Monday, 7 November 2016

#77. Monsters – Jackson, Doc, Dave, Brooke & Amanda


Brooke Altmann: backing vocals, percussion
Amanda Barley: backing vocals, percussion
Jackson McLaren: vocals, guitar
Matt Neal: bass, backing vocals, percussion
Dave Yates: backing vocals, percussion

Music and lyrics by Daniel Kirk, Jackson McLaren, Matt Neal and Dave Yates.
Written September or October 2007.
Recorded at The Shed, October 20 and November 30, 2007.
Additional recording at Princess Street, 2008.
Produced and mixed by Matt Neal.



I’ve been looking forward to this one.

While preparing this overly ambitious and unnecessarily thorough blog, I dug back through hundreds of computer files and discs, searching for every song that was good enough to show to the public. There were a lot that weren’t (and they will never see the light of day) but among the pile was some decent stuff (about 150 tracks and counting).

There were songs buried in the lost corners of hard drives and rewriteable CDs that no one outside of the creators had heard before. Some of them were gems that made me really excited about undertaking this project.

You’ve heard some of these already. I was stoked that people would finally get to hear Magicians, the song that was left off the first 80 Aces EP, as well as all the old electro stuff I did in the late ‘90s-early ‘00s (there’s more of that to come). The idea that people would finally get to hear the kooky and largely unreleased wonders of 21st Century Ox for the first time was pretty cool. And then there were solo home-recorded tracks like Chinese Whispers and Dancing In The Station that I was quietly proud of and had never shown anyone (aside from one or two special people).

But one of the tunes that got me the most jazzed about this project was this one. Monsters was compiled over three wonderfully drunken sessions that were as much about having fun with fantastically creative people as they were about making a song. Recollections are hazy and largely non-existent, but the facts (as largely gleaned from file time stamps) are these:

The fact that this shot of Daniel Kirk and I was taken at dawn
should give some indication as to why recollections are hazy.

Sometime in September or October 2007, Daniel Kirk, Jackson McLaren, Dave Yates and I gathered at The Shed, which was the rehearsal space The Extreme Sprinklers shared with The Chosen Few behind what is now Reunion. We were armed with a few guitars and a large quantity of very cheap-and-nasty bottles of red wine and over the course of a couple of hours, we nutted out the words and music to this song. The chords and melodies were largely Jackson’s creation - even back then, when he was still but a young lad, he could just shit out the most incredible musical ideas like it was nothing. Looking at the chord structure in hindsight, it feels kind of Bowie-esque, and for some bizarre reason it’s a nine-bar progression. I remember having trouble figuring out the bass line because of the extra bar.

Me trying to figure out how Jackson is playing upside-down guitar.

Here’s Jackson “Left-handed” McLaren:

“I remember playing a right-handed acoustic guitar upside down that my art teacher Mrs Morgan gave me from the art store room at Warrnambool College. It was a prop for still life drawing and it was a terrible guitar to play! I think that's partly why the guitar sounds a bit clunky but it kind of works for the song.”

It always blew my mind that Jackson could play a right-handed guitar upside-down just as well as he could play a left-handed guitar right-way-up. It only occurred to me recently that the guitar sound on this track is a bit different - I suspect Jackson playing upside-down might be part of the reason for that, as well as the quality of the guitar itself and the natural reverb of the big room he was playing in.

Jackson and I.

The lyrics are a true collaboration, with the idea being of writing a song from the point of view of Frankenstein’s monster (or some such terrifying creature), who would perceive the people chasing him as the real monsters. Kirky, Jackson and Dave all have a fantastic way with words and we pieced this together from lines we’d all come up with. I was of the belief the lyrical idea was Dave’s, but Dave reckons it was Jackson’s.

“It was a strange sensation seeing people 'whittle down' this idea that McLaren brought in - refining this vague sense of monsters and townspeople and chords and harmony parts until we'd laid the idea bare,” Dave said.

