2HAC Volume 18: Vintage

Slide into your vintage smoking jacket, grab an Old Fashioned, and read about how I composed a song about hipsters in two hours.

2HAC Volume 18: Vintage

Ben announces the theme of each Two Hour Album Challenge in a YouTube video at 4 pm Pacific on the Friday of the challenge weekend.  When I heard him say that the theme for Volume 18 was "Vintage", this scene from "Pitch Perfect 2" came immediately to mind:


Incidentally, I do play bassoon, so this is extra funny to me.

Heather and I started talking about the theme over dinner and drinks that night and how it relates to hipsters liking vintage anything.  But what really is a hipster? Is hipsters or hipsterism a good topic to hang my 2HAC submission on?  The beer, margaritas, and ideas were flowing, and I started to take some notes:

  • Hipsters are people in their 30s who want to like things that are not well known or popular.  They want to be in the forefront of trends.
  • They like fancy cocktails, succulents, shopping for clothes at the vintage store, skinny jeans, facial hair, single-origin coffee, and mustaches.  They shop at stores with only five objects on the shelf and vast areas of open space.
  • What they like is curated and avant-garde.  They are restrained and intentional about their likes and dislikes.  Everything about them is exactingly constructed the give off the vibe that they just don’t care.
  • Hipsters want to be outside of the cultural mainstream.  They seem to like being different for the sake of being different.
  • They do not self-identify as hipster.  Hipsters deny being hipsters.
  • Hipsters are the friends who sneer at you because you like Coldplay.  They are the people who wear silkscreened tee shirts of movies you’ve never heard of.
  • Metrosexuality is hipster appropriation of gay culture.
  • Caring about anything is passé.  The way to be cool was not to look like a tv star; it was to look like you had never watched tv.
  • Hipsters tend to gentrify urban areas and commodify the idea of counterculture.

Sure, it's easy to make fun of hipsters because they are so serious, but there are also some aspects to their culture that aren't all positive.  I felt like I could write a song about the tension between the funny and the problematic aspects of hipsters. On Saturday, I wrote most of the following lyrics:

Don't Call Me Hipster

I wax my mustache
I named it Henry
But don't call me hipster.
I'm not a hipster

I shun the mainstream
I like my slim jeans
That band you love now I
saw them open for
(spoke) this other band you've never heard of back in 98.

Vintage clothing
Purchased from an estate sale
Vintage vinyl
Analog it has detail
Cocktail culture
Sipping on my pickelback
Watch a game of hacky-sack
(Spoken) no, I don’t play, I just admire the competitive nature of sport

No, I’m not gay
I’m metrosexual
It’s the style and clothing
Without the sex part

Yeah I’ve been busy.
Yeah I have hobbies.
I keep bees,
But I throw away the honey - wouldn’t you?
(spoken) it comes out of an insect, why would I eat that?

Vintage heirlooms
Now they're on my coffee table
Vintage past-times
Mastering the ukulele
Angel-headed burning glow
Reach for starry dynamos
(spoken) Ginsburg wrote that, have you read the Yage Letters? It'll blow your mind, man.

I've recently been discussing the use of the shuffle beat in pop songs with my instructor, so I wanted to base the rhythm of the piece on that feel.  I was particularly inspired by the song "22" by Lily Allen, which has a shuffle rhythm.  That song pairs intimate vocals with sardonic lyrics in a way that I really liked.  We have also been discussing how to build more interesting drum sounds by layering, so I wanted to practice that as well.  On top of everything else, I felt like it was important to use physical instruments that could be associated with hipsters.  Fortunately, I had some hanging around: a banjo and an Irish penny whistle in D.  But I'm not a hipster!  The penny whistle set the key of the song; one fewer decision to make.  I composed the song in about two hours on Sunday and submitted near the end of the time window.

If you've read this far into my detailed description of the composition process, you are probably interested enough to hear how it turned out:

I learned that I spent too much time on the drum sound layering and not enough on getting good vocals tracked.  That's going to be the first thing I rework on this song before I release a new version.  The tuba holding down the bassline is just funny to me. I kinda love the awful acoustic solo precisely because it's awful, so I'll probably keep that bit.  I envisioned adding a harpsichord way in the background but ran out of time.  Overall, maybe a C-minus?  Good effort, fun, but not great execution.

The 58-song album – which contains many songs with far better execution, by the way – can be downloaded on Bandcamp.