The Inspiration: How Does it Feel? by Slade
by Frosty 1973
For this episode we’ve chosen Slade’s classic 1975 single How Does it Feel. This song, which may not be representative of most people’s perception of Slade, combines Jim Leas poignant music with Noddy Holder’s simple melancholic words. It wasn’t a huge hit for the band but it’s a true work of beauty.
Slade are a band whose songs were omnipresent during my childhood. Their songs seemed to exist in the ether along side those by Abba and Queen. So, when it came to the point where I had some disposable income I never felt the need to spend my paper-round money on Slade records. There remained a Slade shaped hole in my music collection until a few years ago when I heard ‘How Does it Feel’ on the radio. I rushed out to buy the DVD of Slade in Flame and it’s accompanying album immediately.
We also have a special contribution this time round from Las Vegas singer, songwriter, entertainer and long-time friend of The Frozen Veg Project, Mark de Julio. We really hope you like it as much as we do.
Frosty 1973’s take
I’m not sure songs like this are ever written by someone sitting down and deciding to write a song. My suspicion is that songs like this generally fall out of guitars and pianos unexpectedly and according to Wikipedia How Does it Feel was written in 1970 on an old out of tune piano with half the keys missing.
It seems strange then to sit down and consciously attempt to write music which captures something of its essence.
Musically this episode was finished quite a while ago but the initial excitement of finishing the song wore off pretty quickly this time. So in completing this write up I was interested in charting the progression of the track by revisiting old ideas/versions of the song. Interestingly for me the earliest version I could find is the one that most resembles the finished track but despite it’s bum notes and lack of coherent timing or words it has a more open airy sound than the finished track. As is often case something was lost in the fleshing out of the track.
The other two sections which I found in subsequent versions of the song show just how far the song deviated from it’s course during the writing. Although the playing, the lyrics and the timing are all over the place they illustrate the challenge of improvising music and then trying to recreate the feeling they have in a coherent structure.
In the end I returned to the original musical sections and built up the track with drums, bass, brass and synth parts but somehow the spirit of the early experimentation wasn’t captured fully.
For the words, at a certain point, I ditched the usual process of sculpting something out of improvised nonsense words and took a different tack. I don’t remember why but I decided to try to write about a real experience. The one lyric that stuck all the way through was the, “How Does it Feel” from the original Slade song.
The story revolves around a guy I met on a holiday in Barcelona through the Global Freeloaders couch surfing site. He worked in a university, played in a Spanish Thin Lizzy tribute band and looked like a Spanish Frank (or Franco) Zappa. He had decided to instill some discipline in his life by getting up at 5 in the morning every day for 28 days. To help in his quest he decided to get the train out of Barcelona every morning.
With this in mind after ten minutes of us meeting up he said he needed to go home to get some sleep but once he’d explained why, he stayed out for a while and we went to a jazz club where he sometimes performed. Here he explained that on the first day of his new regime he’d sat opposite a beautiful girl who was commuting to her job in a hospital and his reasons for catching the train changed instantly. The barmaid in the jazz club was from Bradford.
I never heard the end of the story, whether he ever explained his original motives for boarding the train and whether they ever got it together. Maybe it’s time to get in touch and find out.
The Parsnip’s Take
This episode, for me, sums up what the Frozen Veg Project is all about. I tackled this episode as an exercise in writing a song from scratch whilst taking inspiration from the original wherever possible. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not.
Writing the song was a case of working out a decent chord progression on the guitar, first for the verse and then a variation for the chorus. Then it was onto the lyrics which came surprisingly easily once I’d got the general theme of worrying about the past and the future and ‘getting on’. The repeated “How does it feel?” from the original is echoed in the repeated “What do you fear?”. The third line asks a different question and then the last line returns to “What do you fear?” to resolve the verse. I’ve used that idea in the past and I think it works here to provide a bit of variety.
What do you fear? Is it the passage of time or the end of the line?
What do you fear? Is it the nagging doubts or your hopes and dreams
Who do you know? Who can you lean on at times when you’re out of your mind?
What do you fear? Is it coming apart at the seams?
Other lyrical tributes to the original include mid-line rhyming words, e.g.
(How Does It Feel?)
Do you know know know what it’s like to be searchin’ in your own time
all your attempting experimenting all on the climb
do you know know know what it’s like to be searchin’ and suddenly find
all your illusion, all your confusion all left behind
(What Do You Fear?)
Long into the future when you’ve made you destination
You’ll realise you’re frustrations were really life in disguise
Kept your eyes on the horizon but the goal you had your eyes on
…and an obvious reference:
Wasn’t reeeeeeeeeeeeal, how does it feeeeeeeeeeeeeel?
With the structure of the song finished it was time to sort out the arrangement.
The first impression is the plonky on the beat piano of the original. This, coupled with memories of foot stomping Slade numbers, set the plonky beat for the song. I wanted to get a live guitar feel so I recorded some damped acoustic guitar strums to start with (and some creaky chair for good measure). After a few bars the piano kicks in adding to the plonky feel and echoing the original. A touch of diffuse delay on the piano.
Noddy Holder’s voice in the original is fantastic and cuts right across the mix. My voice, as usual, is a complete shambles so I’ve mixed it with a load of vocoded backing vox to hide some of the flaws. At least you can hear the words.
I put a basic drum beat on the track initially and then livened it up by playing a Roland V-Drum set and recording the midi in Reason. The bass is a NN-XT finger bass sample. Sidechain compression is used on the bass bus to duck under the kick drum when bass and kick are on the same beat. The first verse keeps this basic drums + bass + plonk combination.
After the first verse, the wistful, wobbly pad background kicks in. Acoustic guitar strums fade in to build up to the first chorus. After the first chorus we lose the piano and most of the drums to have a quiet bit before the next verse. Variety and all that. The second verse is essentially the first verse arrangement plus pads.
The second chorus sees the arrival of the cellos for added stomp. Then it’s the obligatory guitar solo with crash cymbals aplenty after which we drop back to piano and minimum drums for the last two lines. I tried adding some fuzz guitar phrases throughout the track but they never worked well so I removed them. Some things just don’t work. The last two lines end the song abruptly by intention. No hanging around with a fade out.
Mark de Julio’s take
We asked Mark to write a few words about his contribution and he kindly obliged:
“Nature” is a beautiful insightful musical composition about everyday life. The melody was conceived Christmas Morning 2008, as my lovely wife awoke from her incredible slumber. Immediately the melody was laid down on a multi-digital recorder. Lyrics were incorporated @ a later date. This lovely musical creation is a true gift from “The Divine Universe”.
Everyone ENJOY! ~Mark & Dee
Mark and his lovely wife Dee have been entertaining audiences in Las Vegas, Nevada, for many years, performing covers and original material.
A couple of years back Mark was kind enough to record this special song for a colleague and friend’s 30th wedding anniversary:
He was touched by the gesture and since then we’ve been waiting for an opportunity to share some of his material. If you like what you hear please say hi and support Mark & Dee using the following links: