So I had this chorus, "I just hope no child of ours is ever a child of divorce/ like I was, and like you were," kicking around in my head even before she and I got married or had kids, although by the time I finished "Child Of Divorce," we'd had our first son. So that was always kind of an autobiographical centerpiece that I always knew was gonna be on the album, although it was years before I actually matched that lyric to the music of this track.
During the recording of the album, around the time this song was getting finished, I was helping my dad clean out his house in Baltimore, and we sorted through paperwork from his entire life that was in his attic, his birth certificate, taxes, everything. And amongst that were my parents' divorce papers from 1988. He had no reason to keep them and assumed I threw them out with the other inessential papers. But I took them with me to my next session at Mobtown Studios, and I sat in front of a mic and ripped up those papers over the instrumental section at the end of "Child Of Divorce." It just kind of felt like something I could do with them, just to kind of go along with the song's general function of spilling all those feelings out.
The drum machine loop that the entire song is built on is from the same set of beats that I made at my college apartment in Parkville that the middle section of "As Friends, As Lovers, As Co-Defendants" came out of. Most of what I've done on drum machines has used pretty traditional kick/snare/cymbal sounds, but I got really into this one kit of hand drum type sounds and just came up with that rhythm and would play it for hours. It reminded me of a lot of things, I kinda took some cues from Tweet's "Oops (Oh My)" and Tricky's version of "Black Steel" and the Diwali Riddim, and then tried to come up with something unique, and wrote that bassline over it. I still kind of think that beat as a riddim, at one point I had Mat give me stems for the track in case I wanted to get people to do remixes of it. The bassline is probably a little unconsciously derived from Soul Coughing, it's kind of in the same mode as their song "Lazybones." Even the drum fill at the end of the song is a little bit of a Yuval Gabay thing in my mind.
At the early sessions for the album in Takoma Park, Mat Leffler-Schulman and I recorded the bassline and live drums over the loop, but we never really got any further than that with the track. So when we reconvened to finish the album in Baltimore, I rerecorded the bassline and tried to make it a little deeper and fuller, and redid the drums, more or less with the same tempo but with more structure. For most of the songs on the album, I basically mapped out a song structure with the drums before I actually had lyrics for the song. So I basically just left space for there to be 4 or 8 lines of a verse, and then 4 or 8 lines of a chorus, and so on. And with "Child Of Divorce" I didn't necessarily know whether the really loud climactic part of the drums was going to be the 2nd chorus or the bridge until I actually sat down and wrote out the lyrics.
Scott Siskind from Vinny Vegas came in and recorded the vocals for "Child Of Divorce" and then "ETC" in the same night, the only time we basically did the vocals for 2 songs in one session, and the guy is just incredible, I can't say enough good things about him. I knew he had the tone and the range I wanted for "Child Of Divorce," and that was the more delicate song that we kind of got out of the way before knocking out "ETC" more quickly.
But one thing I didn't anticipate is that Scott tends to write songs that have this dark, gloomy undercurrent, and that was kind of how he approached singing "Child" at first, it sounded just desperately sad. So I really had to kind of walk him through the kind of determined, hopeful tone of the lyric and get the right emotional tone out of him, it was really kind of an interesting moment in producing vocals and getting a vocalist to deliver a song the way you wrote it and have it in your head. Also, I had Scott singing basically over this skeletal track of a drum machine, live drums, and a bassline, so there was no melody in the instrumental for him to sing along with, and I ended up playing the melody for him on a keyboard in the studio to kind of get it across better than it was in my vocal demo, I didn't actually add the keys on the track until a later session.
I did the bassline for "Child Of Divorce" on the same Casio that I played a lot of the album on, but the rest of the synths on the song were played on one of Mat's keyboards, I believe it was a Korg. And one of the album's great happy accidents was that the keyboard was basically dying and malfunctioning, and he got rid of it soon after, and you can hear the weird way the notes are jumping between octaves but not falling out of tune on the day we recorded it. It ended up having this really strange beautiful effect that I think makes me sound like a better pianist than I actually am because I wasn't switching octaves that much, the notes just kept unexpectedly going lower and then higher at random intervals.
The song's lyrics end at the same point where the live drums end, but then the drum machine loop just kinda goes on indefinitely, so I kind of had the option to end the song wherever I wanted. And I liked the idea of having kind of this sad little simple piano noodle at the end of the song, I kind of had The Replacements' "Here Comes A Regular" in mind. And since it was kind of a low key ending with a lot of empty space, it kind of made sense to have that sound of ripping up my parents' divorce papers over that section, and I'm kind of amazed at how Mat dropped it into the mix in a way that kind of sounds musical and like a sound effect.
"Child Of Divorce" was one of the first Western Blot songs I released, along with "Button Masher," on the band's debut single in 2012. I thought those songs contrasted with each other well musically, and it kind of made sense to pair them as the two songs on the album that both refer directly to the experience of having a kid. And even though "Child" was the B-side of the single, there were times when it did better on streaming than "Button Masher," I feel like people responded to it a little more. We play it at every show, but it's really the quietest, most restrained song in the set, so I always put it in the middle, and I'm always toying with how to play the drums, since I don't use any prerecorded loops in the live show and kind of have to replicate the drum machine. Sometimes I play it on the toms, but lately I've kinda stripped it down to a simple hi-hat and snare rim beat. Scott has performed with us a few times, and once Andy sang the song, but as I've gotten more confident at singing and playing drums at the same time, I've gotten more into singing "Child Of Divorce." I'm so glad Scott sang it on the album, though, I feel like he really brought it to life.