The Complete Story Behind the Song "The Pain That Bonds" [Part II]
Jun 13, 2023
I hope you’re doing great! I’m currently above the Atlantic, headed to New York from London as I’ll be attending the Indie Week music conference. We left London at 9:30am local time this Monday and I have a welcoming reception in New York starting at 7pm local time, which technically means that if I hated Mondays, I would be mad for a very long time! But this is all self-inflicted, so there’s no point in complaining, right?! :) Especially following such an unforgettable week in England with Alex, first time across the pond since last November, when he and I traveled to Paris!
Alex is presently sitting on my left as I’m writing this down, and I truly have a hard time concentrating as we keep on laughing, remembering so many incredible moments that occurred during our stay in London…! Alex is coming with me to New York. He won’t be attending the conference but will feed his soul and spirit with art, music, museums, and everything the unique streets of my favorite city in the world have to offer. But I would like to interview him for next week’s letter, about so many funny and soulful anecdotes we luckily encountered all week long.
Starting with our arrival at the Montreal Airport 6 hours prior to our flight, for no valuable reason, and ending up waiting like crazy for hours. (Alex is a huge fan of the Air Canada lounge and since he was back on flying, he wanted us to enjoy it as much as we possibly could...! A false start in the end!). We spent the entire afternoon at Heathrow Airport shipping the vinyls, where Alex had to sit down and relax, as he was too excited to be there and handling things as he used to do before his surgery.
We also had an incredible meeting with a record producer that Alex was dreaming of working with! We expected a 2-hour meeting maximum, which ended up lasting 6 hours! I’ll let him share this story with you! We also traveled to the Download Festival near Nottingham for two days in a row with Alex’s new management team, spending around 12 hours in a van with those 4 incredible and inspiring human beings, listening to music and sharing stories about those chosen songs and albums all along! Our last day was all about visiting new areas and art galleries in London. We stopped at a restaurant afterward where the owner kept on giving us free food and drinks! Simply unreal!
I know I got you already excited for next week, and it’s going to be hard to wait another seven days, but since I keep on laughing, Alex and I agreed it would be better for you to hear it from him rather than to read it from me! But know that I can’t wait either!!!
HOW THIS SONG’S VERSION CAME TO LIFE
What’s really important to understand when it comes to Alex and his music is that for him, there’s no valuable point in playing the same version of a recorded song live in concert, so pretty much every song of his ends up having at least 2 versions; the album-recorded version, and the live concert version. As if it wasn’t already some kind of a challenge to revisit something that had already been really hard to give birth to as we recorded his album in studios in Tangier, Virginia, and Montreal, an album about the passing of his dad, in a context where the vibe in the band wasn’t to the roof, when the time comes for us to get ready for live concerts, we can’t just show up thinking it will be easy as we already know and recorded these songs, since this would be the biggest mistake…!
Alex will always say something like: “I want this song to take another direction for the live version.” And it’s mostly pretty vague, sometimes like “between The Oh Sees and Wilco or The Cure and Swans!” The Pain That Bonds was no exception to that rule, and it’s been a real challenge to reach what it finally became.
As I shared with you a few weeks ago in Part I, on May 1st, 2020, we had an album launching party in collaboration with UK’s Prog Magazine where we streamed a live performance on their Facebook page for 60 minutes (4 songs), and for the first time since we headlined the Montreal International Jazz Festival and its Encore concert in July and November 2019 respectively, we would play the song The Pain That Bonds. Alex really wanted it to become more of a psych-rock version, flirting with punk in the end, knitting some kind of a second part to it as he wanted this song to be the opening track and didn’t want it to be like on the record: this version already exists, and live, everything has to be something else!
You should’ve seen our eyes in the band meeting. All The Long Shadows were looking at each other thinking, “The show is in less than a week, and here we are having to revisit one of the hardest and most painful songs we pretty much wrote for that record.” Ben went: “All right, Long Shadows, let’s make some coffee and let’s get ready for a very long week!” Ben isn’t a massive fan of those kinds of psych, up-tempo songs, since in his mind, they’re hard to be original. We were all hoping that creativity would be fully on our side and that this would only take a few hours to settle down, after which Alex would come and listen and flip out, add new lyrics to it, and we would party later on being all proud of our hard day at work…!