“Then to watch a group of creative personalities plug into the idea and start shaving pieces off, or glueing pieces on, or re-arranging the parts ... these weird disagreements about the feel that the song needed to have to convey the idea, where people were presenting an opinion on a half-formed, intuitively felt sense of how to move forward. (We were) like a bunch of excited kids with a Meccano set, no instructions and this deeply pleasing sense of watching this thing emerge between the tension of people's ideas and agreements and additions and contradictions and corrections.

“I felt like a third wheel for most of the process, but at the same time priviliged to be part of the musical birthing process. Or maybe this was the flirting and first date make-out. (It) was the first time I'd ever been part of a musical collaboration where someone brought in a brand new idea. Just for context, I had no musical knowledge, didn't play an instrument and was basically just along for the Stones Green Ginger Wine and good times.”

Good times with Dave.

A few weeks later, we all returned to the shed (Kirky may or may not have been there, I can’t recall) to try and record the song. Jackson laid down his guitar and vocals, I added some bass and a few of us had a go at laying down the drum track (which was played on a deeply de-tuned floor tom). The session began around 10pm and we were all too smashed to do anything further by 1am.

Was Kirky there? Who knows?

We then returned about a month later (at the far more civil time of 7.45pm) and put down the group singalong. I don’t think Kirky was there but Amanda Barley and Brooke Altmann were.

Jackson and Brooke.

Here’s Amanda:

“I remember drinking Stones, and Doc doing his impression of Michael J. Fox ... aaaaand that's about it. Oh and Jackson passing out on the couch.”

“It was way past my bedtime,” Jackson said.

Amanda and I.

Here’s Dave again:

“When we recorded, I was part of singing back up and I remember feeling my way nervously and quietly through the song until the very end when I saw a place to make a noise, and it seemed like a good place for a noise, and I had an idea for a noise that would fit there just right, and I made a noise and it came out just like I'd felt it and it felt deeply right to make that noise.”

Dave is, of course, referring to his “wooooo” at the end of the song, which I had to leave in the mix because it kind of summed up the vibe of the whole process and it would have made Dave sad if I’d cut it out.

A few months after that “wooooo”, I added the missing guitar solo (not a very good one mind you) and had the first of many cracks at mixing it. Every few years I would go back and have another go at mixing, trying to utilise the production tricks I’d learnt in between attempts. The first mix was very clean, but later I went and put back in the chatter at the start to better capture the feeling of the recording. I also ramped up the harmonies throughout and dug out a cool percussion loop made by everyone banging on bottles and tables and junk lying around.

It was a drunken time.

This track was something of a high point in a very creative (and very drunken) time. It was around this point I was playing drums with Kirky in SS Radio, Dave and I wrote a couple of songs together, and so did Jackson and I. This was the only collaboration involving Dave and I to be recorded, but maybe another will be recorded in the near future. Meanwhile Jackson and I went on to write Anniversary together, plus a few others lost to the mists of time. He also played a major part in writing and demoing an 80 Aces song which you’ll hear a lot further down the blog line.

Overall, the recording of Monsters is pretty scrappy (check out the shitty playback in the background of the end singalong) yet surprisingly good for the shoddy drunken conditions (one mic, no pre-amps, dodgy laptop, an excess of wine and Stones). I’m kinda surprised this even got recorded to be honest - I suspect Jackson’s level-headedness and top notch skills anchored the whole thing pretty well.

Jackson and I, older and soberer.

Here’s Jackson again:

“Just had a listen to the song and it transported me back to the old shed - Stones Green Ginger wine, lots of cigarettes, the Doctor’s songwriting notebook, the keenness I felt for 'hunting' down a song, and most importantly the wonderful company and friendship of those wild musical adventures.”

And with the last word, here’s Dave:

“(Monsters was) the first time I saw how this weird musical intuition that you feel in your waters translates through the math of music into all this amazing sound that we have in the world. I think that was probably when I got hooked.”



Lyrics:

Wrap the field around me like a blanket in my bed
Where I am warm
And I feel safe

From the people with pitchforks and their torches burning
Angry glow
But they can't see me

Maybe I'm the monster but they seem like monsters to me
Maybe they're
Not looking for me

They wrap their arms around me in a not-so-friendly way
Then they say
"We've got you now!"

