Earlier this year, my good buddy Rahul Gupta and I hit upon the idea of putting together a Popdose-branded charity compilation with a twist — that instead of just going around and asking artists to donate their time and/or spare tracks, we’d introduce artists who’d never met, set them up into teams, and encourage them to collaborate long-distance on new songs for a good cause.
Logistically, it was a bit of a nightmare, and things fell through with the charity in question, but something beautiful came from the chaos: “Yellow Bird,” the song written and recorded for the project by Brandon Schott and Amy Petty. I’ve been waiting impatiently for you to be able to hear it for months, and now it’s finally here — and, fittingly, its release will benefit a wonderful cause.
In honor of “Yellow Bird” reaching digital outlets, we asked Brandon and Amy to collaborate again — this time on a post reliving their experiences working on the song. They graciously agreed, and even included a demo for your enjoyment. Read, listen, and then go buy the real thing! –Jeff
Amy Petty: Let me start this thing by simply saying this: I was dreading doing a co-write. Dread. But who says no to Jeff Giles? Then you and I got to work and poof…out of nowhere, this special, beautiful, magical little song was born. I have loved working with you and I’m so grateful for the opportunity.
Brandon Scott: I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve ever written anything with someone I’ve never met!! Once we got rolling, it was so fluid and the ideas kept bouncing, was so easy. “Yellow Bird” was definitely meant to be.
Jeff put us in touch, thought he might be able to cook something up for a charity project he was working on (one that didn’t come to fruition, but thankfully our collaboration did!). So after a few introductory phone calls, we started trading lyric and musical snippets via email…
Amy: …and I was amazed at how in sync we were. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting. All I could imagine was that we were going to write an Indigo Girls song. And not in a good way. When it became obvious that we were creating a work, a piece of art, I was pleasantly surprised. It was detailed, intricate, ornate. It was beautiful…
Brandon: There were a few musical ideas we traded before we settled on a little lyricless verse melody I stumbled across, initially the music had an almost “Two of Us” (Beatles) vibe to it, which I thought was appropriate – originally envisioned as a two vocal / two guitar kind of thing. Amy came up with the “Yellow Bird” imagery right away from that first snippet, and we were off and running.
Amy: And doesn’t it always happen that when you’re writing a song, it becomes a part of your life? You see it everywhere. It lives your life with you. And “Yellow Bird” was no different.
Brandon: The “Yellow Bird” image to me was about hope, it’s a spiritual metaphor without being overtly spiritual – it was about looking outside of yourself for guidance when things get complicated. We had our first verse really quickly. Then in the same email, you started pulling out the Pablo Neruda on me, quoting:
“I grew up in this town,
my poetry was born between the hill and the river,
it took its voice from the rain,
and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests.”
~ Pablo Neruda
Amy: Pablo is my weapon of choice.
Brandon: I just loved that image, of our spirits and art being born of and to the earth, how music and art can be so much larger than our own part of it. This was interpolated into the bridge.
Amy: The idea that art and creativity and life is born in and because of a place, a time, a feeling, that we are a part of the fabric of our homes and places. That’s the heavy thought I had been carrying with me. I tend to write dark, sad little songs with a silver lining. I love that “Yellow Bird” is the exact opposite of that…happy, hopeful and surrounded by nostalgia and mourning.
Brandon: The bridge came together in about one email cycle, I remember, and the second verse wasn’t far behind it. We did a little free form writing individually on what the song meant to each of us thus far, and came up with the conclusive themes that informed the last verse. The amazing thing is that this all happened over the course of a 48 hour period.
Amy: I also loved that I didn’t feel like I had to censor myself. I just wrote some garbage down and sent it to you, unedited. I never felt like I had to impress you. I just shared my heart, let the words flow. It was so cool to watch what you did with my ideas, to take your ideas and let them steep, to see our two styles converge into one lovely idea. Once we got going, the song wrote itself pretty fast. The melody was all you! You captured the sound of the spirit of the song.
