Tuesday, 25 August 2015

#62. Juliet & Her Romeo – 21st Century Ox

Dion Barker: bass
Harry Fahey: drums
Brendan Hoffmann: vocals, sax
Matt Neal: guitar

Lyrics by Dion Barker, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Music by Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Written late 1999.
Recorded at Motherlode Studios, Warrnambool, 2000.
Produced and mixed by Tony Peel.
Released on What Am I Going To Do With All These Portaloos?

If you’re a regular reader of these incredibly self-indulgent blogs, thank you. I’m not sure there’s much wisdom to be gained from them, so I hope you’re at least enjoying the music. The accompanying words are here to document and explain something no one asked me to document or explain, but if nothing else it gives me a chance to be nostalgic.

The biggest nostalgic rush comes from the songs that represent beginnings, because they’re often the best moments in a band or a project. They’re the instances when you’ve uncovered a new musical connection with someone and the opportunities are endless. The initial thrill of starting a band is something all bands attempt to regularly replicate throughout their careers. Each new song, each rehearsal, each gig, each recording – you want those things to have the giddy mixture of discovery and excitement like the first time, every time.

Quite a few of the songs in this blog have been related to beginnings and thus represented the spark that is a mixture of creative satisfaction and unblemished potential. Guatemalan Rock ‘n’ Roll was the first song Jade McLaren and I wrotetogether, Jamaica was the first song we played with our band The Extreme Sprinklers, The Ignored was the first song I’d with a band recorded in a proper studio. Each of those firsts set me and my friends on interesting paths where we tried to achieve those same levels of satisfaction and capitalise on the potential.

Pictured: Unblemished potential.

This blog is another beginning. Juliet & Her Romeo was the first official 21st Century Ox song, inadvertently beginning four or so years of great gigs, good times, and fun music. My recollections of it are thus:

It was the summer of ’98-’99. Brendan Hoffmann and myself had just graduated from high school, turned 18 and signed up to go to TAFE, but before we got to that, we had a summer of drunkenness to partake in. We were playing our final gigs in a band called Ted Dancin’ before our drummer Gus Franklin and bassist Julian Gilchrist headed off to uni in Melbourne. At any rate, the summer of drunkenness stretched into a year of drunkenness, and at some point during that year (alcohol affects the memory) we started hanging out with my fellow Target employee Dion Barker.

This guy.

Aside from a love of alcohol and partying, we shared a passion for music. Hoffa was already quite an exceptional musician. He could play guitar, bass, sax and clarinet, plus he knew how to record his own music. He could also sing like a motherfucker. I idolised his abilities and at every opportunity I tried to learn as much as I could from him. That year, I purchased an electric guitar and Hoffa and I talked endlessly about starting another band to pick up where Ted Dancin’ had left off. We wrote a few songs together but nothing really came of them.

Hoffa and I hanging out circa 1999-2000. Picture: Dion Barker

It wouldn’t be until early 2000 that we would get that band happening, but towards the end of 1999, Hoffa and Dion and I found ourselves at Dion’s place (the future site of The Week Of Debauchery). Dion had a piano in his bedroom and we gathered around it with the intent of writing a song.

None of us could really play piano. Hoffa was very musically literate and Dion and I knew a few chords, so between us we could pick out enough to write a song.

Sitting atop the piano was a copy of Romeo & Juliet, which we had all studied in year 10. In need of some words to go with our fumbled chords, we plucked bits and pieces from Shakespeare’s verse, intermingling them with remembered scenes from Baz Luhrmann version (which came out just three years earlier). Hence the mixture of bad ye olde English phrasing.

Hoffa recalls he and I had a “sing off” to see who would get to be the vocalist on this track. I don’t remember this but it seems spot on – I was (and still am) competitive although I’m far more realistic about my vocal capabilities these days. Naturally, Hoffa won the sing off. He sings the shit out of this and is a million times better than me as a vocalist. I’m glad he won – the song is all the better for it. This was a lesson I had to learn, and it was one of things I picked up by being in 21st Century Ox – everything should be in the service of the song, not an individual musician’s ego.

Hoffa and I share the mic during a Peppermint Anthology recording. Picture: Dion Barker.

We were pretty proud of what we’d come up with and I’m fairly sure we recorded the song on Hoffa’s trusty Tascam four-track, with some beats (via a program from a cereal box) laid under the piano for good measure, but the tape was soon lost. Either way, the song proved to be a catalyst – Hoffa and I began teaching Dion to play bass, and we set out in search of drummer. Eventually we found Harry Fahey, and the rest, as they say, is fodder for Doc’s long and boring blog.

Early 21st Century Ox pic from The Warrnambool Standard.

Juliet & Her Romeo was recorded on the first (and only released) Ox album (What Am I Going To Do With All These Portaloos?) and played at just about every gig we did. It was subtitled “part one” because I intended to write more songs about the Romeo and Juliet story. I did actually write a part two and played it live exactly once. There’s a recording of it and it sounds fucking horrendous. That will not be appearing on this blog. I’ve posted some shit on here but even I have limits.

Instead here are a couple of live recordings of the song. The first was done in The Cellar, below the old Criterion Hotel, on November 30, 2000. I’ve no idea what the gig was in aid of, but the fact that it was recorded and that November 30, 2000 was a Thursday (thank you, Google) leads me to believe it was an open mic night or a similar such night run by TAFE’s music industry skills students. We did a lot of those as the house band, which basically meant finishing the night with a 40-minute set.