But here we were, 5 days later, still digging and more discouraged, exhausted, and completely empty of any sort of creative confidence. Even Alex’s two dogs would come and bark at us reminding us how much we suck and how Prog Mag themselves would turn their Facebook down after 4 minutes of our live performance...! When this happens – and trust me, all of it isn’t alien to us at all – tension is to the roof, every single note you come up with can turn into an argument, and you might end up being compared to the worst band that has ever existed in the entire history of rock music. No jokes here… I won’t tell you what bands we’ve been compared to, but it was really insulting! You know the kind of bands that, if you see an album of theirs at a friend’s house, you’re ready to leave on the spot? Well… That kind of comparison happened.
Alex is the kind of person who loves to laugh a lot, who needs to be surrounded by people who embrace and live life to the fullest, and is always tricking people and making silly jokes of which you never know what’s real from what isn’t. But when it comes to music, there’s none of that. Music is above and beyond serious, as is every kind of art in Alex’s mind, and it’s never to be taken lightly as he’d prefer to cancel any kind of event – even if it was for the President of the world – if we weren’t ready and didn’t give birth to something relevant.
So, with that in mind, when Alex shows up on the church stage where we’ve been craving for something great for the past five days, very early in the morning, bringing his own little bench in order to watch us play the song, making sure his perspective of it is right, that it really sucks, sitting with his dogs and looking at you through his glasses with his chin in his hand, the first thing that comes to your mind never sounds like “Hey buddy, so great to see you this morning!” but more like “S***...! This isn’t going to end well! We sucked so much at trying to find something not even great but hopefully good that Alex felt like he needed to leave the rehearsal and simply listen to us play.”
And while he stood up and started walking towards us in a hurry, I started to understand the feeling of having created Frankenstein (the song) and he was about to turn himself upon us all and we would not only die but die in shame! Next thing I saw was Alex grabbing his microphone and starting to sing like I have barely seen him before and moving and jumping all over the stage as if we were headlining Glastonbury, which gave us all a huge boost of energy and confidence. And then he turned and screamed at us “Keep playing that part! This is really good!” I almost fainted with joy!
This is the best feeling there is! Especially for a song called The Pain That Bonds, the opening track of Alex’s first album about the passing of his dad, where he shares how deeply wounded he is – and has been for years – as the band almost collapsed and Alex himself almost left music to do something else with his life, as he was thinking about it all while on his own in Tangier back in 2016. We couldn’t mess around, take that easy, and as Ben was afraid of it in the first place, just walk the easy and well-known path of what we’ve been naturally doing for years! It had to be special, unique, memorable, and powerful on every level. We gave it all we had, day and night almost, going back through all of those hard feelings and seasons we never wanted to visit again… But we did, with a different perspective, a different spirit, and a deeper connection, uniting us all more than ever at that point.
I don’t know if it was because we spent two months stuck together at home, navigating through the early days of COVID, because we had spent five weeks touring Europe together, or a combination of it all, but that connection on the morning of May 1st, as we went live with you all watching from home, still resonates within the walls of our church-studio every time I walk in. The pain that bonds it all together was slowly becoming bonded by something else, and it started to feel so great, not only good. To see where this journey is right now, even after Alex’s surgery and having to cancel numerous summer festivals and an entire headlining tour, I’ve never been prouder of being part of this musical journey than right now!
So many great things can slowly be seen straight ahead on the horizon, things we never dared to dream of and hope for. Thank you so much!
As I was writing this down for the past hours, Alex was talking with the flight crew as he really likes to do, and then showed up with a glass of champagne for me and a glass of orange juice for him, saying: “Let’s drink to all those things that are about to happen to us, those things we never had the guts to even dare and think about in our deepest thoughts!” I couldn’t believe it. Typical Alex being Alex! We hugged and… cried! How Big Fish is that!
Dare to dream! Dare to live! Dare to be! Three things I embrace so much and too easily leave behind along the way on this journey! We’re on fire and I’m so inspired to see where Alex is today!
I also had loads of champagne on our way to the Download Festival with our managers! This was a great way to remember and not forget how important it is to enjoy those moments and not take them for granted! Great week in London and a huge one in New York, I’m sure!
Let’s be great to one another!
Your Host and Friend,
PS: I’ve been listening to David Bowie while writing this down, like we did while driving for 12 hours to and from the Download Festival this week! Pick a song; they’re all great!