DNA Mama

DNA Mama

Here’s a song that lies close to my heart. I wrote about it earlier this year in reply to Dave (Chordwainer)‘s song about his mother. This one is about my mother, who died in a car accident when I was three. For a long time she was only some sort of distant memory, as much planted in my brain by my father and other relatives as any ’ real’ memory. Because I had my share of psychological doubts and fears, specially when I was in my thirties I assumed that the loss of my mother at an early age had something to do with it. So I had several types of therapy and what have you to find out about what the loss of my mother meant to me, but therapy never really made any lasting impression on me. So I eventually thought i’d outgrown it or whatever.

But then there was this song… It was already one of my favourite songs, by an irish singer / songwriter called Luca Bloom. The song is called “The man is alive”. It’s about losing his father at the age of three. Sure this song struck a deep chord with me! But for years I never understood the chorus (because I wasn’t listening!). I thought he sang “Man is alive in me” . Which is a pretty good hook, but I didn’t really get it in the context of the song. Of course he wasn’t singing “Man is alive in me” but “THE man is alive in me”! When one fine day (I’d owned the album more than 10 years I’m sure) I finally found out it hit me like a sledgehammer. This was what I knew all along about my own mother but it just never registered in that wooly brain of mine! Here’s a live version of Luca’s song.

Anyway, I immediately grabbed my guitar and started to write my own version of what is basically the same story. I wrote it about 15 years ago so I was about 48 or so when I finally found out that in essence I am 50% the same person as my mother was. I have so often wondered what it would have been like making music with her: she was very talented people tell me. The knowledge that deep down her music is very much a part of me … well it just made all the difference. What the writing of the song also did for me was to bring together the analytical scientist in me with the creative, sensitive and intuitive side of me. It’s all the same thing!
So now I finally recorded it. I guess you can hear the irish influence in the song. It had to be the acoustic guitar als main instrument, that was clear. I wasn’t sure about a bass guitar, piano or violins, but I think it adds something to the song. Let me know what you think. Also anything I could do to make it any better. I intend to send it to Luca Bloom to let him hear how his song influenced my life. So it better be as good as i can get it :innocent:


I think the guitar is a little louder than the vocals. It feels like you are singing in the background a bit.

This sounds great, Evert! Really sad story about your Mum, though. Great melodies - I’m just listening on crud speakers now, but I’d like to take a listen when I get home.

First things first; when the basis of the song is very personal to you, it should always set a very high bar. You’re trying to relate something that changed you at a time you were not equipped to handle it.
I lost my mom when I was 20, and still can’t really explain the effect it had on me. She was very ill for two years before passing, so the grieving process was drawn out and difficult. As it turns out, I’m about to lose my 93 year old Dad, and I’m grateful to be able to tell him how much he has meant to me, which I couldn’t do when my mom was sick.
My point in all of this is that the emotional background of a song like this puts a lot of pressure on the writer to convey the story properly. If you feel you’ve done that, the technical side of it is secondary. It’s also hard to presume anyone is going to feel it like you feel it. I can’t critique the mix right now other than using my phone, but you are brave to take on the subject matter and you deserve kudos for putting it out there.

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Mm lovely song, enjoyed this! I like the instrumentation you have used, it works nicely for me. My bash-focus is just on the voice and how it fits into the mix. Am only able to listen through laptop speakers at the moment but here is my two cents worth:

I’d like a bit more ‘presence’ to the vocal, a bit “thicker” and ‘warmer’, haha… sorry… can’t help my tech-speak! For me, I would play with compression to give a little more depth to it - some parallel comp and a touch of something else to flesh it out a little. I felt that when things expanded in the mix, the vox sounded a little thinner and harsher… so I wondered about carving a little more space for the resonant vocal frequencies by eq’ing the other instruments. For emotive ballads, it’s great to get as much emotional context immediately from the voice, but I am highly biased and always aim to give the voice first place to convey the message so as I said, do take my thoughts with a grain of salt.

Gosh I haven’t listened to Luka for years, I enjoyed listening to his song again. It’s a theme I’ve lived through myself and decidedly shapes our lives in a distinct and deep way. My song lament covers a similar theme. A grief that shapes and forms.

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Nice song. Nice guitar intro. I like many of the arrangements and the way you use them to create emphasis in certain parts. Nice sentimental story line too. I kind of agree with some of the others about the vocals being a bit buried behind the music, BUT I really don’t mind the vocal level as is. I’d expect that most people would prefer the vocals to be louder in this type of mellow song though. Good job on this song!

Hi Evert, just listening in my studio… I have to agree with the other comments about the vocal level. You could bring it up 2 or 3dB IMO. Overall it sounds really good - nice work!