Ox live at The Cellar.

Dion Barker: bass
Harry Fahey: drums
Brendan Hoffmann: vocals, sax
Matt Neal: guitar

Recorded at The Cellar, Warrnambool, November 30, 2000.
Produced and mixed live by TAFE MIS students.

This next recording is a slightly heavier version made (I think) in Portland on September 15 at the Henty Hotel. Matt Hewson had joined the band on sax by that stage and we'd played close to 50 gigs in the previous 12 months. Both versions are a bit patchy but as Dion said recently, Juliet & Her Romeo was hard to nail live for some reason. I think our lack of fundamental skills and passion for getting messed up before gigs is showing somewhat in both recordings (and probably the reason why we didn't nail things live).

Dion Barker: bass
Harry Fahey: drums
Matt Hewson: saxophone
Brendan Hoffmann: vocals, guitar
Matt Neal: guitar

Recorded at The Henty Hotel, Portland, September 15, 2001.
Produced and mixed live by Dave Wilson.

And finally – I’ve posted this before, but it’s apt to post it again. The song was covered by Negative Hold, a local metal band at the time who were great friends of ours and who we used to gig with a lot. I love their version. You can read more about that here.


He espied her ‘cross a crowded room
With angel wings and eyes in bloom
Glazed expression and troubled mind
Star-crossed heart leading her unkind

And I defy you stars
I challenge you, Fate, to take my breath away
And leave me cold
I challenge your fate

Entwined and tangled in a web of sheets
Two young lovers, one heartbeat
A storm is brewing on horizon cold
Death does drip from the sword he holds

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

#61. A Journey Across Space & Time – 21st Century Ox

Dion Barker: bass
Harry Fahey: drums
Matt Hewson: saxophone
Brendan Hoffmann: guitar
Matt Neal: guitar, vocals

Lyrics by Matt Neal.
Music by Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Written 2000/2001?
Recorded at Motherlode Studios, 2002.
Produced and mixed by Tony Peel and Harry Fahey.

Epic. That’s what I was going for here. This collection of weird chords was always intended to be a dynamic slow-burner, perhaps with a hint of psychedelic and prog-rock that burst to life and took you on a trip … hence the hilariously overblown title. Space grunge, perhaps.

I’m sure this sounds like something pre-existing – at the back of my mind is the feeling that the arrangement and the strange array of chords are very similar to something else, but I can’t figure out what it is. All I can pin it down to is an odd mixture of the stuff I was listening to aged 19 and 20 – Pink Floyd, Tool, Nirvana, King Crimson and The Smashing Pumpkins. Nothing specific really but just a mash-up of musical elements I’d probably picked out of the sounds of those bands.

So kinda something between this:

... and this:

The idea in my head was for this to be the final track on the unfinished unreleased second 21st Century Ox album, The Last Sane Man On Earth. It seemed like the kind of epic closer I like to see at the end of an album. From memory though, we used to open sets with it when playing live – that moment at 1.38 tended to get people’s attention and let people know what we were about.

“It was definitely one of my favourites to play live - I think it (was) pretty indicative of Ox’s stage presence,” Ox guitarist Brendan Hoffmann said.

“It's probably my favourite track on that album – it’s a real shame that we never got to release it. Hewy’s solo is epic! The vocals were equally epic!”

21st Century Ox live at the Lady Bay Hotel 
supporting 28 Days and Bodyjar in 2001 or 2002 (I think)

Hewy’s solo is indeed epic. It’s patently obvious to everyone who’s seen him play that he is an amazing sax player, but it’s his inventiveness and the way he fits into a song that make him truly awesome. You should all buy his jazz album. It’s king. His cover of Everlong is awesome.

The odd thing about A Journey Across Space & Time is that it began life as a track on a weird side project album that Ox bassist Dion Barker, Hoffa and myself put together in about 2001 called The Peppermint Anthology.

The idea behind The Peppermint Anthology was to get a bit messed up and to improvise songs (a bit like Gutsy As!! to be honest, but not as good) and record them into Hoffa’s Tascam four-track, sometimes layering strange instruments or sounds, sometimes just improvising lyrics and melodies as we went.

The rig. Pic: Matt Neal.

The results were generally shit. From memory, we sold two copies.

“Yeah, I remember it was pretty crap, but it has sentimental value,” Hoffa said.

Here’s the Peppermint version of A Journey Across Space & Time:

Dion Barker: acoustic bass, vocals
Brendan Hoffmann: beats and loops
Matt Neal: acoustic guitar, vocals

Recorded on a Tascam four-track at Janlor Drive, Warrnambool.
Produced and mixed by Dion Barker, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Released on The Peppermint Anthology Volume 1

This recording was slightly more organised than most of the other Peppermint stuff. I’d written the chords some time prior, probably with the intention of taking them to an Ox rehearsal, but we decided to have a muck around with them one afternoon at Hoffa’s place, with me on guitar, Dion on acoustic bass, and Hoffa at his computer using some weird DJ program to live trigger various samples. Dion tells me the program came free in a cereal box. He’s not even joking.

"And I got my bass guitar in a tin of milo!" - Dion
Pic: Matt Neal

That pre-organisation meant that this was the stand-out track of the Peppermint Anthology album. It had the fewest amount of fuck-ups and we actually sounded like we vaguely knew what we were doing. The aim of the Peppermint experiments was to capture magical musical accidents, which it did from time to time. Unfortunately the bits either side of those happy accidents was usually shite. But you live and learn.

