8) No Place Left

September 28, 2017

At the beginning of 2014, I was working as a lifty at a ski area called Copper Mountain. I was unable to find a job before I finished undergrad so I had to move back in with my parents in Colorado and take a gap year while I applied to grad school and figured out the rest of my life. Since they live in the middle of the Rocky Mountains, I naturally decided to spend the year working a job that allowed me to ski for free for the entire season. So I joined the Lift Ops group at Copper Mountain and spent most of my days sitting in lift shacks, listening to rock music (mostly grunge), and skiing or snowboarding during my lunch breaks. During one of these days, I was sitting in the bottom shack of the Celebrity Ridge surface lift when a song came to me out of nowhere. This song consisted of a driving 8th note bass line, a fast tempo, and the lyrics “there is no place left to go” being sung to a drawn out melody. I imagined it being an alternative rock song that would be played with a live guitar, bass, and drum kit. Even though the song was really catchy, I had no way of writing it down or recording it so I just sung it to myself for the rest of the day in an attempt to remember it. That ended up working because three years later, I was still able to recall it without ever writing it down, recording it, or creating a sketch of it in Ableton Live.

 

During this time period (beginning of 2017) I had been living in Boston for a few months and had begun working on music with Gabriela Farfan again for the first time since 2013 (for those of you who don’t know, Gabi and I first started collaborating in 2011 when we were sophomores at Stanford and she’s since turned into one of my best friends and most reliable collaborators). We had been working on a song called “Awakening” that used an extended metaphor of a monster/ dragon waking up from hibernation to describe the increase in open racism during the Trump presidency. I just couldn’t find a place to put that song the album, however, so we ended up scrapping it (I eventually reworked the instrumental for use on “2084,” more on that in a later post). I still wanted to have a song on the album that consisted mostly of singing though so I ended up making "No Place Left," the song that had been in my head for the past three years. Since Origins was obviously going to be an electronic-esque hip-hop album at this point, I made a few alterations that caused the final instrumental to deviate significantly from the song I had originally imagined. The first was that I slowed the tempo down substantially. Secondly, I used a rhythmic synth bass instead of an electric bass. Lastly, the melody was played with a piano and string section instead of a guitar. The synth pad and choir sections weren’t supposed to be in the original song either.

 

Even though the phrase “there is no place left to go” had been floating around in my head for years, I never knew what this song was going to be about. That changed after the election, however, while I was entertaining the idea of moving to another country. Although the idea of moving back to France or someplace else in Europe seemed very appealing at the time, I eventually decided against it for a couple of reasons: 1) Many other countries are experiencing radical right wing uprisings as well (look at the rising popularity of the Front National for example). And 2) the U.S. is such a powerful country that major events that occur here will be felt around the globe. So if I were to run from problems that we face here, I would encounter them everywhere else I go and would never escape until I confront them head on. This is the mindset that I had when I started writing the lyrics for "No Place Left."

 

I structured the song in the following manner: Gabi would first describe efforts to run from certain problems only for them catch up to you in the end. I would then talk (rap?) about how the only way to escape these problems is to confront them head on. Afterwards, Gabi would describe the process of fighting them until the end (the exact definition of “the end” is up to the listener to decide). After writing a draft of the singing section, Gabi and I met up and reworked it significantly until it is what you hear now, a process that basically involved having a deep philosophical discussion about the meaning of every line. When I finally started writing my own lyrics, I ended up drawing from past experiences with not confronting my own personal issues. That was when I realized that this song is just as much about confronting your own problems as it is about confronting societal and political problems. Because of the production, unorthodox song structure, and multiple ways the lyrics can be interpreted, this song is without a doubt my favorite song on the album.

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