Ahh, the guitar riff. So simple and yet so, so hard to come up with memorable ones. When done well, it can be the biggest hook of the song. When done poorly, you wind up in the 99¢ bin at the Bargain Barn.
What are some of my favorite Third Day guitar riffs? This same question has come up in conversation several times recently, so I thought it warranted a whole blog post. Looking back at Third Day's career in the studio, I'm proud to say that we wrote some pretty dang good guitar parts.
Here is a list of my current favorite top 10 Third Day guitar riffs, along with a little backstory for each. Some were written early on as the idea of a song was first taking shape. Some were devised in the studio in the hopes of adding some inspiration to a track. And at least one was an attempt at reviving a song that was on life support. So without further ado, here's my list. OK, maybe a little bit of ado - this list is just off the top of my head, today. No particular order. Could change without notice. Here goes nothing:
1) Til the Day I Die - We were in the studio, working on a tune called "Blind" that would go on the Wire album. We all liked the song, but kind of felt like putting it down might be the best option. Putting it down in the Old Yeller sense of the word, mind you. Knowing that we wanted some more rock tunes on the record, we tried to make up a riff to build the song around. I came up with what became the main riff of "Til the Day I Die." We were like, OK this is cool, but maybe not for this tune. Let's do another song around that. "Blind" ended up being a good song too, not for the guitar but for David's drum work and a fiddle part. So we ended up with not one, but two cool songs out of it. (NOTE: there is video footage of us doing this. I'll poke around and see if I can find it.)
2) You Make Me Mad - Preproduction for Conspiracy no. 5 consisted of us setting up at one church youth group room or another, playing through song ideas Mac had. One unique thing about that era was that we really wanted to up the rock factor, but most of the ideas were acoustic strummers. This song was in D, and as any guitarist knows, you can always make a D song sound cooler by tuning the low E string down to D. I tried that and played the first thing that came to mind, which happened to be this.
3) These Thousand Hills - We were all huge Jacob's Trouble fans and wanted to record "These Thousand Hills" for Offerings. Problem was, JT's version was one of those last song on the record/fadeout kind of songs. We tried several different arrangement ideas to no avail. Then Brad and I started jamming around on this guitar part and the song fell right into place. One of my favorite "twin guitar" moments of Third Day's career.
4) Otherside - We were backstage at a youth event in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, waiting for our set to begin. The event was behind schedule so we were all kind of bored and restless. Tai grabbed a guitar and said something to the effect of "let me show you this guitar thing I've been working on." He then played what would become the signature riff of "Otherside." Sometimes you hear one part and you know it's going to be a great song. That was definitely the case here.
5) Get On - There are a few songs like this in the Third Day catalog, where there's a chord and then the guitar chucks and then another chord. This was one of those. We played it first every night on the Come Together Tour and it rocked.
6) Took My Place - This was a case where Mac had the idea for this guitar riff in his head and wrote the song around it. He sang it for me and I played it. Then Brad added the harmony part. This was another fun double guitar song. Many years later we busted it out while on tour with Skillet and Seth Morrison came out and played it with us. Good times.
7) Peace - Another song from the Conspiracy no. 5 preproduction sessions, at some youth room or another. We had this acoustic strummer that we were trying to give the rock treatment and Brad started playing this. Ended up being the first tune on the record.
8) Come on Back to Me - This was another one that was really hard to wrestle down in the studio. Brad and Wire producer Paul Ebersold were experimenting with some different chord voicings and stumbled across this. It's super quirky and way up on the neck. And it's a rock song with a capo. But it works. Also, it doesn't exactly qualify as a guitar riff, but my guitar parts on the verses are some of my favorite things I've done in the studio.
9) This is Who I Am - This one goes in that same chord and guitar chuck category as "Get On" and "Sky Falls Down." We liked it so much we made it the first thing you hear on Revelation. A little trivia for you: this song was used in a NASCAR-themed video game.
10) Lift Up Your Face - Honestly, coming up with this one was a blur. We did a lot of preproduction in dressing rooms during the WinterJam 2010 so I suppose it happened then. Between all the traveling and rehearsing and sound checking and performing and breaking down and more traveling, I do not specifically remember coming up with that cool intro part. I do know that the Needtobreathe guys came up with the middle section while we were jamming on it at their studio and that made it super cool. I also know that this is a fun one to play live.
BONUS: Surrender - I couldn't figure out where to work this one into the list. Also, it's not exactly the signature riff - rather, it comes in unexpectedly about halfway through the song. But man, it really rocks. I was reminded of this one when a student of mine played it for me during a recent lesson. Good times. (NOTE: in this video, the riff starts at 2:08)