Like how I just learnt it's apparently not cool to wear shorts on stage,
even if it was the Cri and the year was 2001.


Say goodbye tonight
We gotta fly tonight

Saturday, 25 July 2015

#60. Johnny Revolver, P.I.

Theme song written, performed and recorded by Matt Neal and Jade McLaren.
Additional music written, performed and recorded by Matt Neal.
Episodes recorded, produced and mixed by Harry Fahey and Matt Neal at Burndog Studios, Warrnambool, and Kellie’s Swamp, Warrnambool.
Written and recorded 2004-2005?
Originally broadcast on 3WAY FM.

And now for something completely different….

As much as I love writing and recording music, I think I love writing and recording comedy radio plays even more. Unfortunately, there’s even less call for the comedy radio plays I’ve worked on than the music I’ve helped make. Maybe that’s because the radio plays I’ve worked on just aren’t very funny. Or maybe they are. Who knows? Comedy, eh?

Me and an electric typewriter in The Love Shed, circa 2000. PIC: Brendan Hoffmann.

Johnny Revolver, P.I. is the second of three radio plays I’ve co-written over the years. The first – Intergalactic Organ Transplant Delivery Unit & Taxi Service – ran for about 50 episodes in 1999 and 2000 and was recorded live to air on the “hit” 3WAY FM show The Soul Mass Transit System.

Nathan Pye and myself working on an episode of Intergalactic,
which was typically written in the three or four hours
just prior to our show going to air. PIC: Brendan Hoffmann.

We were on air every Friday night from 10pm to midnight, and at 11pm (when the kiddies and old folks were asleep) we would let loose with Intergalactic, which began as a vaguely profane rip-off of Futurama and deteriorated into an incredibly profane, ultra-violent and disturbing mind-fuck of idiotic proportions. We – myself, Dion Barker, Nathan Pye and Brendan Hoffmann, plus special guests – were very drunk and young at the time. Thankfully, only a handful of episodes were ever recorded, although I still have copies of most of the scripts. They have not aged well. We were eventually (and quite rightly) kicked off air.

Hoffa reads through an Intergalactic script in the 3WAY studio. PIC: Matt Neal

When they finally forgave us and let us back on air, we took things more seriously. Dion Barker, Harry Fahey and myself hosted a show (which I think was called The Bomb) and during that stint we wrote, recorded and aired Johnny Revolver, P.I..

This new series took the lessons learnt from Intergalactic and two years of screenwriting classes, and combined those things with the skills we’d picked up recording music. We also adopted a slightly more mature (and less profane) approach to things. We recorded 14 episodes before running out of steam (I believe we had another couple of episodes written but they were never recorded).

Dion Barker, circa 2000-ish. PIC: Matt Neal.

Johnny Revolver, P.I. is an affectionately idiotic tribute to Warrnambool, framed through the clich├ęd “dumb detective” genre. What I love about it is how we portrayed Warrnambool as being far more multi-cultural than it is, inadvertently creating this kind of Bizarro Warrnambool in the process.

I’m not sure if it’s still funny, or if it was ever funny, but listening back to the 14 episodes I laughed quite a bit. Kudos goes to Dion for his performance as Johnny Revolver, which mostly holds the show together, and the guest bits from Jade McLaren, whose over-acting put the rest of us to shame. Harry’s production of the first season was also great (I think I took over those duties when Harry got jack of it after episode 10) as was his increasingly endearing performances as Johnny’s put-upon sidekick Squirmy Lewis.

Harry Fahey, who is nothing like Squirmy Lewis. PIC: Matt Neal.

Sadly it didn’t run it’s full course (there was a good sub-plot that was going to come to fruition in episode 20), but it did pave the way for Jade McLaren and I to do the many and varied incarnations of The Doctor & The Colonel. More on that in a future blog.

PIC: Glen Watson.

Johnny Revolver, P.I. is a weird mess of juvenile humour, silly voices, bad acting, stolen jokes, a handful of zingers, and a couple of surprisingly good running gags, but if you get through all 14 episodes I’ll buy you a beer. Admittedly it starts slowly, but trust me; it gets slightly better.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the comedy stylings of Johnny Revolver, P.I.

Full credits

Season 1 – Episode 1
The Case Of The Silver Ball

Written by Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.

Dion Barker as Johnny Revolver, P.I.
Harry Fahey as Squirmy Lewis/bingo player
Matt Neal as Doug
Jade McLaren as Balls McFlaherty
Matt Wearne as Grand Pubar

Season 1 – Episode 2
The Case Of The Missing Butcher

Written by Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.

Dion Barker as Johnny Revolver, P.I.
Harry Fahey as Squirmy Lewis
Matt Neal as Doug
Matt Wearne as Italian butcher
Jade McLaren as hostel manager/Michelle the Friendly Butcher

Season 1 – Episode 3
The Case Of The Secret Hamburger Recipe Robbery

Written by Harry Fahey, Jade McLaren, Kyle McLaren and Matt Neal.

Dion Barker as Johnny Revolver, P.I.
Harry Fahey as Squirmy Lewis
Matt Neal as Doug/Hamburglar
Jade McLaren as Henry Hermond/Sally
Matt Wearne as Ronald McDonald/Grandpappy Hermond

Season 1 – Episode 4
The Case Of The Murdered Co-Star

Written by Harry Fahey, Jade McLaren, Kyle McLaren, Matt Neal, Matt Wearne, Dion Barker and Brendan Hoffmann.

