Demos Vol. 1 - Review & Discussion

I’ve been listening to this collection more lately and I’m starting to notice things lyrically and musically that remind me of other Lifehouse songs/eras. I started writing this post as kind of an A:B comparison to try and place when these songs might have been written by LH album era but it sort of turned into a review.

Please share your thoughts/comments. Let’s talk about the songs. Any lyric in particular stick with you?

  1. Ambien - ★★★★☆

    I’m guessing this one was written around NNF/SCF. The big acoustic sound in the intro reminds me a bit of NNF and the chorus has hints of The Beginning. Easily one of the best in this collection IMO. Ambien is a sedative used to treat insomnia which is mentioned a couple of times through this collection of demos.

  1. What You’re Looking For - ★★★★☆

    I love the effects (wah/reverb?) on the guitars on this track. Reminds me of the effects they used during the DLD/NNF days (even into SCF).

  1. Fool Who Sticks Around - ★★★☆☆

    Lyrically and musically, this reminds me a bit of the yellow record era. Not my favorite but it’s a good song.

  1. Never Going Back - ★★★★☆

    I can’t place this one in the Lifehouse timeline. I could see this being on a soundtrack at some point in the early/mid-2000s. Definitely a good track!

  1. Read Between the Lines - ★★☆☆☆

    I’m getting slight yellow record vibes on this one but lyrically, I feel like it may be an older track. It’s one of my least favorites out of them all.

  1. :crown: So Much to Lose - ★★★★★

    I can’t really place this to a specific Lifehouse era. I couldn’t really see it on a LH record (probably why it never was?) but could see this as another soundtrack song or maybe Paper Cuts era. Regardless, this is hands down one of my favorite solo Jason tracks of all time. Lyrically, it’s excellent. It’s heartfelt and relatable. I love the simplicity of the music with the lead coming in at various points without being overwhelming. That short interlude is really beautiful… best track in this collection!

  1. All the Same - ★★★☆☆

    I wish I could make out more of the lyrics (that bridge is a mystery). I’d say the lyrics on this one are the weakest in the bunch though. I gave this an extra star because of the music and vocals; it’s good - just not great.

  1. The Place That I Fit In - ★★★★★

    This one is good. Old school Blyss good. The Edge good. In fact, this may be from that same time period. The chorus’ chord progression is very “The Edge” and the last few notes at the very end remind me of the effects used on it as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if he played this at Malibu Vineyard to be honest with the subtle nod to a creator: “I know who is controlling my existence / And that’s not something I’m not gonna fight”.

    Complete with the “la da da” interlude (à la Crown of Scars), vocals on this sound like they may have been recorded a while ago as well which adds even more nostalgia to this gem!

  1. Sleeping With the Lights On - ★★★★☆

    I actually like the effects on the vocals for once! It gives the song kind of a “concept” feel if that makes any sense? Another song with references to insomnia. Vocal effects aside, I can’t place this in the Lifehouse timeline. The keyboard/bass lean me towards WWA-era. I could see him doing this solo live during that tour.

  1. Remember Me - ★★★★☆

    This one feels really polished, even more than some of the newer non-demo releases. It also feels newer than most of the other tracks here but all the while retaining a classic JW solo vibe.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Some are more “demo” than others but these are the most polished demos I’ve probably heard from any artist with several tracks sounding like they could be masters. Lyrically, there’s a few gems and So Much to Lose & The Place That I Fit In take the cake.

What does everyone think of this collection of demos? It was fun listening and trying to figure out when the song might have been written.

