forgot. There is a slight dissonance in one of the guitar tracks during the solo that also drives me nuts.

4. Whispers From One

remember what you said
they were nothing more
than a worthless parasite?
now look at the risk
within your sights
bleeding away the impatient night

remember what she said
the night you lay in bed?
the feeling of passion lingered in the air
you were busy soaking it in
you missed the most important verse 
your wife had ever sung

do you have to go?
do you have to see?
do you have to kill?
do i have to know?

she sees through my eyes

can't you see, that their not your property?
i paid for them all, a ransom with blood
where were you?
where were you?

This was the first song that we tracked out for the album. I remember the excitement as Shane was tracking out the drums in my old church. We always considered this our "single" from the album. This was written early on in the process, and it's one of my favourite kidikarus songs. The lyrics were deeply inspired from the 38th chapter of the book of Job from the Christian Bible. If you have never read the book of Job, it is one of the greatest works of literature, an early philosophical dialogue, and is well worth the read. These lyrics are sort of an inner prophecy for Maritus, and Whispers is probably the most explicit pacifist songs on the record. Heather was always suppose to act as an intercessor between morality and the world for Maritus. I always imagined her being the voice of wisdom. Maritus before the war is a simple solider, enjoying sex and life, and a fictitious notion of duty. Maritus during the war is a deeply conflicted man. This song represents very little in the form of autobiography, except for the ambiguous notion of conflict I guess.

During the recording of the harmonies at the end, we had a pretty big debate. Shane and I were going for a big Bad Religion sound, and Dan, with his very astute musical ear, heard some dissonance in the harmonies (which eventually do resolve, IMHO!!!) Dan got voted down and the tracks stuck. I still love them, and felt a moment of victory when the DJ from CHRW said "This reminds me of Bad Religion" when we aired the song for the first time. Sometimes imperfection is perfection, at least for me.

When I heard the early versions of Dan's mixing for this song, I was pretty pumped. I was using an old Laney tube amp, and Dan was able to really capture the sound of my amp. We were pretty much learning a lot as we went along, and Dan really went above and beyond with the time he spent on mixing.

5. Phone Call

heather can you hear me?
the line is choppy. 
how far along are we?
i'm so proud

someone save me from this 
yes we filled the pit
of children from the bomb
i just want to see my heather

it's alright
the dreams are fading
i got the photo
of our child in waiting
men here struggle to face the morning
and passing cars look awfully tempting

it's hard to live
with my life
so far from home
i miss my wife
this heroes war
never ends
until we do

goodbye

I absolutely, 100% love the way this song turned out. The bass line was written by a bass player named Eric Siemens, who played bass with us for a little while - he nailed it. Shane's old school harmonies are just beautiful, and Dan's guitar worked was the perfect addition to this very quick and simple song. Most of my songs are pretty basic, and the process of hearing the layers get added by the genius of my band mates was one of the thrills of making music. If you listen closely, you can hear the sound of the wah-wah pedal hitting a pen that I had stuck between the peddle and bass. I was using the pedal by hand as Dan was playing, it was pretty Frankenstein, but it sped up the process of trying to get the rhythm right. We recorded the guitar tracks in the upstairs of Dan's old house in St. Thomas. I loved recording the tracks. I remember just laughing coming up with the pen idea. Dan is still one of the most brilliant guitarist I've played with, the quiet guitar picking and chords in the background sounds so haunting.

I am not really sure why I picked the name Heather, but when we did the vocal tracks for this song and I heard the first line "Heather can you hear me?" I knew I had picked the right name.

I wanted to have a track that would foreshadow the end of the story, so this one served as that. I am not sure how I decided to make Heather pregnant, but after I wrote the story, it sort of came full circle.

It's hard to write a concept album, because you're only given short snippets of time to say something that in your mind is quite big.

