Saturday, 15 November 2014

#49. I Can’t Help Who My Daddy Was


Matt Neal: guitar, vocals, percussion, mandolin.

Lyrics and music by Matt Neal.
Written in 2012.
Recorded at Mandeville Court on October 1 in 2012.
Produced and mixed by Matt Neal.



Firstly, I need to state that my dad is awesome. This song isn't about him. I get along great with my old man - he's an amazing guy and I love the fact that after my troubled teenage years we now get along brilliantly and often catch up for a drink. He's a top lad. He's my mate and I love him.

Me and my dad.

Secondly, this song is going to appear on my new EP, which is coming out soon. The version above is just a demo I did myself - the proper version was recorded by the excellent Joe Gardner at his Old Elk Studios in Koroit backed by my new band The Apologies (top-notch drummer Jarrod Hawker and kick-arse bassist Brady Jones). Joe refused to listen to any demos before we recorded - instead he insisted on hearing the songs for the first time played drunkenly around a campfire. That's how he rolls, and it's kind of cool. 

Joe Gardner and Brady Jones wondering how they got themselves into this mess.

When the EP comes out, I'll probably have to explain to Dad that the song's not about him. Might be awkward but it's the truth. It's actually inspired by the awesome people I've known and still know who have shit dads and who have proven that you can be more than the sum of half your genes and patriarchal influence.

Having said that, there was no one person or incident that triggered writing the song - it was more that the title line popped in my head and I thought 'holy shit, that's a great idea for a song!'. I sketched out most of the lyrics one hungover afternoon while The 80 Aces were on the road playing a string of gigs in Melbourne, Geelong and Hamilton. I'd asked my band mates if they were up for writing a song, they said 'no, fuck off', and so I decided to finish off this bad boy.

This happened on that road trip. 
It was the most notable bit that didn't involve vomit.

Musically the inspiration is very much from Graveyard Train, who I've seen live a bunch of times and who  made me think differently about country music - I'd never really heard the genre subverted in such a dark and ominous way before and it occurred to me that style was the perfect sonic backing for a song about someone who's dad is the Devil (metaphorically speaking of course).


Another influence is Nick Cave, which a few people picked, especially when Doctor & The Apologies played it live (at our one and only live gig to date) and people came up to me afterwards and said "that song was very Nick Cave". I guess it's my singing style on this song that made people think that. In this demo I pushed my voice to its limits to do three vocal tracks. I suck at doing harmonies, so it's just three octaves worth of singing - the main deep part, my 'normal' voice and a falsetto. That's about the full extent of my range and it's not great but I think it adds to the alt-country roughness and singalong quality of the song.

There's also a big debt to Tom Waits in there, both in the guitar melody line that I may have inadvertently ripped from Goin' Out West and the found percussion I used to build the drumbeat. On this demo, the beat is made up of a half-full slab box, a floor tom, a Venetian blind, a cutlery drawer and my house/car keys. To replicate that in Joe's studio, we used an aluminium ladder, a toolbox, a heater and a garage door. Anything can be a drum. I can't wait for y'all to hear it.


Debut EP from Doctor & The Apologies - The Party No One Can Recall - out soon!

Lyrics

When I was born my mother cried 'cos I was the devil's son
She met him in a bar and he told her pretty things and who could resist such devilish words
Now I tell my mother not to cry 'cos I can't help who my Daddy was
I can't help who my Daddy was

Well the Devil was dressed in a red tuxedo
And he asked my mama if she knew how to tango
And nine months later I arrived
And that was the day that my mother cried

Now every day of my 18 years
My mother has struggled with maternal fears
"Will he be good or will he be bad
Or will he turn out just like his dad?"

Two scientists arguin' 'bout nature versus nurture
Couldn't accurately predict my future
My mama said "Son, now you better be good"
And I swear I did everything I could

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

#48. I Am Trying To Read Your Mind – The 80 Aces


Jarrod Hawker: drums.
Matt Hewson: bass, backing vocals.
Jade McLaren: vocals.
Matt Neal: guitar, vocals.

