With their latest single and their first of 2022, Saint John’s Penny Blacks take us through the unique process that led to the creation of, The Engineer.
No two songs come together in the exact same way. If you have ever tried to write a song, then you know what I’m talking about. Some songs begin with lyrics. Others, a melody. Afterall, every song needs words and most need a tune to carry them forward in some direction. But how musicians arrive at either a lyrical idea or a chord structure, well, that’s where the magic happens, as they say. That’s the unknown. And the unknown can be intimidating to many. But what some may see as an obstacle, others see as a challenge, or simply part of the process. The only way forward.
To start their year off, Saint John’s Penny Blacks have chosen to invite us into the unique songwriting process that led to the creation of the band’s new single, The Engineer.
During a brief easing of COVID restrictions sometime near the end of 2021, a few of the group’s members got together and laid down the framework for what would become the group’s latest single.
“I was getting some new gear situated in my little home studio and Clinton [Charlton] and Chris [Braydon] came over to hang out and help me work out the kinks,” said Jason Ogden, the group’s co-founder and principal songwriter. “As they jammed a bit, I threw up a few mics and recorded exactly one song. And by song, I mean Clinton counted in, and I rolled tape until he and Chris stopped playing. They had never played this particular configuration of chords and notes before, and did not repeat it again that night. I just happened to capture this particular five minutes of these guys messing about.”
A few weeks later, Ogden added some guitar, a bass line and started playing around with lyrical ideas. And a few weeks after that, the group’s Adam Kierstead added some additional guitar and some keys. And just like that, a new song had developed.
It can be tough to consider crediting the pandemic for much outside the constant disruptions and loss it has brought to all our lives. But Ogden says The Engineer would not exist had things been different. From an unplanned, unstructured mic-check in his reorganized studio, to a fully realized idea, the song is a testament to the willingness, desire and need to create shared among artists of all disciplines.
Listening now, the song’s unique origins can be easily identified. A loose chord structure sitting above a simple drum track that at times seems to be asking, “Are we done? Is that enough? Should I keep going?” You can almost see Odgen checking levels on his laptop while making a circular motion with his hand as if to say, “This is great! Keep going!” And it’s these are-we-still-rolling moments that work to create unintentional phrases that build over the song’s five-minute runtime, adding new voices while continuing to plot a course into something larger.
The supporting video is the icing on the cake. The second dose, if you will. Taking the song’s lyrical references to a stream train operator and driving those ideas home through an unending journey towards the light at the end of the tunnel that is Ogden’s studio, the members of Penny Blacks have taken the coal we’ve all been given and turned it into fuel. Let that steam whistle blow.
In addition to sharing the new single in its final form, the band have also shared the original recording which started it all. You can find that below.