They won't say what I've done so how can I make amends
They take me to the square and this is where it ends

There's no such thing as monsters
No such thing


Thursday, 22 September 2016

#76. Mexicalia

Matt Neal: programming

Recorded at Holly Court in 2006 (possibly?)
Produced and mixed by Matt Neal
Guitar samples performed and recorded by Brendan Hoffmann




While running a songwriting workshop last month (which was great fun and inadvertantly led to me writing a song - usually it's just the participants who end up writing a song), I started trying to explain this blog and its purpose (for reasons I can't recall).

Obviously a fair part of it is just pure ego - “Gather round, kiddies, Papa Doc’s gonna tell you a story about a song he wrote and recorded that one time” - and another big piece is the instructional side of it, like a sporadic dose of my songwriting workshops but in internet form with bonus pictures.

But another element to it all is finding a home for the songs that never had one. In between the tunes that peppered the setlists, EPs and albums of 21st Century Ox, The Extreme Sprinklers, The 80 Aces, and Doctor & The Apologies are the tracks that slipped through the cracks, as well as the tracks that never even made it to a place that had cracks they could slip through.

I look like I'm about to slip through a crack in this couch.

The above song and the bonus one down below were never for any particular project, nor were they made with any particular endgame in mind. It was just an experiment - ‘let’s see what happens if I do this’, so to speak.

Quite a few of the songs that have been and will be on this blog were experiments, where myself and usually my co-writer Jade McLaren would set out the rules or aims of the song before we started writing as a way of challenging ourselves and to push our songwriting brains to come up with something different.

For example, there’s a song that will come up on this blog waaaaay down the track that was an attempt to write an upbeat and happy song while predominantly using minor chords. Jamaica was another one - the challenge there was to write an anti-drug reggae song. Disco In Borneo was an experiment to see if we could create a faux Michael Jackson song. Hackysack was a personal challenge to see if I could write a song about playing hackysack.

Mexicalia came about when Brendan Hoffmann from 21st Century Ox gave me a huge bunch of samples to use with a program called FruityLoops.

This guy. You can check out his rad tunes here.

Most of the samples were of drums, bass guitars, synths and a few odds and ends (including a large amount of noises from the game Myst for some reason), but among them was a folder filled with acoustic guitar riffs and licks that Hoffa had recorded. They sounded pretty cool, so I set myself a challenge to see if I could turn them into a song.

The result is Mexicalia. A second attempt yielded the below track Ken Kesey Goes Sailing. Neither is particularly good (Mexicalia is the better of the two) and neither were ever intended to be heard. They were just experiments - little fun musical challenges to see what would happen.

As a side note, the below track got its title for no other reason than I was reading Kesey’s ‘92 novel Sailor Song at the time (which I enjoyed).

BONUS TRACK: Ken Kesey Goes Sailing

Matt Neal: programming

Recorded at Holly Court in 2006 (possibly?)
Produced and mixed by Matt Neal
Guitar samples performed and recorded by Brendan Hoffmann



Sunday, 17 July 2016

#75. Medicine Cabinets


Brendan Hoffmann - backing vocals
Matt Neal - guitar, bass, programming, vocals

Written by Matt Neal
Recorded at Kellie’s Swamp, November 22, 2004, and Hoffa’s Place, December 30, 2004.
Produced and mixed by Matt Neal
Additional engineering by Brendan Hoffmann



Parties are great fodder for songwriting. This only occurred to me recently when I realised I’d written at least four songs about parties, including I Don't Know When To Leave The Party, the title track off my last EP,


another yet to be released track, and the song that is the focus of this week’s blog - Medicine Cabinets.

They're great to write about because they have so many potentially interesting ingredients. They can have drama, a multitude of different types of interactions, weirdness, and people saying interesting things. They can have sexual chemistry (which is the subject matter of probably 80 per cent of songs), they can be a memorable moment in time, or they can be a prism through which to view certain aspects of the human condition.

Take for example Jackson McLaren’s great tune Oh My God I Know. I’m slightly biased about how great this song is because it was inspired by a party that happened at my house, but I like the way Jackson took the goings-on of that party and used them to look at ageing and responsibility.