This was really fun to read! I happened to listen through this album just yesterday actually. I think this group of songs fills any stylistic gaps between the Blyss, NNF/SCf, and yellow albums really well. I got the CD version last year when I placed an Allswell order (shipping to Canada is expensive so I wait and get a bunch at a time) and Jason has the following printed inside the gatefold:

These songs were written between 2002 and 2004. They would have been b-sides or appeared on the self-titled Lifehouse record or the “Who We Are” record. It was a very scary time and yet also very inspirational. We were coming off of the “Stanley Climbfall” album which we were very proud of, but it wasn’t considered a commercial success. Our label went bankrupt, and there were moments where I thought about taking up a career in anything but music.
I decided to just keep writing songs because that’s what I loved, and hoped that at some point things would turn around. My buddy E and I would record sometimes two songs a day. Honestly, I had some serious doubts at this point if I could continue having a career professionally in music, but I loved the creative process so much that I felt like I had nothing to lose.
I’m very excited to release these demos… hope you enjoy.

So I guess he was writing in some older styles consistent with Blyss at the time. The credits say that J wrote all songs and performed every instrument, and they were produced by him and Ean Mering (Ean was the engineer)… there’s a lot of similarity in some of these songs to the yellow b-sides that we already knew (Butterfly and Through These Times feel like the eleventh and twelfth tracks of this set in my mind). In my iTunes library I actually have it organized as ‘disc 3’ within the self titled album, after ‘disc 2’ containing said b-sides we’ve known for a decade :blush:

Reviewing them sounds fun – I’ll give my thoughts on each track a bit later, but for starters, it’s interesting that you get The Beginning vibes because I do too. It was the last song Jason wrote for Climbfall and these very well could have been the next ones he did!

@robert That’s amazing! I had no idea the CD had that printed inside. I ordered it but I don’t think I ever looked at it because I had the digital copy already (ordered for the collection).

WIth that in mind, I’m pretty happy with how close I came to my guesses. I felt like I was trying too hard to make songs seem older in my mind because of how much I enjoyed the music from that era.

Can’t wait to hear your thoughts when you have time! I think I might do a write up for “Ode to Silence” and/or “Paper Cuts” next.

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The more I listen to this group of songs, the more I like it. Here are some thoughts of mine on each track:

Ambien - ★★★★☆
This song at surface level is absolutely one of the most ‘blah’ of the bunch, and on first listen Jason completely confused me by making this the intro track. On a deeper listen though, I think he actually displays a great deal of writing and compositional control with this. The song has very little in the way of dynamics – if you looked at an EQ of the song it would probably look like a rectangle, with a very repetitive, monotonous and repetitive rhythm guitar line and basically no discernible lead guitar. The drums are on a loop that doesn’t change through the chorus, and all of this is to say it really leaves his relatively monotone vocals to do the heavy lifting of bringing meaning to all of this sameness. And he absolutely does. This song to me, musically and lyrically, is about being stuck in repetition, dwelling in the same thoughts of the same people that you can’t control, unable to escape it because of how emotionally draining it is and yet being drained more and more. Think Groundhog Day, but less angry and more just ‘done’. Man oh man, when that second chorus hits and he goes high instead of staying low like the first chorus… I find it unbelievable how he conveys intensity and banality in a single action of raising his voice to the edge of his vocal range.

Thanks for the info on the insomnia drug – I never looked it up, that’s really cool. Love it when songs are named for something outside of themselves:)

What You’re Looking For - ★★★★★
The first time I heard the first line of this track I knew I was in for a treat. I get strong Goodbye vibes with this, and I love when Jason gets a bit ‘sinister’ with his singing. It feels like a taunt, like he’s been hurt by someone but is bigger and stronger, leaving them to squander in their issues that he has no time for. Strength is a theme of this track for me – learning when to stop giving a toxic person the benefit of the doubt – and I think the mood of the music matches the lyrics to a tee. Never noticed it until writing this, but interesting how he interpolates Wish in the second chorus: “I wish the best for you”. And just to make the song more two-dimensional, he slips a bit, from being in full emotional control of this goodbye speech he’s giving to showing his vulnerability with one single little line at the end of the later choruses: I wish we never went through this.

This song probably didn’t make the yellow album because Better Luck Next Time did. That album always felt like the most ‘wise’ Lifehouse record to me, someone writing about their troubles with the perspective of age and experience years after those troubles occurred. Perhaps WYLF was too in-the-moment for John Alagia, but I’m so glad Jason found a home for it here.