Maritus was apart of an event in the war that lead the death of children, he is absolutely mortified and it is at this point in the story that he starts to contemplate suicide. The line "this heroes war" is meant entirely to be sarcastic and cryptic, all notions of heroism are now buried at the bottom of a hole filled with dead children. I hated where my story was going, but I really wanted to make the listener feel more and more horrified as the story progressed. I was trying to deal with my own suicidal thoughts, and my own frustration with the war mongering narrative of a "Christian nation". Lots of people didn't like the lyrical content of the second half of the album (mostly people with a strong religious faith), but I couldn't stop where my story was going. It was really neat to hear the different reactions from people that heard the album. I wanted people to feel uncomfortable, because I was very uncomfortable. Some people got it. I once received an encouraging email from my cousin Anna that meant a lot to me.

6. The Cold Steel of Memory Lane

sitting in this medics sink
silver runs against the blood
etching questions in the sign
an exit as i go

and one day
this smile will break
and i will fade away

i walk against their flashing lights
down the middle
they turn aside deny my wish 
float away
help

and one day
this smile will break
this finger will slip 
and the blood will drip from my cup

this walk down memory lane
for the first time
walking against their flashing lights 
for the last time

and thoughts collide
where metal veers away
why won't anyone stop?

the hopeless stare 
reflecting in this windshield
reminds me where i am 
along memory lane

if i knew you wouldn't blame yourself
if i could leave without the guilt

where would i go?

the absence of breath is the freeing of the mind

This song is my proudest kidikarus song lyrically, it's also the most autobiographical on the album. I tweaked some things here and there and attributed it to Maritus. This is one of those songs that when you sing and people listen to you're afraid people will look at you differently afterwards. The lyrics are based on a mental breakdown I had behind the wheel of a car. I changed driving to walking, because it suited the character more. At this point in the story, in my adaptation of the lyrics, Maritus is lost, wounded, and picked up and driven to a medic. I think the original opening line to this song was "sitting in this ditch, darkness runs in my blood." Shortly after the car incident, I had ingested a large amount of prescription pain killers and went for a walk and fell asleep in a ditch somewhere in St. Thomas. I woke up, and a few days later I wrote this song. This is me, face to face with depression, hopelessness, questioning love, the afterlife. Maritus sings "If I knew you wouldn't blame yourself, if I could leave without the guilt, where would I go?" thinking about Heather. For me, this was about my wife, then girlfriend, Jennifer. For me, this is the darkest song on the record. It's amazing how I've been thinking about these songs a lot the past couple of days, and how grateful I am for this story. Even if it never got picked up, and only was in the hands of a few fans, for me, it was a tumultuous yet wonderful time of healing.

I loved playing this song live, we would often do a bit of an improvised introduction, and Dan and Shane always delivered. This song was heavily influenced by the Sunny Day Real Estate song Pillars. The ending transition to the D chord was always fun to play live, it was my most "punk" part of the record. I always felt like the album version never really captured this song the way it should have. I needed to give more during my vocal takes, but like I said before, I rushed a lot of things.

7. Fallen

dark side of the moon
houses waiting for red blood
stained crescent

to witness the cowards 
pressing forth
for the win
we witness the cowards
pressing forth
for the win

someone is praying 
someone is praying for his wife
new life
someone is calling for
someone is calling for 
new life
for a wife

husband hero 
was to be the name
now the processional
leads to the grave

This song always messed us up live. The amount of bars for some reason just never seemed to register. I think if it wasn't for Dan, I would have screwed this song up 100% of the time I played it. This song is one big nod to Deftones - specifically, Be Quite and Drive. I knew I was going to have to kill Maritus.

"Dark side of the moon..."

