Salad of Doom
Words by S. J. Tucker & Betsy Tinney, music by S. J. Tucker
Guitars, vocals: S. J. Tucker
Cello: Betsy Tinney
Army of Croutons: Michelle Dockrey, Torrey Stenmark, David Tinney, James Tinney, S. J. Tucker, Kevin Wiley
Damsels of Doom: Susan Lanphere, Betsy Tinney, Katie Tinney
Doom descant: Michelle Dockrey

"Salad of Doom" was written in less than twenty minutes, with Betsy and Kate, in the kitchen of their Redmond home, and in the floor of the music room next to the kitchen.  It was Vixy's birthday, a fine summer evening, and the Tinneys were hosting K's fire safety class that evening.  Because Vixy knew about the class and suspected that the house was already likely to be overrun with people, she emailed to ask if it would be all right with everyone for her to come over and play with the kittens (and bring her hubby and whether they should feed themselves, etc).  When I asked Dave, Betsy's amazing husband, he said "oh, sure! I'm gonna feed everybody with a gigantic salad bar," or somesuch other amazing sentence.  I wrote Vixy back and told her that Dave had dinner in hand with an uber-grazing salad bar of doom, and that she and her Fishy should come on over.  She responded with "wow, Dave is awesome.  I wonder if I should sing for
my supper.  Do you know any songs about salads?"
There was a beat, Betsy and I locked eyes, and I immediately started typing lyrics.  A song was born.  We retreated to the music room, giggling and grabbing for instruments.  Twenty minutes later, we emailed Vixy back with an mp3 and said "We do now."  She responded with "falls off chair. Woman! I was kidding!"

About the recording: 
I think the only other time I've had such fun getting a goofy choir together was when we tracked "In the House of Mama Dragon" for Haphazard in 2003-2004.  This time, though, there's video.  I'll be linking to that soon.  I wish we could have had even more damsels of doom and crunching crouton militia members.  Special thanks to Tony for gently wrangling all of these tempting and colorful veggie singers, and also for boosting a couple of moments of comedic timing in the mix.

Interesting facts: 
Betsy's been doing the chilling cello slide after the "iceberg lettuce" line since the day we wrote the song.  I think it's a stroke of genius.  Also, the ladies in the crowd have a tendency to echo her at shows, as if going "DOOM nom nom DOOM nom nom" weren't already fun enough!  I love it.
[profile] omnistiK has masterminded utensil-schtick during live performances of this song.  Observe.

Beware the Bleu Cheese of Redmond
and the honey-mustard of gloom
Be careful how you stick your fork into
the Notorious Salad of Doom

An army of croutons comes crunching
while sinister spinach doth creep
invading the heart of your luncheon
and stirring your belly from sleep

Tempting and colorful veggies
seek only to draw you in
and learning your fate, you'll find it's too late
as dressing drips from your chin!

iceberg lettuce
will come to chill your soul
don't say we didn't warn you
as you blindly fill up your bowl!

Dress it in flowers and clover,
but it consumes you still!
In leather and lace,
past the bounds of good taste,
this salad is dressed to kill!

The popping of cherry tomatoes
resounds throughout the land!
Innocence lost when the salad was tossed,
but Dave was just feeding the band!!

Iceberg lettuce
will come to chill your soul
don't say we didn't warn you
as you blithely fill up your bowl, oh,
heads of lettuce will roll!

Oh, Health nuts, seek other nutrition!
Vegans, best run from the room!
Be careful how you stick your fork into
the Notorious Salad of Doom

Woe to the grazers of green things,
whose stomachs will growl all too soon!
We'll lose all we love in the tastiness of
The Notorious Salad of Doom

Special thanks to Dave, Betsy, and Kate, and to Vixy and her birthday party, the first audience this song ever had (falling out of their chairs).
Words & music by S. J. Tucker
Guitars, bass, vocals, percussion: S. J. Tucker
Cello: Betsy Tinney
Tracked & mixed by Ginger Doss, Eagle Audio USA

"Witchka" is one song that grew to be something entirely other than what inspired it. It started with the words of a small child and ended with the image of a beautiful goth girl/priestess-in-training who's coming of age, stealing hearts as she goes. I wrote it in December 2006, in Ann Arbor Michigan. It was inspired by a story that [info]yuki_onna told me about [info]justbeast 's young niece Nika, and the first time Nika watched Sleeping Beauty. (They had to pry her away from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which she loved for all of its scary parts, such as when the forest attacks the mildly annoying soprano heroine and the owls go for her face.)

