Death Bus For Blondie Variety Hour – S1 E2: Roman Candles

This blog is part 2 in an ongoing series and is the official transcript for the Death Bus For Blondie Variety Hour podcast on Spotify. Listen to the episode now or go ahead and read on for the transcript below.

If you haven’t yet heard of read part 1, jump back to it now here:

Introducing the Death Bus For Blondie Variety Hour! (it’s a podcast)

On today’s episode of the Death Bus For Blondie Variety Hour I’m going to share my cover of Death Cab For Cutie’s “Roman Candles” off their upcoming album “Asphalt Meadows”. 

I’m gonna jump right in here and let you know that I often accidentally call this album “Ashphalt Meadows” instead and so don’t be surprised if that pops up a couple times through this podcast. 

Sure I could re-record it every time I make that mistake but I’m not that deep of a perfectionist. 

I’ve talked briefly about my decision to record “Roman Candles” on a previous blog that I’ll link to on the official transcript of this episode if you’re interested in reading it, but I’ll reiterate a bit of that for you now and try to tell you a bit more about myself in the process in case you’re still like, “but why is she doing this Death Cab podcast all of a sudden?”

Read the original Death Bus For Blondie – Roman Candles Release blog now!

I recorded, mixed and released this cover just a couple days after the band released it as a single. The official music video dropped on June 1st and mine was on the Crooked Forest CD rack by June 5th. 

I don’t always get such a sudden urge to track a cover of a new song, but this one seemed to hit at just the right time for me. 

Death Cab For Cutie – Roman Candles (Official Music Video)

There are a lot of bands I’ve spent much of my life listening to and I’m glad that many of them have managed to create such long-lasting careers like Death Cab because their records are ones I turn to often – old and new. 

That said, I’ve found it’s much more rare for me to look at some of the new releases, even by many of my favourites, and be able to take them in with the same fondness as when I first discovered the bands. 

I’ve come to understand there are some artists I feel as though I’ve grown with them while others I’ve grown apart from as my life has taken me in other directions. It’s not necessarily that I don’t like the new Blink 182 tracks, for example, but I have a much harder time feeling like we’re from the same neighbourhood, so to speak. 

So I was excited when the first lyric of “Roman Candles” came through my speakers and I was reminded that there are still artists in the world releasing songs that I can in some way relate to. 

It’s been a battle just to wake and greet the day
Then they all disappear like sugar in my coffee
(Sugar in my coffee)
A hint of sweetness but the bitterness remains
The acidity devouring my body
(Devouring my body)
But I am learning to let go
Of everything I tried to hold
Too long ’cause they all explode
Like Roman candles

I used to feel everything like a flame
Now it’s a struggle just to feel anything
(To feel anything)
I watch the world from a window on a hill

Everyone moving as I’m standing still
I’m standing still
But I am learning to let go
Of everything I tried to hold

Too long ’cause they all explode
Like Roman candles
Ah-ooh, ah-ooh
Ah-ooh, ah-ooh

And I am learning to let go
Of everything I tried to hold
Too long ’cause they all explode
Like Roman candles
Like Roman candles

Death Cab For Cutie – Roman Candles (Official Lyrics)

While I could pick apart Roman Candles line by line and explain why each word has value to me given the way I’ve spent the last couple years of my life, this variety show is supposed to be only under an hour all-in, so I’m going to try to be mindful of the time here. Thankfully, so were Death Cab when they capped this under 2 minutes and 22 seconds for those of us with short attention spans. 

I’m actually really glad they did that. There seems to be a trend in popular music right now to bring back the 6, 8, 10 minute operas and, sometimes there’s absolutely a place for it, but sometimes I feel like popular artists are just told to hit a certain minute mark for arbitrary reasons and it doesn’t always necessarily lend itself to the song. Taylor Swift’s new release campaign for “All Too Well” seemed to center around the fact that she released an 11-minute song and my question the whole time, well, so what?

I’m actually a big fan of the under-3 minute song because as a songwriter my favourite challenge is telling a compelling narrative with as few words as possible – in my day-to-day, I often worry I get carried away and over-explain – look at this podcast, so it’s always really satisfying to look back on short stanzas and feel as though they’ve managed to effectively communicate a thought or feeling concisely. 

