You and Me
This was actually the first track recorded for Nine Lives.
Arséne DeLay was to be in town for the birthday of her grandmother, Gloria Boutté, at the end of October. We were supposed to start recording the following week and, with the budget so tight, we didn’t know if we would have enough money to fly her back in. Colman and I really wanted Arséne’s voice on the record so we decided to record it early.
As it turned out, hiring Arséne was as valuable a move as any hiring we did during the making of Nine Lives. Later in the recording process she flew herself in from California when we couldn’t afford her ticket in the budget. She sang whatever asked of her and unselfishly let go of parts she thought she would be singing when it went to someone else.
A complete professional, she is always prepared, ready to take instruction and ready to take her performance to the next level.
The song You and Me is from a scene in the musical where a cop named Tim Bruneau has found the body of a 23 year old black woman on Jackson Ave. There is no place to take the body but even a hardened cop like Tim can’t leave a body on the streets on New Orleans, even if it is flooding.
After driving around for hours in the brutal August heat of New Orleans with the body of “Marie”, as he now knows from her identification, Tim Bruneau, dehydrated and fatigued, begins to hear the voice of the dead woman and they sing an eerie duet.
When I first told Colman that I had an idea of turning this scene into a duet between Tim and Marie, his eyes got big, he stood up from his chair and rubbed his arms. “My God! You just gave me chills! Yes! We have to write this.”
It is a dialogue of Tim chastising Marie for the life she led and Marie challenging not just his reasoning but an entire system that sent her down a path that seemed to be the only road offered to her. Marie howls back at Tim and at a world that cares no more for her in death than it did in life.
Shamarr Allen, who has acted as producer, co-producer, singer, trumpet player and multi-instrumentalist for several tracks on Nine Lives, did so here. He recorded much of the backing track at his studio, POME, and played, bass, keys, loops percussion, essentially turning over a basic track for me to add to.
He delivered the track to Piety for additional recording. At Shamarr’s suggestion I played a guitar part on the down beat of his loop, just a distorted rhythm guitar part for fill and power. I had Alex McMurray add an arpeggio guitar part on electric guitar. I added acoustic arpeggios, using one run when Tim was singing and a different run whenever Marie comes in so that the music has subtle shifts behind their dialogue. Spencer Bohren added slide guitar howling like ghosts in the night. Spencer told me that he’d made the parts as haunting as possible but he asked that Mark Bingham put some effects on it to take it further. What he actually said was, “Really fuck with the sound of the slide.” Mark is the kind of fellow who adores the chance to do just that so Spencer’s slide guitar doesn’t sound as much like a slide on the track as it sounds like spirits in the night looking for a way home.
The music is haunting and halting even before the singing begins. As it plays we hear the voice of a fellow officer chastising Tim for having a dead body in his car. My old pal, Mike Mayeux, was in that day to record on Jump Out Boys so I asked him to do this part. Mike is a sweet fellow and I had to explain what this moment was and ask him to tap into some anger. He did what I asked but it left him shaken because he is a musician not an actor. Mike has a classic New Orleans accent. We call it a Y’at accent. I have one. It is how our parents taught us to speak. We put “earl” in the car, dishes in the “zink”, and when we greet someone we say, “Hey, where y’at?” as in “How are you?”
I needed a New Orleans accent on this and Mikey stepped up. His house was in St. Bernard Parish and took forty feet of water. He lost his home, his studio and all of the music he’d recorded there. Like a few of my friends who refused to give up, Mikey spent years renovating and rebuilding but as of this writing his wife has still been afraid to come back. He loves her and his children so he stays in Nashville but his house is ready for him, waiting. I didn’t want to add very many stories about what the musicians who performed on the record endured after the flood. I mention it in this case because Mike played for free, stayed in New Orleans an extra day after a convention job to come to the studio and be a part of Nine Lives. He was ready to play guitar on Jump Out Boys and I sprung this on him. It was a one-liner but the emotions it stirred in him were powerful to witness and I am grateful he stood for this part.
You And Me is sung by Alex McMurray and Arséne DeLay.
I had warned Alex that Tim Bruneau was one of the least attractive characters in the book because he was a hard-ass, kicked ass and was hardened by being a cop. Alex was not intimidated. He is a great song writer and many of the characters he explores in his songs are very dark. This was another trip-down-a-dark-alley sort of song and he grabbed it by the throat.
Arséne has a Masters Degree from Cal-Arts in acting and since we were singing the voices of actual people she wanted to research her role. She called Colman and wanted to buy a copy of the book so that she could read up on Marie and get into the role. Colman said, “Let me save you the time and money. At no point in the story are you alive.”
It didn’t matter. Arséne, like all the Boutté family, has a way of tapping into something deep inside of her own soul and bringing it to the melody, sending it right into the heart of the listener. She took the melody and stretched it, improved notes, floating on top of the phrasing. Within a couple of passes both singers had found a comfort zone but they had been singing separately. The track really jelled when we decided they had to sing it in the same room at the same time. The song is a dialogue and the singers needed to see, hear and feel the give and take of the conversation. Though Alex and Arséne had not met before that day, the chemistry was there as soon as they were in the same room. Alex gives Tim the anger and rage that Colman and I had intended but there is a humanity in the weariness of his voice that brings Tim Bruneau to life for me, makes him more than just a symbol, it also makes him a man. Alex McMurray brought that to the song himself.
Arséne was chilling in her performance. She sounded like the very spirit of the dead woman, bemoaning her existence while desperately clinging to the unfeeling earth that has cast her off. Her performance gave me chills that day in the studio and it has the same affect every time I hear it on Nine Lives.
Alex McMurray and Arséne DeLay chillingly make the cases for their characters coming close to hearing each other but miles away from understanding themselves. You And Me is a snapshot of humanity reaching out through horror and finding no one is there to reach back.
~ Paul Sanchez – August 15, 2011