The Lost Track from Tarpits and Canyonlands: "Barcelona"
Barcelona was written by a fellow named Dan Shvartsman--a friend of the band who some people might recognize as the guy that wrote "Julian of Norwich."
I fell in love with this tune the first time I heard Dan shouting it at the top of his lungs from the basement of "The Nadir," the decrepit house that we all called home for a year or so after college. Something about the words and Dan's unchained delivery really struck a chord, and I had high hopes that the band would come up with an arrangement for the song and that it would one day make it onto a Bombadil record.
Well, that didn't happen. We recorded the song along with the other 15 Tarpits tracks, but when it came time to decide whether it would make the final cut, "Barcelona" was voted down by a count of 3 to 1, with Stuart being the lone band member in support of putting the tune on the album.
But now it feels like the time is right to unleash this recording on the world. Hopefully listeners out there can appreciate the tune. Below you can find thoughts from the rest of the band on the song, as well as a brief interview with Dan, who was kind enough to answer all my questions about the song.
You can also find the words to the song here.
James' take on "Barcelona": I was never too keen with having this song on Tarpits. It seemed like it didn't fit with the rest of our songs, like it wasn't a "Bombadil" song (whatever that means).
That being said, I had a blast recording the tune. I played the drum part on a sweet calf-skin head hand drum that Scott Solter had in his studio (he has the awesomest percussion collection I've ever seen). I really love a lot of the textures we got (in particular the accordion parts and some of the harmonies) and Bryan's "Lets get out of here" yell. I also really love the handclap part on the chorus, its so peppy and fun to me.
Nonetheless, when it was all said and done, it still just didn't seem to fit in.
Stuart's take on "Barcelona": I think "Barcelona" is a great song. On one hand I can understand the approach of wanting to release a song sooner than later in case you die. (But then, dying in general probably sucks more than the regret of not doing one thing or another.)
On the other hand, I really appreciate an album that is short enough for me to feasibly and enjoyably listen to straight through, and that has some purpose outside of a collection of songs. So despite how great it sounded I was happy to leave it off, for brevity.
Daniel's take on "Barcelona": This song was hard to let go. Since it was a Dan Shvartsman song, I wanted it to be great--I wanted it to be the next "Julian of Norwich." I loved the idea of having a secret songwriter, like Dan, penning our best hits.
"Barcelona" was a lot of fun to arrange and I think arrangement-wise fit in well with the songs on Tarpits. But, there seemed to be a lyrical gap, or maybe some kind of emotional gap between this narrator and other Tarpits songs.
Eventually I had to realize my attachment to "Barcelona" was really just an attachment to Dan. And while I loved the persona and story he created, it didn't seem to fit in with the overall theme and arc of the record.
And now, and interview with the man behind the tune.
BR: Be honest: what did you think of the Bombadil treatment of your song?
DS: The key to "Barcelona" is the vocal and the way the lead singer can bend it for emotion and phrasing (my way of saying: this is all I'm good at because I don't really sing). I've always enjoyed Bryan's voice, and he does this well. I enjoy the sax/horns/chaos as well. The building momentum is also essential, and they get this right.
While they explained to me why they changed the bridge (in the original there's some key monkeying), and they do give it a nice different touch, the hill built in the original bridge is still something missing for me.
I did agree with them that, for whatever reason, "Barcelona" didn't sound quite right for the album (even though I told them to put it on, being honored once previously with a Bombadil cover recording and hoping I could make it two.).
BR: How would you do the song if you had infinite recording time and infinite band members?
DS: The guitar would back the song, and I would love to have an accordion join in by the second verse, Beach Boy-esque backing vocals by the second half of the second verse (after the naked girls) along with shouts on the key lines, a huge cresting vocal harmony on the bridge (think "God Only Knows"), and then a similar guitar/accordion/backing vocal last verse. Finish with a harmonica solo over guitar/accordion. Feito.
BR: So why DID you go to Barcelona?
DS: Honestly, it was just part of a long Euro trip I did in summer of 2006. I did Paris, Rome, Barcelona, and Madrid with my best friend over the course of 7 or 8 days (madness, and foolishness for that matter). We arrived in Barcelona just after daybreak, and found our lodging in one of those obnoxious hip backpackers' hostels that all the "cool kids" go to (we've outgrown this, thankfully). We might have rested for an hour, and then we walked all over the city, stayed up all night, and caught a train in the morning to Madrid.
BR: Part of the appeal in this song to me is that I couldn't tell if it's sarcastic or if it's actually talking about how you -- or some other person -- felt. Did you mean for the song to be an indictment of a certain type of person? Or did these words represent your own impressions of the city? Or something in between?
DS: When I wrote this song, I had a couple things in mind. First of all, the crazy energy that seemed to me endemic in and essential to Barcelona. This was very much the tourist's perspective, but I had Gaudi's buildings, all the "modernity" (circa 1900, but still), the much-vaunted night scene, and of course, the topless beach, in mind as representative of Barcelona. I would have put the funicular in too if I was able to think of a clever rhyme for it.
The other thing I had in mind was the Kinks' "In a Foreign Land."
Most importantly, I had Bryan's challenge to write a song about every city I visited in mind. Actually, he said about a girl from every city. Regardless, I think Barcelona was the only one that really stuck from this part of the trip.
BR: When you sing this song, do you adopt any particular singing styles or voicings? Though I ultimately settled on a "normal" voice for the take, I tinkered around with singing with a few different styles and attitudes.
DS: It's evolved for me. Listening to an old live version we (Bryan, Daniel, and I) did together in college, I'm struck by the faux-British or even dangerously Oberst-like vocal I had. When I sing it now, as a more confident singer, I try to sing it precisely, simply, and with the slightest British touch on a couple words ("hands" in the first verse). I sing it like a story teller in melody. And then the vocal grows more ragged as the lyric and song does, which is either intentional or inevitable. I think it's key with a song like this that is not a joke but has its funny parts to sing it straight and honestly, but also with passion when needed.
BR: Is there anything you want people to take away from this song?
DS: Like my song, I guess. And when I perform it live for you, laugh and have fun listening. Please. But other than that not really. People get stuck with the chorus whether they like it or not (I've heard both).
Image of Barcelona's Parc Güell by Flickr user MorBCN