Song-by-Song: ‘Transfiguration Highway’ by Little Kid
Toronto-based frontman and songwriter Kenny Boothby takes us deep inside his band’s brand new record, revealing inspirations and insights galore
Little Kid’s Losing recently made its way onto the songwriting stereo. Charmed by the track’s laid-back Laurel Canyon feel and the storytelling running through it, we were curious to hear some more from the Toronto-based band. With a back catalogue of five releases, spanning a career which started in 2009, there was a lot for us to get stuck into; we’d particularly recommend the rustic charm of 2016’s Flowers.
The group, spearheaded by Kenny Boothby, with assistance from Megan Lunn (banjo, keys, vocals), Paul Vroom (bass & vocals), Liam Cole (drums) and Brodie Germain (drums, guitar, percussion), have just released their new album Transfiguration Highway.
Kenny kindly took the time to introduce us to each of its songs…
I THOUGHT THAT YOU’D BEEN RAPTURED
This song started as a joke with my partner. We were laughing about the concept of a man coming home to find his wife’s clothes on the ground and assuming she had been raptured, only to find she is having sex with someone else in the bedroom. I knew right away it would make for a good Little Kid song.
I wrote the lyrics all in one go a few days later, but I had been singing them over a very simple chord progression; basically A and E over and over again. When I sat down to record the demo, I realized the song was a bit boring musically and decided to switch up a lot of the chords. I basically substituted the chords with their relative minors here and there, and then got a little weirder, adding in some chords outside the key signature that still contained some of the notes in the melody – I tried to see what I could get away with on this one. I think I managed to sneak in a few surprises while still keeping the Blonde On Blonde flavour in the melody.
When we got together as a band to record the song, we were keeping Blonde On Blonde in mind for the overall sound as well. We tracked the vocals, guitar, harmonica, banjo, bass, and drums live while the arrangement was still fresh, to try to capture that raw and unrehearsed feel of my favourite Dylan records.
WHAT’S IN A NAME
This is a simple one, and the overall spirit of the song came to me pretty quickly. I locked into that bouncy piano line and started singing, and “what’s in a name” came out eventually. It existed as a half-formed voice memo for a long time before I finally fleshed out the lyrics. I did a four-track demo initially, and we wound up staying pretty true to the demo for the final version.
We initially had both Brodie and Liam record two different drum parts to a click track and planned to experiment with fading the different drum patterns in and out over the piano. It was a fun idea in theory but it didn’t really work out rhythmically – we ended up using one of Liam’s drum takes and Paul supplemented it with a lot of extra percussion. Paul also had an interesting bassline he added in an earlier version but we wound up agreeing it worked better with fewer elements.
The guitar, bass, and drums for this song were recorded live by Brodie, Paul, and I, after creating the song structure together that day based on a voice memo I had recorded around that time. I spent a few weeks with the rough mix to write some lyrics around it. After I added my vocals, Megan came into the studio having never heard the song before, and came up with her (amazing) harmonies/counter-melodies on the fly.
Paul and I filled the song out by adding some layers of SK-1 samples and a few tracks of piano trills that I recorded at varying speeds on my four-track. Brodie had moved back to the UK by then, and we asked him to add some slide guitar for some needed “vitamin twang” – what he added to the chorus was totally disorienting at first but we all grew to love it.
The lyrics were inspired by a trip I took with my partner to my hometown of Petrolia, Ontario in early 2019. We have some shared history there because her dad spent some time living there as a child. It was the first time we visited together, and the first time I had been there in several years. Perhaps importantly, it was the first time I had been there since I started going to therapy last year, and I had been processing some pretty heavy stuff from my childhood…
Previously, seeing my childhood home would fill me with a pleasant nostalgic feeling, but this time I felt sick to my stomach and wanted to get out of there…
A couple days later, I was telling my friend about the experience, and we ended up showing each other our hometowns and childhood homes on Google Maps. Sadly, when we tried to find my friend’s house in Windsor, Ontario, we found that the whole block had been cleared for a highway. That’s where the line “we tried to find your house / but it’s a highway now” came from. The rest was more based around my feelings of returning to my hometown and reflecting on the changes in the town, as well as the changes in myself, since I moved away.
THIEF ON THE CROSS
Similar to the previous track, the structure for this one was developed with the band on the day we recorded it, based on a voice memo I had recorded with most of the melodies and chord progressions.
We tracked the electric piano, banjo, bass, and drums together, as I sang some nonsense over the top. I spent some time with that recording and worked on some actual lyrics. It took a long time to finish this one, actually – I found the structure kind of restrictive for some reason.
I initially came to Paul’s with what I thought were finished lyrics (about something totally different – more of a love song), but as we were tracking them I sort of lost confidence and decided we should try it another day. I took another approach and wound up with the final lyrics.
It’s a tongue-in-cheek song, kinda poking fun at myself while grumbling about the way the music industry often works. I used the biblical story of the penitent thief to explore dynamics between bands, especially when one band finds a lot of success and other bands in their circle hope they’ll bring them along – reaching out years later with some loose connection to the band (“we opened for thee / way back in 2015”). That sort of thing can be humiliating, but we’ve also occasionally wound up with great opportunities by reaching out – it’s sort of all you can do when you don’t have an agent, manager, etc.
It’s a bit ironic that this song ended up being the lead single for our first album released through a label with a proper publicity push.
