Driving Music – Afterglow by Driving Music
He looked at the bright, mazing deep of her eyes just to feel how it feels to be lost.
. Percussion by Gustavo Matos.
“Afterglow” was born out of two self-imposed challenges:
1) What verse is strong enough to make a one verse song?
It’s already hard to get out there and write something… I mean, anything, even something that’s not at all good. But to write one line that has to stand by itself, without the support of the other lines surrounding it, and the other lines surrounding them, was something I’d never done before and that, quite frankly, one songwriter will probably never do more than once (although it’d probably be interesting to see a whole career dedicated to that kind of structure).
There’s this problem of putting words to paper, even when you do that for a living in a world where words can be written without paper at all, that has to do with necessity: what can you write that is actually necessary to be written? One could say very few things are necessary these days, especially with thousands of years of words and history that already existed, on paper, before we did. It’s obvious that if I’m writing these words right now I don’t believe they’re unnecessary, even if just for me. To write for no reason is to produce waste. But even when you do believe in writing, even when you believe in writing for writing’s sake, to find this self-sufficient pill of meaning is a whole different game.
“Afterglow” was born as a oneliner without its one line, a backbone that has no backbone, and the problem was always where to start. Because you can’t move on and then go back to fix the first line after you’ve found what the song is about. You can’t write something that the rest of the song will help you fix. There is no rest of the song; it is all about that one line; it is that one line. There’s nothing to be figured out later. Once you’ve passed that line, the song is over.
The only thing that seemed honest was to write something that in a way encapsulated that difficulty, so that the verse itself expressed its own struggle towards existence. For a long time I’d been thinking about how there’s a tendency in art today to neutralize “the other” – this not at all hypothetical being that is not me – through the artist’s own sensitivity (or for its sake), and to me that’s always been very disturbing. There’s no temple more sacred than “the other”, there’s no mystery more concrete than everyone who is not me. So “Afterglow” is about that feeling, which is not necessarily good nor bad (it can actually be very exciting and agonizing – it can even be both at the same time), of being in front of a stranger; this feeling of facing some sort of fascinating yet unsolvable riddle.
That was actually what the song seemed to me at the time. It took me forever to get to record it, because “Afterglow” is structured in a way none of my other songs are, and its strength could only come from the other self-imposed challenge:
2) How can one jam by himself?
Like I said, “Afterglow” first came to me as a oneliner that should be over and done really quickly. Even though that structure is kept in the final version, as time went by I started picturing this song as this fragile verse floating in a hazardous sea that kept throwing it from one side to the other, making it drown and then bringing it back up to inhale just enough air to survive, just to be drowned again. So in my head the song started to feel longer, and I had absolutely no idea how to get that to tape, as I had never played the whole song before I got to record it. It was only one verse that didn’t exist, surrounded by numerous waves of sound, and it’s hard to create a wave of sound when you can only play one instrument at a time.
“Afterglow” is the closest thing to a jam piece I’ve ever recorded, and it could not be any different. That’s why it was one of the very last songs recorded for the album: I didn’t know how to start. A jam usually starts with one musician playing whatever’s on his mind, than the others follow along and slowly change what was first being played, so that it keeps being redefined throughout its existence. But how could I follow myself along, playing one instrument at a time? And how could I impose variations and changes to that one pattern, if it was already recorded? How could one instrument respond to the other, and so on? I couldn’t do the usual thing and start with the drums, since I didn’t know exactly how long the song would last, how and when exactly the drums would come up, and for how long each part would go on before the next, etc. So I did what I could do: I started from the start. The opening keyboards came first, then the acoustic guitars, then the drums, then the other stuff. Sometimes I would finish recording one instrument just to realize later it could come back at a different part of the song, and then I’d plug it in again and record that part. It was a nightmare of plugging and unplugging, but also a dream to see the song slowly taking shape and existing in a way that didn’t exist before, not even in my head. In a way, it was a jam created with my own recordings, one track altering the other, suggesting variations over that one original theme that had me going back and again to record and re-record as I kept re-writing what was not even written.
As for the title, there’s an interesting anecdote about it. When I was working on the Goodbye South Goodbye single (that will see the light of day someday, even though I still don’t know when), I had this one untitled instrumental track I wrote for the Superstonic Sound soundtrack that, after a number of different titles, ended up as “Afterglow”. It’s one of those words that’s always fascinated me, not only because it sounds beautiful and carries so much imagery, but also because it doesn’t really have an exact translation to portuguese (at least not that I can think of). Even though we can capture its meaning, and even feel it, it’s something that remains stranger to us, as we can not express it in words. And if we haven’t bothered to create a word for it, it’s probably because its real meaning remains unknown. For all of that and the feeling that came to me with this song, when I recorded the at the time still untitled opening track for Comic Sans I started calling it “Afterglow”. But since I had been using the title before for another song, I was not sure how appropriate it was. So, based on the words and the music, I asked Clarissa if she had any idea for the title to this song, and her answer was pretty much a description of the exact meaning of the word afterglow. And that’s something I wouldn’t dare to argue with – especially coming from the one who sleeps by my side every night.