Lyrics by Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren & Matt Neal.
Music by Jarrod Hawker, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren & Matt Neal.
Written some time between mid-2005 and early 2007.
Recorded at Noise Studios in mid-2007.
Produced and mixed by Marcus Jennings.
Released on The 80 Aces EP.


I guess this is the closest thing The 80 Aces had to a “hit”. Magic Shoes may have been played at the end of an AFL game on Channel 7, but this got played on Triple J. Twice. Thank you, Dom Alessio.

None of us heard it the first time it got played on Triple J but the second time was one of the coolest moments of my musical life. My fellow Aces Jade McLaren, Jarrod Hawker and I had just finished our week of recording the Dollars EP with Steven Schram and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. We were enjoying a beer, listening to Triple J on my porch, when out of nowhere I Am Trying To Read Your Mind came on. It took a while for us to realise it was our song – at first I was thinking ‘holy shit, someone’s ripped us off!’. Then I realised it was us.

On the "set" of the film clip for I Am Trying To Read Your Mind
with director James McAnulty.

“It was this song that ticked off the most significant box on the bucket list - randomly being played on radio without our prior knowledge,” Hawk recalled.

“That moment was made even more special by the fact that it happened during recording of the Dollars EP.”

Unfortunately our bass player Kyle McLaren wasn’t there to enjoy the moment, but hell, Kyle’s not even playing on this track, so fuck him. That’s former Ace Matt Hewson busting out the tasty bass on this track.

Tasty. 
PIC: Dylan Buzolich.

“I liked everything about this song – from the time we had it up for live performance it was my favourite to play,” Hewy recalled.

Hewy helped Jade and I write the words on this one, which came up a treat, I reckon. Hewy agreed.

“The lyrics had been really written collectively, unlike many of our tunes, and while some of them were very clever it was more about how they all fit together – although the fact that we got the line 'It matters not if I was [sic] Sherl...lock Holmes with Jedi mind tricks' in there pleases me greatly,” he recalled.

I agree. I fucking love that line, although I can’t tell if it’s incredibly smart or so-dumb-it’s-awesome. Or maybe just dumb. Whatever.

Before taking the song to Hewy and Jade, I already had the chorus written (the title line is inspired by Wilco’s excellent tune I Am Trying To Break Your Heart). In fact the chorus kicked around for a year or more because I couldn’t figure out what the hell to do for the rest of the song. I knew I’d written the chorus, but it was probably going to be fairly quiet and mellow, which seemed a bit weird for a rock band.


Eventually I had an epiphany. After constantly trying to find different ways to approach songwriting and to come up with unique song ideas, one had just landed in my lap – instead of doing the traditional quiet verse/loud chorus dynamic (as seen in most Nirvana or Pixies songs), I was gonna flip it. Loud verse, quiet chorus. Fucking simple and blindingly obvious, but a very underused trick.


“It was fun having a tune where the verse is rocking, but the chorus is comparatively light – a deliberate turn-about that I know Doc was also quite happy with,” Hewy said.

“The harmonies were a lot of fun to sing, too. The form was straightforward with a few quirks – the 14-bar chorus, which includes a six-bar phrase along with an eight-bar phrase, is echoed in the cyclical six-bar outro. The chorus and outro chords themselves sound simple (and they are), but they move in ways not typical to pop rock, nor to our usual writing. The riff is a bit of a corker too.”

I showed Jade and Hewy the punkish verse riff I had to go with the pretty descending chorus and they seemed enthused about the idea of reversing the usual dynamics. Bouncing off the chorus I’d already written, we quickly came up with a list of ideas for verse lines relating to psychics and mind reading and general communication breakdown shenanigans (the type that happen in probably every relationship) and whipped the song into shape in no time at all. At some point I convinced them both that I should sing the verse and Jade sing the chorus, thus accentuating the dynamic different between the rough and raucous verse and the smooth and gentle chorus (ie. Jade’s voice is far prettier than mine).

Pictured: A pretty voice and a not-so-pretty voice.
PIC: Dannii Hale.

Hewy also praised Hawk’s drumming, and if I was still unsure about whether the song was going to work or not, my fears were quickly allayed when Hawk started fitting his beats to it with his typical skill and style.

