The Process: Nostalgia / by Sam Abelow


Nostalgia was written in 2011, while I was working on several other highly conceptually albums. It was a gem of truth, within a sea of nonsense.

I used to play it all the time; on my acoustic guitar alone in my bedroom, on the electric, with a microphone and whoever happened to be behind the drums. My roommate, at the time, commented, “You really love that song don’t you.” For a while the demo recording was labeled “Untitled - my fav song.”

And it truly was. It was close to my heart and it had been sung countless times. Eventually, it made it as the opening track on an album I released in 2012 under a different name.

The mellow feeling, the sorrowful words of longing and loss, the detached romantic swooning will forever remain true for me, no matter how distant the moment and mindset of the composition become.

This song is titled “Nostalgia,” and really my entire new album could be titled the same way. “Birth Certificate” is a recapitulation of my past work; it is an effort to revive and reconstitute my favorite songs to perform and listen to, in a way I can appreciate today.

The nostalgia of this particular song, is one for long lost love; it’s a sentimental rabbit hole and a portrait self-aware absurdity, expressed in semi-ironic sentimental tropes. Whatever the inspiration was, whatever the strange fantasy and exploitation of isolation it came out of, the lyrics stand alone, on an island of beauty and are a monument to the yearnings and whims of the romantic and poetic soul.

Download "Birth Certificate" free in MP3:

original lyrics from 2011

Recording the bass lines in October, 2015


From 2012 to 2015, I contemplated re-recording my favorite songs (which had been released under a different name), because I wasn't content with the arrangements, production, mixing and performances. “Nostalgia” consistently held it’s rightful place on this project, but I put off commencing the recording process, waiting for that perfect moment.

In early October, 2015, it felt right to begin. I followed my instincts, intuitions and whims, with the arrangement. I decided to opt for acoustic guitar plucking as the foundation, rather than piano, as I had done in the past. On a whim, I decided to change the vibe of the finale-instrumental section. It’s those sorts of improvised moments that can’t be rehearsed or anticipated.

Executing and perfecting this foundation took all morning (also needing to do temporary vocals), but by the late afternoon I was having a lot of fun recording takes of my Telecaster, which meandered supportive licks. 

The next day, having left my amp to the same settings, I couldn’t help but have more fun on my electric guitar. After those hours of recording, there were heaps to edit.

Now, the original recording had no drums for the verses, but I felt inspired by Father John Misty’s “Chateau Lobby #4" percussion and picked up a bucket for a stomp sound, a basket trash bin for the upbeats and wine glasses for chimey poly-rhythms.

I reached into my drawer of random instruments, shakers and tambourines, before finishing off the groove with claps. It was apparent that the chorus and finale section needed live drums. I had been researching Ringo’s muted drum techniques and so scrounged up some towels and tape. I played the drums myself, keeping it simple and as in-the-pocket as I could. I listened back: no need for a second take.

These first few days of recording are often immersive and it’s when the bulk of what is heard in the final version is accomplished. Using my new Fender Jazz Bass, I spend hours getting the perfect lines and groove. Hungry and tired, I left the track in the evening and it’s not much different then as it is now.

Over the next few days I recorded live upright piano and vocals. Both were like familiar friends; I knew them so well and it was a matter of capturing that decisiveness and mixing it into the track.

The vocal was a crucial part of the recording, having wanted so badly to have my matured voice on this song. I knew exactly how I wanted to sing it and it was done in a snap. Two takes of lead vocals were spliced together for the final cut. I stood back in the living room, next to the piano, to get the “hey!” sound for the finale.

I left the track alone for a while, but over the next few months, after listening on headphones, stereos, in the car and showing other people, I tweaked and massaged the song until it felt unblemished and yet true and raw; sublime and yet still earthy and real. I am quite the perfectionist, when it comes to my recordings, but the intention of this album was to have it sound organic and natural, so I refrained from over-editing and over-mixing. 

The "Birth Certificate" album is available to buy on iTunes and Amazon

It can also be streamed on Spotify and Tidal

Email to request hard copies of the CD (free).

"Nostalgia" lyrics as written in poem format.