I am told that in the Russian language, "-ka" is one of many diminutive suffixes that you can add to a word to make it mean "cute little _________". My friends who speak Russian tell me that you can just keep adding and adding diminutives to a word, one after another, to show affection. (The first time [info]justbeast called me Soojinka, I melted. Still do.) In this case, [info]justbeast 's niece Nika, at the wise age of four or so, looked at Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty's lovely black-and-purple, dragon-making villain, and called her "Witchka". Nika is my heroine, for life.

About the recording:
I never thought I'd go out of my way to buy a tambourine, but I decided I needed one for "Witchka", for lack of a badass drummer with a full kit. In the end, a rock drummer might have been less trouble to find. There I was at a SamAsh store in Tampa Florida, being looked at by the staff as if I'd grown eye stalks and scales because I asked for a tambourine in the key of G or D. "They don't tune tambourines," I was told. So I thanked them and started walking around on my own. I just played with every tambourine in the place until I found one that had a good sparkly sound and was, in fact, tuned close enough to fit a song in the key of G. It didn't actually take very long.
This is part of why I only go into guitar stores when I absolutely must.

"Witchka" was tracked in Texas, Kansas, and Florida. I tracked guitars and most of the vocals in Austin, I tracked the rest of the vocals and all of the percussion in Melbourne Florida (see above story about the tambourine), and I tracked the bass part, along with the bass part for "Neptune", in the stage right green room attached to the concert pavilion at Camp Gaea just outside of Topeka Kansas, during Heartland Pagan Festival. You literally can record just about anywhere these days, thanks to digital recording gear.

Interesting facts:
There's a goth industrial version of this song simmering in my mind, with live drums, gorgeous crunchy beats and
wah pedal guitars, but that will come when I'm not as impatient to get this song out into the world where you can hear it.
People have been asking me to record "Witchka" for over three years now.
When my cohorts and I perform "Witchka" live, it's anyone's guess how many other songs will make cameo appearances
at one point or another before we end "Witchka".
The list so far:
Personal Jesus
Are You Gonna Be My Girl
Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)
The Hand That Feeds

Why? Because they all fit the same tempo and feel, with a little bit of creative license on the part of my bandmates and me. It's a fun game. Modern music is an entertaining thing, even in the details. Also, we are incorrigible music geeks and we're proud of it. I want to thank [info]vixyish and [info]stealthcello for being so game to jump into wacky cover territory with me there.

Here's a vid of us performing "Witcka" live (with bonus Alec! Also background noise. Sorry.) at the Mandolin Cafe in Tacoma back in March. (including things from that cameo list up there.) Nah, we're not having fun at all... :D

To abuse the vernacular...Witch, please. Where my Witchkas at?!?

Lyrics posted in this entry.

Special thanks to [info]gingerdoss , [info]stealthcello , [info]yuki_onna , [info]justbeast , [info]celtic_elk* , [info]otterkin , the Cooks, all my Witchkas (you know who you are, my wicked and dangerous dancing goth girls. Please don't ever stop dancing), and of course Nika.
Love Lies
Words & music by S. J. Tucker
Vocals, percussion: S. J. Tucker
Tracked & mixed by Tony Fabris, Monkey Brains Studios Seattle

