Wow In Music – No Me, No You, No More
Editor | On 16, Oct 2019
I was reading the inspiring book, ‘Your Song Changed My Life’, by Bob Boilen a few weeks ago. In the book, Boilen interviews a number of my favourite artists asking them, per the book’s title, which music changed their lives. One of the artists being interviewed was Justin Vernon – better known to most as Bon Iver. Unlike almost all of the other interviewees in the book, Vernon chose a very recent song. A song he’d produced for British trio, The Staves, not long before his Boilen interview took place. As such, the song in question – No Me, No You, No More – is the most up-to-date life-changing song in the whole book.
Here’s what Vernon had to say about the song and its recording in his famous converted-veterinary-clinic recording studio in Wall Creek, Wisconsin:
“I couldn’t quite understand just what didn’t hit me right about the guitar part, and so we just kind of ended up making a loop off of one of the girls’ voices, just a kind of a drone note. And they just sat in the control room, just started working through an arrangement. They went out on th mics, and they just sang the entire thing to a drone with no click-track. It was just one of those magical moments like that. I’d say this has probably only happened two or three times in my life. At certain moments when they were doing this take, it felt like I was kind of out of my body. At that moment, I realized that there are certain people that you come across in your life, and with this particular experience, these people seemed to be people I was meant to know, and our friendships have grown to be so special – one-in-a-lifetime type friendships. But that particular moment just took me away and really reminded me of so many of the things you forget about when you’re out on tour and you make records. The Staves were just another record that I was making in a line of… records that I wanted to make, and to kind of just be picked up and removed from the earth for a second – that was pretty incredible.”
The (Principle 20) drone Vernon accidentally created is certainly, I think, a part of the wow the song evokes. But partly, too, it’s how the drone (Principle 19) fades in and out of focus as the song’s lyric progresses. The real wow, however, comes from the contrast between the drone and the intertwining voices of the three sisters. From the Everly Brothers onwards, there has always been something special about the way in which siblings are able to tune in to the voice of the others to achieve a timbre synergy. And we certainly get that in spades with the Staves. One plus one plus one is definitely greater than three here. Their sound is simultaneously deeply familiar and at the same time really pushes different harmonic structures and vocal movements that don’t really make any traditional sense.
Then we get the words themselves. They open with this…
I can’t go back to life before
Before I knew that you didn’t love me no more
You didn’t need me no more
You didn’t love me no more
You didn’t want me at all
The genius of which is the (Principle 4) non-rhyming ‘at all’ in the last line after the ‘…ore’ pattern has been set in the listener’s expectations from the first four lines.
Then, finally, when we step back again, I’m left thinking about Justin Vernon’s words. I’d seen the Staves in concert before they made If I Was, the album on which No Me, No You, No More features as the third track. I thought the harmonies were great. I bought their first album on the back of what I heard that night. Somehow it had lost something. There are two kinds of group in the world: those that can play live and can’t capture the experience on record, and there are those that can’t play live, but produce great records. On the evidence of their first album, The Staves seemed to be clear contenders for the first category. But then they had the great insight to get in touch with Justin Vernon, and go take themselves to a converted veterinary clinic in Wall Creek to get well and truly out of their comfort zone. It’s a long way from Watford to Wisconsin. No Me, No You, No More says to me it was the smartest career move The Staves could ever have made.