I often get asked what my songs are about. It’s fair question, although one I’m hesitant to answer. We don’t usually ask what a painting is about, or a sculpture. It could be that we’re more used to the abstraction of emotions with those art forms. Lyrics, however, are often very literal. Songs have been used as storytelling vehicles for centuries. Certainly, in popular music, we’ve become accustomed to some specific tropes – boy meets girl, boy loses girl, unrequited love, partying, etc.
Sometimes, though, a song isn’t necessarily ‘about’ anything. All Fall Down is one of those.
Funny thing. This single, repeating “And we all fall down” chorus line was one of the first things that popped into my head some years ago when Tanya and I were starting a new band. At the time, I heard it over a faster tempo, with distorted, heavily delayed guitar riding over busy tom fills. Hey, everyone ripped off U2 back then. Sue me. Maybe because of that, I could never figure out the rest of the tune. So it went onto the back burner – a dusty little folder titled “Lyrics: In Progress” in the low-rent part of my computer. And stayed there.
Fast forward a few years to Mirror Darkly. We were finishing up the studio work and I was starting in on the collection we now call Infernal Divine. Decided to see if there was anything worth working on in the back burner. Usually the answer is no. The folder is embarrassingly well-populated with orphan song ideas – a line or two here; a paragraph there; a concept that never made it any further than that. Opened up the file for All Fall Down… and finished the lyrics in about 15 minutes. Kinda helped that I’d heard a King’s X jam that, while totally different from my original vision, had the inspiration for the main riff that I could hang the rest of the tune on.
There were some firsts on this song. This was the first song where I wanted the drum programming to sound like an actual drummer. Even though it’s fundamentally a 4-on-the-floor groove most of the time, we gave it some fills and turnarounds that a live drummer would use. I think it’s also the first song where I started specifically creating synthesizer lines in bits and pieces as opposed to flowing through the entire song. Mostly so it was easier to record them. Nothing more depressing than having to play a part perfect for 6 minutes (because the part never stops), messing up at 5:54, and having to start all over.
It's also the first song not performed by a self-identified member of the ensemble. I had planned on Tanya singing this one, but she didn’t feel like she was doing the song proper justice with her interpretation. I asked a friend of mine (Crode) to give it a shot. She agreed, and gave the tune a feminine, somewhat gritty vibe. She added the ‘ring around the rosy’ part without telling us she was going to; our response was “Yeah, that’s cool! Let’s keep that!” I didn’t provide much direction on the harmonies either; I totally dig the eerie, melodic vibe she created.
I suppose that if the song IS about anything, it’s about feeling overwhelmed. There’s all manner of things that want our attention in this noisy world. Some of them are welcome; most aren’t. For me, the “All Fall Down” of the chorus is “I give up”. Not in despair, or failure, or anything like that. More like throwing up your hands and saying enough. So yeah – no great conclusions, no specific ideas, no boy meets girl, no lost love. Just a musical expression of those times when you feel like everything is pressing down on you and you don’t see any easy fixes.