Dion Barker as Johnny Revolver, P.I.
Harry Fahey as Squirmy Lewis
Matt Neal as Doug/The Stalker
Matt Wearne as The Assistant Director
Jade McLaren as Tom Selleck

Season 1 – Episode 5
The Case Of The Diabolical Dunny

Written by Harry Fahey, Jade McLaren, Matt Neal and Brendan Hoffmann.

Dion Barker as Johnny Revolver, P.I.
Harry Fahey as Squirmy Lewis/Phyllis Glenpot
Matt Neal as Doug
Harry’s computer as CRAP 3000
Matt Wearne as CRAP prisoner

Season 1 – Episode 6
The Case Of The Race

Written by Harry Fahey, Jade McLaren and Matt Neal

Dion Barker as Johnny Revolver, P.I.
Harry Fahey as Squirmy Lewis/Barman
Matt Neal as Doug/Horse trainer/Stupid horse/Race Caller
Matt Wearne as Bookie/Sheik Djibouti

Season 1 – Episode 7
The Case Of The Pirated Music

Written by Harry Fahey, Matt Neal, Matt Wearne and Jade McLaren.

Dion Barker as Johnny Revolver, P.I.
Harry Fahey as Squirmy Lewis/Mrs Silver the Parrot/Bearded Clementine
Matt Neal as Doug/Barry Pegbeard
Matt Wearne as Blackbeard Silver

Season 1 – Episode 8
The Case Of The Coffee Cup

Written by Matt Neal, Harry Fahey and Matt Wearne.

Dion Barker as Johnny Revolver, P.I.
Harry Fahey as Squirmy Lewis
Matt Neal as Doug
Matt Wearne as Big Brad Coffee
Jade McLaren as Coach Coles/Coach Fukinawa

Season 1 – Episode 9
The Case Of The Mahogany Ship Replica

Written by Matt Neal, Harry Fahey, Matt Wearne, Dion Baker and Jade McLaren.

Dion Barker as Johnny Revolver, P.I.
Harry Fahey as Squirmy Lewis/Jimmy Colt, P.I.
Matt Neal as Doug/Lord Marseilles Chowder III/Snappy Thomson/Narrator
Matt Wearne as Lord Devonshire Chowder III
Corey Grapentin as David

Season 1 – Episode 10
The Case Of The Mahogany Ship Replica Part II

Written by Harry Fahey, Jade McLaren, Dion Barker, Matt Wearne and Matt Neal.

Dion Barker as Johnny Revolver, P.I.
Harry Fahey as Squirmy Lewis/Jimmy Colt, P.I.
Matt Neal as Doug/Narrator/Lord Marseilles Chowder III
Matt Wearne as Harvey the Butler/Lord Devonshire Chowder III

Season 2 – Episode 1
The Case Of The Missing Parking Meters

Possibly written by Harry Fahey, Jade McLaren, Dion Barker and Matt Neal.

Dion Barker as Johnny Revolver, P.I.
Harry Fahey as Squirmy Lewis/Phyllis Glenpot
Matt Neal as Doug
Jade McLaren as The Coin Collector

Season 2 – Episode 2
The Case Of The Mafia Valentine

Possibly written by Harry Fahey, Jade McLaren, Dion Barker and Matt Neal.

Dion Barker as Johnny Revolver, P.I.
Harry Fahey as Squirmy Lewis
Matt Neal as Doug/Tony Pepperoni
Kellie Johns as Capricossa Pepperoni
Matt Wearne as Gangster #1
Jade McLaren as Vito

Season 2 – Episode 3
The Case Of The Whereabouts Of The Roundabouts

Possibly written by Harry Fahey, Jade McLaren, Dion Barker and Matt Neal.

Dion Barker as Johnny Revolver, P.I.
Harry Fahey as Squirmy Lewis
Matt Neal as Doug/K-Dog, King Of The Lappers/Ted/Master
Matt Wearne as Industrial Worker
Jade McLaren as The Foreman/Bill/Henchman

Season 2 – Episode 4
The Case Of The Death Puppies

Possibly written by Harry Fahey, Jade McLaren, Dion Barker and Matt Neal.

Dion Barker as Johnny Revolver, P.I.
Harry Fahey as Squirmy Lewis/Phyllis Glenpot/Gruffnut
Matt Neal as Doug/Mudbones
Matt Wearne as Massive Mal

Jade McLaren as Sickboy

Monday, 20 July 2015

#59. Jimmy Carter Flies Over Yonder – 21st Century Ox

Dion Barker: bass
Harry Fahey: drums
Matt Hewson: saxophone
Brendan Hoffmann: vocals, guitar
Matt Neal: vocals, guitar

Lyrics by Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Music by Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Written 2002?
Recorded at the Barker residence, October 2-10, 2003.
Produced by 21st Century Ox.
Recorded and mixed by Harry Fahey. 
Additional engineering by Dave Wilson.
Additional recording and mixing by Matt Neal and Brendan Hoffmann at Foster Street, Warrnambool, and Hoffa’s House, Warrnambool.

Most people have a place in their past where they would regularly gather to drink and hang out, back when drinking and hanging out was still a novel thing to do. For me, that place was The Love Shed.

 It's looks so inviting. That's Dion and Regan Barker, 
enjoying The Love Shed ambience. PIC: Brendan Hoffmann.

