This track from Almost There is the latest song born out of my love of funk/soul grooves, especially created on acoustic instruments. Many of my songs come from discovering a cool rhythm on the guitar, but I’ve also written a number of songs just playing percussion and singing. “Sycamore Tree” (on the Stop, Drop, and Roll CD), written while banging a rhythm on the dining room table, is one example. I wrote “Only the Soul” (Humming My Way Back Home) playing the cajón (wooden box drum), and that’s how “Closer” started too. Only after completing the melody and lyrics did I sit down to figure out chords and then add a guitar part.
The lyrics to “Closer” actually grew out of an object-writing exercise, drawn from Berklee professor Pat Pattison, that I use in my Syracuse University classes on songwriting and creative nonfiction writing. The basic idea is that you pick an object and write freely for ten minutes about it, trying to capture sense memories involving that object. In this case, one of the objects I gave to my class was ticket, and I also gave the same word to my songwriting group as a prompt.
My own object writing on ticket gave me the imagery of the opening verses, based on childhood train rides into New York City from home in New Jersey. I so vividly remember the old conductor who sang the name of each station with a beautiful warble, and the impressive hole puncher he used. I followed these sense memories and eventually arrived at this story.
When I first wrote “Closer,” I had a lot of arrangement ideas in my head, so I sat down with Pro Tools and sketched them out—playing cajón, tambourine, guitar, and bass, and overdubbing four or five vocal parts at the end. At the Almost There sessions, we recorded most of the track live in the studio, with me on acoustic guitar and vocal, Josh Dekaney on percussion kit, Wendy Ramsay on harmony vocal, and John Dancks on upright bass. Afterward, Josh killed us with his way-funky shaker and rub-board overdubs, Josh and Wendy layered additional vocals for the syncopated ending, and later I overdubbed the guitar solo in my home studio. We had a hell of a good time, as I hope you can hear.
Words and music by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
On a slow train to the edge of the city
In the lurching of an empty car
Your jaded eyes, a thin disguise
You’ve never gone this far
You hear the punch punch of the hole in your ticket
And the old man sings a station song
And when you dare descend the stair
Your shadow will grow long
This is your time, this is no test
You’ve got no crime to be confessed
There’s only love for evermore
Will take you back to the core
When you stand alone in the crush of the city
When your heartbeat is a distant drum
You never know that you must go
Until the time has come
In the cold light of insinuation
You’re a cartoon of what they say
You take your stand when you demand
Just who the hell are they
The drum drum is taking you back…