About the Song
"Companion" was inspired by the current incarnation of the TV show
It's sung from the point of view of Rose,
the Companion in 2005 and 2006... or from anyone who's been the companion of
someone inspiring and incredible in their life.
For those studying at home: "Companion" is the song about
and "Apprentice" is the song about the
That's going to be on the test.
About the Songwriting
This song was born because my husband (known to our friends as Fishy) and I had
been watching the new version of Doctor Who. I'd seen some of the old
episodes, but he was really the diehard fan, so I wasn't as familiar with the
show's history. Early in the second season, several longtime fans started
remarking to me that Rose, the Companion, was probably due to leave the show
soon. Companions never stay too long, they said; certainly not more than two
seasons. Pretty soon she'd be replaced, they said.
This made me watch each new episode with this incredible, intense dread.
I began asking Fishy nervous questions like, "do Companions ever... die?
Do they ever get just left behind without warning?" I could hardly bear to
It wasn't just that she might die. It was that even if she got dropped off,
had a wonderful life and lived happily ever after she wouldn't get to be
the companion anymore. I identify strongly with fictional characters pretty
easily, often almost unconsciously, and this was one of the strongest times
ever; I was absolutely dreading the day when she'd have to say goodbye.
I explained this to Fishy and he was just kind of mildly baffled. I asked him,
"Didn't you ever feel that way, watching the old show for all these years?
Don't you feel that way now? Don't you feel this dread that the Companion is
going to have to say goodbye and lose all this?"
Now, I have to explain a little bit about my husband. He tries things and does
things that most people would never think of trying, things that I used to think
to myself, people can't do that. I mean, individuals, without tons of money or a
business or a huge industrial facility, people just don't do that.
Blacksmithing, smelting, bio-engineering, filmmaking, metal casting. Building
things from scratch, from model rockets to theremins to hovercraft. Robotics,
from the simple chase-toy he made for my cat to the freefall robot that he
helped a team to build and take up on NASA's Vomit Comet (twice). He asks
himself, well, why don't people do that? And then figures out why
the practical reasons why, what knowledge and tools people would need to
make it safe and feasible, and how to overcome those obstacles. He's the same
way when there's a problem; I once had a cancer scare, an abnormal test result
that had me petrified with fear, and his response was to find out as much
information as there was about what was possible and what was likely and what
wasn't, and suddenly it was all so much less frightening. Knowledge is the most
powerful weapon there is. His love of trying new things is happily infectious;
since we've been together I've tried rock climbing, glassblowing, kendo, iaido,
kayaking, film acting, blacksmithing, and, as a matter of fact, filking. I
shudder to think what my life was like before, and what it would've gone on to
be like if I'd never met him. It's really no exaggeration at all to say that he
changed my life.
So, to return to the scene in our living room: I was asking him, didn't he ever
feel this sadness and dread in sympathy with the Companion, when he or she was
about to lose the Doctor?
He'd never thought of it; it had simply never occurred to him. He said, a
little apologetically, and a little sheepish-grinnily, "...I guess the companion
isn't so much the one I identify with."
I think I actually stopped breathing for a while. This is why I
identified so strongly with the companion. This is why I cried and cried when
she had to leave him. He's my Doctor.
I pretty much had to write a song after that.
The lyrics were a challenge, but a fun one; I needed to make every line apply
both to the Doctor and to Fishy. It was a song about how I felt, and why I
identified with the Companion, but I also wanted the song to stand alone.
Careful fans will recognize references to episodes from 2005 and 2006 in nearly
I won't go over every single reference (at least, not here) but there's just one
I want to mention. There's a scene toward the end of the episode "The End of the
World" when we first learn about the Time War. Rose asks, "What about your
people?" The Doctor replies, "I'm a Time Lord. I'm the last of them. They're all
gone. I'm the only survivor. I'm left travelling on my own because there's
Rose gets this look on her face, and says, in this helpless sort of voice,
That line just clutched at my heart. It may not be much, but it's all I've
got to offer... you have my companionship, if you want it. Even if you've got
nobody else... you've got me. There are a few moments from this show that
have burned themselves deeply into my brain, and that was one of the deepest. It
has its place of honor in the bridge of the song.
Speaking of the bridge, I've probably said it elsewhere, but melodies are
usually hard for me. I had lyrics enough for maybe a verse or two and
some idea of a chorus, but I couldn't figure out a melody or even really settle
on a rhythm, and as usual, I was frustrated. And as usual, Tony came through. I
had a vague idea of a style I wanted I didn't even want to copy the actual
musical style, necessarily, but I wanted to write a song that would give the
same feel as a particular Dave Matthews song.
Now really. Could I have been any more vague? But once more, all I had to
do was play a little bit of the song for Tony. He came up with a simple,
four-chord progression that didn't sound anything like the song I'd
played him but somehow, it was exactly what I wanted. It felt right, and
in seconds, a melody popped into my head, and I burst into tears on the spot
because it was so right. (I do that. It's a thing.)
The rest of the melody pretty much flowed, and when I got to the chorus, I had a
different melody but it wanted the same chord progression. Now I was
nervous wouldn't it be boring if we just used the same four chords over
and over? I worried about having a song that was too repetitive. Tony assured me
that plenty of established artists have done it with fewer chords and been quite
successful, like Fleetwood Mac with their song "Dreams" ("all two chords of it,"
as someone we know used to say).
Maybe everyone's too busy listening to the words, anyway.
As we worked on the chords and the melody for the song together,
we kept coming back to the same repeated chord progression: D, Am, C, G.
