A World That's Bigger

by Mike Vial

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about

Update: I was hit by car three days after the record was released, walking to a gig at the Ark theater in Ann Arbor. My guitar and I survived: mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2016/10/vial_returns_to_the_ark_after.html

Essay about the record:

Is life truly a one way road?

Love, death, and family are universal themes of the human experience; and my new folk album, A World That's Bigger, ponders them.

This record is about recent experiences: the rollercoaster of art careers; the process of purchasing a home during the recession; the birth of our first child; as well as the moments of healing from loss and miscarriage.

A World That's Bigger was recorded live at a cabin in Indian River, Michigan in May 2016. My friend Mike Gentry offered to bring his recording equipment and help me capture the ten songs as they needed be captured: live.

I had a one simple rule during tracking: I would play the guitar and sing at the same time. We would use no overdubs during the mixing process. My goal was to offer you a real performance that captures the energy of my live shows.

If I made a mistake, I'd either have to play the song again, or live with it; like life.

Over three days, with Gentry guiding the mixing board, I recorded approximately 150 takes, and narrowed it down to the best ten performances. If you listen closely, you might even hear the rain in a song or two, since it stormed during one afternoon of tracking.

Lyrically, theses songs may seem terse; but after multiple listens, you may notice overarching themes, rhetorical devices, and allusions hidden within the songs, like reading a book.

Dr. Thomas C. Foster--author of How to Read Literature Like a Professor--gave a guest lecture to my class during my last year teaching at Holly High School.

He described how all literature is having a conversation with the past and present works, how literature is one long dialogue about the human experience.

I wondered, can songs join that conversation?

I've intentionally added elements to the music and lyrics to reinforce the themes. The record is five snapshots of dyads or counterpoints. Each song is having a conversation with another, a reflection about life and death.

So you might be wondering, "Will it be easy for me to hear those counterpoints?" Yes!

You can start with the lyrics, and I think you will find the counterpoints on your own; but you can also use the music as a guide.

Often, motifs in plays (like the flute melody in Death of a Salesman or the hymn in Our Town) will signal reoccurring themes. I've borrowed this technique while composing on the acoustic guitar.

For example, listen for the musical motif of ascending double stops; or how a fermata is used before the third verse; or how a similar fingerpicking pattern graces certain songs...

Also, there are various literature allusions hiding in the lyrics. (Former students from my English classes will have a leg up on finding these literature references to Shakespeare, Greek mythology, fairytales and the Bible!)

One reference is more direct: This record's recording process is inspired by Nick Drake's Pink Moon--a powerful album recorded live over three days, too.

And my song "Ghostwriter" is dedicated to that British songwriter. "Ghostwriter" is a figurative conversation with Nick Drake, reflecting on his posthumous success, as well as his tribulations as an artist.

However, the song is also a conversation to all artists, even myself, who may feel lost in this world as we seek inspiration: "You've got something to say, let the words spill out of you..."

Like a many Greek myths, the narrative structure of the album begins "in medias res"--in the middle of the story. Yet strongest theme of the record is introduced in the opening song.

This title track, "A World That's Bigger" is the first song I wrote as a new parent, contemplating the responsibilities of raising Ginny.

"Little Drum" is the last song I wrote before Ginny was born, considering how time will never feel the same for my wife and I.

"Those Shoes" is reflecting on a common experience we don't discuss enough, facing miscarriage, which bookend Ginny's birth. (We are so lucky to have her.)

Eight songs are new, but two songs were rerecorded from past EPs: "Damn Fine Day" and "One Way Road" offer expositions for my family's story (wedding engagement; changing careers). I also knew l hadn't captured the right energy on their previous studio recordings. I feel like I got the true essence of these songs this time.

"Burning Bright" was written for David Plawecki, inspired by his dying wish, a pay-it-foward movement; and I'm thinking of my aunt Julie Plawecki, too, who we are missing greatly this year. The Divine Child Church's stain glass windows color the lyrics of the song, and I'm so thankful for my hometown, the Dearborn community.

"We're Not Here Anymore" is a song written during the PVSG song game I organized with friends. We attempted to write a song every week during the polar vortex. Each writer had to compose a song using a phrase. That week's prompt was "ghost on the sidewalk."

"Girl on the Mountain, Boy on the Beach" is part protest song for the Syrian Refugee Crisis, part mythological journey. It is for anyone seeking a safe home.

And my own challenges are minuscule in the shadows of this horrible crisis where families must flee their homes.

Still, this record wouldn't have been possible without Mike Gentry's help. This record was delayed multiple times, partly from hospital bills, house repair surprises, hitting a deer on the last day of the spring tour...Music has been healing throughout it all, but I was frustrated trying to get this record done.

Without Gentry's encouragement, talent and patience, it wouldn't have been possible to complete it this year.

And the same goes for my wife's love and encouragement: "Stars array, when you smile."

Thanks for listening,

Mike Vial

credits

released October 3, 2016

All songs written and performed live by Mike Vial.
Produced by Mike Gentry.

