The Never-Told Story Behind the Song "Summertime Departures"!
Nov 08, 2020
I hope you are doing well!!! I’m very happy to announce that these are the lucky ones who have seen their names be picked by Alex earlier today during a Facebook live session, amongst all the people who wanted a chance to get themselves one of the last copies of the limited and collector edition of the lathe cut vinyl “Summertime Departures”. Congratulations to you all!
That being said, I know that for every single happy person on that list, there's about 5 greatly disappointed people right now. So I want to thank you not only for your participation in that unique project but for making the whole process such a very special moment to be a part of.
And don’t forget, no matter if you were able to put your hands on the “Summertime Departures” lathe cut vinyl edition or not, you’ll have another opportunity real soon! The next limited and collector lathe cut vinyl edition will be for “The Hunter”, which will be available starting November 17, at 10am (ET).
SOMETIMES I DREAM
Since I know just how much you like insights, may they be about how songs were crafted or about our communal journey, I think you will be very happy to know how the live version of “Summertime Departures” came to life, especially that’s it’s been one of the favorite moments of our live concerts for many of you!
So here the story:
I will always remember the rehearsal we had that day. It was one of those moments where everything can collapse in grand style, or become one of the best rehearsals of our lives. Trust me, I have experienced both situations; it’s high-energy, very emotionally involving, and intense for many reasons, but the main one is about the authenticity of those moments, as there’s no compromise for Alex. Tragic or epiphanic, it needs to be all-in, all the time.
So that day, I think we all knew that it would be one or the other... There were absolutely no other possible outcome, which is what made this moment so particular. It was the evening of July 3rd 2019, forty-eight hours before the very first concert of Alex's personal project, which was nothing short of an epic headlining premiere for him, especially as it wasn’t only one of the most highly anticipated concert of the whole Montreal International Jazz Festival, but it was also the only sold-out event of the whole two-week festival, adding to the whole buzz associated to that night.
To give a little bit of context, it was going to be the first time that we'd all be on a stage together since March 2016, when Your Favorite Enemies played their last concert in New York City. So there we were, 3 years later, coming back from what had been a very long journey for everyone, now working on the show’s last rehearsal. The pressure was slowly starting to be more tangible, even more so that the night before went terribly wrong, to the point where Alex stopped everything to remind us that it wasn’t some karaoke bullshit we were engaged in and that he didn't care if he had to cancel the show if he didn’t feel like we were totally focussed and committed to the nature of the songs and the spirit of the moment in which they were taking place. We all thought at the time that it probably was the nervosity taking over, but in retrospect, he was right… We were more about playing the parts than embodying the music when he intervened. So for what would be our last rehearsal, we all wanted to make sure everything would be emotionally soulful, musically flawless.
Again, you need to understand the fact that, for Alex, it was supposed to be the only concert he would play - ever. “Windows in the Sky” live was to be an homage to his late father. The concert date was almost, to the day, the very same date his father passed. He was to play in front of his family, old friends, and for every artist, a home gig is always the most difficult one to play. It was very personal for him, and we all wanted to support Alex and to honor his father, who had been a fatherly figure for almost all of us, too. So it was important to make sure that every possible detail would be close to perfection.
To do so, an incredible stage and light concept was designed with our longtime friend Pascal, months before hitting what we call the “it” factor. Alex assembled an 11-musician band that was to play on an elaborate stage on 2 different levels, including 2 drums, a percussions station, a cellist, a trumpeter, an additional keyboard player, and the 5 musicians from Your Favorite Enemies. It was a real structural and organizational challenge for the light engineer who had to figure the proper space on stage, for the stage manager who would have to coordinate all the different instruments changes and proper tunings, up to front of the house sound and monitors engineers who would have to balance an orchestra designed by Alex a neo-classical noise band based on experimentations and live improvisation. You get the point? All that while dealing with the original concept of lights and projections we had developed especially for that concert, a whole video crew, and a live recording audio station... No need to say that last general “rehearsal” was incredibly important.