- Not a reference to the Pink Floyd album. I imagined Maritus dying feeling so disconnected from God. Some theologians believe that heaven and earth are coming together, and will eventually meet in full. Maritus has experienced the darkness of earth, questioned his place in it all, and hoped for something better. My older sister Michelle would often write quotes around the house, and she had this post-it stuck on the basement bathroom mirror that read "just because you don't see the other side of the moon, doesn't mean that it's not there." Like God, we believe that he exists, despite never actually experiencing him. Heaven is out there, waiting to be experienced on earth. I love the phrase "the dawn is just beyond the night" - Something better must be in store for this broken, war torn earth. Somehow, at the end, Maritus clung to the good (Heather). Houses waiting for red blood  and the stained crescent was just a foreshadow to Heather receiving the news of his death.

Dan took this song in the recording process and really directed it well. That man is a genius, and I to this day feel blessed to have been able to work with him.

8. Injury Twice Fold (The End)

it came on the eve of
expecting a miracle
now time will ascend here
above memory always looking down

"we regret to inform you of the passing of your brave husband,
his was the heroes call, but even heroes fall"

somethings not right! somethings not right!
not just the pain of her night
oh God please don't let it be
don't be calling her too

this is the end
she screamed
i can feel nothing within in

I had to cripple Heather. I didn't want to, but I had for the sake of this story. This is the story of me losing my mind. This is the story of me thinking about suicide on a daily basis for roughly five years. A child is the most beautiful, innocent thing conceivable. How do we let it happen? How do we experience the innocence of childhood ourselves, watch that innocence in the lives of other children as adults, and still end up growing up to be monsters. Monsters of war, that drop bombs and ruin lives. Jesus once said "do not overcome evil with evil". He said that thousands of years ago and for some reason we are still trying to overcome evil with war. We are trying to cope with loneliness with self abuse. Heather had to lose everything, she had to experience that bitter essence of what it means to be human - she had to lose.

The cryptic double entendre of feeling nothing within sums up the consequences of this world. What had Maritus done? He had filled the pit of children from the bomb. Now Heather is primed to learn the most important lesson of life.

This song turned out amazing, and I think we owe it a lot to Dan's awesome mixing and guitar writing, and to Shane's amazing rhythm guitar and drum skills. Dan and I were having a problem playing the off time riff at the end. Shane is an amazingly skilled rhythm guitar player, and nailed it. (That part sounds great in headphones by the way). I played the piano part on my Mom's old upright piano, and I believe I just used a cheap computer mic, which actually gave it in a neat distant feeling. The way the feedback and the piano part go together... Well, thank you Dan for that, you know me so well.

(Hey guys, have I ever told you that you are geniuses?)

Shane always made the connection between the intro to the song and the song Something In The Way by Nirvana. I would often play the first few lines of it live.

9. Advoco-Desuper 

veni domus
veni
pridem quies
veni diem

Literally translated into English, the lyrics to this song are:

i came to the house.
come.
long rest.
come the day.

The title means: Call From Above

This song was suppose to be the sound of God calling Maritus and Heather's child into heaven. The child from the house (the womb), Maritus from his long struggle.

I'm not sure, but I think I might have told Dan to "make this song sound weird like God's voice" and man, oh man, the first time I heard it, I was completely shocked! It sounded like nothing like the tracks I gave him to mix! I have no idea how he made those strange ambient noises. The haunting intro that he did, with the monastic chanting in the background makes this defiantly the weirdest song on the album, and one of my favourites for that very reason. His harmonics leading into the next track was a nice lead into as well. I always imagine the sound of a chair creaking at the end of the track, which I am sure is either my imagination or just something that got missed. I love little things like that on albums (Dan, not so much).

I think we might have only played this song once (at our release party). I think it would be near impossible to do live.

10. Epitaph

we all die
wondering why
we wasted breath
to stay alive
the eye of death
opens with
each new day
dreams awake

we all die
wondering why
we wasted breath
to stay alive
the eye of death 
closes with
each last day
dreams erase

last breath
say love
close your eyes

she's floating away
she will not stay
she's floating farther away
she's floating away
she will not stay
YHWH has given
and YHWH has taken away
today

There really is a lot to say about this song.