I’m also a fan of this Franz Ferdinand song, which is reportedly comprised almost entirely of comments overheard at a party. That’s a cool idea for lyrics, and it’s a cool song.


And while we’re going I may as well throw in this gem, which covers the “memorable moment in time” angle.


As for Medicine Cabinets, it sprang from a party I attended back in 2004. The central figure was a friend who decided to take a couple of pingas before the party (at which no one else was on pingas) and proceeded to be obnoxious in a “hey, look at me” kind of way for the entire evening. It annoyed the piss out of everyone and took the shine out of the night. People were actively moving from room to room in the house in an effort to keep away from him. At some point during the party, he started raiding the host’s medicine cabinet (all the while telling everyone about it), most likely in search of Valium or Xanax or something, and began popping random pills, including what was believed to be a morning after pill. At 4am when he called his then-girlfriend to come pick him up, he was a complete mess. I don’t think anyone saw him for a couple of days. When he finally emerged from hiding, he was fairly sheepish about the whole thing.

It seemed like as good a thing as any to write a song about, but there’s definitely a hint of concern in the lyrics (especially the middle eight) and I suspect (vaguely from memory) the friend’s antics on the night in question were the low-point of a steady drug-fuelled decline. He got his shit together in the end, but I seem to recall this party being a wake-up call for him.

Let's face it; we've all had those moments.

At the time of writing this song, I’d just started The Extreme Sprinklers with Jade McLaren, Harry Fahey and Matt Hewson, and we were playing a weird mix of material, but for some reason I never pitched this song to the rest of the band. I’m not sure why. The Sprinklers had an “anything goes” approach to our original material at the time, but for some reason I decided this wasn’t up to scratch and kept it to myself. I was possibly embarrassed by the flat singing.

I recorded the demo over two days. The first was in my home studio laying down the basic guitar and bass tracks in a one-hour burst before finishing the beat and vocals at Brendan Hoffmann’s place a week or so later during a recording weekend that yielded, among other things, the demo for Ignorance Is Bliss.

As far as I can remember, only two other people have ever heard this track. It sat in the proverbial shoebox for 11 years or so until I pulled it out the other day and gave it a quick remix using every trick in the book that I’ve learned over the past decade in an effort to erase the flatness of it all and breath some life into the song.

A couple of final notes: I distinctly remember the musical inspiration for this song being the band Interpol. Jade had been playing the Antics album a heap and I had been intrigued by the band’s vocal approach and guitar rhythms and interplay, which I tried to replicate somewhat here. As with a lot of songs of mine that begin with a particular musical inspiration, the end result is a long way from what I was gunning for, which is probably a good thing.


The last thing I want to point out is the fact I managed to half-rhyme “medicine cabinets” with “non-descript sedatives”. Pretty proud of that one.


Lyrics:

And if his girlfirend doesn’t get him
then I don’t think anyone will
and if his own friends do not kill him
then it will probably be the pills

He went raiding medicine cabinets
He went eating non-descript sedatives

And he calls her up at 4am
probably having difficulties
and when she finally came to get him
he was a mess of many shades of green

I hope he pulls together and starts behaving better, yeah
I hope he pulls together and starts behaving better, yeah
I hope he pulls together and no longer in the centre of
I hope he pulls together and starts behaving better and no longer in the centre of everything

And he needs a morning after pill
cos I think that’s what he ate last night
and if the three pills do not kill him
then he’ll probably be all right

Sunday, 22 May 2016

#74. March Of The Albatross – 21st Century Ox


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

Lyrics by Brendan Hoffmann.
Music by Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Recorded in the Warrnambool City Band Hall in 2000.
Produced and mixed by Harry Fahey.
Released on the 21st Century Ox album What Am I Going To Do With All These Portaloos?.



This remains, to this day, the most Herculean feat of mixing I’ve ever seen. It probably doesn’t sound much chop to your modern ears, but this was recorded under various levels of duress by Ox drummer Harry Fahey, who it turns out is a Level 5 Sound Mage.

