8. Into the Shade   (4:59)

music © 1989 by colin nicholls & walter nicholls
lyrics © 2012 by colin nicholls


The verses of this song are based around a simple fingerstyle guitar riff that I came up with years ago. We had a clear idea about the structure of the song; and we had a melody for the choruses; and Walter came up with a wonderful chord progression for the "middle-eight" break and guitar solo.

But that was all we had. I guess we could have just left it in the vault, unfinished and un-realized, except for the fact that it is a vital component of the Steel Tree suite: the verse chord sequence is a 180 degree flip of the verse chord sequence from a later song in the suite, Future Imperfect. The symmetry is just too cool to discard.

So earlier this year I sat down with my lyric book and worked up a set of lyrics that suited the mood of the piece, and started to record. The song came together faster than is typical.

Update for 2017

I tightened up the MIDI note timing in the e-piano sequences, and remixed for clarity.

Production Notes

I had to transpose this peice down a 4th in order to be able to sing it. Lesson: Don't fix things like key signature in stone until you know where the vocal melody is going to go.

For various guitar-related reasons, the middle-8 bridge section really wanted to stay in D (originally the same root as the choruses). I've compromised: it stayed in D. So now we have a nice little key signature change from the second chorus in C into the bridge in D, and then we stay up a 4th for the last verse and outro in E. This actually works really well, and makes the piece more interesting harmonically.

A side-effect of dropping the main body of the song by a 4th is dealing with the finger-picked acoustic guitar part. Obvious in hind-sight: Switching to Lute Tuning means that I can play with exactly the same fingering, one string down, and in the appropriate key. Also, it gives me an extra string at the top for added embellishment.

Strings: Cakewalk Dimension Pro "Quartet Ensemble"
Percussion: XLN Addictive Drums VSTi via sticks on SPD-20 pad controller
Shaker; Tamborine
Bass: Carvin BK5
Synths: Pianoteq 3 VSTi (Rhodes e-piano)
Pianoteq 4 VSTi (low piano notes)
Roland VK8 (Hammond organ)
rgc:audio Pentagon I DXi (vocoder)
Arturia CS-80v VSTi ("GX-1" lead synth in bridge)
Guitars: Ovation Steel String
Gibson L6-S
Yamaha GC172SF flamenco

Early Stages

Since 1988 we've been recording our jam sessions on tape cassette. In 1999 I digitized the archives for reference. Any moments of magic relevant to this track, I've extracted and present here.

Guitar riff (1988):

Every time we had an idea we'd just record it. Apparently, back in '88 I came up with the fingerpicked guitar riff behind the verse.

Theme (1989):

Later on, I recorded the bass line that I could hear in my head whilst playing the guitar riff. We still had no idea where we were going to go with this.

Demo (1990):

Periodically we'd come back to this bit of music. Here's the Fostex 4-track version at a point where we'd figured out a chorus theme to alternative with. And to play clumsy guitar solos over.

Bridge (1992):

Walter was trying out some ideas and came up with this bridge section. Fantastic!  I remember hearing what the guitar should play in my head almost immediately, and we pressed REC on the tape deck.

In some ways, it's a shame that whacky drum pattern didn't survive.

Jam (1993):

The compositional road is not always smooth. Here's a jam session from 1993 where we tried to put it all together. I don't know exactly when I bought the Chapman Stick, but it must have been around this time period because I was using it on everything, and was still learning my way around the touchboard. Listening to this now, though, I hear some nice chord and bass changes that didn't make it into the final version.


Feel the need to learn and test our self-reliance
Push the limits of the land and who we are
Put our minds to solving mysteries with Science
Sending probes to the nearest star

Gas emissions feeding ozone deconstruction
Grain belt slipping up the belly of the beast
Commerce engines driving tubes of mass seduction
Siphon payday to the priest

Long ago we stamped our feet to the rain-maker's melody
Felt the beat and electric heat of the thundercloud parade
Stretch a hand to the medicine man, taste the latest remedy
Every nervous reflex reeling us into the shade

Emotional wrecks at security checks for our protection
Iron curtain rising in the final act
Product placement in the pay-per-view election
Faith is trending over Fact

In the flickering shade of a Steel Tree, in the battle field's sterility
Feel the sweet electric beat of a sixty hertz crusade
Purple pills from the Pharma Girl; tickets to tranquility
Tuning in to the scorpion dancing into the shade

Is it right for you? Ask your Doctor; Drink the magic potion
Join the ranks of the no-think tank; blinded by the Right
We are reflected in the plastic-covered ocean
Toxic soil on sacred sites

Too much noise, too much information
Unfiltered data feel a vague sensation
Century overload; can't tune out the station
Solving every problem with the wrong equations

under the flickering steel tree
where I bombed you and you bombed me