“I … love the drumming throughout, as Hawk uses excellent space in the chorus, then drives hard with a double snare through the verses and a straight rock beat through the outro,” Hewy said.

Another shot from the filming of the clip.

“The tune isn’t rocket science, but I always felt it had that blend of ballsy energy and intelligent songwriting that, if I may say, we often strived to reach without quite getting there, or at least not in such a natural-sounding way. And the result was that it was effortless to play live, and the whole band would lock in and nail it every time through sheer enjoyment.”

Hawk reckons I Am Trying To Read Your Mind is the best song The 80 Aces ever wrote  He might be right. It certainly captures perfectly that blend Hewy was talking about, as well as the two elements that were always fighting for oxygen when we wrote a song – the grungey rock and the singalong pop.

If nothing else, the song is something of a marker. Buoyed by the Triple J airplay (it also got played a fair bit on Coast FM, which is a rarity for a local band), it made us aim higher, as if the next level was just within our grasp.

The film clip even got played on Rage, which buoyed us even further. It was filmed very simply and quickly one night at the old Hai Bin Restaurant where we jammed, and put together by the very talented James McAnulty. Our only feedback to him in the editing phase was to crank up that shaky camera effect. He did a great job.


Lyrics:

A body language that I can’t speak
Subconscious hide and seek
A mind game with no rules
Divination, try to scry
The crystal ball of your eye
And I’ll consult the oracles

‘Cos I am trying to read your mind
So that I don’t break your heart
Into pieces hard to find
So that I don’t break your heart

You, you’re speaking in ESP
You thinking in prophecy
I’ll telephone all the psychics
Your implying and I’ll infer
It matters not if was
Sherlock Holmes with Jedi mind tricks


Monday, 3 November 2014

#47. IAmAI – The Extreme Sprinklers


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

Lyrics by Jade McLaren and Matt Neal
Music by Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Written late 2004.
Recorded at The Shed, Warrnambool in April, 2006.
Produced, engineered and mixed by Harry Fahey.



Sorry for the hiatus. The reasons are irrelevant, but suffice to say I’ve been super busy, super lazy, and I started drinking beer again.

But on with the show. Let’s try something different with this one - let’s get all Buzzfeed/Cracked on it and do this blog as a ‘listicle’. Those things are hot right now, right? So here are five things you didn’t know about IAmAI (a song you’ve probably never even heard and therefore didn’t know anything about anyway).

1. IAmAI is a missed opportunity

The only recordings I have of this song are two so-so recordings made during two different rehearsals while we were still kinda figuring out how to play it. We never got around to doing it in a studio and didn’t play it live for long, which is a bit of a shame, ‘cos I really dig the song (more on that later).

A few months after we made this recording of the song, drummer Harry Fahey quit the band, and when new drummer Jarrod Hawker came on board (and we renamed ourselves The 80 Aces) this song fell by the wayside for some reason.

This photo was taken a matter of months before Harry quit.
See how pained he looks? PIC: Glen Watson.

Aside from it dying a quiet death, one of the main reasons I feel it was a missed opportunity is because it’s the kind of song that would have benefitted from a lot more playing and rehearsing. When I listen back to the above recording, I can hear Harry, bassist Matt Hewson and myself slowly gelling together in the jammy bits, occasionally locking in, but not quite getting there. A bit of gigging and more rehearsing could have turned the song into an epic monster.

It also would have benefitted from me being better at improvising and jamming. If only I’d known then what I know now.

Is this how you improvise? PIC: Glen Watson

2. IAmAI is about a robot

The idea for the song came from an intriguing notion vocalist Jade McLaren (at least, I think it was Jade) had about writing a song likening being a boyfriend to being a robot. There may have been some discussion about women eventually replacing men with robots or something, I don’t know – I don’t remember. What I do remember is we were trying to get some vague symbolism in there connecting boyfriends and robots. I’m not sure it really worked but reading back over the lyrics, I realised there’s a sad little story in there about a robot devoted to an owner who ultimately rejects him. I think it’s an interesting story. Probably an accident, but still kinda cool.

3. The title changed for nerdy reasons

This song was originally called AI and I’m now going to tell a really crap story about renaming it to IAmAI. You see, I didn’t know this recording existed until last year when Harry unearthed it while trying to find lost songs for my blog. All I had was a really shitty, one-mic recording of us learning the song. It sounds like shit.