Shortly before my 19th birthday, I moved into a house in Warrnambool with fellow 21st Century Ox guitarist Brendan Hoffmann and his girlfriend at the time. I slept on a mattress on the floor in the spare room and in between working at 6am most mornings at the Target warehouse, I hung out and got drunk in the haze of The Love Shed, which was the rather ironically sweet name we gave to the double garage.

Dion and Hoffa jamming on a summer's night in The Love Shed. PIC: Matt Neal.

In The Love Shed we would jam occasionally, write disturbingly profane radio plays for our radio show on 3WAY FM, play hackysack, create murals, and throw the kind of parties that would occasionally lead the cops to throw open the rollerdoors dramatically from time to time.

The murals, which we made every visitor contribute to. PICS: Matt Neal.

It was a grungy, smelly, cold garage, with nothing much in it except for a few couches and a CD player, but it was home. Every night of the week – every single fucking night – there would be people hanging out, drinking and smoking in The Love Shed, listening to Pink Floyd, Primus, Tool, or something of that ilk.

Regan, Hoffa and Lee Ronald, probably on a Monday night. PIC: Matt Neal. 

The reason I bring this up is because this song was written in The Love Shed, and for that reason this song is irrevocably linked to that place. I wrote quite a few songs while living there with Hoffa (including The Canadian Song, Hackysack and Cliched), but this was one of the songs we wrote together.

Everybody's got something to hide except for me and my monkey.

Why Jimmy Carter? I’m not entirely sure why the 39th president of the United States became the subject of this song, but I think it had something to do with Hunter S Thompson. During The Love Shed days, Hunter was an obsession of mine (and part of the reason I have the nickname The Doctor) as well as a few of the other Love Shed regulars. One of his books – The Great Shark Hunt – got passed around a bit at that time, and I believe the sections in it regarding Jimmy Carter got talked. At least, that’s the only plausible reason I can come up for us writing this absurd song that re-imagines Carter as some kind of superhero.

Aside from what we’d read in The Great Shark Hunt, Hoffa and I knew nothing about Jimmy Carter, but we cobbled together this bizarre faux campaign song. It’s one of the better tunes we wrote, I think – it’s a decidedly Ween-ish piece of delirously demented pop.

Why use a real photo of Jimmy Carter when you can use The Simpsons?

I like the way our vocals work together, but I particularly like the interlocking rhythms of our guitar lines. Hoffa also came up with the bass line, which adds another varied rhythm to the mix.

I didn’t realise there was a proper recording of this song until I was digging through old files in preparation for this blog, but I was glad to stumble upon this version which was tracked during the hazily remembered and probably best forgotten epoch known as Dion’s Week Of Debauchery. I could recall how the song went, but I didn’t recall the layered sax sections so tastefully placed by Ox’s resident sax-man Matt Hewson.

Hewy, rockin' the long hair and the sax with Ox.

“This was one of my favourites, although listening back, the sax lines aren't so good,” the ever-humble Hewy said.

“They seem to clutter up the tune a bit, although the lines at the end are ok. The ending sounds great, but in the chorus I kinda think the horns interfere a bit. Maybe it's just me. But it's a sweet tune - I'm obviously focused on the horns.”

Personally I think the horn arrangement helps make this song. Rediscovering this recording was one of the real treats in putting this blog together. In fact, I only recorded my vocal parts for it last year - more than a decade after all the other bits were recorded. Not sure why my parts were never done, but it was nice to finally finish it off.

As a further point of reference, this is what I looked like 
when I co-wrote the damned thing.

This kind of poly-rhythmic alt-pop, where everyone had their little job to do that locked together to make a greater whole, seemed to be the direction Ox was heading in at the time of Dion’s Week Of Debauchery. Sadly it was to be something of a last hurrah for the band, and we slowly drifted apart after that without ever properly breaking up, leaving behind an unfinished second album that would have contained gems like this one.


Look to the sky
A superhero to save you all
Jimmy Carter flies over yonder
A fabulous guy
A people person to stand up tall
Jimmy Carter flies over yonder

He loves god and he loves you
He loves god and he loves you
Yeah he's loving you, yeah you

Give him a try
I'm sure you'll adore his Southern drawl
Jimmy Carter flies over yonder
He'll never lie
Unlike those other bastards before
Jimmy Carter flies over yonder

Bonus live version

Recorded at the Barker residence, October 2-10, 2003.
Recorded and mixed by Dave Wilson.

For the sake of completeness (and because Harry went to the trouble of finding these recordings), here we are running through the song live in Dion's loungeroom during the week of debauchery.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

#58. Jamaica – The Extreme Sprinklers

Harry Fahey: drums
Matt Hewson: bass, backing vocals
Jade McLaren: vocals
Matt Neal: guitar, backing vocals

Lyrics by Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Music by Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Written 2004.
Recorded January 2, 2005 at Kellie’s Swamp, Warrnambool.
Additional recording at Burndog Studio, Warrnambool, and Drum Drum, Warrnambool.
Produced by The Extreme Sprinklers.
Engineered and mixed by Harry Fahey.
Released on the Jamaica EP.

“Wouldn’t it be funny,” said Extreme Sprinklers singer Jade McLaren one fateful night in 2004, “to write a reggae song that was anti-drugs?”

We were sitting in his apartment above Mac’s Snacks, trying to write songs while overlooking another night of lappers and drunken brawls at the bottom end of Liebig Street. We’d recently started playing duo gigs (mostly at open mic nights) under the name of The Extreme Sprinklers, where we would smash out short sets of weird jokey songs that showcased Jade’s vocal flexibility, my rudimentary guitar-playing, our warped sense of humour, and our burgeoning songwriting skills.

