“Crossing the Bar” backstory

The idea for recording “Crossing the Bar” with Nelson came to me while I was taking a college course in British poetry. At the end of class one day, the professor said she was going to read the poem out loud, then play a recording of the poem set to music (she was referring to the version by Salamander Crossing). After reading the poem, the professor expressed disappointment that we were out of time, and she would be unable to play the recording today.

I was not familiar with the poem before taking the class, but I really enjoyed hearing the sound of the poem read aloud. So I was very excited to hear a musical version, and I got the Salamander Crossing song off of iTunes that night. Though their version is pretty, it wasn’t exactly what I had expected. The poem was greatly modified. I like Tennyson’s poem partly because it sounds so rhythmically natural, despite the fact that the syllables in each line don’t seem to follow a clear pattern. Salamander Crossing’s version seems to neutralize this element through the way the singer holds out certain notes, or doesn’t hold them out; she makes everything seem even. Also, to make it more pop-song-like, the order of the stanzas is changed, and the final line of each stanza is repeated to form a sort of chorus section.

At that point, I set out to make a “Crossing the Bar” song which sounded more like what I had hoped to hear. I wanted to have fewer modifications, and sing the poem in basically the same rhythm in which it is spoken.


The guitar chords came from two already-existing songs. The first half (in which you hear Nelson sing) is set to a guitar part from “Flight II.” It’s an instrumental song written by Nelson, but he had been musing about trying to put words to it. I wanted to see if “Crossing the Bar” fit. It did. The second half of the poem (in which you hear me sing) is sung over the guitar from “Where Is Bobby McGee?,” which I had written just a couple days before. Again, it just happened to be a riff that I was playing around with at the time, and I decided to squeeze it in. I recorded a quick demo and brought it into class. It scored big points with my poetry professor.

When we got into the studio with our session musicians (guys who outclass us by several leagues…), the song really seemed to come alive even more. Bassist Andrew Angelin came up with a bass introduction using a “watery” chorus effect, which fits the words perfectly. Karen Rustad, Nelson’s girlfriend at the time, attempted to find a good melody for synthesized strings, but we thought it sounded better on piano. Eventually, the piano part was played by Gray Reinhard, who is a magician with keys. Based off of Karen’s melody, he plays a piano coda which breaks my heart every time I hear it.

The music video is pretty self-explanatory. Adam Chinoy did a great job putting it together as director, editor, cameraman, and probably a few other things. We shot the video at sunrise, which might seem a little counterintuitive considering the first word of the poem is “sunset,” but since we live on the east coast, morning was the only time we could get the effect of the sun over the ocean. Hope you enjoy it!

See the music video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjY-0p_jE1k

You can get the song here: http://music.wrongsideofdawn.com/track/crossing-the-bar