Chemtrails
By: Beck Hansen

Written by: Beck Hansen

Versions:
  1. Chemtrails (4:40)
    Available on Modern Guilt and 1 other release.
    Credits
    Recorded at: Anonyme Studios
    Jason Falkner: Bass, Guitar (Electric)
    Joey Waronker: Drums
    Drew Brown: Engineer
    Greg Kurstin: Organ, Piano
    Beck Hansen: Producer, Vocals
    Danger Mouse: Producer
  2. Chemtrails (acoustic) (4:36)
    Available on Modern Guilt acoustic.
    Credits
    Bram Inscore: Bass
    Brian Lebarton: Cello
    Beck Hansen: Guitar (Acoustic), Vocals
    Jessica Dobson: Guitar (Acoustic), Vocals (Background)
    Joey Waronker: Percussion
 
Lyrics:
Chemtrails [Version (a)]:

I can't believe what we've seen outside
You and me watching the jets go by

Down by the sea, so many people
They've already drowned
You and me watching the sea full of people
Try not to drown
So many people
So many people
Where do they go?
You and me watching a sky full of chemtrails
That's where we belong

All I can take from these scars is hope
But all I can see in this night are boats sinking

Down by the sea
Swallowed by evil
We've already drowned
You and me watching
A sea full of people
Already drowned
So many people
So many people
Where do they go?
You and me keeping track
Of all evil
Watching the jet planes go by
You and me watching
You and me watching
The chemtrails is where we belong
That's where we'll be when we die
In the slipstream
We'll climb in a hole in the sky
Chemtrails (acoustic) [Version (b)]:

I can't believe what we've seen outside
You and me watching the jets go by

Down by the sea, so many people
They've already drowned
You and me watching the sea full of people
Try not to drown
So many people
So many people
Where do they go?
You and me watching a sky full of chemtrails
That's where we belong

All I can take from these scars is hope
But all I can see in this night are boats sinking

Down by the sea
Swallowed by evil
We've already drowned
You and me watching
A sea full of people
Try not to drown
So many people
So many people
Where do they go?
You and me watching the sky
Full of chemtrails
Watching the jet planes go by
You and me watching
You and me watching
Chemtrails is where we belong
That's where we'll be when we die
In the slipstream
We'll climb in a hole in the sky
 
The Song:

"Chemtrails" is the one song on Modern Guilt for which producer DangerMouse did not provide the beats. Beck explained, "This is the song I had the idea and I had it written beforehand...this song was probably the exception to the rest of the songs."

Musically, the amazing band (Jason Falkner, Greg Kurstin, Joey Waronker) dive right into it. Beck divulged that he "was trying to do something that featured the drums--in the idea of it being a rock song but there's no guitars. I guess that goes back to Led Zeppelin and other bands, let the heaviness come from the drums. It was something I wanted to try. That feeling of the drums coming in and they're so bombastic." To that end, Beck knows he has the perfect drummer in Joey Waronker for this kind of thing: "Joey lays into it on this song, (but at the same time) he has class. That's the best way to put it."

Over these bombastic drums Beck adds a hazy falsetto vocal, Kurstin adds the ambient organ and piano. Jason Falkner is credited on guitar for the song, but it is mostly unnoticeable under the beautiful psychedelic wash of organ and bass (or could just be some drone-y feedback-style?). He does shred a little bit during the coda ending of the song.

"Chemtrails" has a simple but clever arrangement. A beginning intro is just two lines, and sort of feels like Beck took the unusual step of starting a song with a bridge section. This leads into the bombastic drums verse, and then they repeat the intro/bridge and kick into another bombastic verse. However this second part is extended much longer than the first time, allowing some more vocals and the trippy groove to last (Jason's bass is superb). Then there is a short coda tacked on at the end of it all. When you have a melody as beautiful as what Beck is singing here, it doesn't need a lot. And similar to how Beck wanted a rock song with no guitars, he also seems to have impressively written a catchy track with no actual chorus.

Beck explained the song to EW.com, saying that "Chemtrails" was based on "the idea of a man and woman watching the sunset, and they're looking at all these beautiful colors that are coming from the trails of jets - the idea that something so beautiful could come from something that's a by-product of something so industrial."

This couple watching the jets in the sky, not only admire the beauty, but long to escape the "sea full of people" on Earth and join the slipstream in the sky. The point seems to be a longing to escape, much more than any political statement towards chemtrails. (Read about that here if you're interested.)

-

About a year after Modern Guilt came out, Beck and his touring band went into a studio and cut an acoustic version of the album live. He put videos of the recordings up on beck.com at the time. The dynamic drums and psychedelic haze of the original were replaced by quiet vocal harmonies, lots of percussion, and a droning cello. It is quite beautiful and just as dynamic, but in a much subtler way.
 
Live:

Played live 53 times:
Earliest known live version: June 27, 2008
Latest known live version: September 21, 2014

2008-2009 Modern Guilt tour

Beck, of course, played this at pretty much every show on the Modern Guilt tours. (The only ones we have it not listed for are the shows we don't know the setlists completely. I assume it was played at all those too.)

All the versions I have heard are arranged identical to the record, except with maybe 20-30 seconds of drone at the beginning before Beck starts singing. Some have more zeal than others, and sometimes Beck does slightly different things on his guitar during the ending jam. But generally they all sound alike, and much like the record. (Though, they don't do that little coda from the record on stage.)

2013 pre-Morning Phase tour

After a few years away, Beck returned to sporadic touring in 2012 and 2013. Beck and his band played "Chemtrails" four times during the first week of August 2013.

2014 Morning Phase tour

Beck did not play "Chemtrails" a lot in 2014, as it showed up just 10 times out of the 57 shows. It again sounds generally quite like the record; much like in 2008, they added a little intro to the song, and excised the coda. I also think the extended verse part was shortened a bit. It was still an explosive song, and sounded quite good. Apparently one time, the band added "Chemtrails" to the set because they felt its psychedelic mood fit the scenic outdoor festival they were playing in Wales.

They have not played "Chemtrails" since 2014 though.