“That’s a great idea,” I said readily, and started fiddling around with some chords to work with.

We'd also started moonlighting as crime-fighting superheroes.
PIC: Glen Watson. 

“I‘m not super-proud that it was my idea,” Jade said recently, possibly while drunk. “The song is fun and cool but it’s actually a pretty shit idea. It seems so obvious now.”

I disagree. Maybe there’s a whole subgenre of anti-drug reggae songs out there, but I’ve never heard of it. I still think it was a clever idea, whether Jade’s super-proud of it or not.

Musically, the starting point for me, believe it or not, was Jack Johnson, specifically the song Taylor. Previous to this fateful night, I’d been having semi-regular acoustic jams with future Extreme Sprinklers and 80 Aces bassist Matt Hewson on some covers. For some reason Hewy had been getting right into Jack Johnson and he showed me a couple of tunes off the album On & On.

Something that really struck me and had stuck with me was the strumming pattern on the song Taylor (from 0:20). It sounded reggae-ish but was pretty different to the usual generic upstroke reggae rhythm I was used to. I mentally filed the strumming pattern away in my brain and brought out a mangled re-interpretation (the best kind of interpretation!) of it when it came time to write Jamaica.

My weird version of that strumming pattern - mixed with what seemed initially to be a slightly off-kilter chord progression (C/G/Bb/G#/G) - was our starting point. From there the words flowed like wine, the melodies popped out right the first time, and the pre-chorus, chorus and middle eight appeared seemingly out of thin air. It remains to this day probably the easiest and quickest songwriting process Jade and I had ever shared.

“We just kind of lucked on to it,” Jade agreed. “The cool melodies… we lucked on to those. It was already pre-ordained, that kind of groove. We just found that spot. It wasn’t a brilliant idea or about having a great melody idea - we just rolled into it.”

Me, rolling with it.
Pic: Damian White.

We did make a mistake though. Jade’s initial suggestion was “an anti-drugs reggae song” when really what we were writing was “an anti-marijuana reggae song”. Hence in the first verse of this recorded version it mentions LSD – the only time in the song a drug other than pot is mentioned. Upon hearing the song, Jade’s brother Simon correctly pointed out we should have substituted “LSD” for “THC” in the lyrics. Of course! That was a real forehead-slapping moment. Jade sang “THC” every time we played it live after that.

The other (kinda) mistake in the lyrics is the line “red-eyed and off-head”. For some reason we’d shied away from the more profane original line “fuck-eyed and off-head”, which I’d scrawled in my notepad months prior to writing this song after hearing someone use it as a way of describing a friend who was messed up. I think we thought local radio might have played the song and erred on the non-cussing side of caution.

It might seem like a throw-away joke song, but I’m actually mildly proud of these lyrics, mostly because the joke of it actually masks a somewhat legit message – don’t stereotype people. Plus there are references to Cypress Hill and Pass The Dutchie in there.

Some time between writing the song and recording it, we became a band, with Hewy on bass and Harry Fahey on drums. Jamaica was the lone original song we played at our first two gigs, which were at a Seanchai open mic competition that guitar virtuoso John Hudson had organised. We won the competition and Huddo gave us lots of great advice in the early days of the band, in particular the advice of splitting the band into two distinct entities – a covers band (The Front) and an originals band (The Extreme Sprinklers).

We became a band.
PIC: Glen Watson.

It seems strange thinking back about it, but at the time (late 2004) there was a mini-buzz around The Extreme Sprinklers in Warrnambool, in particular around the song Jamaica. Maybe I’m imagining it, but people seemed to be latching onto that song, even from just one listen. It was a no-brainer that it should be our first recording.

Here's Jade again:

“I didn’t realise the song was listenable until (Red Eagle bassist) Brady Jones said to me, ‘Hey man, that song’s cool! Play that song – that’s my favourite!’ and I was like ‘What? Really? That stupid fucking song?’.”

This guy.

The recording of “that stupid fucking song” remains one of the recordings I am most proud of, and 90 per cent (or possibly more) of the credit goes to Harry Fahey. If I wasn’t already convinced that the man was a fucking production genius or some kind of audio wizard (or at the very least a level three sound mage or something), then the making of Jamaica sealed the deal.

With no studio, very little gear, and basically a cobbled-together recording approach, Harry exceeded all our expectations. Most of it was recorded on my computer (the same one Jade and I used to record Guatemalan Rock & Roll) with its piece-of-shit soundcard and an old ADAT tape machine plugged into it somehow (if I remember correctly). The drums were recorded to tape at Drum Drum (where Harry was a teacher), then digitised into ProTools, converted across to CoolEdit, and then we slowly added our bits and pieces – Hewy’s superlative bass line and sweet harmonies, Jade’s spot-on cod-reggae vocals, and my hack guitar-playing, with a few production spices on top for added flavour.

Here’s Harry:

Jamaica is my absolute favourite Extremes’ song ever. The buzz around it was awesome, but the best bit was recording something ourselves that actually sounded good! It is still the mix I am happiest with out of all the mixes of any songs I've done - it just sits real nice. I really dig Hewy's bass line in the bridge – it ties it all together very nicely and the little triplet hit in the middle is sweet as. And the Dolby test tones at the start of the track are the icing on the cake.”