Anyway, when Harry let me know he’d found this hitherto unknown recording of IAmAI, I told Harry I was doing the blog alphabetically (in case you hadn’t noticed) and joked that I’d have to rename the song to fit it in because I’d already finished doing songs starting with ‘A’. Harry jokingly suggested IAmAI as a new title because he thought it was cool to have a song title that was a palindrome. I thought that was cool, and Hewy agreed, saying it “tickles my wordy wicket”. Whatever that means.

Cool story, bro.

This film probably had something to do with the original title, 
as opposed to calling it, say, Bicentennial Man.

4. I really like this song

Jade pointed out recently that song sounds “sooooo ‘90s” which is maybe part of why I like it. It reminds me of The Smashing Pumpkins and some of their massive jammy epics, which build around a cool riff and are super-dynamic, ie. the loud bits are really loud and rocking and the quiet bits are really quiet and restrained.


I also like that it’s got weird chords, a slightly strange structure, and room to jam. It’s exactly the type of song I’ve been trying to write lately – songs that have definite parts to them but leave room for massive jams (mostly because I feel more confident in my jamming skills now). But it seems I accidentally wrote it about 10 years ago when I didn’t have the chops to pull it off.

The structure is something I’m particularly proud of because it’s different to everything else we were doing (which was usually double verse-chorus-verse-chorus-middle eight-chorus). I always thought of IAmAI having two sections – there’s the riff, which forms the verse, and then the B section, which doubles every time you play it. First time around, the B section is two chords over four bars, then it’s four chords over eight bars, then it’s eight chords over 16 bars. You’re probably thinking “Whatevs!”, but I always think that kind of shit is cool.

5. When you don’t play is just as important as when you do play

I’d like to preface this last bit by saying Jade is a great singer. It was part of the reason I wanted to be in a band with him – being able to write for a voice like his was (and is) a wonderful opportunity. He’s got probably twice the range that I have, so it opened up so many songwriting doors.


Including this awesome-looking door, which led to 
our rehearsal room from '05-'07. PIC: Glen Watson.

This recording isn’t one of Jade’s finest moments. He probably doesn’t want me to post it, but sorry – the Anthology is nothing if not complete. When he’s wailing over the band jamming… it’s not good. He doesn’t need to be even singing there – he should just let the band do its thing and get out of the way. Jade will agree. Having said that, it’s a bit unfair to pick on this recording though, because it was made during a rehearsal where we were obviously still learning the song and figuring out what we could and couldn’t do with it.

But it does bring about an opportune moment to talk about one of the most important music lessons I was ever taught, which is this: when you don’t play is just as important as when you do play. It probably seems like a blatantly obvious idea but it wasn’t until someone actually put it into words for me (probably Harry) that I realised the importance of dynamics and working as a band and not a group of individual musicians. Where Hewy, Harry and Jade don’t play in this is just as important as when they do play.

Meanwhile, I just play all the fucking time in this one. Make of that what you will.

All the fucking time.
PIC: Glen Watson.


Lyrics

I’ll clean up after you and check your doors are locked
You can push me around and reprogram me

Accept me, even though I’m only wires

Customize me until I’m connected
I’m starting to feel like I’m at home

Accept me, even though I’m only doing what I was made to do

My circuits are user-friendly
You have been saved into my memory banks

Accept me even though I’m only thinking in numbers

My time has run out, the new model has arrived
There’s no farewell for me, I’m on the scrapheap

Reject me after all I’m only wires
I’m only wires 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

#46. How To Get Kidnapped


Harry Fahey: drum programming
Matt Neal: vocals, guitar, bass

Lyrics by Matt Neal
Music by Harry Fahey and Matt Neal
Written and recorded at Kellie’s Swamp, Warrnambool in July-August 2005
Produced by Matt Neal
Mixed by Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal


I’ve spoken previously in this blog about my love of XTC (in particular here, here and here). To me they are the musical benchmark to which I aspire – rhythmically, lyrically, melodically, chordally (cordially?), tonally, texturally … they impress me on every level.

