I’ve mentioned a few times—on this blog, and and in some other interviews—that one of the things that surprised me most when working on The Weight of Sound was the way hearing a completed song could help shape the novel. After talking online with a friend about how a specific example of this process worked, I thought it only fair to share with the viewers at home.
A little over three years ago, my friend Erik Ostrom was kind enough to volunteer to write music for me, so I sent him the lyrics I had just finished. (Erik is also the friend I chatted with about this very example, so he’s doing double duty.) For some of the book’s songs I had an idea about what kind of music was needed, but for “That Old House” I had nothing in mind, so Erik was on his own. Within a week he sent back a demo with this beautiful, haunting, melancholic vibe; I loved the way that stutter-step melody in the verses evoked a very specific mood, and the way the chorus seemed to open up and offer resolution–but then took it away at the end. The book never explicitly reveals what Spider wrote the song about, but, well, I know what he wrote the song about, and the music fits perfectly.
At this point I had been working on the novel long enough to know it was going to be finished, that I was going to try and get it published, and that I really wanted there to be a soundtrack. There was lots of work to be done before the first official draft was complete, though, and lots of unanswered questions, including what role this song would play in the finished draft; I only knew it was something Monkeyhole recorded for their second, never-to-be-released album. By the time “That Old House” morphed from demo to completed track, it had found a home in Chapter Seven, which was still a mess. At fifty pages, it was twice as long as it needed to be, and still didn’t have enough about Danny and Linda’s relationship.
That’s when the song helped me solve a problem in the novel. As soon as Danny and Linda sat on a couch and started listening to “That Old House,” I realized the entire backstory behind the doomed second record could be covered in one short scene. Hearing the finished track helped me put into words the changes the band was trying musically (“no guitars!”); the great bass playing (thanks to another talented friend of mine, Thom Bowers) was a way for Linda to hear how much the music meant to Danny; and the melancholic tone lined up with what both characters were feeling. In fact, it wasn’t until I heard the finish track that I understood how the question in the song’s chorus applied to both of the characters listening to it.
Take a listen to Erik’s demo here, and then you can head over to Spotify (or, hey, your own copy of the soundtrack, if you have one!) to hear the finished track.