Fool Who Sticks Around - ★★☆☆☆
I like the impetus for the lyrics of the song – the whole track sounds emotionally raw but clunky, so I find it hard to get enveloped in it, however I think the highlight is the title lyric: “I’m a fool who sticks around to keep alive what was always dead”. I get a lot of SC-era vibes in the bridge, and figure this was probably written in 2002 rather than 2004.

Never Going Back - ★★★☆☆
The mood of this song is just despair. Lyrically the thing that happened ‘back there’ is clearly over and he’s safe, but the wound is still fresh. I think the track meanders a bit and feels unfinished in the same vein as the last song, but that does give it an eerie quality that I like on occasion. I also think this is one of the Twisted Lullaby Project tracks that Jason mentioned when he released Shiny Silver Beast in 2017. He literally sings “these twisted lullabies, they haunt my dreams”, and it has this creepy but also lulling vibe that sounds like it’d fit right in with SSB.

Read Between the Lines - ★★★★☆
The first time I heard this record, I remember being hyped for the first two songs and it kinda dwindled for the second two, but I clearly remember hearing the “two, three, fourrrrr” and being instantly hooked. Then there Jason’s amazing bass line (I can’t believe he could play bass so well), the creepy duck quack sound at 0:09, and the general eerie feeling of either a) meeting all the toys at Syd’s house in Toy Story or b) walking through a forest path that I know well, but at night and in the fog. The opening line “maybe all I need is a day in the sun” is one of my all-time favourites of his writing, and in seasons of depression I often think about how much it sounds like he’s mocking himself and those who don’t take him seriously. While some parts kinda drag on here and there and the direction gets weaker as the song progresses past those dynamite first few bars, it’s still one of the ones that gets stuck in my head the most.

So Much to Lose - ★★★★★
An even better intro than the last one!! I agree completely, Shawn, that this is probably the best song on the record (though not my favourite). It’s a Twisted Lullabies track for sure. Short and sweet, says what it needs to and gets out. The key progression and chord structure feels an awful lot like Along the Way, so I feel like he may have borrowed it when he wrote that song. We even get a nice little solo in the bridge too. I don’t have too much to say about the lyrics, other than that he’s in his typical reflective state that we all know and probably love.

All the Same - ★★★☆☆
The most sarcastic and ‘mocking’ song of the lot in my mind, this also has strong Goodbye vibes but trades creepiness for suppressed anger. From that beat that makes my head spin to the long drawn out notes and flat guitar playing, he sounds a bit scattered, a bit at wits end, but his anger is definitely brewing throughout and ready to bubble over at any point. I can’t think of too many moments that I’ve heard Jason this upset – Better Luck Next Time, Bridges, perhaps Nerve Damage? I don’t enjoy listening to it much because it’s just not very pleasant to my ears, but it’s one of the best expressions of an emotion here so I have a lot of respect for this song.

The Place That I Fit In - ★★★★★
Ah, Lifehouse fans breathe a sigh of relief. This is my highlight of the Demos 1 group, and the song that feels like it came closest to being on the yellow record. Everything about it is classic early Lifehouse – coming from a place of darkness, but extending the listener a hand and providing an air of hope. He uses the typical lyric structure of DLD and No Name Face, with the verses containing the ‘warning’ or the ‘problem’, and the chorus pulling the listener in to hear the protagonist’s soul searching and what came out of it. Unknown, Crown of Scars, Trying, Storm, Breathing, Only One, Simon, Quasimodo, and Take Me Away all follow this formula, and I guess I sort of consider it the calling card of a good Lifehouse song. It also makes me smile to hear how many little parts of this track did actually make their way into the yellow record – the keyboard feels quite similar to Chapter One but moved down a few octaves, and the electric guitar at the end is closely related to that of Walking Away. For all the coldness of this group of songs (which I do find makes them hard to listen to as a set), this song is the sonic equivalent of a warm hug, as much as anything Jason has ever written. I also appreciate its length; at 4:50, it’s one of the longest tracks of that era, and he’s not afraid to give it the breathing room it deserves, repeating the entire first verse and chorus during the song’s final reprise. While not based on the acoustic guitar, I think this track fits with Better Part of Me, Along the Way, Midnight in Philadelphia, and several of the warmer b-sides of that era that have been my favourites for over a decade.