Here’s the set-up: It's the year 2000. My band 21st Century Ox - Warrnambool’s self-proclaimed “alternative to the alternative” - has set up shop for the day in the Warrnambool City Band Hall to do some recording. Harry, who is undertaking TAFE’s Music Industry Skills course at the time, has secured the use of TAFE’s digital four-track recorder for 24 hours. The plan is to record a demo for The Ignored so we can enter the song into the Couch Surfing competition and try to win us some money.

Yay, another chance to use this pic from The Standard of 
21st Century Ox with artist Damian "Macca" McDonald
to celebrate us all winning Couch Surfing.

The day progresses well. Harry, bassist Dion Barker, guitarist/vocalist Brendan Hoffmann and myself smash out a pretty decent demo of The Ignored (since lost to the mists of time) in between ducking up to Fishtails for coffees and getting progressively more inebriated as the day goes on.

My memories are hazy, but I think we had a crack at recording another song called Sorry I’m So Stupid after we’d finished The Ignored, but abandoned it because I couldn’t nail the vocals. So we turned our attention to a song Hoffa had written called March Of The Albatross. It was an odd tune, but one we’d been playing since our first gig in April, 2000.

First Ox setlist. April 2, 2000.

The song consisted of one lyric and one riff, played at varying degrees of heaviness, so there wasn’t much to it, but it was a song we could jam on and mess around with every time we played it. And given that we were getting pretty trashed by the time we turned our attentions to recording a new song, it was a perfect candidate.

This pic was taken during the recording session in the band hall. 
Hats took up much of the recording budget.
Pic: Brendan Hoffmann

“My original idea for the lyrics,” Hoffa said, “were my usual punk, anti-establishment comment on 'sheeple'. I was very much into me vs the drones back then. You may see a resemblance between the albatross, the cats (from a future blog) and the cash man... I definitely had a theme going!”

We laid down the basic tracks - I think the finished version was take 2 - and decided to start messing around with overdubs. This is where Harry’s heroics came into play. Remember: this is a digital four-track recorder we’re using so it only has four tracks to record on. Every time you want to record a new track, you have to “bounce” the four existing tracks on to one or two tracks to clear room. But bouncing means the mix is set. You can’t remix what you’ve bounced. There’s no undo button.

Myself, Dion and Harry getting set up for recording in the band hall.
Picture: Brendan Hoffmann.

By this stage we were fairly messed up, but Harry rallied like the trooper he is. Dion, Hoffa and I were running around coming up with crazy new layers to add to the song. There was an awesome Mega Boogie amp someone had left in the Band Hall that we made extensive use of because it sounded fucking incredible. We added stacks of percussion including coffee cups and gueros and thumping on tables (most of which is out of time and gives the song a certain psychotic seasickness). And we decided to make use of the acoustics in the bathroom for extra eerie vocals.

All the while, Harry bounced and bounced, somehow managing to retain the core drum, bass, guitar and vocal tracks. All while off his head. Like I said, it was a Herculean effort.

“Dude, it’s in the region of 40 tracks on a four-track recorder,” Harry recalled. “Fuck me that was epic! Best memory is you guys in the bathroom with a mic pointed into the sink to get that beautiful porcelain reverb and running water effect over a psycho screaming session.”

"You know what I think it needs, Harry? Psycho screaming!"
"Shut up, Doc."

Here’s Hoffa:

“The tracks upon tracks of Mesa Boogie guitar amp made for the most epic guitar sound ever in an Ox song! I remember the goth fans loved it!”

And here’s Dion:

“The recording was done in conjunction with The Ignored demo. Talk about layer upon layer upon layer! That thing had more bumps than all the posts on a Buy Swap Sell page!  A miracle of digital four-track technology, if you will.  And despite the many, many, many tracks, it's still a very uncluttered recording - it's not over-the-top, or a jumbled mess of nonsense (although very abstract).  It was one of the more polished Peppermint-esque recordings, and a symbolic representation of the playful and fun-filled genre that Doc so eloquently described as "the alternative to the alternative". Good times! Despite all the influences, H-Bomb (Harry) had the uncanny ability to keep us on task when needed. And it certainly was an experience, it just so happened that it resulted in a pretty good track, in spite of the absurdities.”