I wrote "Love Lies" at Burning Man in 2008, in the shade at the ARTery headquarters. ([info]omnisti  and I work for the art placement team (the ARTery) at Burning Man.  We help make sure that the big sculptures, burned or otherwise, don't end up set up right on top of each other.  We get to use GPS units and drive golf carts when we go to work.  Burning Man is the only place and time you'll find K and me working a day job and keeping a home, oddly enough.  When I wrote this song, I was between tasks on my work shift.)  Lots of amazing things happen in the desert when Black Rock City shows up like a mirage.  This is the second song I've written out there, and it won't be the last.  This one's actually not as autobiographical as you might expect.  It's not about a wild, one-night romance at the Burn, which is what it sounds like to me (though the potential and the fantasies were certainly there at the time, make no mistake).  I just got to thinking about how so many chance encounters can lead to so many different kinds of interactions (and entanglements) out there, where so many thousands of creative people come together all at once for what really is a very short time. 
Fate knocks, as Beethoven said.  Open the door.
There are so many songs out there about love as a predatory force, something that sneaks up on you, something wild and dangerous.  This one's no exception.  It's got everything-angels, tigers, the desert, danger, and a honey-soaked blues melody line.

About the recording: 
Tony and I discovered that when we covered the head of my bodhran with a sheet and I hit it with the tipper, it sounded an awful lot like a kick drum--exactly what I wanted.  So that's me, sitting in the vocal booth at Monkey Brains with a pretty bedsheet wrapped around my Irish drum, whacking it on the first beat of every measure. :D  That's also me doing the claps and finger snaps--this took several takes, and my hands were pretty warm (and just a little sore) when we were done.  It makes you think about how recording worked a few decades ago, how you had to get it right all in one go, for the most part, or else play your part over and over again.  I feel for the hand clappers and finger-snappers of Motown
and the like, all those who've gone before. 
Often, when I overdub all of the counterparts and harmonies I love to add to my songs in the studio, I'm making up the various parts as I go.  In this case, all the girls were already singing their parts in my mind, just about note-for-note as you hear it.  Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? all over again, to a degree.  They were dying to get out, and I'm very happy with the sassy, bluesy results.  My perverse side loves having a very gospel-sauce song about all sorts of things you don't talk about in church.
Most of the songs on Mischief had to wait their turn to be recorded for a long time.  I think they're better for it, but I'm also relieved to have them out of my head at last.  It gets all crowded up with songs in there.  The minute I finish one, another one steps up.  It's a good problem to have, but sometimes I get a little frantic.  Since I had the arrangement for this one fully formed in my mind from almost the moment I finished writing the lyrics down (I'm not always so fortunate), I feel very good to have it out in the world at last.

Interesting facts: 
It's possible that I'll do a full band recording of this song sometime, but I wanted the a capella version to come first.  Singing with yourself is, for me, a lot less time-consuming than hiring (or becoming) a funk band.  In the meantime, you can hear me do this up right live, song-mama
style, with GBMojo's Ginger Doss and Bekah Kelso, whenever we perform together as The Traveling Fates.

love lies downwind waiting
patiently to be found
all day east wind howling (wailing)
angel don't make a sound
you are the one i have been waiting for

i've been downwind waiting
for you to come around
all night west wind wailing
angel don't let me down
i know
you are the one i have been waiting for

there is no one soul that will swallow me whole
and let me out shining and beautiful, no
(spit me out, turnabout's fair play)
in love there is loss of control
but like the rivers i roll
(just the way it goes/we go)
are you in for the ride?

shifting on the thermal and gliding (riding)
where will you sleep tonight?
love lies, downwind waiting
with the silence of tigers
and a hunger burning bright
with a heart song shining bright

desert star, shine a light
shine a light

(love lies downwind waiting)
(where will you sleep tonight?)

