From the Japanese release of Foreign Legion
I decided early on that I would not ask Seth Timbs about songs for this blog, instead relying on my own interpretations and my uncanny ability to remember what has already been said about them at past live shows. But “City Lights” baffled me, appearing as a demo on the Japanese release of Foreign Legion, never being played live, and sharing the writing credit between Seth Timbs and Tomoyuki Tanaka.
So the other night after the show, I asked him.
Tanaka is known in Japan by the moniker Fantastic Plastic Machine, and he mostly remixes the works of others for his own releases. When Seth was making regular trips to Japan, Tanaka contacted him and presented him with the song “City Lights” on which they could collaborate. Seth liked the changes and some of the lyrics that Tanaka had written in somewhat broken English. Once back in the states, Seth created the demo of the song that would later appear on Foreign Legion with his own similar lyrics. He presented the demo to Tanaka, and later yet another version of the song was created for release on Fantastic Plastic Machine’s 2001 CD titled Contact that featured Seth singing considerably different words over very different bossa-nova-styled music.
Contact is only available in Japan (and even I haven’t forked out the money to get that one), but you can hear the Fantastic Plastic Machine version, with Seth Timbs singing, through the video below, the discovery of which was what initially caused me to ask about this song.
Now we'll talk about the demo version. While many songs by the band Self get compared to Fluid Ounces and Seth Timbs’ style, this is the only Fluid Ounces song that really sounds anything like Matt Mahaffey’s work. I think it’s the layered vocals, sparse piano (in a sense that it isn’t the driving force to the song) and a more vibrant rhythm track than normal that lends its feel to Self more than anything, though it’s really only just a hint of Self.
To that I’ll add that Seth is most often applauded (understandably) as a piano player, and he often gets overlooked as a guitar player (which is also understandable in the ocean of guitar players that is Nashville). But here Seth shows off his bass chops like I’ve never heard! I’d love to see Seth play bass in a live band just for the change—as if seeing him play guitar in Hot New Singles for entire sets is still not strange enough.