You’re So Peaceful
Writer: Mark Bittner
Mark Bittner: vocal
Kelly Atkins: vocal
Bruce Kaphan: Electric guitar, keyboards, bass
Bruce Gordon: keyboards
Paul Olguin: bass
John Hanes: drums
John Lee Sanders: tenor saxes, sax arrangement
I’ve seldom sat down to write a song. They’ve usually just happened. (I’ve written few songs.) “You’re so Peaceful” was one of those that just happened. I was trying to figure out the chord changes to one of Van Morrison’s lesser known songs, “Autumn Song,” and stumbled onto something of my own. Its composition is detailed in Street Song. “You’re So Peaceful” describes a central event of the book, which was taking place as I worked on it.
“You’re So Peaceful” was one of the last songs we worked on. I understood at that point how the recording process worked and had the musicians I needed available to me. I’ve seen Van Morrison in concert many times and wanted to do at least one song that used the full-out Van Morrison-type band—bass, drums, guitar, keyboards, horns, and backup singers.
We started the recording with me playing an electric rhythm guitar part against a click track—the scaffolding for the song. Paul Olguin and John Hanes recorded their bass and drums parts live, and Bruce Gordon recorded electric piano and organ. For the horn section, we turned, once again, to John Lee Sanders. The only guidance I gave was to come up with something Van Morrisonish. He sent us a tenor saxophone trio section along with a solo that was right on the money. John Lee is from Louisiana, and while the Van Morrison thing is in there, he added his own New Orleans references. I wanted an electric lead guitar, and Bruce Kaphan came up with a part. At that point, the track had gotten too crowded, so my original scaffolding—the electric rhythm guitar part—went bye-bye.
For a song with the title “You’re So Peaceful,” it’s rather raucous. I’d been warming up my rehearsals for the song with the quiet chant you hear at the beginning and decided to add it as an intro. Bruce Kaphan plays the bass, keyboard and guitar parts.
The final step was the female backup singers. Bruce recommended that I use Kelly Atkins who is a pro with her own recording set up. He suggested I give her a reference point that would indicate what I wanted. I chose Van Morrison’s “Redwood Tree.”
“You’re So Peaceful” exemplifies the process we used for all the songs of this project. I knew the overall sound I wanted, but didn’t know enough to describe it in technical musical terms. There were no arrangements, just chord charts. I let the musicians come up with something that seemed right to them, providing only the most general direction. Once all the tracks were recorded, it fell to Bruce Kaphan to shape an arrangement through his edits and mixing. I particularly love what he did with the solo section—the interplay of guitar, horns, and organ. In the end, the thing that I got out of this project most was watching Bruce at work. It’s always a pleasure to watch someone who knows what he’s doing. One thing he taught me was that whatever goes into a mix should be whatever serves the song best. The song comes first—not friendships or affection for a particular part. It’s the song.