by Alex Southey
This song, We Have Been Here for a Week, is about the perceived personality of the city of Vancouver.
Listen to the song while reading the text.
It’s been two years since I lived in British Columbia, but memories of the province overwhelm the majority of my songs. I name-drop highways in Kelowna, other parts of the Okanagan Valley, and parts of Vancouver. Plenty more that are unreleased.
It’s a cinematic place, and that lends itself (funnily enough) to music. But, as I say in my title, it’s the memory of the city, not actually being in the city, that informs the way I write about it. Time away causes my mind to fill in gaps with what are simultaneously less truthful but more realistic choices.
I was as far away as Vancouver as I’ve ever been, in Copenhagen, Denmark, when I wrote “We Have Been Here for a Week.” The friends with whom I was staying were away for work, I had my friends guitar, and it was already tuned down to Drop D. I started playing Dsus2, moved to Am7, and then into Em (in this case, hitting the second fret on the low E string, as well as the second fret on the A string). As soon as I came up with the verse melody, I set to writing lyrics.
They are inspired by my time attending the University of British Columbia, and going for long walks on the beach (I’m not kidding), in addition to crossing Burrard Bridge numerous times a day, visiting Stanley Park, and so forth.
There is a personality to the city that I attempted to apply to its geography as a whole. That’s where you get the opening lines:
“Vancouver talks, belly up, in the rain / Groans and twists, darkened mist on its face.”
This idea that Vancouver is a gigantic thing, resting on its back, looking up at a sky that rains back down, where the being’s shoulders are Cypress mountain, for example, and the Simon Fraser runs around and beneath its torso and body and between its legs, a bit like a warped chalk outline, really intrigued me. Due to the fact that it rains so often, and is so cloudy in the city, it also made sense that Vancouver, as a being, would be dour, groaning, twisting, almost like in a bad mood in bed.
As the song progresses, I draw more specific personal memories in with the descriptions of the location.
“Bus rides, mountain high, English Bay / The car you drove, campus roads, how you came.”
I was focused on capturing an exact mix of general atmosphere and specific personal experience. This culminates in the final verse, which goes:
“Student rush, the sound of us, sleeping late / The ocean air, the sound on stairs, for a break”
It’s worth noting that, in this rare case, the chorus lyrics change. At first they are:
“But it’s so clear when you wake / It’s so clear when you wake“
However, they become…
“And we have been here, idiot, for a week / We have been here, idiot, for a week”
It’s this idea that as you settle into a place, and the qualities you initially found mesmerizing and distracting begin to wane, you start to scrutinize other things, such as, for example, your significant other.
Here’s a small additional story about the song:
I finished recording a very basic demo of it on my friend’s computer around 4:45PM. I put the guitar down on the couch to go shower. When I get out of the shower around 5PM, I hear my friend get in and pick up the guitar. He then proceeds to play, in the same time signature, same tempo, the same the chords I was just playing. It’s not like they’re complicated, but it was bizarre he played them the exact same way.
Alex Southey, Category: Artist, Singles: The Okanagan at Night, We Have Been Here for a Week, December 1st, Top Tracks: December 1st, Okay, November, We Have Been Here for a Week, The Okanagan at Night, Biography: Alex Southey writes Canadian-oriented folk and indie music.