Lyrics:

I can never reclaim you

My dear work of art

We change through the years

And we’re drifting apart

We are not so different

But time does its best to destroy the evidence

 

We need molecular clocks

To see how different we really are

Maybe we seemed like the same at the start

But we are destined to change

At a regular rate

If we’re not growing together

We are growing apart

 

Your subtle mutations

Make it so very clear

In the small variations

And alternate alleles

But we are not so different

Time does its best to destroy the evidence

 

We need molecular clocks

To see how different we really are

Maybe we seemed like the same at the start

But we are destined to change

At a constant rate

If we’re not growing together

We are growing apart

 

So far, so long

I thought we were connected directly, I suspect I was wrong

If you saw me would you say I’m the same,

Or am I just some strange creature?

If I saw you now, would I even have a way to reach you?

 

We need molecular clocks

To see how different we really are

Maybe we seemed like the same at the start

But we are destined to change

At a regular rate

If we’re not growing together

If we’re not growing together

We are growing apart

 

I’ve been in and out of college a few times and never seem to finish, but a few years ago I was in an anthropology class learning about genetic drift and an idea called out to me.

A quick primer on the concept around this is necessary to understanding these lyrics. Part of why evolution works is that our genes mutate at a pretty constant rate. This helps evolution because the new mutations that are positive help us adapt to new environmental factors. Individuals whose mutations are beneficial are more likely to reproduce. When two groups from the same species are separated, their mutations take different directions. Eventually they end up as different species that can no longer reproduce together. That’s called genetic drift.

The rate of mutation is actually really constant. That’s something that really struck me. Even though those mutations happen whether the species are separated and speciating or not, it’s an essential part of why different species are formed. It’s as if nature is intending groups to drift apart from each other to create those adaptations and specializations. The term used for this rate of mutation is molecular clocks, because it is so regular. Scientists use molecular clocks to determine approximate timelines of when species diverged.

Musically, a song about small changes over time gave me the idea to write time signature changes into the song. It mostly switches between 6/8 and 4/4, but there are some funky little bars thrown in. There are also slight variations in the phrasing and instrumental parts to lock into that idea that things are changing, sometimes imperceptibly, but always constant. Joe’s piano part plunking at the conclusion doesn’t resolve into a final major chord to give an additional signal that the two “species” aren’t able to finally come back together.

Of course, this is being used as a metaphor for a relationship drifting apart, in case that wasn’t clear from the tone. At the time I wrote this, I was in a relationship that was probably just fine, but I was increasingly aware of my skyrocketing level of commitment to it. Something about realizing that I wanted just that one relationship for the rest of my life counterintuitively made me somewhat insecure about its stability. It wasn’t that I thought the relationship had anything wrong with it. It was more that I became so damn scared of what would happen if I lost it. It was hard to imagine a future beyond the worst case scenario. So even though we were happy together, it was something I was thinking about a lot at the time.

What’s interesting about that type of insecurity is that it isolates you. The more time you spend isolated in those insecurities, the more distant from your partner you can become. Change is unavoidable. It’s the only constant. Even a partner who you’ve committed yourself to will eventually become a different version of themselves. The same is true for you. The molecular clock will keep ticking. The question is more about how your changing selves interact with each other. Which brings us to the most thematically important line of the song:

“If we’re not growing together, we are growing apart.”

The choice is between letting that partner into your own growth in order to strengthen the relationship versus growing in two independent ways that will eventually become so different that the original connection will suffer. I’m no expert (clearly), but I think the way to grow together is through really honest and open communication, even about the things you may not want to hear. You have to be willing to hear some difficult things, and also reveal some things about yourself that are difficult to say. Otherwise you’ll end up so different that you may as well be separate species.

I think the bridge of this song is sort of the emotional climax.

“So far, so long

I thought we were connected directly, I suspect I was wrong

If you saw me would you say I’m the same,

Or am I just some strange creature?

If I saw you now, would I even have a way to reach you?”

This is the hypothetical point in the relationship/speciation where’s it has already happened. They don’t share a direct connection, only a common ancestor. They don’t even share a common language to reach out to each other. The two species are foreign and strange creatures that can’t even recognize each other anymore.

My voice cracked a little when I pushed for the words “strange creature” and when I first listened back to it, I knew that it had to be the title of the record. I don’t mind those little imperfections. In fact, I like them. It makes the song human.

I’ve mentioned this, but this was all recorded live to capture those little human idiosyncrasies. When we finished this particular take, more than any other take on any other song, we could feel that it was the one. We had captured what we wanted to capture. It’s a good feeling.

So there you go. The first song of the Strange Creature EP.ย There are four more of these, and I’m so happy that I finally get to share them with you.ย Hopefully you enjoyed reading about the meaning I assigned to the creation of it, but more than that I hope some explanation can help you assign your own meaning.

See you next Friday for track two: “It’s not such a sad thing”