With “Roman Candles” it’s clear that once all was said, it didn’t need any fluff or theatrics and I think the song is better for it because the lyrics here, although quite simple, are highly relatable to anyone who was or is still struggling with the post-pandemic world. 

On a personal note I was dealing with a lot during the pandemic beyond just feeling the weight of the restrictions placed upon us here in Canada.

Leading up to lockdown I was dealing with a lot of anxiety, knowing whole-well that life as I knew it was about to change in a drastic way but not understanding the full scope of the situation despite my best efforts. 

I had a moment of clarity on New Years day in 2020 that told me it was time again to make a solid effort to stop drinking. I had reduced my intake considerable over the years by then and had convinced myself on some level I was part of the “I can just have a couple once in a while and maintain complete control,” crowd but, that New Years I passed out at my own house party a few minutes after midnight, to the best of my recollection. 

And it wasn’t the first time but I knew I wanted it to be the last. 

By early February it was clear that the person I was with wasn’t making any of their own progress in the things that I knew to be vital to our collective happiness and I’d exhausted any and all of my own resources – I knew it was time to have a talk I’d be dreading since before our wedding day. 

We needed to get divorced. 

While I worked through these realizations to the best of my ability alone, unsure of what to say or who to ask for any sort of support throughout it all, I found myself one day reaching for some pens and paper and dusting off my guitars which had sat lifeless for the last couple years, becoming show-pieces more than they were actual instruments. And while I wrote new songs, I didn’t really stop to think about what I was writing about – that would come much later and once it did, I’d realize there was a central theme running about them all. 

Once things really hit with the pandemic in March, I had a lot more time to work on my own things, work on myself, avoid the beers in the fridge and the weed on the counter, and I started reconnecting to albums and artists that used to give me comfort and clarity. 

There was a lot that had gone wrong but at the outset, I still had a pretty positive outlook about it all. Small strides are supposed to lead to successful outcomes.

But somewhere along the way that mindset had started to change. 

I wasn’t eating great, mostly slugging back coffees most of the day before forcing something into myself in the evening when my soon-to-be-ex-husband would get home, feeling pretty shitty but not wanting to do much more about it and lacking the appetite or foresight to care. 

I’d eventually move home with my parents which brought its own challenges. 

Within a couple weeks of arriving I held our family dog Leia as she died on the kitchen floor, an experience I’d had some 10-years earlier but in the room next to it. It doesn’t get easier and instead those floor tiles just serve to remind of what was. 

A little while later I’d move out and struggle with being a single-woman living in a basement apartment in a new city, which as it turned out, was a pretty shitty neighbourhood with even bigger challenges that made me feel unsafe and uncomfortable in my own home, worried that something would happen to myself or my dog if I stayed there very long. 

Then I lost my job.  That’s a long story, too. 

Then I moved back home again. Finalized the divorce and for the first time since I was 13 years old found myself unemployed for a considerable stretch of time – about 8 months. 

Prior to that I’d thought I’d finally pay off my existing debts in full and be able to move on properly, and now I was in an even worse financial situation than ever before and feeling like an absolute burden. 

Never mind feeling like you’re standing still – I was moving backwards.

Before things really hit the fan I was making peace with all the changes I was making and believed wholly they were the right choices and for my own right reasons, no matter how often it seemed people were trying to convince me otherwise. I was letting go of so many things I’d tried to hold on to because I knew I had to to get myself where I wanted to be, emotionally, physically, financially and otherwise.

And that’s where I still am right now in 2022 – still learning to let go of the things I can’t control. Still learning what’s worth holding on to or worth fighting for. Still trying to understand what matters to me and why it does. And still trying to control my temper when the weight of all of it becomes so overwhelming that the blood boils up my neck and out my mouth. 

Needless to say “Roman Candles” brought me a lot of comfort when it was released. At least I knew I was not the only one still trying not to bottle up and explode all the time, especially when everything around you seems to be moving towards something that you’re not and you have to deal with the doubt and confusion that comes with that alone. 