Because of this I may have over-stepped the line between homage and plagiarism on this track. I’ll happily admit to borrowing a rhythm here and there or a couple of notes or an idea – that’s natural, all musicians do it, everything’s been done anyway. But on this song, I think I went too close to out-and-out ripping off an XTC song called You And The Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful.


It’s a fucking amazing song, so can you blame me? My track is partially a bad facsimile, mostly in the verses – the rhythms of the guitars, the melody and the drums just seem too close in my present-day ears. I do have a specific memory of getting Extreme Sprinklers drummer Harry Fahey to do the drum programming for me and telling him I wanted something “a bit Latin and a bit You And The Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful”. So I knew at the time, but that didn't stop me.

It’s in the guitar solos too – that’s me trying to copy those weirdly jazzy solos XTC guitarist Dave Gregory played. Ultimately the whole song is me testing myself, to see how XTC-ish I could get. I think I failed the test. The thing I really didn’t comprehend was matching the tone of the lyrics with the vibe of the song – something XTC’s Andy Partridge excels at.

Here I am, getting weirdly jazzy in a solo.

I sang this with a cold at 5am in the morning. I was apparently struck by the thought that the vocals would sound “interesting” when I was tired and full of snot, and yeah, I guess they do. But “interesting” is sometimes just a synonym for “shit”.

Having said all that, I do love elements of this song. The guitar sounds are cool, especially that weird backwards swirly one after the first verse (yep, that’s a guitar), the unnecessary outro loop, and the distorted power chords that come in for the second verse. The song probably doesn’t need two guitar solos, let alone a 20-second one and a later 40-second one, but I couldn’t bear to part with them because I really dig them, especially the latter one. Also, I love the title. The idea for it came from seeing one of those Worst Case Scenario-style books about what to do when you’re kidnapped or attacked by a shark or in a tornado and I thought it would be funny to flip that notion.

Maybe it needed another guitar solo.

But figuring out what How To Get Kidnapped meant as a title (and, therefore, as a song) led to a dark place and the resulting lyrics are a bunch of passive-aggressive self-deprecating bollocks about what was going wrong at the time with my headspace in my first marriage, all buried under some semi-cryptic nonsense. It’s basically me admitting that I was fucking up, but being totally aware that I wasn’t doing anything to fix the problem. “Wrongs are all righted then repeat the cycle” isn’t exactly the winning attitude of a potential Husband Of The Year, nor is the misguided notion that staying in with the missus is akin to being “kidnapped”. But you live and learn, and if you don’t, you get dumber and die.

You may have noticed that very few of the songs in this blog have been deeply personal or self-exploratory or honestly emotional. I’ve written those kinds of songs, but they don’t tend to get recorded or offered up to the bands I play in. I don’t know why – I guess they tend to feel too simple or self-indulgent or embarrassing or something. I’ve always preferred to try to write the cleverly detached songs about things that no one else is writing about yet which are somehow (hopefully) universal in some way. Anyone can write a song about how sad and fucked up they are, right? It’s easy to write about your “feelings”. But how many people are writing songs about playing hackysack and being Canadian and people falling down Niagara Falls?

Fuck feelings.

Pics by Tenielle McLam and Dannii Hale.

Lyrics

I am the talking donkey
Always caught flat-footed with all hooves in my mouth
I’m always talking in the wrong key
And always held to ransom by a sense of doubt

I am the howler monkey
The biggest buffoon of the baboons in this house
Negotiations get wonky
She has every right to tie me to the couch

All my desires are here by the fire
I know how to get kidnapped
I know how to get kidnapped
Wrongs are all righted then repeat the cycle
I know how to get kidnapped
I know how to get kidnapped

I am the festive turkey
High as a kite but always gone with the wind
What I get I am deserving
But I’ve got Stockholm Syndrome and I’m happy staying in

Monday, 28 July 2014

#45. How It Goes In The Movies – 21st Century Ox


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

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


When I messaged my old bandmates from 21st Century Ox about doing the blog for this song, I prefaced it by saying I thought it was the worst song we ever did (which is saying something). I may have been overstating it – Erstwhile and Clichéd are definitely worse - but it’s not far off the pace.