Special thanks to Monkey, now and forever, and to K for getting me out to Burning Man as often as possible.
Words & music by S. J. Tucker
Guitars, vocals, bass, percussion, whalesong: S. J. Tucker
Cello: Betsy Tinney
Tracked & mixed by Ginger Doss, Eagle Audio USA

"Neptune" commemmorates the painful end of a relationship I had with someone very brilliant, who unfortunately felt that the world owed him a living.  I wrote it in Manhattan, in a friend's apartment, while I was on tour with Cat Valente for the first time, just before Halloween in 2006, more than two years after said relationship had left me cold.  I wrote it in the presence of someone else who was just undergoing the painful end of a  relationship, herself, with a husband who lived on the water, of all things.  It came on like a headache, making me very cranky and restless until I realized that all I needed to do was grab my guitar and sit still for a few minutes.  I did so, and out flowed a song.

Cat wrote this vignette for "Neptune" in the liner notes:

This is what a song does: it ties two tales together. So that one woman, with such a kind face, can sit on a couch in New York and pick out a melody the color of deep blue ink on her guitar, singing shards of a song like a knife, like a burial, and another woman, broken all too recently, can hear it, and find herself crying because it is not only the kind woman’s story but her own. She can see herself in it, her mistakes and her rescue, and the inky tendrils of the song stitch her heart back together, even as they are being written by the gentle woman beside her, even as the song is being made, it heals her. Note by note, stitch by stitch. And it goes out into the world from that couch in New York, and it touches other tales, and other hearts, and we all stand on either side of a song the color of water, and sing along with it.

This is what a song can do. This is what magic is.

Years ago I came to you,
in love and doomed by what I knew,
and though I miss the mystery now
of life beneath the waves,

Thin air's as sweet as water
when your body begs to breathe,
and so I leave when I must leave,
don't weep for love I couldn't save

Love changes us all, makes us broken, makes us brave, makes us deny ourselves and our very breath, makes us refuse to listen when our hearts tell us that the time has come to move on, to break the surface.  "Neptune" is the story of what can happen after you've drowned yourself willingly in someone else's hopes and dreams, and you find that saltwater and shadows no longer sustain you.  "Neptune" is the story of what can happen when you've lived in sin with a god for long enough that the respective piles of dirty laundry and broken promises have started to really get on your nerves.

Interesting facts: 
Originally the first verse went like this:
Moons ago I came down to you
down beneath your ripples
wrapped in seaweed splendor
where the coral yields to gloom

Years I floated near you
swimming in your subterrain
rocking in the opium embrace
of Triton's tomb

I might start singing it again this way when I perform it live; we'll see.
The rest of the song's features--time signature changes, guitar parts, lyrics--are pretty much as they were when I finished writing the song that day in New York.

I started learning two new percussion instruments just for this song: Tar (frame drum) and Udu (clay pot drum--the one that goes bwwoOOp).  The list of percussion we used on "Neptune" is the longest, coolest list of different ethnic drums I've ever played: djembe, tar, udu, and doumbek. 

About the recording: 
Ginger, Betsy and I started tracking "Neptune" at Ginger's last home in Austin, and Ginger and I completed tracking at the home of friends in Melbourne, Florida.  We tracked cello and the main guitar part in Austin, and we tracked all the rest in Florida--twenty minutes from the nearest beach.  I didn't realize until we were nearly done with our work that there was a mermaid painting on the wall in the room where we were recording.  Lots of other interesting ocean things happened that week, including a wonderful recording trick that we discovered by accident:  the sound of the ocean that you hear on "Neptune" is not the ocean at all.  That's what it sounded like when I ran my hands gently across the goatskin head of Ginger's wonderful djembe drum, with the reverb cranked all the way up in Ginger's recording program.  We could hardly believe our ears when we played it back.  "So much for hunting down an ocean sound effect!" we decided,
our eyes wide.  Same for the whalesong noise in the intro: that's me, sucking air backwards into my throat with my lips closed, while we were taping the ocean sound from the djembe with the reverb cranked up.  Happy accidents in the studio are one of my favorite kinds of magic.

