A Songwriter’s Story: Ben Arthur on “Love Your Enemy”
“Love Your Enemy” started as a straight up rocker, something like a Green Day song. But it just never worked. As Aimee Mann recently said in an interview, I always know when something is wrong, but I often don’t know how to make it right. In this case, I tried over the course of three years to fix it. I changed the vocals, the instrumentation, and the mix, I gave the stems to a friend to remix, and even re-recorded all the sampled drums live. Nothing really worked.
Meanwhile I had been talking with my friend DJ Big Wiz about working on a song for the album. He had done a song called with me called “Ever Since September” on my last studio album, Mouthfeel, and it had been a really fun and challenging track. I always lean towards things that are odd or frightening — this often (even usually) leads to failure, but I’ve found that when it doesn’t, the results are my best work. So on a lark, I sent him the stems.
Luckily Wiz happened to have time to work on the song then, and he got right to it. He told me he needed another verse, though, so I wrote and recorded one without even hearing what he was working on. A few days later Wiz sent me his mix, which was worlds different than what I had sent him. He had slowed it down, shifted the mood and song structure, and changed almost all of the instrumentation…and to my relief and amazement, the song finally worked.
But listening, I noticed that Wiz left one verse empty. I had asked him a few years earlier, when I started writing the book, whether he thought Aesop Rock, who he often tours and records with, might consider doing a song on the album. Wiz had been pretty noncommittal, and I knew that Aesop is incredibly busy and gets lots of people asking him to work on their albums, so I didn’t have much hope. So when I heard the empty verse, I called Wiz and, barely daring to hope, asked if that space was for Aesop.
A lot of people assume (quite reasonably) that I wrote Aesop into the narrative of the book after I got him to commit to working on the album, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, we got the track from Aesop about a week before I had to submit the album to my label, sonaBLAST! As soon as I got the stems from Wiz, I brought them to Mike Crehore, who produced the album. We spent the next few days at Dubway Studios working on the song, adding a little of our special sauce. We mastered the album a few days after that and sent it to the label.
“Love Your Enemy” turned out to be one of my favorite tracks on If You Look for My Heart, and I remain deeply grateful to Wiz and Aesop for their talent and generosity.