The Story Behind “August Spies” by Zane Tate

This song’s title is of course a play on words, and carries a double meaning. The first – august spies – will be, to some, the most direct and obvious interpretation: august as an adjective meaning venerable or respected, and spies, the plural of spy. And this is a darkly fun interpretation that inspires some imagination. The second, however, is even more interesting to me, and closer to what was on my mind when I wrote the song. August Spies (pronounced spees), the person, was a labor activist who was unjustly found guilty of a bomb attack during an event called the Haymarket affair. If you’re familiar with labor history, I don’t need to tell you his story, but if you aren’t, Spies is worth researching. I happened to be reading about him when I wrote the song “August Spies,” which comes from my album Down to Dusk. You can hear more right...

The Story Behind “The Man Called Thursday” by Zane Tate

All of my songs have stories behind them, and I’ve told some of those here in the past. Since a number of DJs have played “The Man Called Thursday” recently, I thought it might be worthwhile to tell its story. Based on the feedback I’ve received so far, listeners who like the song enjoy it’s chilled summer vibe, and of course I’m happy to hear that. But I think the feel of the song is more enigma than escapism; more intrigue than relaxation. In fact, I’ve written a number of songs with the goal of creating more of a chilling feel (as opposed to chilled), “The Last Resort” being a good example. I hope that when you listen to those songs, you imagine a film or a novel or your own narrative, some sort of story steeped in mystery. Maybe those hopes are a little high. But “The Man Called Thursday” was itself inspired by a novel (or novella?) by G. K. Chesterton called The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. I won’t summarize the book here – I wouldn’t want to give it away for those of you who haven’t read it, and I wouldn’t want to botch an explanation for those of you who have (and may grasp it better than I did). But it is a fascinating book filled with anarchists and allegory, and it’s the book I was reading when I dreamed up this song. “The Man Called Thursday” comes from my album Down to Dusk: Rural Sounds Volume 2, which I hope you’ll check out if you haven’t already. And I’d love to hear...

Motown Pride – Spirit Run featuring J’Nelle (produced by Zane Tate)

Spirit Run feat. J’Nelle by Motown Pride Back when I was working on my first album, I was also producing the occasional Hip Hop song for artist friends of mine. You’d have a hard time tracking those down now, but this is one you can still find. And it’s one of my favorites. It’s called “Spirit Run,” and it’s by Daniel Jefferson, aka Motown Pride, with backing vocals by J’Nelle. The mix is admittedly too hot, but I love this track. It’s cool because it’s not a typical verse-chorus structure, and Daniel laid down some amazing spoken word instead of more traditional rap. I definitely recommend listening for the lyrics. I also love that the music has such a Gospel feel to it. That was one of my goals in writing the song. My other goal was to switch from a minor chord progression to a major one about half-way through the song. There’s probably a technical term for that, but I like to call it “redemptive” songwriting – starting out serious or painful or sad, and resolving to hopeful, uplifting and happy. Anyway, hope you enjoy it as much as I do. You can get the track right here: Motown Pride – Spirit Run featuring J’Nelle (produced by Zane...

The Story Behind “Hearts & Minds”

Some songs you write in a day – inspiration hits, and you don’t leave the studio until it’s done.  But others take time, sometimes months.  “Hearts & Minds” falls into the latter category.  In fact I took longer to write and record that song than any other on the album. I wrote it when the war in Iraq was just beginning, and the war in Afghanistan had been under way for a while.  Politicians and pundits were always talking about what it would take to win the hearts and minds of the people there.  I won’t go into political positions, but I’ll say that it was something that weighed on my mind.  Of course, it was on everyone’s mind. I was also thinking at the time that relationships can work, in a much smaller way, similarly.  Someone may have the heart of another, without reaching his or her mind.  Or inversely someone could convince another that they should be together, but that person hasn’t won the other’s heart. Obviously the conflict that can create is insignificant compared to the conflict of war, but maybe there are some similarities.  This song is basically me brooding over that idea, musically. Get Zane Tate’s Boom Bap Sunrise: Rural Sounds Volume...

The Story Behind “Harbor View”

“Harbor View” is my favorite track off Rural Sounds, and based on digital sales, I think it’s the most popular. When I wrote the song I just wanted to capture a feeling – one of escapism and relaxation.  If you’re like me, you’re always on the grind, and it’s rare that you get any down time.  But then comes the unusual occasion when you can get to the beach, have some drinks, chill by the ocean, and just forget the world.   That’s what “Harbor View” is all about. People write songs for different reasons.  I always try to write music that I’d want to listen to myself, regardless of its commercial viability. And “Harbor View” is the perfect example of that.  I can listen to it, remember that mood, and escape for a few minutes. By the way, I also love Incognito’s music for that same vibe.  Check out Tales from the Beach, and then the remix album, More Tales Remixed, which features a Mark de Clive-Lowe version of  “Feel the Pressure.” Get Zane Tate’s Boom Bap Sunrise: Rural Sounds Volume...

The Story Behind “The Funeral”

I wrote “The Funeral” on the day of a funeral for someone who was very close to me.  At the time, I was struggling with the question of, “should death be a time to celebrate that person’s life, or a time to mourn your own loss?”  And that conflict is at the heart of this song. Obviously, the song leans a little toward the mourning side in its melody, which is provided mostly by guitars.  The lead melody was played on a Strat, and then flipped around.  Later in the song, the acoustic guitar comes in – I re-sampled it and chopped it up (didn’t want it to sound too folksy). I wanted the sound to be melancholy, but I also wanted the rythm to be celebratory.  It just seemed appropriate for the song to have a certain bounce to it, kind of like a dirge you could nod your head to.  Thus, the 808 beats. By the way, I also used the 808 because I think of it as a newly traditional instrument of the south.  The funeral in question was, after all, a southern one. I’m leaving out the personal details, but this song is a particularly personal one to me.  In fact, I’ve been surprised by its popularity because I wrote it just for me, to communicate an emotion, and to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of someone I loved.  It’s a sad song, and usually I don’t like sad songs.  But it means something to me, and it’s cool that it means something to others too. Get Zane Tate’s Boom Bap Sunrise: Rural...
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