I liked it back in the day when I was in my early 20s and thought it was the best thing I’d ever written (it probably was at the time). I thought it was kinda clever lyrically, poking fun at rom-com tropes (it’s about the film Breakfast At Tiffany’s) while still being angsty (“’cause no one gets it perfect like that”) and the chords all fit together beautifully. In fact, I don’t think I’d written a song with so many different chords in it before (12 different chords, in case you’re wondering), nor had I written a song so effortlessly - it only took about 20 minutes.

But now, it all feels a bit meh, a bit middle-of-the-road. It’s a nice recording, done by Tony Peel for Ox’s aborted second album, and the band plays really nicely and subdued, but it all just feels a bit soppy and saccharine to me now.

In the studio recording the unfinished second album. 
That's Dion Barker in the darkness of the bottom left-hand corner,
Harry Fahey in the headphones, Tony Peel on the right
and Matt Hewson in the background.

So what did the other guys think?

Guitarist/vocalist Brendan Hoffmann admits it wasn’t a favourite back in the day because it was too light and fluffy, which is why it usually got played towards the start of the night when we did three-setters, but he concedes he’s mellowed over the years.  

“I like it now but I used to not like it so much,” Hoffa said, calling it a “good little ditty”.

“I didn't like it at first because I think I wanted to take the band in a more rock-oriented direction (and I) thought (the song) was … a bit soppy. But my tastes have changed (and) I got out all my rock ‘n’ roll angst with my solo stuff!”

Here's some of Hoffa's solo stuff - it's heavy, it's angsty, and Hoffa is a talented bastard.


Bassist Dion Barker was even more enthusiastic about How It Goes In The Movies.

“Au contraire, mon frère! It was right up there amongst my favourites along with Erstwhile (and) New Year’s Eve,” Dion said.

“Who doesn't like a slow dance every now and then? This is one song where nobody over-played (well not in this version, anyway!) and everything just slotted in nicely. I still enjoy regularly sitting back, listening and reminiscing to this old chestnut over a glass of sherry in the evening... or sometimes the afternoon... occasionally in the mid to late morning or over breakfast... but never at dusk!”

Dion recording the second album, which was to be titled The Last Sane Man On Earth.

Drummer Harry Fahey concurs (although not necessarily with Dion’s drinking habits).

“(I) loved playing this song ... and not just miming to the intro,” Harry said. (Note: the guys used to do that all the freaking time to try and put me off in the ‘emo’ moments of songs.)

“It has a really understated groove, probably a product of what Dion said - it all just falling into place. It was a great inoffensive number to throw into the first few numbers in front of any crowd (versatile) and very vivid lyrics that were some of the only ones I knew well enough to sing to myself!”

Straight out of my first-year TAFE journal.

So there you have it – everyone else likes it, except me. I don’t hate, it’s just that - as I said before – it's a bit M.O.R. And is the world really big enough for two songs about Breakfast At Tiffany’s?


Lyrics

He’s just the new guy at the top of the stairs
She’s just a phony without any cares
She’s funny and crazy and wrapped up in class
But don’t let her pass
‘Cause that isn’t how these things usually end

And have you seen that movie?
It’s all made up ‘cos no one gets it perfect like that
And have you seen that movie?
They end up kissing out in the rain

Take a taxi ride in the rain
To find out that this girl hasn’t changed
Throw her the ring and storm out of the car
But don’t get far
‘Cause that isn’t how these things usually end

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

#44. Housework – The Extreme Sprinklers


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

Lyrics by Matt Hewson and Matt Neal.
Music by Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Written in 2005.
Recorded on February 24, 2006, at Motherlode Studio, Warrnambool.
Produced, mixed and engineered by Gus Franklin and Tony Peel.


I’m not sure why, but Extreme Sprinklers bassist Matt Hewson and I have never written many lyrics together. It’s strange – we both love to write and both seem to be on the same wavelength creatively, musically and intellectually (I think). Yet I can count on one hand the number of things we’ve written together, despite being friends for close to 15 years and playing music together for nearly a decade in 21st Century Ox, The Extreme Sprinklers and The 80 Aces.