Therefore, a little more than 20 people involved in the show - yes, it was an enormous production crew - gathered at our church-studio that evening to put everything in motion one last time before showtime. Everything ran as planned and very smoothly for the first five songs… until we hit “Summertime Departures”. Knowing Alex, I immediately knew something was bugging him. We nonetheless reached the end of the song and as we were slowly getting into the following one, which was Lavender Sky, Alex asked everyone to stop playing, that he’d love to play Summertime Departures again, as he "just wanted to validate something", he said… Nine times out of ten, when Alex says "Let’s do this again, I just want to validate or try something", that means, “I feel this part isn’t right at this point in the song”, and also, that he wants to bring it further, to try something different. We usually end up creating something completely new, right there, right now, on the spot, even less than 48 hours before a show. I’ll have more stories like that in the future...!
Having been a part of Your Favorite Enemies for 12 years, the 5 of us knew what it meant. When the rest of the musicians and crew started to realize that we were starting to freak out a little, the smooth and nice ride made of feel good and security suddenly changed to a few whispers here and there, while people pretended to take some notes on their sheets. EVERYONE had a "48 hours before the show" shivering sweat for a split second. Even the technical team was like “have I heard there might be some last-minute changes?”, knowing the whole show was perfectly aligned and everything felt at the right place… The balance of that crazy puzzling “thing” we’ve all been working on and implementing since December 2018 that we had recently figured out? Everyone looked at Alex, who didn't budge one bit, and then said: “Let's do “Summertime Departures” again from the top please… 1, 2, 3, 4". And here we go again…! Everyone plays their charts and we’re all looking at Alex nonstop, trying to figure out what’s on his mind, what he heard that we hadn't. We could almost hear everyone thinking out loud “What’s the point of it all? The song is super cool!”
We played the whole song, and it was seriously great, even better than the first time, I thought, and we all felt it. It was great! But as the song finished, and we moved on to Lavender Sky again, Alex, for the second time, asked us all to stop, saying that we needed to do Summertime Departures again. It was now absolutely obvious and clear that something wasn’t right but no one could guess what that was. We had played the song twice, and it was perfect...! I could feel some anxiety slowly growing in the air, which is understandable having so many people involved who had worked hard to give life to Alex’s vision and to get the concert to the high level it was at that point.
I started to look around toward the musicians, the crew, and everyone was looking at Alex, waiting to hear some direction, a little something, a guideline, just a few words before hitting the song for the third time in a row. But there was Alex, writing something in his lyric sheets, aware that people were freaking out, but absolutely focused on whatever he was into at the very tense moment. Then I could hear him kind of singing while writing words, daubing and writing and scratching and writing again. I clearly remembered him telling me he was scared of not knowing what his reaction would be if he lost control of his emotions as we’d be playing in front of our families, friends, media people who had been following us since 2006, I mean, hometown concerts and all and all… I started to get really worried, as was Ben, the guitar player right beside me. “What’s on your mind, brother?”, I asked. But he kept writing things down and figuring something out.
After a few minutes which felt like an eternity for everyone that had gone from wondering what was going on to being completely frightened by what was about to unfold next, Alex said, in a very soft and comforting voice: “The end of the song could be much more intense and powerful rather than more melodic with some kind of a let-go feeling that bugs me a little at this point. I feel that the end of the song is a little too musically safe in its ongoing motion, which kind of tames the emotional charge of the song. I think I have an idea, and I would love to try it with you all! Let’s bring some more danger and depth to it. I’ll guide you all as we go. No more convention. Let’s go deeper and let go in the abandonment zone. Trust me… It will be fun!” Well, at that very precise moment in time, I almost heard everyone’s jaw drop to the floor! Safe?! We’d been playing it for months! It appeared to me that a vast majority of the people present at that very moment weren’t really enthused at the simple idea of 1, letting go, 2, discovering whatever that so-called zone might be about, and 3, playing until Alex tells them somehow what to do at some point… it didn’t seem fun at all at that point!
Even the light engineer asked Alex to repeat, just to make sure he had heard correctly, knowing he’d have to figure something out on the spot, while everything was going smooth and was set up. Everyone was like, "The show is in two days! Maybe we should keep it exactly as it is!" But nobody said anything, knowing it wouldn't change anything with Alex.