Sleeping with the Lights On - ★★★★☆
Another keyboard song that you’re right Shawn, somehow feels reminiscent of later material on Who We Are. I again get Chapter One vibes in the amount of sonic space around the keys, and don’t mind the effects either – I can’t really imagine what the song would be like without them. Jason’s on top of his vocal game here, and isn’t it interesting that the second song directly about insomnia is also relatively unwavering from the structure set out in the first few bars (just like Ambien). You never really know when it’s going to end, and the monotonous quality to every part of it feels so much like staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night, half awake. In terms of achieving the goal of the song, I think he nailed it. I get strong Virginia In the Rain Dave Matthews Band vibes as well.

Remember Me - ★★★★☆
This came out of nowhere and feels so drastically different than the rest of the album, but is so so good. I feel like ultimately it turned into Øz’s track Always Be In Mind off of Sweet Delirium. The melodies are almost identical and they have similar subject matter. There’s an uneasiness to putting this song last, a sense that the outcome of our protagonist’s story was unsatisfactory. Ending in yearning doesn’t fit with Lifehouse’s unyielding hope, but certainly fits with Øzwald’s darker side. I’m honestly pretty shocked that this song was written in the early 2000s, being such a drastic outlier to his entire catalogue up to and past that point. Perhaps it was also a Twisted Lullabies song? It makes me wonder how many of those tunes are still out there. Either way, too many feels and too sad to go last for casual listening, but as a work of art it’s a reminder of Jason’s breadth as a writer even at this point.

Over all, this group of songs is what I’d consider the darkest Jason has written. Lifehouse is about hope, and there’s little of it in these songs, so my suspicion is that as he began to write some more optimistic tracks during this time (Butterfly, Along the Way, the songs that made it onto the yellow album) these were either forgotten, or rejected by John Alagia when Jason brought him his 40+ song options that made the final Lifehouse album.

On that note, I think it’d be interesting to split these songs into groups, since they were written over several years. My guess would be as follows (with others added):

Twisted Lullabies songs: Never Going Back, So Much to Lose, Remember Me, Shiny Silver Beast (written in 2001 but still be part of TL), potentially Goodbye, potentially Penelopieces (if it was written at this time, and being produced by Ean I believe that it was), and maybe, just maaaaaybe, Wish as well

Angry songs: Fool Who Sticks Around, What You’re Looking For, Read Between the Lines, All the Same, Chapter Two, Better Luck Next Time

‘Directionless’ songs: Ambien, Sleeping With the Lights On, Through These Times, Running Away

Getting back to Lifehouse: The Place That I Fit In

Would love to hear your and everyone’s thoughts on these thoughts! This is such a monumental era for the band and Jason’s music, and I feel that there’s a lot to unpack from this period of time. Also hoping for that Demos Vol.2 :wink:

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@robert Great review of the album! Some good points on the Twisted Lullabies project. I forgot about that. We should get another thread going for Jason’s side projects since there was several that were “known” but never came to fruition (at least under their respective names).

For some reason, I thought SSB was part of the Dear Mr. Tumnus project (I think that’s what it was listed under on the original LifehouseFans site) but it makes more sense in the list you’ve suggested as TL songs.

I also agree, these songs are all fairly dark and I kind of enjoy that (is that dark? lol). Lifehouse songs always have an air of optimism and hopefulness which is a good thing but sometimes I need a darker song to soothe whatever mood I’m in from time to time. I tend to put on Gregory Alan Isakov or Jon Moreland in that case (“Cherokee” by JM is fantastic if you haven’t heard it yet).

