“Wine & Excuses” is the oldest song that made the record. I know this because I was still living in Philadelphia when I wrote it, back in May 2010. Earlier that year, there was an enormous blizzard that dropped about three feet of snow in the city. As it happened, I got snowed in at my apartment with a few close friends and a girl that I had just started seeing. What followed was a really fun, but weird, two-week period where no one could get to class or work. Our cars were plowed in and public transportation was shutdown. We were all stuck hanging out with each other for every waking second, drinking far too much alcohol and playing a ton of Monopoly.
While that may sound more like a party than the inspiration for a love song, think again. Most relationships start gradually and take quite a bit of time before both parties are comfortable spending long, uninterrupted stretches of time with one another. Hell, some relationships never end up at that point at all. But when the situation is thrust upon you, it can definitely be a profound experience for both good and bad. It forces you to start going through the lifecycle of a relationship at an extremely accelerated pace – for better or worse.
For me, when Philadelphia finally thawed out and we had to return to our normal lives, it felt like I was waking up from a dream. Part of it might have been the hangover. But some of it resulted from having a very new relationship, and the unstable emotions that come with it, thrust upon me very quickly. It took on a much more serious vibe than I was expecting, due mostly to just the sheer proximity that was unavoidable due to the storm.
All of that freaked me out, and I did what my younger self always did when I felt freaked out – I ran away from the problem. When the wine ran dry and the excuse of being stuck together was no longer valid, I felt way too vulnerable and looked for a way out. It wasn’t until a number of months later that I looked back on things with a clearer head and realized my mistake. But as is often the case, it was too late to handle it differently.
The verses in the song refer to a lot of the details of that week, some more fictionalized than others. For example, the SEPTA regional rail train schedule and the bridge from City Avenue to Manayunk. My car was also plowed in so badly I never thought I’d see it again. (I eventually did, and immediately drove it to Atlantic City for one of our finer collegiate gambling sessions). The choruses are just about the girl getting frustrated with me for not being able to make up my mind. I don’t think they are actual quotes, as most of this was unspoken frustration. My mind probably made it out to be way more prevalent than it was in reality – I have a habit of romanticizing. Finally, the bridge is just about regretting how the whole thing was handled. “Should I figure it out, I hope you’re still waiting around – but I doubt that you will be” is a pretty self-explanatory quote.
The writing process for this one was pretty interesting, since it’s the first song that took on a collaborative feel from the rest of the band. When I first wrote the song, it was a quieter acoustic and piano number that I demoed on Garage Band. But when we were rehearsing up shows to support my solo EP Destinations, we needed a few more tunes to round out the set. We started jamming on the acoustic version of “Wine & Excuses”, leading Pete to suggest we try it in a more upbeat style. Then he laid down that glorious twang in the intro and I started grinning like an idiot. The rest was history.
I credit the song for really pushing us to become a real band that worked collaboratively to write songs. It was also instrumental in helping us find our sound. We jump around a lot, but I think the pop sensibility with some Americana twang and straight up rock and roll guitars shines through in a lot of what we do. We started to find the balance with “Wine & Excuses”.
While recording this song, we intentionally pushed the tempo a little bit since we knew it was going to be the first proper song on the record. Like most of the songs, we tracked bass, drums, and guitars live. I remember nailing this one very quickly and feeling good about it. But then later in the night, we all had a few cocktails and played it back and we thought it was so fast. I think it was just that our brains were fried from an 18-hour day of tracking and all the gin and Sierra Mist we drank slowed our reactions, because after sleep and coffee it sounded great in the morning. It was one of only a small few studio freak-outs that ensued during the sessions for Don’t Paint Your Days So Gray.
Also, for the record, the harmony on “smile right through all the sad, sad, songs that you sing” is a four-part. There was no Auto Tune involved. Meg nailed the super high note on the first or second try, because that’s what she does. It might be my favorite harmony on the record, after the seven-part on the intro
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