This version of "Neptune" is one of the finest things I've ever recorded.  Unlike most of the tracks I've released that I'm very happy with, we recorded "Neptune" without a click track.  Normally, when I get ready to record a song, the engineer and I will set up a click track for me to play against, so that I can be absolutely sure that I'm keeping time and tempo the way that I want to, without drifting.  In the case of "Neptune", Ginger and I decided to record without use of a click track, due to the fact that the song changes tempo several times.  All of the drums and guitars and vocals that you hear, I played without the guidance of a steady beat.  The same went for Betsy and her cello part.  We just had to feel it, and somehow, we did.  Over and over, in my case, but I love the result.  It moves the way the ocean moves, and it all moves together.

Special thanks go to Chris in Tampa for the last-minute Mid-east Drums hookup and to the Cooks for the loan of their sweet ceramic doumbek (and of course their house).

The Truth About Ninjas
Words & Music by S. J. Tucker
Guitars, vocals: S. J. Tucker
Tracked & mixed by Kristoph Klover, Flowinglass Music Oakland CA

Once upon a time in early 2008, I was asked by good friends and fans to perform at a house party in Dayton, Ohio.  Said friends let it slip that they'd attempted to sell the party honoree on me by telling him about my pirate songs, to which he said "well, does she have a ninja song?  What if I want a ninja song?"  Thus, the ninjas vs. pirates debate came to my door to throw down the gauntlet, for the very first time.

I did not think quickly enough at the time to come back with "but honey, all of my songs have ninjas in them.  Couldn't you tell?"

I toyed with the idea of writing a ninja song before I got to Dayton. It happened while we'd stopped to rest at Sterling's house on the way to Ohio.  The words just started tumbling out.  I wrote them down as fast as I could while sitting in Sterling's living room, mystifying her cats in my concentration.  The sneaky plucked guitar line tiptoed right behind, on cat feet.  I remember giggling evilly at the time.  I also remember that my fit of songwriting kept us from getting back on the road at our appointed hour, not for the first time and likely not for the last time.

Since its debut at that Dayton house party, "The Truth About Ninjas" has been busting guts at every performance.  It's a particular favorite at cons, but I get requests for it just about everywhere I go.

About the recording: 
This was the first track that Kristoph and I worked on together.  I'd hoped to break the ice with it, to show 'Stoph my chops and a bit of my sense of humor at the same time.  It worked.  We stopped being both overly polite and nervous.  Kristoph has a great laugh and an even greater ability to stifle said laugh while tracking is going on. :D

Interesting facts: 
I toyed with the idea of putting a live version of "Ninjas" on the album instead of a studio version, just because the laughter is so wonderfully
contagious when I play the song at shows.  I don't know which I love more: playing it for a crowd who've never heard it before, or playing it for a crowd who've heard it many times.  I also toyed with the idea of letting it be a hidden track on the album, or even waiting to release it as a hidden track on the album of pirate songs I'm working on next.
I have the advantage of being relatively well known for singing good songs about pirates. I'm not sure whether "Ninjas" would be quite as big of a crowd favorite without my pirate songs already being on my audiences' radar.  Therefore, I feel that in this case, both sides are winners in the ninjas vs. pirates debate.

The video I'm including here is from this past weekend--this was definitely the most fun I've had yet, performing this song and the back story that goes with it.  It takes a great deal to make me break character and crack up like this during a show.  I've kept a straight face through spontaneous alligator-costumed tango, unplanned sword fights, and even my boyfriend lighting his face on fire (partly on purpose, but without warning me first).  Ninja  burlesque, it seems, is my breaking point--at least it was this time.  Sterling got me good.

Obviously, there are some lyrics lost here, as I'm cackling.
I'll post those below so that you have some idea what's missing.

