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.
Here is the story behind Half Moon Sky as related by Clark Hansbarger.
The song “Half Moon Sky”
Allen and I talked the other night about our different styles of songwriting. I’ve always admired the truth of his tunes. While he meticulously (and beautifully) explores aspects of his life to find, understand, and reveal their meaning to himself and then to his listeners, I am usually just a quick liar.
I like to tell stories—but those stories are more often than not, fiction.
Half Moon Sky is a good example of this. Just like anyone else, I’ve experienced all of the emotions in the song—love, loss, hope, nostalgia—but I never actually experienced the particular love affair described in the song. Surely I would remember such a thing!
There is at least some truth in this song, though. Many years ago, I was in Scotland visiting friends. While there, I spent a weekend in Edinburgh, helping to set up an art show at the Stepping Stone Gallery on a little court off the Royal Mile. My memory says it was on Westport. I can’t be sure, but I certainly like the sound of this.
After the art opening, a group of us walked to a little French place with cheap house wine and rickety tables. What we ate, I can’t recall. Later we went bar to bar, finally ending the night in an apartment overlooking The Meadows, a large park in the heart of Edinburgh.
Years later, when I wrote Half Moon Sky, I stole the geography of that night as the setting of a story of failed love.
The song’s arrangement is heavily beat-based, so Mike’s conga is really the most essential musical component. Everything plays off of his soft, funky rhythm. (In fact, true story: if for some reason Mike’s not at “musica,” we don’t even attempt this song.)
Allen toyed with a variety of accompaniments until he settled on the Spanish guitar lead you hear after each verse. This sound still surprises me each time I hear it. I never conceived of this song, which was to me about Scotland, having these cool Latin moments. It’s a beautiful blend.
Gary’s violin then adds two more dimensions. He alternates between pizzicato (plucking the strings with his fingers), which helps drive the beat, and taking long, soaring strokes with his whole bow, which emphasizes the sad romance of the story.
What I like most of all about what the Bitter Liberals have done to this song is the way the voices come in on the chorus. When everyone joins in on the line “Nothing’s gonna change, the way I feel about you,” it becomes this emotional sing-along—kind of like the narrator’s friends are joining him in his longing. The effect may be kind of maudlin, I guess—or maybe “schmaltzy” is the right word—but we think it works in building the unity of the song. Plus, it fits our musical genre of “sensitive big boy music” to a T.