Wednesday, May 2, 2012

"Somebody More Like You" by Nickel Creek/Sean Watkins

ARTIST: Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek
SONG: "Somebody More Like You"
WRITER: Sean Watkins
ALBUM: Why Should The Fire Die? on Sugar Hill Records
YEAR: 2005
SITES: Sean Watkins, Nickel Creek
BUY: Why Should the Fire Die? - Nickel Creek

I was shamefully late to the Nickel Creek party. I was so late, in fact, that the party was over and I was the weirdo at the front door with cupcakes at 2 a.m., peeking into dark windows.  Still, better late than never, I suppose.

I visited Nashville for the first time in May of 2007 and stayed with a friend who worked for the record label that had released a few of Nickel Creek's albums. He gave me a copy of Why Should The Fire Die? to check out on my drive from Nashville to Memphis. I made it as far as the second song, and then just hung out there for a long while. "Somebody More Like You" remains one of my very favorite songs in the thanks-for-nothing category and I never grow tired of hearing it. It doesn't hurt that Sean Watkins, Sara Watkins and Chris Thile played it as beautifully as they did. Sean, who penned, sang and played guitar on the track just made my day by telling me about how it all came together.  

BA: Hey Sean! Thanks for talking to me about your awesome song. High-five.

SW: Hello!

BA: I was completely sold on “Somebody More Like You” the very first time I heard it (and then I obsessively listened to it about eight more times). Not only is it a stunning musical composition, but the lyrics are what I think we all wish we’d said to our respective heart-shredders. Which came first, or did the song just shoot out of you all at once?

Wow, thanks so much! This one came out at the very end of the period where we were writing the songs for Why Should the Fire Die?. The guitar part came to me pretty quickly late one night. I thought it was kind of cool so kept playing it 'til I found a lyrical idea to match it. Once I found a direction, most of the words came pretty easily in the next day or so.

BA: I read somewhere that the words were not based on real events – that you had an idea and built the song around that. Was that really the case? No one put your heart in the blender and walked away?

SW: No, it wasn't written in the heat of a bitter moment like it might seem. I knew I wanted it to be called "Somebody More Like You," and I knew what I wanted it to be about generally, but I was happy at the time, so I reached back a couple years to a relationship that ended poorly, and I pulled the lyrics out of the memories of my feelings during that experience.  Sometimes you have to do that.

Funny story about this one . . . I recently went out for coffee with girl who it's about. We were catching up and after a lull in the conversation, she asked me if "Somebody More Like You" was about her. It was out of the blue but very brave and honest. I said, "yes," and
she said, "ya, I'm sorry about that." It was great.

BA: I love the bridge, particularly the second half:
“I hope you meet someone your height, so you can see eye to eye with someone as small as you.”

A little bird told me that the bridge was added to the song after the fact . . . true?

SW: Yes, if I remember correctly, the bridge came a week or two later . . . back stage at the Orange Peel in Asheville, between sound check and the show. Chris had suggested I write a bridge that changed key and took the song to a bit more of an intense place. I always love an assignment when it comes to writing. I'm glad he made that suggestion. It was a good one.

BA: How arranged and lived-in was the song before you recorded it? Your band was famous for the live shows, so had this song already made the rounds before it was tracked?

SW: I don't think we played it live as Nickel Creek before we recorded it. Sara and I had played it at Largo a couple times, I believe. As I was writing it I remember thinking that it'd be a good one for she and I to do as a duo for our residency there, at Largo. We were working on developing a repertoire of songs (originals and covers) separate from NC that we could do there when we were off the road. It was a great way to experiment and find new things in a safe creative environment. But to answer your question: no, it was brand new to us as a band when we recorded it.

BA: How did Eric Valentine and Tony Berg inform the outcome of the track we hear on the album?

SW: Pretty much all of the demos we gave to Tony and Eric were made by Sara, Chris and me in my garage studio during a couple weeks of intense cowriting. We'd given all the songs very detailed and thought-out arrangements. During a break after that time of band writing/demo-ing, I made my own demo of this song. Although I was excited about it, I wasn't really thinking about it as a contender for the record, but after I made the demo, I thought I'd pitch it. We'd just started the record but we weren't sure if we had all the songs we needed yet for the record. So I brought my demo in one morning, played it, and everyone liked it. It seemed to fit well with the other songs and the general direction of the record. The general arrangement and skeleton of the song didn't change too much from the demo, but Tony and Eric's ideas brought it so much depth. I love the rhythm pattern . . . the way the bass and mandola are playing kick an snare parts. I listened to the demo recently.  It feels so dead compared the record version. Tony and Eric are both genius.

BA: Your sister Sara sings the harmonies to your lead vocal on the album; were you always slated to sing the lead, or did you guys try it out a few different ways?

SW: Ya, I always sang lead on this one. But in the tradition of brother's harmony, where the melody can be swapped around between two voices. Sara is singing what would (I guess) technically be the melody on the line "Somebody more like you" and I take the low harmony. The rest of the time, her part is the harm above me. The Louvin brothers were amazing at doing that . . . flip-flopping who's singing the lead part.

BA: Who were your biggest influences at the time?

SW: It's hard to say exactly, but I believe some of the records that I had in rotation at that time were Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, Dylan's Blood on the Tracks, Tom Petty's Wildflowers and The Strokes' second record . . . I forget what it's called.

BA: I know that you play “Somebody More Like You” with one of your current projects, W.P.A. (Works Progress Administration).  Does it feel different to perform it now?  If so, why?

SW: It is different in a good way. The reason we worked it up in W.P.A. is 'cause it's a song that can be treated different ways. It's so fun to play it in W.P.A. I especially love the angst our lovely drummer brings to it.

BA: In looking for an official video, I found about a zillion fan-made videos, as well as covers of the song. I also saw that it’s had all kinds of television and film placements. Is it interesting for you to see how the song becomes part of others’ art, whatever that may mean?

Hmm, I didn't know it'd be placed in anything television or film-wise. Maybe I should look into that. Perhaps I'm owed money. Hah. But ya, I love seeing or hearing covers.  YouTube is amazing that way. Before, you'd only hear a song of yours if it was covered by a friend or someone with a record deal. It's really cool and I'm honored anytime someone learns a song of mine. My favorite thing is when glee clubs do covers. There was one of "This Side" years ago that I couldn't believe.

BA: What’s your favorite song right this minute?

SW: "Use Me" by Bill Withers.

BA: Dude, you’re the coolest for taking the time to do this. Thanks for doing so, and for the excellent music. Next time somebody lets me down they’re getting a copy of this song in their mailbox – and maybe a burrito thrown at their house, too. I can’t be sure.

SW: The "Somebody More Like You"/burrito bombing combo is a tried and true way to make your feelings known, and I back it fully! I'm really honored that you asked me to do this. Thanks so much.

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