Special thanks to Stoph, and to the Dayton crew, who I hold entirely responsible.
Thanks also to Marcia for the video

copyright S. J. Tucker 2008

Paragon of dignity
untouchable and lethal
but there's more to life than shuriken.

sudden death comes easy
when you practice every day
you'll think you're ten feet tall and bulletproof
until you pass my way
and you will never see it coming
no one's sad to see you go
within my eyes you'll glimpse a wisdom
you were not prepared to know
In fearing what you cannot see
you fall beneath my hand
this is a ninja thing you wouldn't understand

you will never know I'm here
until it's far too late
it is a ninja's way to pass unseen
and not to storm the gate
Moving quieter than kitten
circumnavigating law
tiptoeing merciless as nightfall
until I pounce and disappear again
you'll never hear a thing
the soul has always been corrupted
but the heart and hands are clean
Sworn enemies fall lifeless
though they never see my face
the game is glory but I take my joy
in leaving not a trace
My actions quick as lightning
unintended to hurt you I'm only
doing what a ninja's gotta do

Following the way
creeping night and day
I won't say life is hard
but I must restrain my urges to run naked through my yard

No ninja goes out streaking
it just simply isn't done
my career would shrivel up and die
but damn would it be fun!
To see the neighbors eyes
as big as saucers peeking from their doors
I'd pirouette beneath the moonlight
days of skulking, hiding, sneaking,
and assassinating enemies no more!!

Just one streak of brightness
in a world of black and blue
I'd just be doing what a ninja's gotta do
wouldn't you?
go skinny-dipping like a ninja's gotta do!
Cheshire Kitten (We're All Mad Here)
Words & music by S. J. Tucker
Guitars, vocals: S. J. Tucker
Tracked & mixed by Ginger Doss, Eagle Audio USA

I started writing "Cheshire Kitten" in the winter of 2008, at a restaurant north
of Portland, Oregon, between a bookstore concert in Portland and an appearance
at Conflikt 1 in Seattle.  I finished the song that July, sitting outside the Camellia
Lounge in Portland, Oregon, before a Tricky Pixie concert.  The concept arrived
as a "what if", and I don't remember what, if anything, prompted it.  The same
thing happened with the Wendy songs, when I wrote them--a lightning-bolt idea
snuck into my head unannounced, and I asked "what if?"  What if the Cheshire Cat
isn't always so sure of himself?  What if there's more than oneCheshire Cat? 
How do subsequent generations of Cheshire Kittens feel about living up to their elders'
reputation of madness and mischief?  And suddenly, a Cheshire Kitten walked into
my mind and told me all about how she felt.

Maybe anyplace outside of Wonderland
is not for me, my friend.

In July, her story filled itself out, all at once, pulled together by that
delicious line in the chorus:
If I leave my grin behind, remind me
that we're all mad here
and it's okay!

All of us dreamers must find a balance between Wonderland and the real world,
and it isn't always easy.  Some of us are broken by it.  Some of us are made
stronger.  You can't spend all your time in one place or the other.  You have
to visit both, and you have to trust yourself to find your way back.

About the recording: for the recorded version, I wanted to capture a bit of frenetic
silliness, something like what the voices in your head might sound like when they're
all trying to be helpful at once--hence the devolution into kitten-talk and scat
singing in the last minute or so of the song.  I recorded those vocals in our friend
Karla's basement laundry room (just about anything can become a vocal booth
on short notice when you're on the road.  Ginger and I are pretty adaptable), in
Hendersonville, Tennessee.

Interesting fact:  the opening guitar lick of "Cheshire Kitten" is a direct nod
to and a near carbon copy of the ending melody of Michelle Dockrey's "The Girl
That's Never Been", a song inspired by a story about grown-up Alice meeting the
Cheshire Cat for a drink.  Michelle (aka Vixy) and I often put those two songs
back-to-back in our setlists at shared shows, completely on purpose.  Vixy was
one of the first people to hear "Cheshire Kitten", after I finished writing it,
and we sing it together nearly every chance we get.  Spookier and spookier: I
started writing it a few hours before she and I met, and I finished it exactly
one week after we had our first shared concert.  ooOOOOoooOOOOOOOOoooo

Special thanks to Karla and family for use of their space, Gingy, and my Kitten
Sundae tribe.