I wrote the lyrics and music after listening to Sigur Ros' () album and reading the book of Job. It is a very difficult moment to try and express. If you have written music, you might be able to understand what it's like to have a moment where the gravity of the emotion that you are experiencing, and your creative ability converge to create something that truly represents you. I am aware that all creative art is expression, but there are moments that will forever have a lasting impression of that process. This song sums up kidikarus for me. This song sums up Matthew David's late teens and early twenties. This is the that rare moment, when words and music come as natural as having a conversation with a close friend. I picked up my older sisters Washburn acoustic guitar, sat in my parents basement and wrote. This song was actually written shortly before my sister in law lost her first child. I remember observing the absolute sorrow of my wife's family. Their hopes dashed. It was so senseless.

Job was a man who loved God. Job was a man who did nothing wrong. Job was a man who had everything taken away from him. Job was a man who said the words "The LORD has given, and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD."

If you are familiar with the wisdom literature of the Old Testament, the book of Ecclesiastes (one of my favourite books) begins with these words: "Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless." Death seems to be waiting for us, from the early moments of life, to the last. 

So what's the point? 

The story of Heather is my retelling of the story of Job. If you have ever experienced depression, you understand how indiscriminate it feels. If you have ever pondered war, it's seems to meaningless. Life seems so meaningless, except for the wonderful, freeing, gracious experience of love.

Epitaph is cryptic yes, but not without hope. Heather understands now more than ever, that from now until her last breath, she must live a life of love. Theologians consider the phrase "Blessed be the name of the LORD" as an act of worship on Jobs part. That is all we have left, when we lose everything, we have the reality that experiencing God is enough. Without God, I wouldn't be here today, I can say that without hesitation.

This song was the hardest to record the vocals for. I screamed and yelled and swore. I threw things across the room. I sat in silence. I sat and wept after recording the second verse. Listening to this song now brings back a wave of memories and emotions.

I need to talk about my sister Michelle for a moment. Her vocals are really the highlight for me. I still get chills when she sings the word "today". Her voice came out haunting, in the most beautiful kind of way. She got to sing with us once at the Black Shire Pub in London, it was one of my favourite live moments. I am so happy that she got to be apart of the recording.

Dan's guitar solos and work during the chorus might actually be some of my favourite guitar work of all time. It's weird, because we had played this song live and jammed it so many times, but I never really heard what he was doing on the guitar until I heard it recorded. It was perfect.

Shane actually wrote the last two minutes of the song after the sound effects, and did the fast palm muting tracks at the end. It was the icing on the cake of the song, showing our punk rock roots. The song in it's entirety always reminded me of the song Take The Veil Cerpin Taxt by The Mars Volta.

I think Shane really wanted the album to end at that last cymbal. From a creative aspect, that might have been the best place to end the album. But I couldn't leave Heather wallowing, she needed to experience redemption.

I think I speak for everyone when I say this was our favourite song to play live, and always got a tremendous response.

11. Efas To Symphony #2

go.
everything is safe.

The parts of the last track on the album were not random, and entirely with meaning. I wanted to have an organ track that tied into the beginning track, to give closure to the album. I also recorded the sound of my air purifier in my bedroom for the silence between the organ and the acoustic song at the very end.

I wanted there to be silence to represent a time of reflection for Heather after the tumultuous events of the album. Sort of like, a furlough of thought, a time of silent worship and communion with God.

The acoustic track at the end can be divided into three parts. I tried with each part to make music that would represent the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ respectively. After Heather is crushed she is raised up and ready to live. The Holy Spirit says the words Go with the meaning that she can now paradoxically live a life of love. I whispered the words Everything is Safe (turn the volume up at the very end and you will be able to hear it) unsure if anyone actually would have heard it. I put that in there for me and for Heather, both feeling so crushed, but in the safety of the love of Christ.
















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