Recorded live in a cabin in Indian River, Michigan in May of 2016.

Artwork hand drawn in ink by Caitlin Kronk.
Album cover editing and fonts done by Jake Smith of Black Anvil Design Co.

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about

Mike Vial Ann Arbor, Michigan

Mike Vial is a singer-songwriter from Michigan. He drinks too much coffee, plays Heritage and Taylor guitars, teaches guitar lessons at Dixboro Guitar, and tries to take his dog for two walks every day between a busy gig schedule, and his baby's nap schedule. ... more

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Track Name: A World That's Bigger
"A World That’s Bigger"

We don’t know how big the world will be
When we take it slowly down the road
To the baseball field by the one-room schoolhouse
With the paint that’s peeled

And the church won’t share
The answers to the secrets in our prayers for you,
Sing them out, sing them strong,
Beat our doubt, by helping you belong to

A world that’s bigger than you and me
A world that’s bigger than the fur and the flea
A world that’s bigger than the length of a sea
A world that’s bigger than you and me and love, Virginia

We don’t know if we’ll have to break the bank
When we send you off to the school
With the best college rank
For the subjects of your choice that make you say

That the world is bigger than you and me
A world that's bigger than the fur and the flea
The world that's bigger than the length of the sea
The world that's bigger than you and me and.

The root of all heartache is a mild surprise
With these gentle words we try to calm your cries
You were born a spring baby during the last winter snow
Even Mother Nature doesn’t know

That thee world is bigger than you and me
The world is bigger than the fur and the flea
The world is bigger than the length of a sea
The world is bigger than you and me and love, Virginia
Track Name: I Just Want to Be Your Last
“I Just Want to Be Your Last”

If sugar goes well with coffee like the day mixes with night
I might be a little different than you but we go together right
You treat me quite better than I’ve been treated before
I don’t want to sound trite, I just know that I know for sure

We all live with regrets
We shouldn’t care about the past
I don’t need to be your first love
I just want to be your last

You said you had to kiss a few frogs before your prince appeared
Well I’ve been waiting for you like the sun waits for clouds to clear
It’s been raining for what feels like years
And the whole time you were always near to me, but that’s how it goes when

We all live with regrets
We shouldn’t care about the past
I don’t need to be your first love
I just want to be your last, your last

Cause when I finally found you
I finally forgot my past, my past
Was just the preface before you
So when I met you I’d say, “At last…”

I use to think that love at first sight was for fools
I hope that it’s ok that I broke a few of your rules
We have all been hiding some scars under our hearts
But I’ve been told the healing ends after true love finally starts
When I first saw you, I first thought, “At last…”

We all live with regrets
We shouldn’t care about the past
I don’t need to be your first love
I just want to be your last
Track Name: Ghostwriter
“Ghostwriter”

You don’t need that ghostwriter, you’ve got something to say
Let the words spill out of you in a suicide note
or a long-form love letter

You don’t need to sugarcoat or water down words
Bend our ears to your truth, even if it will hurt
the ones that you love

Chorus
If youth is wasted on the young,
We all have to face change together
If honey doesn’t taste as sweet to your tongue,
We can take the salt off the earth before the heavy winter
If we don’t become bitter

You don’t need to chase that sound of the Sirens' song
To the Hollywood lights, when the earth shakes that town
Will you still stand your ground?

You don’t need to hide your age, let the time turn the page on
Your Peter Pan ways, put a hook in your heart
Calm your blood boiled by rage

Chorus
If youth is wasted on the young,
We all have to face change together
If honey doesn’t taste as sweet to your tongue,
We can take the salt off the earth before the heavy winter
If we don’t become bitter

You don’t need to feel ignored, lost in the crowd
Sure it’s a great big world, your voice will be found
You don’t need that ghostwriter, you’ve got something to say
Let the words spill out of you in a suicide note, a suicide note,
or a long form love letter
Track Name: One Way Road
"One Way Road"

Maybe there’s only one way to go
If life is just a one way road
I’d rather take it fast than too slow tonight

Maybe I’m better off being alone
But it’s scary being away from home
There’s no way to know which way is right

There’s no guarantees I’ll arrive
In the mean time it doesn’t help me
That I don’t believe in love at first sight

There’s only one way to go
There’s only one way to go
There’s only one way to go
If life’s a one way road

I never, I never even say goodbye
My friends and family don’t know why
I impulsively drive, drive, drive away

And maybe it helps me get a grasp on life
For awhile my memories that I can compile
Since the minutes add up faster than miles

But I’d better slow down
It’s only fifty-five through this tired town
I think I’ve been here before
Because I recognize all the faces
Coming out of the store
It’s like they’re looking for more

There’s only one way to go
There’s only one way to go
There’s only one way to go
If life’s a one way road

And maybe this long drive will help me
Maybe this long drive will
Help me find some way to settle down

There’s only one way to know
If I’m heading down the wrong way
On a one way road
And that’s to try to turn round…
Track Name: Little Drum
"Little Drum"

