Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Capo Crunch

I only started using a capo on a regular basis about ten years ago, when I lived on a small tropical island that gets among the most rainfall of anywhere on earth. Rarely did a day pass without a tremendous downpour, after which the air became steamy as the equatorial sun pulled the moisture back up to the clouds. Rinse and repeat. 

Most of the time, I couldn't tell if I was sweating or if the air was just sticking to me, but it was probably both. In the afternoon, the temperature would reach 86°F or so, and at night, it got down to about 72°F. Sunrise and sunset were at the same time all year. 

Rats played the roles of squirrels as they scurried along the power lines, while smiling geckos scouted for ants from the living room walls. The steering wheel of my car was on the right side, which is also the side of the road that they drive on. Cheese was virtually nonexistent, but the fresh fish was incredible.

What does this have to do with a capo, you ask?  

The only guitar that I brought to Micronesia was my acoustic/electric. It was all that I could carry on an airplane. I quickly learned that between the heat and the humidity, the climate in this place is not kind to musical instruments. Guitar strings corroded within a day or two, and the fretboard absorbed a lot of moisture from the air. Within a few months, the neck had started to noticeably bow. 

I did not think to bring a truss rod wrench, nor did I really want to make any major adjustments to my guitar in this environment--so to compensate for the intonation being off, I started using a capo. Prior to this, it mostly just took up space in my guitar case, along with an old sock, a string winder and a bottle slide. 

Many of the songs that would later find their way onto my albums, particularly those that use a capo, started as riffs and chord progressions that I played on the back porch during the year that I lived on the island of Pohnpei. Examples include:

    Tunnel Vision (Out of Habit) from Embers (capo on the fourth fret - DADF#BE tuning)
    
    Wake Up! and Signs from Mechanical Bull (capo on the first and sixth frets, respectively)
    
        and
    
   Particle from Weather Patterns (capo on the fourth fret).

I'm sure there were others, but you get the idea. In most cases, it would be another six to ten years before I turned any of these "practice riffs" into fully realized songs. At the time, I wasn't really thinking about writing music. With no cell phones or televisions, where the electricity came by way of enormous diesel generators, playing guitar behind the house was just something to do. I kind of miss it sometimes.

By the time I left Micronesia, the pickguard on my guitar had almost completely slid off. Upon returning to the US, I had to take it off the rest of the way and then glue it back on, as well as make some significant adjustments with the truss rod. That said, I'm happy to report that the guitar still works perfectly fine. It is adventure-seasoned and well-traveled. I still use a capo quite a bit in my songwriting, too.

I guess if there's a point to any of this, it's that when I changed how I approached the instrument in order to adapt to this different environment, I came up with a bunch of stuff that sounded cool to me, which later became songs.
    
Change in Environment-> Learning to Adapt -> Finding Inspiration in the Unfamiliar -> Writing Lyrics to Fit the Music

Thus a song is born.

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