One of the few things we have written together is the lyrics for Acting Like A Child (click the link for more info, yo) and another is the lyrics to this song, Housework. Here’s Hewy to explain the genesis of the song.

Jazzing out together at the Timor Street art house party. PIC: Colleen Hughson.

“So at the time I came up with the tune for this, I was playing a bit of guitar and expanding my own songbook as an after-party amateur guitarist-singer,” Hewy said.

“I was listening through my iTunes and came across some You Am I stuff, and I'm pretty sure the idea for the beat came from Good Morning, which is a tune I really dig. So I sat down with that beat in my head, came up with the chords, and then heard Tim Rogers singing a melody to it in my head. Voilá."


“Unfortunately, my internal Tim Rogers didn't help me out with lyrics. I needed Doc to help me with them, and I'm pretty sure it was a one-session job out in my studio*. I think Doc and I found a bit of a synergy with the creative use of words in that one, so the lyrics are actually pretty cool, even though I had a hand in them.

“This is maybe the only tune I've brought along to the Sprinklers/Aces that they didn't seem to secretly (or not-so-secretly) hate at first listen and forever more. It's probably the pop/rock tune that I'm most proud of having a big hand in writing, and I have always been pretty stoked that the rest of the band always seemed to enjoy playing it a lot.

*May not be actual studio.”

Me and Hewy, prior to being falling-down drunk at 
Kennedy's Creek Music Festival. PIC: Pudgey O'Keefe.

In fact, this song outlived Hewy’s longevity in the band. When he quit to go and be a jazz superstar (this may or may not be the actual reason he left The Extreme Sprinklers, which had morphed into The 80 Aces by then), the song continued on in the setlist, and was even recorded by the current line-up during a demoing session at Tony Peel’s Motherlode Studios a couple of years ago.

But I’ve got to say it never sounded as good as when Hewy, Harry, Jade and I played it. That line-up built the song up around Hewy’s cool seventh chords in the verses and that killer chorus progression and it just felt more natural when that line-up got that swing going. The version at the top of this blog is the best take from a live session we did in Peely’s studio with Gus Franklin at the helm. I’m not sure why exactly we were recording – I think we were just demoing.

While Hewy hears Good Morning, I always thought there was something a bit Green Day-ish about the song, in particular Longview – maybe it’s just the same groove. But, in my opinion, the song that Housework is most reminiscent of is this:


Drummer Harry Fahey agrees, although he said he also heard something “Ben Folds Five-esque” in the backing vocals in the chorus.

“(It was a) fun song to play and bop to, but listening back I wish I had played less notes on this one,” Harry said.

“In fact that seems to be a common thought for me with a lot of these songs, less would have been more. Thanks hindsight, you tricky bitch!”

The Extreme Sprinklers, playing too many notes in The Shed. PIC: Glen Watson.

Hewy agrees with Harry's Ben Folds Five sentiment: "As a huge BFF fan the harmonies were definitely influenced by them," he said.

"The chorus chords were also deliberate modulations to Bb and Ab, and those ultra-poppy harmonies helped make the strange sound familiar. I think that's all I've got (about this song), except that the lyrics were really fun to write as well."

Lyrically I’m pretty proud of this one too and enjoyed the process. Hewy and I definitely got on a wavelength and conjured up a scene of domestic "unbliss" that we figured a lot of people could probably understand.

On a wavelength after a gig at The Cally in Hamilton.

Final word from singer Jade McLaren:

“Lyrics were great … ‘Our crosswords have no clues’ ... love that line.”

Lyrics

I awake to my alarm
She’s already gone and broke the morning calm
Waking up begins the day
The sour taste of breakfast always is the same

I’m going crazy
But is it you or is it me
Give me something
Won’t you tell me what you see from your side of the room

Midday movie tells the time
Head to head but never seeing eye to eye
You know our crosswords have no clues
The housework’s not the only work we have to do

The table’s set, let’s take a seat
Dinner’s cold but we both know we’ll still eat
Things will go bump in the night
Maybe next time the sunrise will make it right



Monday, 14 July 2014

#43. Hey Jade – 21st Century Ox


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

Lyrics by Matt Neal.
Music by Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Written late 2001.
Recorded at the Barker residence, October 2-10, 2003.
Recorded and mixed by Dave Wilson.