Hey Evert,

I was truly moved by your story. It is wonderful that you can use music to channel some of these feelings.

I don’t know how useful my comments will be since this is obviously a very personal creation and it has to stay that way, but I’ll tell you what I think anyway.

Listening to your song I didn’t experience the same emotional intensity that I felt reading your story. I thought the music was a little on the light side (as in remiss), with lots of major chords in the chorus. It might be a good thing because it conveys a feeling of " I’m over it now and I’m moving forward", but I’m afraid that a random listener would miss the point altogether unless they really pay attention to the lyrics.

Also, I like the guitar track a lot, but I think the bass doesn’t do it justice. A lot of the bass notes are not what you’d normally expect a bass player to play in this genre. There are times when the bass plays the 3rd of the chord and I don’t think that sounds great. In general I find the bass being too melodic and not supportive enough of the song harmony. That is one of the elements that make the song “light” instead of “intense” to my ears.

The guitar plays a beautiful intro alternating between Badd2 and Aadd2 but keeping a constant B as a drone note, which is great. However when the bass comes in, instead of supporting the guitar it alternates between B and A, which kind of breaks the mood for me. A simple alternation between a low B and a high B would be much more fitting to the heavy ambiance that the lyrics are setting here. Later when the guitar goes to E major on “in a ditch” the bass goes to the third (G#) and I wish it just went to the root (E) instead.

At 0:54 on “I can remember”, the bass just plays the vocal melody and lingers on the 7th of the chord at the end. That doesn’t work for me: I think it would be more beautiful and efficient to let it play the root note. Same thing on “What happened precisely” next line. I get pretty much the same feeling throughout the song.

About the arrangement : I think the strings are great and perfectly fitting where you used them. I think the piano should play on the first chorus instead of starting at the second verse, and on the verse I think the left hand should also stick to the root notes instead of being melodic.

The ending doesn’t resolve and that gives me a weird feeling of something unfinished. Is that what you were going for? Interestingly, the Luka Bloom song also uses the same trick of having a drone note (a G in his case) and the chords alternate between G and C both on the intro and outro. Despite his guitar being out of tune, the emotional impact is very much present. At the end it does resolve to the G, which gives this satisfying feeling of home, and I kind of miss that in your song.

I hope you don’t mind the intrusive critics. I’m happy to expand if something isn’t clear.

Wow, thanks for all the great comments!
I’ll certainly give the vocal some more attention. I wasn’t all that happy with it myself. The melody was written quite low (in B) even for my low voice. I play it with a capo on the second fret and a two string riff on the 7th fret - with in fact 2 and sometimes 3 drone notes playing (thanks for your professional analysis Lophophora!). It might have been easier to sing if I’d play it with the capo on the 4th fret, one note up… I’d have to start all over again to do that. Maybe I should try it though.

And @Emma of course I completely agree that the emotional content should come directly from the voice, preferably by a singer who is capable of adding all the nuances that you might want. Well, I’ve learnt to live with my voice, but it does have its limits… But maybe a really good producer could get a better performance out of me. If you do all this stuff on your own, it might not come across as when someone else it twiddling the knobs and you can focus on one thing only. How do you do this Emma?

Another thing regarding the vocal: I have a nasal voice as it is, and sang it with a cold which didn’t help much. I tend to have a perpetual cold anyway, can’t always wait for it subside. I used a (dynamic) eq to take out some of the nasal sound, maybe that also made it thinner? I’ll have to check that. In the chorus the vocal is doubled left and right and I have a couple of harmonies in there as well. Surely that part is ‘warm’ enough Emma? In any case I’ll try carving out some EQ for the vocal in the warmer regions, hopefully staying away from the nasal frequencies (around 800 khz).

Thanks for the detailed analysis of the bass line @Lophophora! You will have guessed by now I’m not a bass player. In fact, since recording all instruments myself my appreciation for the bass guitar has grown. Such a basic instrument, but so difficult to get it right! I’m a fan of Paul Mccartney’s melodic bass lines, and like him I try not to follow the rules of playing bass. But there’s an art to this… Also, I tried playing this on a real bass guitar (yes I do have one in my studio) but got too many mistakes, bad timing and dud notes. So I opted for a sampled bass guitar and just programmed the bass line. I think you can hear this. The good thing about the sampled bass is that I can quite easily try out a different arrangement. I am certainly going to try your suggestions for the bass notes: thanks a lot!
I’m not sure about the piano starting at the first chorus. I like having this new element in the mix making the second verse somewhat different from the first. It wouldn’t have that effect of freshness if was already there in the chorus. Maybe you mean that the low-mids frequencies the piano adds give the chorus some much needed warmth? I added a second guitar (with a ‘Nashville’ stringset - to give the mix a sense of a 12 string playing), maybe that puts a little too much emphasis on the higher frequencies. I’ll try backing it down a bit.

