As you know, almost all of the songs we write tell stories. We want to share those stories with you. We’ll post the story behind the story for each song on 13 here for you to read. The plan is to feature one song each week for the next 13 weeks.
Without further ado, the story behind When the Night Will Let Me as related by Clark Hansbarger.
The Song When the Night Will Let Me
I wrote “When the Night Will Let Me” quickly, in the car, thinking about Ginger as I drove back from a weekend away. It’s about longing; the title an allusion to Romeo’s eagerness for darkness to come so he can hold Juliette. As in most of my songs, the impulses and emotions are true, while the details are fictional. Because I’m no longer twenty, I made the narrator young…and I’ve swung plenty of hammers, but never on a job in Roanoke.
“When the Night Will Let Me” is a simple song in both structure and meaning. It was conceived originally as a wall-toss (what I say when I write a tune quickly, toss it at the nearest wall and see if it sticks). What made this song stick was the way it evolved once I brought it to musica. (BTW, “musica” is the Bitter Liberals preferred term for “practice.” What we do is way too much fun to be called “practice.”)
In some sense, “When the Night Will Let Me” exemplifies what I love most about working with the Bitter Liberals. When I played the song for the first time at musica, Mike began tapping out this very cool, Indian rhythm; something totally unexpected. Then he chimed in with a lovely harmony on the chorus, pulling a pretty standard melody into something more haunting and ephemeral. Gary set aside his violin and grabbed the mandolin, giving the opening instrumental hook an old-time mountain feel, plucky and bright. Then Allen picked up his Telecaster and punched in a heavy reverb/chorus on his amp, and the song turned another corner. When Allen played the surf guitar lead on the break, we had arrived. What had started out as a very simple song was suddenly complex and much more interesting… sort of Oriental Appalachian psychedelia.
Some time later in the studio, while we were packing up after recording all 13 songs in one very full day, Allen told Will Shenk (our remarkable engineer at National Media Services) that he wanted to add one more track. He dialed in a growling distortion on his amp and knocked out the second lead on the break. Allen’s guttural, rumbling counter lead is so damn cool, especially in contrast to the mandolin and surf guitar leads dancing around it. I love it.
Anyway, you can see why for me “When the Night Will Let Me” has come to represent the exciting synergy of this band. Once my fellow Bitter Liberals got hold of it, the frail skeleton of a wall-toss song I brought to musica evolved into something rich and voluptuous.