I’m going to take credit for putting the Dolby test tones at the start of the song. They’re from my tape of Bryan Adams’ Waking Up The Neighbours album. I kid you not.

Bryan Adams aside, Harry really did a great job. As did Jade and Hewy. To be honest, it was the peak of The Extreme Sprinklers. It's just a shame it was our first song.


Don’t you pass that joint to me
I do not want any of your LSD THC
Don’t you know that fry your brain
It makes your membrane go insane

I only came here for a good time
So pass that dutchie to the right hand side, yeah

Just because I’m from Jamaica
It doesn’t mean I smoke the ganja
And just because I’m from Kingston Town
It doesn’t mean I like getting down
And just because I’m from Jamaica
It doesn’t mean I smoke the ganja
And just because I’m from Kingston Town
It doesn’t mean I like getting down

You’re all red-eyed fuck-eyed and off-head
You think there’s monsters breeding in your dreads
Well, being stoned ain’t no way to be
‘Cos I am high on life you see

And if this drug taking don’t cease
I’ll likely go and call the police, yeah

Friday, 29 May 2015

#57. I Will – The Extreme Sprinklers

Demo version

Jade McLaren: vocals
Matt Neal: guitar, bass, drum programming

Lyrics by Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Music by Matt Neal.
Written early 2005.
Recorded April 22 & 23, 2005 at Hoffa’s House, Warrnambool.
Produced and engineered by Jade McLaren, Matt Neal and Brendan Hoffmann.
Mixed by Matt Neal.
Additional mixing by Brendan Hoffmann.

Shed version

Harry Fahey: drums
Matt Hewson: bass, backing vocals
Jade McLaren: vocals
Matt Neal: guitar

Recorded at The Shed, Warrnambool in April, 2006.
Produced, engineered and mixed by Harry Fahey.

Way back in early 2005 when I was about to get married for the first time, my songwriting buddy Jade McLaren and I – unsurprisingly – decided to write a song about weddings. Given these things tend to be all-consuming, it’s entirely possible we couldn’t think of anything else to write about, but I do recall thinking at the time that despite there being an inordinate amount of songs about love, there didn't seem to be a hell of a lot of songs about getting married.

One wedding-themed song we could think of and liked, and which served as something of an inspiration, was Big Day by XTC (there’s that band again). Our matrimonial ode shares very little in common except that it’s guitar-based and kind of alt-poppy, but we were aiming to do something similar. We wanted to write a vaguely alternative, all-purpose wedding song that would hopefully encapsulate the feelings most people have about their big day (but that was a damned-sight less ominous than Big Day).

Jade and I had been writing songs together for about a year and a half by this stage and had developed something we called The Wankometer (as Jackson McLaren will attest to). This imaginary device was basically our way of saying whether something was too cheesy or sappy or, well, wanky. Any lyric that seemed too saccharine was described as “scoring high on The Wankometer” or "registering an 8.5 on The Wankometer" and thus thrown on the scrapheap (or “into the Hellmouth” as we called it).

For this song, however, The Wankometer was turned off. I don’t recall if that was a decision made prior to starting writing or part-way through the process when we realised it was an impossible task to write a song about getting married with The Wankometer turned on, but either way, it was switched off.

"With The Wankometer off, I can finally write that song 
I've always wanted to write about bunnies." PIC: Kellie Johns.

Hence, I Will is the wankiest set of lyrics Jade and I have written together, although to be honest I think we did a good job of keeping the cheese to a minimum (“I will push your swing as high as you want to go” is probably the worst offender). Ultimately though it was very sincere and the sentiments were genuine for how I was feeling at the time (and Jade was using his imagination or perhaps channeling something related to his girlfriend at the time). We were still keen to keep the song generic though and only two words belie that ambition – “bodyguard” and “doctor”. That was our in-joke – Jade was working as a security guard at the time, and my nickname is The Doctor.

Speaking of lyrics, there are two things of note in here. The first, which Jade pointed out to me recently, is the line “let’s get this ceremony over”. He reckoned that related to my own dread of the actual ceremony bit of getting married, noting that it was a fairly un-romantic line in an otherwise romantic song. He’s probably right. I certainly managed to largely dodge the whole ceremony thing second time around – I highly recommend eloping.

The second thing is the line “some kind of plant will grow”. That was another cop-out lyric, as previously seen in Disco In Borneo. It was a placeholder that was meant to be replaced by the name of an actual type of romantic-sounding plant, except we couldn’t think of one so we instead stuck with the lyric that effectively means “insert plant name here”. It still makes me laugh.

"Rose? Tulip? Rhododendron? Hydrangea?"
"Stop saying plant names or I'll judo chop you in the throat."
PIC: Dannii Hale.

Musically I was really pleased with this song. Jade came up with a wonderful melody to go with the strange chords I had put together. I have no idea what the chord names are, but most of them are built around using just three strings at a time. It’s likely that the ascending chorus and the use of these strange chord voicings is something influenced by Jeff Buckley’s song Grace, which I learnt to play in my teenage years and was blown away by some of the strange chord shapes. The way the pre-chorus ascends in Grace is something I’m no doubt mirroring in the chorus of I Will.

Rather bizarrely, the other obvious musical influence here, believe it or not, is System Of A Down. There’s a bit in the outro that I ripped holus bolus from their song Aerials. I’m pretty sure I knew I was stealing it, but that one bit was so cool I had to do it. As to why this otherwise lovely little ditty suddenly turns into a wailing guitarfest at the end, I have no idea. I just couldn’t control myself and decided for some reason that the end bit needed four simultaneous guitar parts.