One thing I don’t agree with is the ending chord. I like it when a song doesn’t resolve back to the root at the end, and in this case in particular: it’s about the ongoing process of evolution which I finally felt, not just as a scientific fact, but as a deep feeling of belonging to something bigger that doesn’t stop at the end of the song.
Another comment was the fact that it’s basically uplifting - major chords - whist it’s such a sad subject. Ah, but it’s not! On the contrary, I felt fantastic when I wrote this, it was a revelation! I understand that for the listener the description of how my mother died is dramatic, but it’s just not the point of the song. Or rather, the fact that she was some vague memory of which most has probably been planted in my head by stories about her, not real memories of my own, followed by the real feeling of her being a part of me. A cause to celebrate, not a feeling of ‘being over it’ at all.

But just to be clear: I am very happy with your comments, they are certainly not intrusive :smiley: . In fact, it’s made some of my intuitive choices all the more clear. I couldn’t have hoped for better comments.

Great Evert, I’m happy you got something useful out of my comments!

Indeed I had missed your emotional intention. I was kind of focused on the first lines of the lyrics and the fact that most of them are in the past tense, which made me think that it was somewhat about pain and struggles.

After the first listen, I like the melody a lot, and the sound and playing of the acoustic guitar. The strings add a lot to the song, although I think there could be a bit more movement with them.
I’m not using monitors to listen, so I don’t hear problems with the vocal levels. I do hear the possibility that the acoustic guitar could be thinned out a little to make more room for the vocal. Can’t say exactly where, but the voice is right in the same range as the chords, which sound like they are being played in the first position.
The only other thing you might think about is tightening up the timing on the background vocals. It sounds like harmonized doubling, which requires very tight synchronization to not be a little distracting.
You did a great job of conveying the emotion of the song, now you can polish it up as much as you’d like. Nice work.

Capturing the essence of a song is a whimsical thing… I find that songs are ‘alive’ sometimes and other times they are not. It is simply not something that can be forced. You clearly DO have that ability with this song, it does shine through and caught me with its truth and musical connection. Being ‘true’ to a song is the most powerful vocal tool and can cover a multitude of woopsy daisies. I don’t know that you need to re-record, rather you could play around a bit with the levels and the spaces within. There are some nice harmonic moments and I loved the build with the song structure, the chorus and the inclusive feeling that was created. I didn’t find your voice nasal, I enjoyed the tone and most of all - the authenticity… that is gold.

I agree with Emma, nothing wrong with your voice, it conveys the song perfectly well.
Usually, for me, I have to comp the vocal phrase by phrase to get it how I like it. I also start off with the idea of the melody, but if I stumble into something I like, I’ll change directions. It’s rare to get much more than a few phrases at a time, so I get used to punching in and out a lot.
Everybody hears themselves differently than others do, but you sing well, so let it rip.

Thanks @Emma, that is a great vote of confidence :sweat_smile:
Just some more tweaking sounds a lot better than rerecording my vocals. And I love all this nerdy tech stuff - I don’t know why, it’s not really part of the essence of the song, but twiddling knobs, albeit with with increasing purpose and intent is strangely satisfying :sunglasses:
@StylesBitchley : I do my fair share of comping, though I tend to record the main vocal in only a few takes. It’s the doubles and harmonies that take a lot of punching in and out, comping and editing because they need to follow the main vocal quite strictly.

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Hi Evert sorry I missed this. Guitar so nice and clean. Sad to relive this I bet. You sound a little like ringo in this. Great words in your chorus. Vox could come up 2 dbs. Really a laid back vibe in the song itself. You have to put these feelings to music and you have done an exceptional job. Congrats bud

I second that. The voice is missing substance. Its an amazing voice. It deserves more bandwidth :slight_smile: . I would push it forward to the breathy zone.

Just listened to this…

First thing I gotta tell you is simply that your mother would be very moved by this song, Evert. Beautiful song. Love the guitar, love the lyrics, love your vocals.

And, oh, the guitar! So full. I’m curious what kind of guitar you’re playing here, and would love to hear a bit about how you recorded it (mics, room treatment), and even your effects.

Your playing is quite nice. Really enjoyed this. It’s full and natural. Your playing is so sweet. You have a nice “feel” for the guitar. Wonderfully solid and pleasant to listen to.

In fact, your guitar playing is so beautiful and so prominent, that ironically I think it needs to be scaled back, 'cuz it actually takes front and center, making your vox take a back seat. The bigger part of it is going to be making your vocals louder of course, but there’s prob’ly some complementary EQ so the guitar doesn’t compete so much, and maybe a little EQ also to make it fuller. The bass and guitar are right up there up the center and are too much competing with your vox.