It was so catchy, it took serious and deliberate effort to pry us away from
simply repeating that progression through the entire song. Fortunately
we were able to change it up a bit near the end of each chorus and on
the bridge. If we hadn't managed to do that, we would at least have had
some existing precedent to cite: In addition to "Dreams" by Fleetwood Mac,
"Free Falling" by Tom Petty is more or less two chords total (if you don't
count the suspensions), with the same progression on both the verses and
choruses. I'm sure there are many similar examples.
About the Recording
The drums are Scott Irwin's work again. I'm very pleased with some
of the things he played, especially the fills around the bridge and
during the ending repeats. He's a very tasteful drummer.
The call-and-response vocals on the chorus were something that
Vixy had written into the song from the beginning, even before it
had a melody. On the finished album, the "response" half of the
call-and-response vocals (the "time for laughter time for tears" parts)
are Vixy's scratch tracks for the song. We re-recorded a final lead
vocal as planned, but at the end of the project, we decided to keep
the response tracks without changing them. Vixy originally planned on
the response lines being sung by a different person, but inertia,
having gotten used to the scratch tracks, and lack of time, together
conspired to make them stick as-is.
Almost immediately after we finished writing the song, the idea hit me
to process the response lines behind layers of effects. I wanted
them to sound slightly otherworldly, and sonically distinct from
the lead vocal. I've heard many other songs get good results with
that sort of thing when the song structure called for it, and I
could hear it pretty clearly in my head.
Perhaps it was because my initial stab at the vocal processing was too
extreme, but Vixy took an instant dislike to it. She didn't like the
way her voice sounded when overprocessed, and we got into some rather
big fights about it. I tried to show her examples of places in other
artists' songs where it had been used successfully, but she correctly
argued that this situation was completely different than the examples.
Eventually, after I carefully tweaked the effects, she finally came
around and agreed that it was what the song needed. Now neither of
us can remember what it sounded like without the effects, and we both
agree it fits the song perfectly.
Really what I didn't like about the initial processing was that it was so
extreme as to sound totally cheesy. It didn't help that Tony had described it as
wanting to make it sound "space like"; I had never, ever intended this
song to sound like anyone's idea of "outer space music". Everything I've ever
heard that was meant to sound "space like" was either 70's or cheesy or
both; I had horrible visions of this disco Star Wars album we had when I
was little. And I swear the initial tries had so much phase shifting as to make
the lyrics nearly unintelligible.
After a lot of persuasion, I promised to at least listen to a new version
of it before putting my foot down. But the actual process of adjusting the
effects sounded so much to me like someone torturing my voice that I had to
leave the room while he did it.
In the end, the vocal processing on those bits sounds more like the chorus of
the song "Are You Out There" by Dar Williams than anything else. This was
something I could live with, because I'd never have described the voices in that
song as sounding "space like"; it's a song about radio, and they just sound like
voices coming over radio transmissions.
The lead guitar got done towards the end of the recording process,
after a few aborted attempts to come up with a decent counterpoint
to the rhythm guitar. Part of the inspiration for the lead guitar
was the basic sound of it. I was just cycling through factory
presets on my effects processor, and trying out riffs and chords.
I happened upon one that was named "Phasers in Space", and its
combination of compressed jazz tone combined with stereo phase
shifter fit perfectly into the mix. I improvised the entire lead
guitar part into the recording software, a section at a time,
inspired mostly by the way the interesting sound laid onto the
existing chords and melody. I double-tracked in a couple of
sections where I needed the chords to build up to a crescendo,
and it was done.
One of the phrases in the lead guitar part was suggested by
Susan. As I was in the middle of working on it, she asked me if
I would be incorporating the Doctor Who theme music into the song
at all. Until that moment, it hadn't occurred to me to even
consider that possibility, since our song was so stylistically
different from the TV theme. But it just so happened that I was
trying to come up with phrases at that time, so the first three notes
of the theme music became the basis for a few of the lead guitar
bits you hear in the song. I tried to make them fairly prominent,
as sort of an homage, much like David Gilmour did on "One of These
Days". But the song sounds so different from the TV theme music
that no one ever notices them.
The electric bass guitar part was the second bass guitar track I ever
played, the first being the one for Mal's Song. This one was
incredibly fun to do, and I wish I could have kept going longer
at the end of the song. I want to write more songs with a
bouncy beat so that I can do more of it.
The long fade-out at the end of the song was something I'd
been planning since the day we wrote it. The extra layers of improv
vocals during the fade-out, however, were a last-minute addition,
pieced together from multiple takes. I had Vixy get behind the
mics for an experimental attempt at doing some improv lines,
and after about four of the takes, started piecing together
the good bits in the editor. At first I thought we'd have only
one line of improv, but as I was working on it, it just didn't seem
like enough. When I finally decided to multi-layer the improv lines,
I looked over at Vixy and said, "do you trust me?", then began to
start splicing and hacking until I had what you hear on the final
recording. I think we ended up with four tracks of vocals at the end:
The lead vocal line, the "anything is possible" response lines, and
two overlapping tracks worth of improv lines.
Vixy loved it so much that she kept pushing for the
ending tail of the fade to be louder, so everyone could hear
every last nuance of it.
The long fade sounded so right that it influenced
the overall song order on the album significantly. Part of me
wanted to have the album titled Thirteen, but with the song
"Thirteen" being the thirteenth track on the album. It would have been
such a cute gag (hey look, the track counter on the CD player is
showing both the song title and the album title), but Companion was
far too powerful a closing song to let that happen.