I was 13 when I first started listening to Death Cab and those doubts and confusion were as ever-present then as they are now. While I feel in a lot of ways that I’ve grown with this band, I often get the sense that we’re both still trying to figure a lot of things out; about ourselves, the world, and what we can do to make things a little better, and maybe that’s why I’m able to connect with it so well.

When I was grappling with sobriety, the pandemic and my looming divorce, I didn’t have much beyond my dog to keep me company. I was working from home and everyone I worked with seemed to disappear of the planet entirely, all of us instead just independently doing what we needed to do, so I was really excited when Ben started doing his live from home sessions every day for a couple weeks – the two changes coincided perfectly for me and suddenly I had something to look forward to every day when I woke up.

Those sessions became pretty foundational as far as what I’d later do to get myself back into performing and becoming comfortable sharing any music with actual people again, so whenever I think back to it I’m entirely grateful he took the time for it. 

As I’ll talk about a bit more on my upcoming “60 and Punk” episode, I weirdly forgot somewhere along the way that I could also just perform solo acoustically and it made all the difference in my approach to creating music again to be reminded of that.

More than that I want to further highlight here though, I think it’s easy for a lot of people – and for the sake of this comment, I’m talking about musicians or artists – to take for granted their circumstances and not consider how impactful something as simple as a free acoustic livestream session can be to your fanbase, especially when so much else around you seems to be crumbling down. 

It was baffling to me then how many of my favourite artists used the pandemic to alter their offerings to better monetize themselves instead of doing something like those free livestreams – and I get it, we all have to eat, but it became really apparent really quickly what artists were more concerned with what was coming into their wallet than actually connecting with a now-very anxious struggling society. 

I’m not saying that’s what Ben’s goal was when he decided to do those, of course, but to me it came across more as a genuine way to offer something – in this case, himself and his music – to the world, whoever wanted to listen at the time, without us having to shell out anything for it beyond our own time. It’s a very simple thing that seems too easily forgotten by many artists once they’ve reached a certain level of success and it’s a huge shame.

But we were talking about “Roman Candles.”

The synth-heavy intro of this song made me mildly apprehensive at first. While I love all of Death Cab’s records, the one thing I will say is I don’t favour the remixes that drift too far into the electronic side of things and this synth-intro had me worried we were headed straight to the nearest EDM festival with this album and I wasn’t sure I was on board with that. 

Funnily enough, that’s pretty similar to how I first felt about Death Cab song I heard back when I was 13, too. Mildy apprehensive. Wasn’t sure I was into it – took a few minutes to warm up to like adjusting to the lake water at the top of the summer before the sun has had a chance to heat it up a little. 

It wasn’t that I didn’t like it necessarily, but the first song I ever heard, I couldn’t relate to the lyrics at all. What was he even saying? And why wasn’t it more punk rock? Because that’s what I was listening to then and that was all I cared about at the time.

I’d eat those thoughts about the synth by the end of the song, of course.

But when it came time to try a cover of it (like, later that day), I knew I could give it a bit more attitude. I wanted to make it a bit heavier while still keeping the melodic sensibility of the lyrics, so I carved it out on my acoustic guitar first – omitting the intro synthy-bit entirely and just running with whatever my hands gravitated towards when I start playing, and came up with the foundation which I’d use to build up the track into what it is now. 

Here’s my version of “Roman Candles” by Death Cab For Cutie. 

As it turns out, this was actually uploaded on June 4th. Oops.

This one came together really quickly and whenever that happens I’m usually either really happy with the end result or I listen back a week later and I realize that I got too hype about it and should have taken more time with it. Listening back today, I still really enjoy this version of the song. It’s just got a bit more energy and aggression so when I find myself thinking back to all those fun experiences I told you about and all the ones that I left out for now, it just feels a little more me.

But it’s really the lyrics here carrying the weight and that’s something that’ll come up a lot throughout this series. 

Because I divulged a lot more than I anticipated at the head of today’s episode, I’ll leave you here with Death Cab For Cutie’s original recording of “Roman Candles,” to compare to the cover. 

Next time, I’m jumping into “Ghosts of Beverly Drive.” See ya then. 

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