Give me a minute, give me another minute of this time
Before the time has passed us by

Or I’ll still be thinking, I’ll still be thinking of the girl
Who had the greatest smile, and shared it with the world
That brought it to a boy, who didn’t say a word…

Tell me a story, tell me another story of your childhood
Before the cards fell down

Or I’ll still be searching, I’ll still be searching for the perfect
chords and melodies, and piece them one by one
Into a little song, that comforts us with love

Find us an hour, find us another hour to this day
And you can pick the game we’ll play

Soon we’ll be listening, soon we’ll be listening to the sound
Of a little beating heart--our little drum--can you still hum
That song your mother sung….when you were young
Chasing your sister in the sun

When you were young
Chasing your sister in the sun

Give me a minute, give me another minute of this time
To tell me a story, tell me another story of your life

When you were young
Chasing your sister in the sun,
Chasing your sister in the sun,
Like our little drum
Track Name: Damn Fine Day
"Damn Fine Day"

I can read your eyes, I can see you’re sad
I can feel your heart beat away the bad
Bad times we’ve fallen on…
It’s like we found our lives stuck on pause
Feel an endless strain but never find the cause
Well the world can’t keep us down

Today will be a damn fine day
Today, we’ll pretend that it’s a holiday
Get dressed in your best
And dress me up in mine
We’ll make the most of the meantime

I will take you back to that summer’s day
Where we promised to never betray
Each other or those dreams we had
Let’s go out, paint the town red
Dance to your favorite songs until we crash in bed
Well the world can’t keep us down

Today will be a damn fine day
Today, we’ll pretend that it’s a holiday
Get dressed in your best
And dress me up in mine
We’ll make the most of the meantime

Even I’ll admit
There are days where I feel my spirit
Fade into the night that was once starlit
Stars array when you smile

I don’t know how I got this far
Behind the chase of a lucky star
When it’s only you I need
And the world can’t keep us down

Today will be a damn fine day
Today, we’ll pretend that it’s a holiday
Get dressed in your best
And dress me up in mine
We’ll make the most of the meantime
Stars array when you smile
Track Name: We're Not Here Anymore
"We're Not Here Anymore"

Take your finger, point it in the air
Do you feel a presence, was your final judgment fair?
Did you hide your secrets, like a scripture untold?
See that fire burning we left out in the cold
When we're not here anymore

Take your fingers, dig deep in the ground
Did you leave a marble, or take each stone that you found?
Did you replace those bones with a current and a wave?
Did someone paint your shadow with no future left to save

When we're not here anymore
When we're not here anymore

We fear a mystery waiting, a knock that's at the door
By fingertips of rose, the man and the moon were given a chore
When we're not here anymore

Take your fingers, count minutes one by one
No, you won't go blind if you stare into the sun
There's a ghost on the sidewalk, a devil in the street
One you'll never welcome, one you're meant to meet

When we're not here anymore
When we're not here anymore
When we're not here anymore
When we're not here
Track Name: Girl on the Mountain, Boy on the Beach
“Girl on the Mountain, Boy in the Beach”

A girl climbed the tallest mountain,
And the light from the sun in the sky
She found a juvenile traveler
He was watching the moon die, the moon die

The girl ran down the mountain
The boy lay down in the beach
Passion gave in to power
The sun and the moon never reach

Did you need a little hope this morning?
Did you need a little hope, did you cry?

A father readied a journey
A mother made up her mind
Children fleeing their country
Can you give sight to the blind, the blind?

A girl ran down the mountain
A boy lay down in the beach
Children fleeing their country
The sun and the moon never reach

Did you need a little hope this morning?
Did you need a little hope, did you cry?
Track Name: Burning Bright
"Burning Bright"

Ain’t life strange how time promises tomorrow
But we’re a thread of gold cut without sorrow
If there’s only one star I see up in the sky on a lonely night
I’ll think of you burning bright

At the edge of a church, stain-glassed story in the distance
Shared some words of my search, the pain of your absence
If there’s only one song I sing, a closing hymn, under candlelight
I’ll think of you burning bright

I carried you like you carried me times before
Measure of your days like a maze, my feet walking through the door
If there’s only one myth I read, an epic line of an eagle’s flight
I’ll think of you burning bright

Ain’t life strange how time promises tomorrow
Track Name: Those Shoes
“Those Shoes”

We’ve had a rough stretch
Our tired arms are powerless
To what comes next
To what comes next

We lost a heartbeat
A secret kept between our feet
I was stepping back
I was stepping back

This pain won’t last
This pain won’t last
I know…

I’m tired, yet I can’t sleep
My mind has more than I can keep
To myself
To myself

I know there’s more that I could do
To sooth your pain and comfort you
I’m reaching out
I’m reaching out

This pain won’t last
This pain won’t last
I know…

And if we share our fears in twos
Could we have filled those shoes?

And if we share our fears in twos
Could we have filled those shoes?

We've had a rough stretch