ALL NIGHT (GOLDEN RING)
Lyrically, this song explores the relationship between the country singers Tammy Wynette and George Jones. I always found their story so sad. They were married but he was abusive and eventually they divorced. The album Golden Ring was their first together after a string of much-less-successful solo albums by each of them following their divorce. The idea of having to sing with your abuser and put on a happy face for the audience was really affecting for me.
The music for this one is something I had been playing on piano for a long time, and I always pictured the melody overlapping in the verses. When I realized how fitting that could be for a duet from George and Tammy’s perspectives, the song was easy to write.
The recording process was interesting. We did a live take with drums, guitar, and bass, playing in the key of A, but realized after the fact that we had been playing it much faster than we had been in the previous rehearsal. We decided to try out an idea we’d been kicking around for quite a while, and we brought the tape speed down to change it to the key of G. We overdubbed the piano and vocals in that key after I finished writing the lyrics. The song has a mix of different sounds played at different speeds, which gives it a bit of a disorienting and dirge-like feel.
This is a pretty simple song, built around a piano part I recorded as a voice memo on the same day as What’s In A Name. The lyrics are mostly just imagery inspired by my memories of my house in Oil City, Ontario, where I lived while I went to high school. It burned down in 2012 when I was living in another city for university. I recorded the piano trills at varying speeds on my four-track – a trick we used on a lot of songs on this album.
MADE FOR EACH OTHER
This song sort of took shape in the studio – it’s the only one that never had a four-track demo. I brought in the two different chord progressions and Paul had me record a few overlapping classical guitar tracks. Liam improvised two different brushed drum parts and Paul added his bassline and the song was already pretty close to finished.
Paul and I made a deadline for me to have some lyrics finished to overdub some vocals, but my life was pretty hectic at the time, so I ended up writing these lyrics on the subway on my way downtown. Initially, I recorded the lead vocals for the entire song, but then we decided to pitch it down a full tone (like we did for All Night) and Paul had the idea to ask Megan to sing lead. It suits her voice much better, and it’s kinda neat to hear my lowered voice peeking through occasionally near the end of the song.
CLOSE ENOUGH TO KILL
This song was based on one of the oldest voice memos on my phone (from October 24th, 2013). The verse and chorus chords and melody were already mostly there, but the band helped me develop it into a full song, and we tracked it with me singing nonsense that would be replaced with real lyrics later.
Like Thief On The Cross, it took me a long time to nail down lyrics on this one. Something about the structure felt restrictive – I think especially because it is such a short song (by Little Kid standards, at least). Eventually, I found some words I liked. The first verse is about hoping you’re right with your god by the time you die. The second verse is mostly about sex… But more generally, it’s about the vulnerability that comes with letting someone get close to you, physically or emotionally. I was wondering if this one might take on a new meaning for people in a post-COVID-19 world, though…
This song started on the piano. I found that melody and chord progression pretty addictive to play over and over. It’s often one of the songs I play first when I sit down at a piano. I never would have thought Little Kid would be featured on a playlist called “Feel Good Indie” – but here we are…
When we recorded the initial tracks for this one (bass, drums, and guitar), there weren’t any lyrics yet, but Brodie, Paul, and I teased out a structure together. We jokingly called the song Mike’s Hard (after Mike’s Hard Lemonade, an alcoholic lemonade drink that was popular for summer drinking in our hometown), because the song felt right for drinking some cold beverages with friends at a cottage or something. We felt like it had a bit of a Canadian Americana feel like Neil Young, The Band, or even the Tragically Hip.
I hadn’t written lyrics yet when we tracked the song, and it took me a while to finally nail them down for this one as well. It’s essentially pure fiction. I was enjoying playing with some country tropes – the down-on-their-luck gambler, the man wallowing in regret about leaving the lover he now realizes was perfect for him, etc. I’m not sure where the chorus came from, but it felt right. In the first verse, the narrator’s friend loses their savings on a drunken bet at a dog race. In the second verse, the narrator crosses paths with their ex-lover who they still harbour feelings for and expresses their regret about losing her.
I recorded a voice memo of this song on the day of my friend Gill’s funeral. We weren’t super close, but she was a person with a pure heart – a charming weirdo who loved music and was always great to talk to. She sang on the song Missionary from our album Flowers, and performed that song and a few others with us for that album’s release show. I wanted to honour her somehow, but I couldn’t seem to find the words.
When I listened back to the voice memo some time later I realized it could work as an instrumental – it seemed to capture the feelings I have about Gill’s death, even without words. I recorded this version on my four-track at home.
This is a simple song, musically and lyrically. It’s mostly based around two chords until the very end. Little Kid songs used to usually be built around only two or three chords per song, but in more recent years we’ve been enjoying working in some weirder parts. It was refreshing to have such a simple song to close the album with, and it feels like a bit of a nod to our past.
I believe this was the first song we started recording for the album, and it’s one of only two we recorded to a click-track. We started it with two classical guitar takes, which we panned left and right, and two lead vocals, also panned left and right. We recorded one of the vocal takes at a slightly slower speed and then brought it back up, so one of my vocal parts is especially high and thin-sounding. It adds a bit of weirdness to an otherwise straightforward song.
Liam added two drum parts right away (and this was our first song recorded with him even though he had been playing live with us for about a year). Paul’s bassline was a bit controversial to me at first, because he added in a bit of a bluesy country run that initially felt out of place, but I eventually came around on it and it’s one of my favourite parts in the song now. Megan’s harmonies are amazing on this one, as well as Brodie’s electric 12-string part – both really brought the song to another level.
The song ends with a little ambient section that Paul constructed out of leftover piano trills I had recorded on the four-track – again at varying speeds. It acts as a nice little coda to the album.