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Made of Water

While he was still in college, my dad bought a DIY banjo building kit. He put it together and learned to play a few songs, but he wasn’t too serious about it. Growing up, I remember him pulling it out now and then. It was a nice little novelty.


Hello, 1984! My uncle Steve is holding me, as my dad plucks a tune.

Fast forward a few decades, and he decides to really learn how to play. He starts practicing every day, and he doesn’t stop. I come home from Fredericksburg to visit, and he’s tearing up bluegrass standards on a shiny, new banjo. I am mightily impressed!

I actually brought some friends down to jam with him a couple times. It was great. He was a really legit banjo player (he switched to electric guitar in recent years!).

It eventually occured to me that he was no longer using his old banjo, so I borrowed it. And I still have it. I can’t help it, I love all the instruments!


Dad wore it in pretty dang well!

Around the time I moved to DC, my old friend Tommy Siegel (of Jukebox The Ghost) happened to be fooling around on a banjo. We both had some little ideas that didn’t seem to quite fit with our other bands at the time, so we decided to start our own banjo-centric project. We never came up with a great name for it—I think the main contender was Sea Leggs, with two Gs. We were both too busy to really make it work, but we managed to get together a few times.

Tommy was living in Philadelphia, and his band was touring heavily. After many emails, we found a day or two to record at his house. I brought my laptop, an Mbox, and an RE20 mic. We recorded everything through that!


Every sound went through this mic.

It was a fast & spontaneous process. We just tried things, and they usually worked. I sang and played banjo, Tommy sang harmony and played banjo harmonies. The huge, heavy sound during the chorus comes from a guitar and a Whammy pedal. On the White Stripes’ song, “Seven Nation Army,” Jack White uses a Whammy pedal on his guitar to shift the pitch of it and get those low notes. In our case, we cranked up some reverb, let the guitar feed back, and then dropped it down an octave. It’s a pretty magical sound that I doubt I could recreate. During the bridge, I wanted some extra texture, so we grabbed a drawer full of silverware and just kinda shook it by the mic. It was all a really playful & productive experience.

The song is about the way people & politicians perceive & talk about you (and ultimately, how they make decisions that affect your life). What you look like, how you carry yourself, how you dress; these basic, superficial traits can trigger a whole cavalcade of assumptions and judgments. It’s almost like every part of you is a little book, waiting to be read aloud.

The tune itself is pretty light, but there’s a subtle, sinister undercurrent. I think that vibe suits the lyrics well.

Here it is on SoundCloud.

If you dig this song and want to hear more Tommy + Ryan music, you’re in luck: This month’s Patreon collaboration is with Tommy. It turned out really dang well, too. “Convos & Collabs” subscribers are in for a real treat!

LYRICS

“Made of Water”

Slowly they look over
your shapes, your sounds,
the manner of your posture,
the poise you display.

Are you made of water?
Are you made of words?
They’ll dictate your position.

The Bible’s on the bottom shelf,
well-bound, well-kept—
that’s not what they are studying right now.

Are you made of water?
Are you made of words?
They’ll dictate your position.

Are you made of water?
Are you made of words?
Your body is a teleprompter.

[Humming]

Are you made of water?
Are you made of words?
They’ll dictate your position.

Are you made of water?
Are you made of words?
Your body is a teleprompter.

Are you made of water?
Are you made of words?
They’ll dictate your position.

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