Anthony D’Amato’s new album, Cold Snap, produced by Mike Mogis of Bright Eyes, has a harder edge than his most recent record, The Shipwreck from the Shore, and that’s especially the case for the song he chose to discuss for One Track Mind, “Blue Blooded.” The lyrics address selfishness on a global scale:
I drained the well this morning
Just trying to quench my thirst
I hollowed out the mountain
Just to see what it was worth
I’m so blue blooded I
I’m so blue blooded I
I’m so blue blooded I
I showered in the Cascades
Where I dammed the Willamette
I set fire to the forest
Just to light my cigarette
All I crave is all I want
Is all you have is all you got
And all I take is all I need’s
The ground you walk the air you breathe
And I won’t stop no I won’t wait
‘Til I get rich ’til I get paid
‘Til I got roots that clutch your dirt
That fuck your fields and gut your worth
To sum up the intent of the song, Anthony says, “We’ve created this class of people who are able to treat the world and other people around them as disposable resources, whether it’s BP in the Gulf, or whether it’s just wealthy individuals that are able to abuse their employees because they don’t have any recourse. People who treat the world around them as a disposable resource and never seem to face any repercussions for it. It’s a slap on the wrist or a fine that’s nothing to a billion dollar corporation.”
The images are all environmental, creating a consistent metaphor. “That’s important to me, that there’s a kind of cohesive thread that runs through the song, that it’s not just a hodgepodge of things, that there’s a through line and also a progression to the images.”
But the song can be interpreted in a broader sense, as a commentary on other kinds of selfish behavior, not just environmental abuse.
“It’s broader and it can also be much narrower,” Anthony says “One of my favorite things is when you start playing a song for people they have their own interpretations of it. Some people hear this as being on a very one to one level like a relationship that’s very one-sided. One who takes and takes and takes in a relationship and doesn’t give back. And I think it totally works on that level too. So the metaphors in the song are all these environmental images because I think everyone can kind of relate to and understand those visuals. But I think it works on a whole bunch of different levels.”
The most ear-wormy hook in the song is actually not the vocal part, but a simple four-note string riff that slides up and down, playing against the bass and drum parts during the intro and then showing up again during a verse and behind the guitar solo. Anthony talks about how that came about.
“That’s the first time I’ve had a real string part on a song. I wrote that just using a keyboard and it had a little dial where you could shift the pitch. So I’d press it then I’d turn the knob to pitch it and then to shift it back down. I sent that to Mike (Mogis) as the demo, and he brought in this great string player, Megan (Siebe) from Cursive. She plays cello and viola and violin. So she came and layered all that up. And that made a world of difference. It’s a tricky thing to play. It was weird to try to mimic on a keyboard but Mike got what I was going after and that string part to me is kind of what makes the song, the instant off-the-top hook of it, and Megan was huge in making that happen. So, live, we can’t bring strings with us. Derek (Cruz), our guitarist and keyboard player, he uses a very distorted electric guitar with a slide.”
“Blue Blooded” belongs to a family of songs that take up the cause of the common man who’s being taken advantage of by the powerful. Think Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Woody Guthrie. But Anthony tells the story with a twist.
“It’s almost kind of like an inverse Springsteen or something. It’s sung from the perspective of the upper class. Rather than, take a song like, there are countless examples, but (Springsteen’s) “Youngstown” if it was sung from the perspective of the steel mill owner who’s walking off with his pockets lined with money while the town goes under. It’s a different perspective on the same kind of issue, I suppose.
“There’s a lot of songs from the underdog perspective, the working man’s perspective, and I love those, your Woody Guthries and your Springsteens. I absolutely love that music. But it’s also been done really, really well a lot of times, so I’m always interested in coming at things from a slightly different angle. Even in the same scene, just exploring ‘who was another character who witnessed that?’”
Speaking with the voice of the oppressor does a couple of interesting things. First, it sets the stage for an aggressive sound, since it’s an aggressive point of view.
“We recorded this with two full drum kits facing each other, live in the studio. And it was just thunderous sounding.”
The “thunderous sound” was something that producer Mike Mogis contributed to in the recording studio.
“When I wrote this I felt very strongly that Mike had to be the guy to produce this record because I knew I wanted the double drums and he’s done that on a bunch of Bright Eyes records. I called him up and when we were talking about ideas for this record I was like ‘I envision this as a double drummer situation’ and he was psyched about that because he said he hadn’t done it in like ten years or something on a record, but he used to do it all the time with the Bright Eyes stuff. I reminded him about a show I’d see him and Conor (Oberst) play as Bright Eyes in Radio City Music Hall when I was in college. There was such an energy to it and that aggressive kind of sound and political nature, and for whatever reason that stuck with me for seven or eight years since I saw that show. And I referenced that to Mike and he knew exactly what I was talking about. And I was like ‘That’s the vibe I want on this record.’ And specifically on that song.”
Note for Bright Eyes fans: Conor Oberst sings on two songs on this album, “I Don’t Know About You” and “Ballad of the Undecided.”
The second interesting thing about writing from the point of view of the aggressor is that it brings to mind the fact that the world isn’t necessarily divided neatly into aggressors and victims. Anyone can be the aggressor.
“That was something I don’t necessarily think I thought about when I was writing it, because I think I was processing things in more political terms at the time. But once I finished it and stepped back and had other people share their interpretations of it with me, especially thinking of it in terms of a romantic relationship, then you’re like ‘Yeah, I’ve probably been guilty of taking more than I’ve given, and maybe leaving things worse off than I found them.’ Not intentionally but everyone’s guilty of that on some level.”