I never considered “Running Away” as directionless until you mentioned it. This was one of my favorite b-sides from the S/T era. Musically the song felt too “structured” and the lyrics do lack the sort of “depth” we’ve come to know from other LH songs. It reminds me of “All the Same” in the way the verses manage to say little at all but drag on a bit too long. I also noticed how Running Away recycles other LH song titles (maybe inadvertently) such as “Come Back Down” and “Good Enough”.

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@shawn Oh I looove the darker stuff too! Greg Alan is one of my favourite artists I’ve come across in the last couple of years – The Weatherman is just amazing, and This Empty Northern Hemisphere is the record I’m getting into these days. Trying to learn Big Black Car on guitar haha.

I always thought SSB was a Tumnus song as well, until J explained its backstory in an Instagram post when he released it a few years back. And yeah Running Away is another one of those interesting ones that’s also been one of my favourites despite being oddly simple for his writing. I catch the Come Back Down and Good Enough every single time I hear it too :joy: that’s too funny! The driving beat feels like we’re running and on our way, but we don’t really know where we’re running to. Just… runnin’…

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@robert That’s cool! I should go through his Instagram and see if he has any other background to the songs he’s released. I’d love to include those notes on the site!

This Empty Northern Hemisphere is where I started with Greg. Listened to it on repeat all summer one year and it always brings me back. Not sure if you are into vinyl at all but Bandbox did a special pressing of that album with a large custom booklet with all sorts of details about the album. He’s definitely one of those artists that consistently gets better with each album. The Weatherman took a bit of warming up coming from TENH though. Right now, Evening Machines is my favorite… pure gold!

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Woah a great read you guys. Love to see your reviews in this demo. Apart from the obvious favourite - The Place that I Fit In, I really like All The Same for its sinister undertone (like Goodbye). I wish Jason produce more songs like this.

IIRC, Jason wrote hundreds of songs during Almeria-OOTW era right? Wonder if we can listen to some of them some day? I know most fans don’t really like Almeria too much, but it always has a soft spot for me. I really like the vibe it brings, just the lyrics are such a letdown.

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@snowfist said in Demos Vol. 1 - Review & Discussion:

Woah a great read you guys. Love to see your reviews in this demo. Apart from the obvious favourite - The Place that I Fit In, I really like All The Same for its sinister undertone (like Goodbye). I wish Jason produce more songs like this.

IIRC, Jason wrote hundreds of songs during Almeria-OOTW era right? Wonder if we can listen to some of them some day? I know most fans don’t really like Almeria too much, but it always has a soft spot for me. I really like the vibe it brings, just the lyrics are such a letdown.

Thanks @snowfist! It’s a lot of fun really breaking these down – been a busy month so I think my next one will be an EP (sorry for the wait @shawn).

I remember reading that Smoke & Mirrors was whittled down from around 80 songs to the 18 that made the record in some capacity. Not sure about the Almería sessions, but I know that Jason was working on Paper Cuts around the same time so it’s possible that that figure includes the Almería tracks (14), the Paper Cuts tracks (14), and the OOTW tracks (another 15 new). The story goes that while finishing Paper Cuts, he started another solo album that he then brought the band onto, which ended up being “Seven” and renamed to OOTW. I remember him registering Hurt This Way, Hurricane, Flight, Yesterday’s Son, Runaways, Central Park, Alien, and Hourglass with BMI all in mid to late 2013, and since Central Park was initially on Paper Cuts, it seems like he had even decided that it was going to be grouped with the new batch of songs a whole year before Flight was first released.

The only straggler that we know about from that era is a song called “LAX”, which presumably is the airport code for Los Angeles International. Jason once mentioned that the sessions for OOTW included a song that felt too forced and poppy, so they scrapped it – I tend to think it might’ve been this one. Or it became My Universe :rolling_on_the_floor_laughing:


@snowfist Good way to put it. The music itself wasn’t bad but the lyrics read more like generic filler… similar to a few tracks on S&M.

@robert No worries! I’ve been checking in from time to time but everyone gets busy. That’s the nice part of this community and a large part of why I wanted to preserve it. We don’t all get on and post every day but we all do end up coming back when we can.

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