I personally love that side of Alex, where he always allows himself to discover what’s beyond what others may consider as the perfect “absolute”. No wonders the very first conversation I had with him when we first met was about “What’s beyond the horizon of our own self-serving limitations”...! This is who he is, even more so now, I would say. No matter the context, the time, the day, he’s kind of free from all those paradigms… It can be freaky when you’re not used to it, as felt pretty much every additional musician with us on stage and most of the crew!
“Let’s start from the bridge section, and let’s roll this until the end, and let’s try something else to end the song”, said Alex…
1, 2, 3, 4, and here we were, all starting at the bridge section! Everyone looked at each other, as if we were walking on a wire, thinking about what we could do at the end of an already amazing song that would change anything. You know, the sensation of “do or die”? Nobody knows Alex as we do, but at that point, we all knew that we would spend the entire night working on this new part until he'd find it right! Trust me… this happened too many times to even freak me out anymore. Well, I should say freaks me out less…!
So as the end of the song approached, I could feel everyone trying to figure out who would take the lead, and in what direction we should go. We all depended on each other, we all wanted that concert to be the greatest thing we’d had ever done in our lives at that point, but that precise moment in time was absolutely stressful and uncomfortable, at best! The final note was finally hit… Everyone looked around, then at their instrument, then around again, then back at their instrument, as we were kept punching the last note and punching it again before it completely faded away…! Alex turned around as quick as lightning towards Moose, the drummer, and shouted “Keep the pulse and much faster… Not a beat, just the pulse!”
Sometimes I dream I can sail through the past
And let my teardrops fall in the ocean, in the ocean
Sometimes I dream I can sail through the past
And let my teardrops fall at your feet
I’ll see you one day
Coming back for me
I’ll see you one day
...Alex started to sing those words with a lot of intensity, as Moose was giving him the pulse on his kick and floor tom and the rest of us were still hitting that last note once in a while. But the way Alex came out with these words and how he was rhyming them, I had never heard him do that before - with so much passion and dedication, as if it was the last time he would be singing! I started to play that note with a pulse as well, following Moose’s lead. Alex kept singing and singing the same lyrics until everyone joined in and the end of the song became a thing in itself...! The intensity was so powerful! The pulse of the drum, the bass, the crazy sounds coming from the guitars, the keyboards, the trumpet and the cello... We were so elevated it was crazy…! Then Alex turned to us, moving his arms around meaning "keep going, don’t stop, we’re on something" and he went looking for something on stage. So we kept playing the same thing for a while, again, and again, and again, Alex telling us to keep playing the same thing… !
He came back with three different guitars in his hands, and started to try them all while asking us to keep pounding the very same note over. His look transcended the moment itself. I know he wanted us all to let go, to be free from our discomfort. He wanted us to reach another level of “intensity”, or “madness” - or both - at that point in the song. He plugged his guitars one after the other. Not finding what he wanted at first, he went back looking for something else, still moving his arms around making sure we would not stop. Until he came back with what seemed like the tiniest guitar I’ve ever seen in my life, and red of all colors…! I think I cracked a smile, thinking, that’s going to be funky! Until I heard the high gain noise nicely coming out of this gentle but powerful music engine! We were all so stunned, and it gave us so much energy, we ended playing that part for at least 30 minutes!
So here we were, 44 hours before the show, everyone working to make sure everything we had been developing and building over the past few months would be perfectly aligned together, only to integrate a completely new part to the show all of a sudden. This part, to make sure you understanding, doesn’t have a proper form, a tempo, nor a time structure, and only ends when Alex says so…
All that to say, to be honest, that this moment was so magical and embodied the album's spirit so well that we all knew it was the last little piece for the concert to be what it needed to be rather than what we wanted it to be. Nobody could believe what had just happened..!
And that moment gave birth to the second part of “Summertime Departures”, called “Sometimes I Dream”! This song has been a part of every concert we gave so far, and every time I see this little red wonder machine being moved around as Alex does, it reminds me of that specific evening, where we all had to let go and trust our instinct rather than the safe and comforting structure in place…
And that by doing so, it gave birth to something above and beyond ourselves. I believe that it’s a moment that personally and musically transformed everyone who actually lived it… Well, our light engineer might have lost a few hairs, but he ended up all good!
“What’s beyond the horizon of our own self-serving limitations?”, a transformative and powerful question I still ask myself every day!
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