Driving Music – Orange Traffic Cones by Driving Music
She thinks of salt and the sea
As if they could be the source of her sweat and tears, like blood to wine,
And the sweaty ocean breeze
Could melt the limits of what comes from the outside and what blows inside (her shirt)
And while the enemy sleeps, she plans to get as far as she can from that sparkling coast
Because the bad days come with the waves that keep crashing hard against the sand
to make it sing like one deaf mermaid
And as she packs her way to escape from the plans that she once dared to plan
Her eyes roll deep into the void of hours of sleep
To let tomorrow come
She steers the steering wheel
Driving past tens of thousands of flashy orange traffic cones
That slash the night like a tear
And leads her to the house that she never really felt like home
Because the bad days, hell, they keep spinning like letters in a hurricane
in a deadly dance outside her window
And as she packs her day with the strains of this lingering lowering
Her eyes fall deep into the void of her own self
Until tomorrow comes
And all these bad days, they always creep in like voices from the afterworld
to yell her things she does not know yet
That leave her drained and bewildered, spat out like a river by a desert road
Or a page filled with uninspired imagery
Until tomorrow comes
And the day is done
So it makes not sense at all
To keep hiding from the sun
Like a loaded gun
To save things she can’t recall
. Piano by Daniel Develly.
For a while, I had this plan of remaking Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Each song on my album would be a reinterpretation of the same track on Yankee. Even though I didn’t really follow through with that idea (“Afterglow” is definitely no “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”), there are some songs on Comic Sans that were born out of this effort to recreate somebody else’s work – and it just seemed smart to choose one of my all time favorite albums as the framework for my own. “Orange Traffic Cones” is my “Kamera”, pulsing with its krauty beat and its low key, laid back vocals. It’s also, as you can see, a completely different song.
Before there were lyrics – before there was even a title – “Orange Traffic Cones” has always felt like a road song. There’s something about its steady rhythm that pushes the right foot against the gas pedal, going steadily faster, speeding up on the curveless highway. As the car speeds by, the flashy orange traffic cones look like a single orange line, slashing the night like a tear that has been held back forever, and finally rolls down the cheek and drops to the ground. There is also the heroin: a girl who’s like a reversed version of Moby Dick’s Ishmael, who feels the urge to get as far as she can from the sea when the weight of life hits her. The sea comes not only through the salt of her tears and sweat, but also as a reminder of how expansive life can be, throwing infinite unexplored possibilities on her face. In a way, it’s a song about the burden of feeling free.
One thing that excited me about recording “Orange Traffic Cones” was that it’d be the first Driving Music song to have virtually no acoustic guitars. For a project that started with nothing but an acoustic guitar, it seemed like an interesting challenge to record something that didn’t really feature that original instrument and still make it sound like a Driving Music. In a way, Comic Sans is all about stretching the boundaries of what really makes a Driving Music song, and “Orange Traffic Cones” was the first one I recorded (before that I’d only recorded “Watching the Wind”, “Skatepark”, “Way Back Home”, “Lavender Suit” and “Aphasic Singalong”) that felt like I was doing just that. There actually is an acoustic guitar starting at 3:52, and later I would record another song – “Strangers in a While” – where there really isn’t any acoustic guitar, not even a late one; but while I was recording “Orange Traffic Cones” it felt like I was doing the exact opposite of the character in the song, driving my car into the ocean of possibilities that the song offered me.
As far as tracking goes, there are not many instruments on the song at all – at least not for my usual average of tracks per song. I programmed the drums and recorded two separate bass tracks, that play throughout the entire song. Besides that, there’s a noisy guitar in the background, that was processed to sound like a siren sometimes (you can hear it clearly right before the guitar solos), a jangly guitar in the chorus, two different keyboards (Daniel Develly recorded the piano, and I did the one that comes in with the chorus), and the things that pop up right before the acoustic guitar: a moog-like synth and two guitars played with e-bows, that I thought brought the sea-like dizziness of the character’s state. And of course, there are the two solo guitars, both of them recorded with octavers and doubled by voices that mimic the guitar solos – something I had done when I first recorded “Rain or Shine” and that felt right to do once again. I was sure of very few things when I recorded this song, but I always knew the solo had to sound loud in the mix. And so they do.
While “Kamera” was the starting point, I’ve always felt that this song is closer to the type of stuff Tom Waits was writing and recording (and Rod Stewart was re-recording) in the mid 80s. “Downtown Train” comes to mind, and I think they also share this vocation of being a smaller-than-life anthemic song. It’s only now occured to me that, despite being a road song about the sea, “Orange Traffic Cones” ends with the distorted sounds of a train. At the time, I was just looking for some kind of noisy sound that matched the e-bows and that could lead us properly into “Lavender Suit”, but now that I think of it, it seems all the more appropriate.