Moby: Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad

I have finished reading Porcelain by Moby and truly loved getting into the life of one of my all time favourite artists. A number of my ‘go-to’ tracks are from Moby, and many of them instantly transport me to a time and location where I am immersed in the track until its end. Often to the detriment of others as I ignore them whilst revelling in the track. Here’s the passage about Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad. Oh and I never knew that the lyrics in the chorus was “He’s opened doors”. You learn something new every day 🙂

(pp 381-383)
The equipment was still on, gently sipping electricity. The work I’d been doing was paused exactly where I’d stopped, waiting patiently for me to return. I sat in front of my computer screen, hit ‘play,’ and listened to the track as I’d left it. The drums were rudimentary, but they sounded good with the vocal samples.

I chopped up the vocal samples so they almost felt like a verse:

Why does my heart
Feel so bad?
Why does my soul
Feel so bad?

The vocals were in C major, but I wanted the track to have a mournful beginning, so I started with an A-minor piano chord. The sad A-minor chord felt so good against the first vocal sample. Then I went to the even darker and sadder E minor for the second sample. Then I went to G major for the third vocal line, creating an unresolved hope or optimism. I finished the verse with D major, ending on a light note. As the rain pattered against the skylights I lowered the room lights and sat in my chair, listening to the drums and the vocals and the chords looping over and over again.

I turned on an old digital synth from the late eighties that had a nice piano/string combination and played a descending melody over the chords and vocals. It sounded nice, but needed a chorus. The last chord of the verse was D major, so I went down a whole step for the chorus, starting with C major. It felt like a good, if obvious start. Then from C major back to A minor, which sounded plaintive but hopeful over the vocal “He’s opened doors.” Then I went from A minor to F major, and the chorus felt like a celebration. After that, back to C major, the expected resolution, anchoring the hope and joy of the chorus.

I sat back and felt that buzz I got only when I’d written something that might be good: a sense of space and expansion in and around my head, as if time were slowing and becoming richer. I needed to add orchestral strings, maybe just in the chorus. I wrote some simple string arrangements for the chorus and they worked really well with the chord arrangements for the chorus, and they worked really well with the chord changes. The chorus started to soar, so I added a second string part of root notes and fifths and sevenths.

I wondered what else the song needed. I added some subtle cymbal crashed in the choruses and delicate ride cymbals in the verses. And after two hours, the song was done. Wait – did it need a bass part? The verses felt so resigned and the choruses felt so expansive and hopeful. I wondered if a bass part would make the song better, or if it would drag it down and make it too conventional and leaden. I tried playing a basso ostinato part over the verse and it sounded terrible – plodding and stiff.

Then I thought, Maybe it doesn’t need a bass part as much as it needs a bass sound. I turned on my Roland Juno-106 synth and created a very simple and understated bass sound. All low end, no attach, no high end. Just simple, anchoring bass. I played it over the chords and it worked. Most people wouldn’t even notice the bass; it just sat there underneath the song, holding it together.

I gave the song an uncomplicated structure, going from intro to verse to chorus to verse to minimal outro. And I knew then it was really done. I didn’t know whether it was good; I didn’t know whether anyone else would like it. But sitting cloistered in my tiny studio, sheltered from the cold rain, I thought it was complete and beautiful.