Final notes: I really wanted this song to be called I Will rather than "Yes I Will" or "Yes I Do" or whatever because I wanted it to share a title with both a Beatles song and a Radiohead song.

Lastly, the two different recordings above were made roughly a year apart. The first one is the original demo Jade and I made with the assistance of my old band mate Brendan Hoffmann (same weekend we demoed Ignorance Is Bliss). It came up pretty good I reckon. The second one is a rehearsal recording of The Extreme Sprinklers as a live band (viva Harry Fahey and Matt Hewson!) working through the song (and largely nailing it except for my piss-poor playing in the outro).

PIC: Glen Watson


I won’t weigh you down
like sand
pouring through the hourglass
I will be around
on hand
like I always was in the past
I will push your swing
as high
as you want to go
Will you wear my ring?
Be mine?
Some kind of plant will grow

Yes I will
Yes I do
Let’s get this ceremony over
So we can start anew

I won’t break your stride
as you
walk into another day
Everything you try
to do
I’ll help you up to try again
I will be your fort
your home
bodyguard and doctor too
‘Cos time is far too short
it’s better when it’s shared by two

Friday, 22 May 2015

#56. I Want Everything – 21st Century Ox

Dion Barker: bass
Harry Fahey: drums
Brendan Hoffmann: vocals, guitar
Matt Neal: guitar

Lyrics by Dion Barker, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Music by Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Written late 1999-early 2000.
Recorded at Motherlode Studios, Warrnambool, 2000.
Produced and mixed by Tony Peel.

When bands are starting out, the first couple of songs they write usually set the tone for what their sound will be. This track was among the initial batch of tunes 21st Century Ox played at the very first gig we did and it certainly set the tone for us – I think our credo went something along the lines of “rock is good, but weird is also good”.

That first gig was on April 2, 2000 on the back of a truck in the car park outside the Lady Bay Hotel, and it was the first of about 50 gigs we did over the course of the next 12 months. Check it out – I’ve still got our first setlist:

There’s I Want Everything, sitting plum in the middle of the set next to the even weirder March Of The Albatross, ready to freak out the norms. The plan was to win them back with a Britney Spears cover at the end.

In the year leading up to this gig, Brendan Hoffmann, Dion Barker and I had been hanging out a lot and making a lot of music. We were 18, fresh out of high school, and had heaps of spare time to jam, write songs and make weird impromptu recordings. Hoffa and I taught Dion how to play bass, and by February 2000 we had put together 21st Century Ox with drummer Harry Fahey.

I have fond memories of writing this song. Hoffa, Dion and I were hanging out at McDonald’s, probably drunk. While we sat their drinking our cokes we started writing these nonsense juvenile lyrics. It was just fun and silly – it was a song written with no regard for any rules of songwriting or common sense. We probably never even intended for it to be a song, or that anyone would hear it. We were just goofing around. Hoffa came up with the staccato title chant and we later crafted some riffs onto it in the rehearsal room with the rest of the band.

Dion, Harry and the back of my head in the rehearsal room. PIC: Brendan Hoffmann.

Here’s Hoffa:

“I remember we wrote the lyrics to some or all of it eating in McDonald's. I think we had a sugar rush and were hyperactive! As for the music, I think I came up with the first bit and Nealy came up with the main verse riff - not sure about the bridge. Was such a fun song to play and I remember the crowd used to like it too and sing along! Was a good team effort (and) was aesthetically a good sounding song - lots of interesting changes.”

Hoffa penning another potential classic. PIC: Janelle Mentha.

Here’s Dion:

“I remember that trip to McDonalds. Back in the days when McFlurries were just a sparkle in Ronald's eyes and 30 cent cones had an entirely different meaning... but I digress. Actually, I'm not sure if you can digress before actually mentioning something about the topic at hand, can you? Someone Google that. Google. That was something else that hadn't been invented either when we wrote this song. I suddenly feel very old!

“So, I too remember this being a favourite with the young’uns... I do recall thinking on several occasions as to its appropriateness for a bunch of impressionable young teens.  In fact I think it dawned on Hoffa on one occasion and he refused to play it! Suddenly had an attack of conscience, maybe?

Ox live on the Civic Green. PIC: Kellie Johns.

“It definitely was a tone setter for many of our earlier songs, and is typical of our younger Ox material. Very reminiscent of that first summer as a band and the fun times we had.  That's not to say there weren't more fun times in the latter days of Ox, but I Want Everything had that youthful playfulness about it, when we probably weren't thinking too much about its intended audience.  Fun times.”

Fun times indeed, Dion.

That weird sound at the end of the track is a loop of me screaming, which was part of all the strange little intricacies we hid all over our first (and so far only) album What Am I Going To Do With All These Portaloos?. That album, and this song, were recorded by Tony Peel, who opened our eyes to the world of studio recording.

Me being suave as fuck. PIC: Brendan Hoffmann.


I want everything!

I don’t wanna be your sunshine
I don’t even like you much
I just wanna steal your French fries
and fondle with your crotch

I just wanna take your beauty
I just wanna take your tongue
and stick it in your earhole
while fingering your bum


Everyone’s trying to kill me
and shave my pubic hair
and eat it down with gravy
like a pouting Fred Astaire

Yum mum mum mummin yuppa
Myum mum muppy da ba
Duppy duppy duppy duppy yuppa
Myum mum muppy da ba

I want everything!