14. The Ballad of FM
Five years spent in Nashville, and the third tuning I had done on this one Baldwin baby grand. I was always impressed with how it sounded, and three tunings in the can meant that my job wouldn’t be as strenuous as it normally is; the piano already knew me, and I it. I pulled up to Cheyenne’s new house, one he’d purchased off of Murfreesboro Road on the southeastern outskirts of Nashville with his wife and infant son, who was now learning to walk.
Cheyenne was working on a new home studio, one I was instantly jealous of, due to his great soundproofing and of course, the piano. I got to work on it, and about three quarters of the way through, we started talking.
“We should get together and write sometime; we’ve been meaning to for years!” said Cheyenne.
“I’d love that. How about next Thursday?”
And you know what, I almost cancelled. I’d met with other writers over the past half-decade, to no avail; my previous long-lasting cowriter had ended in a spectacularly failed crush and a couple stolen songs. I had met C since then, and wasn’t really in the mood to open another wound. At C’s prodding, however, I went back to Cheyenne's the following Thursday.
I sat down at that freshly tuned piano, actively trying to forget that I had worked on it. Having spent so long on the bench at this point, thinking only as a technician, I worried that the creative part of my heart had died of the bludgeoning from my tuning hammer. My fingers fell on the keyboard, and I thought of one word: Simple.
My mind harkened back to a story I’d heard long ago, when I was still living in my hometown of Flower Mound, Texas. A female songwriter had been tasked with the seemingly impossible hurdle of writing an interesting song using only two chords. I don’t even remember her name, or which song it was (Springsteen wrote “Born In The USA”, for one). But I remembered it was possible. And then I thought…how about Stevie? She had “Dreams”...that had only three chords. What were those chords again?
I found the A minor chord but vamped on it for an extra measure before heading down to the G, slightly differing from Nicks’s famous song. Then I repeated it, and Cheyenne looked up.
“Hey! Is that an idea? I like that.”
“Yeah…don’t really know where it leads but hears what I got--”
I continued on that vein until my brain grew fatigued. Next, I looked for movement. I’m a writer cut from the pop-rock swath of Paul McCartney, and I love a good walkup. So I went down to F, travelled back up to G, and then still further ascending to the A minor. These transitions were in double time, therefore hastening my need for a good resolve. And so I went for the chord that “Dreams” never availed itself to: I resolved to the C major, bringing the song out of the mysterious depths, and into the poppy bubblegum-colored sunshine. Maybe someday I’d be as cool as Stevie Nicks; today was not the day. I had a song to finish.
The lyrics came very quickly after that. A few minutes of vacant silence and mindless vamping, finally producing the very Fleetwood-style opening remarks:
You’ve been cheating once again
When you break the rules
Sneaking cards into your hand.
I dove into three areas of my mind, looking for ideas: One, my Texan upbringing; Two, C had just played the cowboy video game, Red Dead Redemption, the previous year, which had resulted in him turning the game off in a huff after losing too many rounds of virtual saloon poker; and Three, C and I were currently under the spell of the new hit HBO show, Westworld.
We wrote the song in about an hour, with a new second verse to come a month or so later. Chey got up for a break while I prepared to leave. But the spigot hadn’t turned off quite yet.
When Cheyenne returned, I had already created the song form of what would become our second demo, “What You Needed”. With my purse still perched upon my shoulder. As he helped me finish the song, it gradually found its way back to the floor. And thus, FM was born.
Today was a big deal for me. I released my first three new songs in over two years, a terrible hiatus that I refuse to make habit. It took so long for us to find the right tone for the first songs we would put out, and all the while we waited, excited for the day when we would finally debut what we've been working on for the past two years. Cheyenne, who I now call “Murder” (a mishmashed pronunciation of his last name “Medders”, that I made one day with a mouth full of chicken salad), and I (Chey calls me “Fame”), have met nearly every Wednesday since we first wrote, knowing how special this thing we’ve found truly is. The same influences, the same lyrical instincts, with different instruments and singing styles that make up for the shortcomings of the other. I think we make a great band, and our writing hasn’t stalled one bit: we’ve written about 10 finished/40 total songs since we started, and just finished our newest this past Wednesday, with the demo to be released as soon as possible.
For those of you who have listened already, and those who have kind offered words of encouragement, thank you from the bottom of my heart. This is a hard, fast, scary time for ol’ Allie Farris, and I sure feel like I’m working towards something great after days like this.
While we finished the song this week, we were singing to a rough recording we’d made in previous sessions. I was in the back of the room, underneath the piano, unscrewing the long, thick black screws that held in place the wooden cheek blocks on either side of the grand's keyboard. I adjusted some issues with its pedals, and slightly spaced out the parts of the keyboard that were rubbing too closely onto the wood covering, causing the keys to catch and never return back up. By the time I’d left, I had once again fixed some issues with Cheyenne's piano, but more importantly, we had created something new. It’s only been two years thus far; not enough time (but hopefully it will be soon) to cease being his piano tuner entirely, and be Fame full time.