You can blame 80 Aces singer Jade McLaren for this one. Not only is it about him, but the style of the song was inspired by Fountains Of Wayne, which was a band Jade got me in to.

When we were doing a writing course at TAFE together in 1999-2000, we hung out constantly and Jade would often play Fountains Of Wayne’s self-titled debut, which is a killer album. I knew a couple of the songs (Radiation Vibe, Sink To The Bottom), but the whole record is really cool – it’s solid, smart guitar-pop. If the only Fountains Of Wayne song you know is Stacy’s Mom, you’re doing yourself a disservice. That is their worst song. Go and listen to their first album. Do it now. I’ll wait.

Here's track one to get you going.

Cool. Welcome back. I love the lyrics on that first album - a lot of the songs seem to be just simple little snapshots about regular, everyday people. I figured they must be real people because they were such neatly drawn yet almost mundane portraits of characters that seemed too innocuous to be fictitious – the Spanish ladies man who can do sign language (Joe Rey), the strange girl who moved to New York (Barbara H), the office worker who’s over it (Sick Day), the cool girl with the jerk boyfriend (Leave The Biker).


I also liked that they wrote songs with titles that were people’s names. Sure, The Beatles did that all the time (Michelle, Eleanor Rigby, Dear Prudence), but The Beatles were in a league of their own. The music of Fountains Of Wayne (and Ben Folds and his Five for that matter – they have so many songs named after people) seemed to be on a more reachable level. So I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to write a song about somebody, and name it after somebody’.

So I picked Jade, primarily for the Fountains Of Wayne connection. I was trying to sound a bit like them – musically it feels like a mixture of Leave The Biker and Sink To The Bottom – so it seemed fitting to write it about Jade. Also, I got to use a bad Beatles reference (much like the final piano chord in Leave The Biker) by calling it Hey Jade. Geddit?

That guy with the tape dispenser.

I think I achieved the mundane simplicity I was going for. It’s just about us going to class and shooting hoops in his backyard, as well as the fact that Jade loved to sing while driving and rarely got up before the crack of noon. Nothing terribly spectacular there.

This recording was a live demo my old band 21st Century Ox did during Dion’s Week Of Debauchery, where we set up a studio-load of gear in bassist Dion Barker’s lounge room while his folks were away. I reckon this take was done on one of the first two days of that week-long stint when we were just running through a bunch of songs to test out the recording gear, get a feel for the set-up, and get some kind of recording of some songs we’d never laid down before.

Dion, prior to debauchery, with a 21st Century Ox poster.

As a result the playing is a bit sloppy early on, but finds its feet by the end. I like the tasty sax that only comes in right at the end and the grungy rhythms of the chorus. The “ahh-ahh” pre-outro is pretty cool too, even if I do say so myself.

This song was largely forgotten by the members of Ox until it was unearthed by drummer Harry Fahey, who found it in a forgotten box of forgotten recordings.

Here’s Dion:
“I'd forgotten how awesome that song was! How come that never made it to number one in the charts? It was (added to the set-list) very late in the Ox years and I do remember struggling a bit with the changes, although that was probably true for a lot of the songs! It was a really fun song to play though when we nailed it.”

But the last words should undoubtedly go to the man himself.

The man himself.

“Back when music was still wizardry to me, Doc came up to me and asked me to have a listen to a song he'd written about me,” Jade recalled.

“So I sat waiting for the punchline but he was serious. I can’t remember where we listened to it but I liked it and was humbled that someone could make a song about me last for longer than 30 seconds. I can see what he was going for - trying to get all those little catchy things I liked at the time in one song. My favourite line is ‘hey Jade you live hand grenade’ – I gotta use that again somewhere.”

Lyrics:

Hey Jade
You sleep all day and when you get out of bed the nights on its way
Hey Jade
Come out and play we found a new ball and there’s a game under

Hope this is the kind of song you like
Listen to it when you’re up all night
Hope this is the kind of song you’ll sing
At the top of your voice when you’re in your car

Hey Jade
You live hand grenade, a victory dance for every shot that you’ve made
Hey Jade
What have you written today, get ready for class or else we’re gonna be late