I wanna hear the words more AND the harmonies (very sweet).

Little less low end. I’m also wondering about maybe a little M/S on the guitars to get 'em out of the way.

So, TBH, I’m thinkin’ “our lovin’ man, JT” – your guitar reminds me of him. Note how prominent and central his vocals are, and how the guitars complement the vox and “serve” the vox. Here’s his Sweet Baby James album on Spotify. Check out Sunny Skies or Sweet Baby James.

Your lyrics are powerful. Really like this. I’m moved by this. On a personal note, my dad died in March, from COVID. He was 92. He made national news, actually (he’d have been very pleased with this! :slight_smile: ) for being the first casualty to the coronavirus in Wisconsin.

Thank you for sharing! I can relate. I’m sure many of can. This is truly beautiful.

P.S., seriously, do share about your treatment of the guitar. It’s strikingly good.

Thanks Tes. I don’t think my guitar chops are comparable to James Taylor, but its a nice compliment none the less. The way I recorded it it was as follows:
I used my old Taylor 420 with not so new Elixer strings. Elixers last quite a long time and I tend to ignore the advice to replace the strings with just about every new take (I heard some one actually say this on You Tube). I just don’t like the sound of very new strings. They rattle to easily and have too much high sizzle. The sweet mid frequencies are overruled by high FQ’s. It’s all right if you use an acoustic as an extra rhythm instrument in the background, but not if the acoustic is the main instrument. Only my opinion of course, but I heard Warren Huart say the same thing recently :grin:
Its a stereo recording using 2 different mics (because I don’t yet own an identical stereo pair): I use my large diaphragm condensor (I forget the brand, It’s a lesser known German mic which did once get a very favorable SOS review) on the 12th fret position about 30 cm (1 foot) away pointing only very slightly towards the sound hole. The other mic was a Rode M3 (not the most expensive small diaphragm condensor by a long shot!) pointed again 30 cm away at the lower part of the guitar body just beyond the sound hole. This mic placement is tricky, move around too much and comb filtering might completely ruin the sound. Its a stereo recording but I used a stereo tool (I think I used the Nugen Stereoizer to make sure it was not too wide - about 50 degrees left and right if I remember rightly). I wanted it stereo to get a fuller sound, and I wanted it out of the way of the vocal in the stereo field (as you suggest!). But not hard panned all the way because it would not sound like its coming from the same source as the singer.
I’m trying to remember the details by the way but have no access to my studio: having a short holiday elsewhere!
I used my trusty dynamic eq TDR Nova (in my top 5 of favorite plugins) to get rid of some slightly annoying resonances (the "Gentleman’s edition of Nova has a an AI algorithm that analyses this for you and you can decide to use/ tweak what it comes up with or not). After that I used Waves MV2 to bring up the level of the softer parts (giving it some attitude in the process) followed by another eq (probably the Slick EQ also by TDR), but I can’t recall how I used it. I think I had another compressor on the mixbus, probably an LA2A clone (was it the Thrill Seeker? not sure what I used) as well as some tape emulation. There’s some small room reverb as well as a little bit of hall verb. And that’s about it.
I put some hall verb on the main vox as well come to think of it. Although I would have dialed in quite a lot of pre-delay that might still be the reason it’s not up front enough. One thing I need to check out, when I get back to my studio…

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Evert, this is an excellent post. Very cool. I love, love, love the sound you got on your guitar.

Now, I don’t have a Taylor – mine is a Takamine – but I have everything else (sort of) in your chain. Really appreciate your detail in explaining how you did this.

I also use a large & small condenser (a Studio Projects C1 and a Shure SM81), but I’ve always switched so I have the larger condenser at the low part of the body and the SM81 by the on the neck, where you have your large. So, am I screwed up for doing it that way?

The Nugen Stereoizer was my last purchase. I love that plugin. I hunch that was a significant part of the sound you got. Just gorgeous. Would love to know what kind of settings you used. Could you PM me? Really nice.

I use the Nova as well, but not a lot. I have difficulty knowing how to do the dynamic EQ thing. I wasn’t aware of the AI thing. Will maybe need to check it out.

I have the MV2 from the gold bundle. Cool plug but I haven’t used it a lot. Love your use of it here.

So if you listen to my guitar at the intro of Wings for You, you will hear what I did with my Takamine. Like yours a lot better.

Would love your thoughts on my treatment of the guitar there. I got some rock solid feedback on that mix, and haven’t had a chance to repost, but I will. worked on it a little bit but swamped with work. This COVID-19 thing is complicating my life too much. Ugh.

So my next mix on Wings is already better, but not done. I’m trying to make it a priority to get to it, but things keep coming up.

Thanks, man.