I don’t know if you have a “process” per se, but take me through the writing of Heaven On Earth – how it came to you, what popped into your head first, and how long it took to ultimately record.
“It was fairly typical. I had an idea for a little piece of a lick. I started playing the lick, and I heard where it was supposed to go, but as I tried to play it I realized that it was difficult to play because the chord formations required an open D for part of the lick. I developed the lick and the chord changes first, which is what I usually do.
“I’ll make a rough recording – I won’t even call it a demo, because it’s just a crude recording. I always use a cassette player; I have thousands of hours on cassettes of crude ideas. [Laughs] Then I’ll sing along to it, play along to it and find a melody that I like. Finally, I’ll write lyrics once I think I have a melody that works with it. That’s sort of the basic start, but in reality I’ll then go and actually begin a recording. I don’t ever make a demo – I just begin a recording.
“For instance, in that one, I had an idea for a song, I put it down, and it turned out to be all wrong. [Laughs] Then I’ll go and change the bridge, the chorus, and I’ll double the length of the synth; I’ll go, ‘Maybe an instrumental would be good here…’ It’s like three steps forward and two steps back, only it’s more like three steps forward and two point nine steps back. [Laughs] It’s a very slow process. That one took about six months over the course of about three and a half years. That’s pretty typical.”
What do you think when you read interviews with bands who say, “We knocked that song out in 20 minutes”? Are you envious, or do you say, “That’s just not my way”?
“It’s just different. Yeah, that would be nice, but for me, things come a lot more slowly and with a lot more work. I'm sort of used to it. It’s kind of been my life for everything I’ve done. When I was in school, I basically just worked from the moment I got up to when I went to bed. Mostly I didn’t go to class – because I didn’t have time to go to class! [Laughs] I was hitting the books and doing problem sets and trying to figure it all out.”
Was the song Last Day Of School always intended as an instrumental?
“Yes. When I first started working on it, I knew that it had to be an instrumental. I wasn’t sure that I was going to put the heavy guitars on it – it started out as just a keyboard piece. The keyboard part is pretty demanding, so I was a little hesitant about covering it up. But I really enjoyed playing guitar to it, so that became a dominant part of the arrangement.”