Brandon: We finished writing the last verse and consolidated all our ideas at 8PM on Thursday, February 24th – within an hour I’d thrown down a scratch acoustic / guitar vocal and emailed it to you. It was an amazing rush to hear this thing that was born through us so quickly.
Brandon Schott and Amy Petty – “Yellow Bird” (demo) (download)
Amy: I remember getting the mp3. I listened about a dozen times! It felt so surprisingly complete even on first listen. I don’t remember the exact sequence of events from there. I remember having very few “revisions,” if any.
Brandon: You told me to change one chord!
Brandon: So then we got to recording it. The basic tracks were recorded here in CA in my home studio the following Sunday (3 days later). There are a handful of songs I’ve recorded I’ve truly felt possessed by, this was definitely one of them. I couldn’t stop working on it – trying to get down what I heard in my head while it was so unbelievably fresh. I skipped lunch, worked from a good 10AM to 7PM that night.
Amy: I remember the day that you were recording. That was a sad, beautiful day in my family.
Brandon: Exhausted that night, I sent off the arrangement I had to you, fearing it was too complex – that you wouldn’t like it. I got the following response from you a day or two later:
My husband’s grandfather passed away today. Just a few hours ago, really.
He was a huge figure in my husband Billy’s life. He taught him to fish, how to fix a carburetor, how to be a gentleman…he was his hero. He lived with us for several years while his wife was still living. We cared for them like they were our children. Needless to say, today we suffered a big loss.
I just wanted to tell you that I couldn’t stop singing “Yellow Bird.”
From the moment I realized that today was “the day,” the lyrics just started popping in my head.
“When it’s time, you know I’ll leave this old world behind.”
While I was holding his big, calloused hands: “My hands were carved from sand and stone.”
Looking across the room at his grandson: “Here on earth, our roots will spiral down.”
While he was teetering in the place between life and death: “Between the light and the unknown.”
It was like balm for my soul. Comforting, soothing and real. It was just what I needed.
I just thought you might like to know that. I hope other people experience the same kind of comfort and peace from our song.
Let’s talk tomorrow…
Brandon: I mean. Wow. Sometimes songs come to be for a reason, it feels as though they are writing you. This was definitely one of them. The fact that something that was nothing a week earlier was there for you at a time you needed it most, is truly a blessing and I’m still in awe of that gift that music can bring.
Amy: I’m a little speechless! I don’t even know what to say about that, to be honest. Reading it, looking back on the time and sequence of events, it’s just…incredibly poignant. It amazes me how a song can say exactly what you need it to say. It’s humbling and perplexing. What a gift.
And you were a great friend to me from afar. Thanks for walking alongside me and geeking out over the beauty of it all.
Brandon: Well, my wife can attest – if it’s one thing I am never shy about geeking out about, it’s music and songwriting. The whole culmination of this song, as you said, was just incredibly poignant and an amazing way to gain a new friend. You flew in your vocals – well emailed – from New Hampshire – my buddy Billy Hawn threw down some drums in PA, and our song was realized.
And now here we are nearly nine months later – and “Yellow Bird” is finally out in the world!
Amy: Awwww! The baby is born!
Brandon: Fly away little bird!
Amy: Like I said, this song really is a change from the norm for me. I can’t wait for everyone to hear me sing in a major key!
Brandon: In a major key for a great cause too, and just in time for the holidays!! In the spirit of this song being so much larger than either of us, we wanted its spirit to continue to give. 100% of the proceeds benefit Stupid Cancer, a young adult cancer foundation. I celebrate my four-year cancer remission anniversary in February. So, I’m celebrating a little early with the release of this song, and tipping my hat to the amazing artistic peers and friends I’ve had the pleasure of working with this past year.
Amy: “Yellow Bird” has already done so much! I learned that I don’t have to be a songwriting hermit. I got to meet an awesome friend and kindred spirit. It helped me see beauty through sadness. “Yellow Bird” has always been bigger than me. That’s why I can’t keep it caged! We’re letting it fly so that it might spread it’s wings over others and heal them the way it healed us.
Brandon: One day I still hope to meet you, Amy, and buy you a beer.
Amy: Yes please. I do like beer.