TOTW #6: “Landlocked State”
With an opening hook that evokes the melancholy grandeur of a John Ford western, “Landlocked State” kicks-off our second album in a decidedly different mode than our debut. While “Shorty Long” was dominated by bristling, ironic indie-rock, those impulses are pushed to the back-half of “Crooked House,” in favor of highlighting a softer, more nuanced sound up-front.
This shift was the natural result of various factors. There had always been an introspective side to our music, at least in our rehearsals. But also, “Gary” had shaped-up into a really nice little piece, and so it seemed like a good idea to write some similar accompanying material. We knew that a song like “Gary” — a traditional, sincere piece of pop-balladry — wouldn’t have worked amidst the hard ironic edges of another “Shorty Long.”
So I suggested to Eric that we pull away from the irony a bit, try writing some songs based around “real-life stuff,” and explore a softer-edged but more dynamic and sophisticated soundscape. I’ve always been keen on the idea of every album having a different sort of personality, and so I thought it would be interesting — and subvert expectation — to open our second album with a good chunk of this softer stuff.
Of course, what you intend isn’t always exactly what you end up with — but that’s the context within which I wrote “Landlocked State.” I have a hard time remembering exactly how the music came together here. I recall that it started with the desire to write something simple. But then, from a basic two-chord jazz modulation some variations grew, and before I knew it there was a solid hook, a half-step modulation into a nifty heartsick-sounding chorus, and a little piece of the verse that I focused-in on and looped, which became the basis for the extended two-guitar outro.
I wrote the the lyric about the experience of growing up gay in Oklahoma, and the struggles of self-acceptance which go along with that. The idea came from my own life of course, but also from a friend of mine who was working on a documentary at the time called “The Buckle,” which was going to be about the experiences of gay folks growing up in the Bible Belt. He had asked me to contribute some music, and in response I wrote this song. (To my knowledge, the doc was never completed.)
There are some other ideas woven into that lyric. For instance, the way the protagonist describes his interior state in terms of the landscape is not accidental; I wanted to express a love of the natural beauty of my home-state, and I also wanted to respond to all those religious folks who call homosexuality “unnatural” by describing this person in completely natural terms; he is a part of his environment, linked to it, made by it.
For a long time, I lacked a central lyric to pin the song on. It needed to be a good phrase that could double as a geographic detail or as an internal state of mind. Funny enough, the lyric came to me as I was attending a conference for my work. I was bored and thinking of this song and kind of turning-over words in the back of my head, trying not to fall asleep, when the speaker said something about Oklahoma being a landlocked state. And I thought, “Holy crap! That’s it!”