Creating The Triptych
"Past the clouds, finally leaving earth..."
Though Pete is not one for knowing the actual names of the chords he is playing, we can confirm (thanks to Google) that the writing sessions for The Wayfarer Triptych began, as the album itself does, with an arpeggiated F#m(add9) chord.
Well, if we’re being pedantic, the writing sessions actually started a little earlier that same day (as most Across The Sea songwriting sessions tend to), with Pete sitting in front of Hannah and improvising a relentless flurry of guitar ideas until one got her approval. A couple of hours passed and, with nothing sounding quite right to her, Hannah explained “It needs to be mysterious, like you’re opening a storybook and being drawn in...” And then came the arpeggiated F#m(add9) chord, and Hannah’s ears pricked up.
Less than a minute later, as Pete reached the end of the eerie, meandering progression that tumbled out the guitar following that first chord, we had the opening for our album. All that was left was for Hannah to write some lyrics and a melody, which she did. 8 months later. So we’ll have to come back to that…
The first few months of writing the songs that would make up The Wayfarer Triptych were relatively similar to all previous Across The Sea releases, though the conceptual nature of the project presented some new considerations for us.
As this blog alluded to last week, we quickly discovered that writing a synopsis is very different to actually presenting a story musically in a coherent and engaging manner, resulting in plot points being moved between songs, rewritten or sometimes omitted entirely as the songwriting process progressed: the start of Awakening became the end of Prologue; the narrative intended for a brief coda at the climax of Nightfall in the Labyrinth eventually became the entire first portion in Of Mist, Mountain and Sea; the original 8 page draft of the lyrics for Serenity and Chaos had to be condensed 3 times when it became clear that, in order to get through it all, Hannah would have to sing for about 20 minutes straight without pausing for breath.
Perhaps the most exciting part of writing Wayfarer… was the scope of the narrative providing an opportunity to really push every aspect of our sound and create something truly cinematic and theatrical. Taking an idea we’d dabbled with on Infinite Worlds with Aurora, we both wrote multiple choral sections for various songs, Pete frequently presenting Hannah pages of sheet music to distressed cries of “You want me to sing how high?!”.
Wayfarer… includes an extensive use of the leitmotif technique, a thematic approach to composition popularised by the Romantic composers of the 19th century (particularly Richard Wagner) and used regularly by film composers since the 1930s. The album is full of recurring themes (musical, vocal and lyrical) which are developed, twisted and manipulated throughout several (or, in some cases, all) of the album's tracks. Pete became so obsessed with this idea that the album contains so many musical ‘easter eggs’ it took Hannah several months to find them all. Perhaps one day we’ll point them all out to you too…
By the middle of March 2020 we had almost half the album completed and all seemed to be going well. Then at 8:30pm on March 23rd, everything changed.
Much has been written elsewhere about the catastrophic impact the pandemic has had on the music industry, and society as a whole, and it is not the purpose of this blog to add to that commentary. But as it would be another 3 months before we were able to see each other in person, the remainder of the writing process would take place under very different circumstances. Band practices became video calls, as everything went online, with each of us becoming more or less the others' only connection to the outside world. And as that world became closed off, and with suddenly very empty schedules, we plunged deeper into another world: the one we’d created for The Wayfarer Triptych.
In hindsight, there was some benefit to us being forced to grind our usual intense schedule to a halt. With all our gigs cancelled and our deadlines made irrelevant, and thus with no particular external pressure to complete the album by a specific time, we were able to slow down and take our time writing the songs in a way we’d never felt able to do before.
Unable to meet up in person and play through ideas together, we did something we’d never done before: demoed the entire album. This had a huge impact on the arrangements, as elements such as vocal harmonies and guitar effects (which would normally be made up on the spot during recording) were now being thought out properly and fine tuned as part of the writing process. And so, a very frustrating situation soon became a very productive one, and by late July, after 8 months of writing (including a week of daily video calls to build the penultimate track - the 11.5 minute Light the World with Wisdom’s Flame - piece by piece) we were finished.
Well, almost finished…
Remember that eerie, meandering chord progression Pete had written 8 months earlier? Sounds a bit mysterious? Like a storybook being opened and drawing you in? Yes, that’s the one. Well, someone still hadn’t written a vocal part. But now with 8.9 songs completed and no excuses left, Hannah went off to her tiny music desk, returning a short while later with 4 lines of lyrics. 4 lines she’d put off for 8 months. But, 4 very important lines. Infact, the first 4 lines you’ll hear on October 1st when you hit play:
A destiny carved from nature’s design
Lost within the mists of time
Shall be realised as one pursues
The pathway to a forgotten truth
And the puzzle was complete. Let the recording commence!