Nothing in the Universe

Well, isn’t this a surprise‽ Another day of intense procrastination, but as I sat down in front of the computer and put my hands on the synth, ready to delve further into the ambient world, the first line of the song popped into my head, mostly talking to myself. But all of a sudden the rest of the song popped in and I fired up the text editor.

I would estimate that the entire lyrical writing process took maybe 20 minutes at most, and a third of that was deciding in which order a couple of lines would go. Just as the answer to “do you write lyrics or music first?” is that it’s always different, the same applies to how my lyric writing progresses. Most of the time, I either have a really strong verse, or a really strong chorus, then fill in the rest by jumping around, changing the structure, it’s more akin to what novel writers call “pantsing” – writing with no plan.

  1. Nothing in the Universe Ray Toler 3:11

With this one, however, my writing was extremely linear. I wrote the entire thing in start-to-finish fashion, then went back and made some very minor tweaks for better rhythmic fit or to clean up a couplet. That’s not common for me, so it was another pleasant surprise on top of the fact that I had a song in mind at all. Even more surprisingly, it’s got a more cheerful feel than my normal tone.

The melody came with the lyrics – I already knew what it would be for the most part, but didn’t know what would happen with the underlying track. As it turned out, the track was very simple – piano, bass, and drums. After my first round of recording vocals, I heard that it needed a little more spice, so I found a simple synth pad to sit under the chorus and on top of the main piano motif.

Simplicity is one of my greatest challenges – going only so far or, more often the case with me, going way too far, but then pulling everything back. When I critically listen to tracks that I love from other artists, it’s almost always the case that less is more. But when I get it right, the tracks are so much cleaner and impactful; I felt the same way with Waiting Patiently in 2018 and The Lights from 2016.

My procrastination / inertia is still hampering me. Even with its simplicity, I kept finding ways to distract myself, whether that was being far too finicky with a minor thing that would nobody would ever hear or finding some Internet rabbit hole to dive down. Despite quickly writing lyrics, despite getting my vocals “good enough” in only a couple of takes, despite knowing everything the song needed, it still took me over six hours to produce. It should have taken two or three at the most. I will definitely be re-recording the vocals – I’ve been learning that after repeated listenings, a lot of the vocal things I hear in my head aren’t as strong as just singing the song simply and plainly.

But the end result is good. There are moments that give me the same feeling as songs like Steppin’ Out by Joe Jackson – a big happy world with a thin veneer of melancholy. This track fits in well with some others I’ve written in the past, and I’m still toying with the idea of releasing a vocal album as Ray Toler instead of Releaux later this year. I wrote this song about Mary (it’ll have to serve as an early Valentine song), but I’ve already found another interpretation or two as I’ve gone over they lyrics again. I like when that happens – it makes me feel that the lyrics are closer to poetry than normal.


Here we are again
Wondering how it ends
And I wish I had the sight
Or that dawn would bring the light

But all I can do is hold you tight tonight 
And take the strength you give me
As the stars collide and fall out of the sky
You'll still be with me
Let the atoms scatter
Because none of these things matter
There is nothing in the universe but you

We've been here before
Darkness at the door
And the demons of the night
Try their best to hide the light

But all I can do is hold you tight tonight 
And take the strength you give me
As the cities burn, the world ceases to turn
You'll still be with me
Let the heavens shatter
Because none of these things matter
There is nothing in the universe but you

 Copyright © Ray E. Toler, Jr. All rights reserved.


  • Drums: Stylus RMX
  • All other instruments: Omnisphere / Keyscape / Trilian
  • Effects: Eventide H3000 Factory, Valhalla Plate and Delay
  • Mastering: Ozone 9

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