Me, laying down vocals on The Ignored. Pic: Brendan Hoffmann

Listening back, 16 years (holy shit!) later, it’s hard for me to separate the song from the experience. Compiling this track remains one of the most enjoyable recording experiences I’ve ever had. It was chaotic, experimental, and abstract, but the finished product wasn’t a total mess (thanks to Harry). We all learnt a lot and I think the recording is a good example of combining spontaneity and overdubbing, which can be tricky in a studio environment.

Yes it’s a bit of a mess. The aforementioned seasickness, as the tempo and out-of-time percussion pull against each other isn’t ideal, but it adds to the uneasiness of the finished product. Ditto for the disembodied backing vocals. But my favourite bits are a couple of unplanned guitar excursions that Hoffa does, most notably a weird little happy rhythm thing he does at 3.37, that burst of feedback that’s in there twice, and the random few chords he plays during the eerie outro as the final guitars whine out. It’s those impromptu moments that I love.

This recording ended up as one of the four hidden tracks on What Am I Going To Do With All These Portaloos?.

Needs more secret tracks.

And to cap it all off, here’s a live recording done in The Cellar (which was under the Criterion and no longer exists) on November 30, 2000 - most likely on the same four-track recorder. Not great quality, but there probably aren’t that many recordings from The Cellar kicking around.

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

Recorded in The Cellar, Warrnambool on November 30, 2000.
Recorded and mixed by the TAFE MIS crew of 2000 or maybe Harry Fahey.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

#73. Magicians – The 80 Aces


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

Lyrics by Jade McLaren & Matt Neal.
Music by Jarrod Hawker, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren & Matt Neal.
Written late 2006-early 2007.
Recorded at Noise Studios in mid-2007.
Produced and mixed by The 80 Aces and Marcus Jennings.




For reasons lost to the smoky haze of time, this song was left off the self-titled 80 Aces EP. We went into Noise Studios and recorded Guitarzan, I Am Trying To Read Your Mind, Acting Like A Child, Where Who What How Why, Lust, and this little number, with the latter not making it on to the final disc.

That's this one for those of you playing along at home.

The possible reasons are as follows:

1) I was certain that drummer Jarrod Hawker wanted it left off because he wasn’t happy with his drumming on it (Hawk assures me this is not the case).

Hawk during recording of the self-titled EP.

2) Singer Jade McLaren reckons we noticed some glitches in either the performance or the mix and we decided to leave it off because of that.

“I feel like we all decided that we wanted to put our best foot forward and we went off the quality of the recordings rather than the quality of the song,” Jade said.

“We all agreed that the recording of Magicians wasn’t as good because of a few errors that made it through to the final mix.”

Sounds legit, although listening back to it 10 years later, I’m fucked if I know what those errors were.

"How does the mix sound, Jade?"
"Shit, Hewy. Let's leave it like that."

3) Part of me suspects we left it off at my urging because my playing sounded way too Muse-like. There’s a lot of City Of Delusion in this, among other Muse tracks.


4) Another theory is that the song’s heaviness went against the grain of the rest of the EP and particularly Jade’s poppier inclinations. The 80 Aces sound was a bit of a running battle between my grungier preferences and Jade’s pop love. What I love about this EP is the balance struck between those two adverse ideologies. Whether this song tipped the balance too far one way may or may not have been a factor in it being left off the EP.

Grungey? Moi? Picture: Aaron Sawall.

Whatever the reason, the song pretty much sat in my song stash for the last decade, waiting for just this very moment to have its chance to shine.

“I always liked that song,” Hawk said.

“The rhythm section groove is cool, and the guitar sound is rad. I loved Doc’s Bellamy-esque solo and then in particular the guitar sound after that weird little bit about Houdini - it’s ‘ph’ fat. The vocal melody never say right with me but with a bit of re-working or putting through the Matt Hewson filter it could have been up there with I Am Trying To Read Your Mind. I was channelling my doppelgänger from The Butterfly Effect at the time. I was also listening to a lot of Tristan Piper haha.”


Hawk described Magicians as “the sound of The 80 Aces that I joined” and “Magic Shoes is the sound of The 80 Aces that I left”. It’s a fair point - the sound of the band changed a lot, for a number of reasons. We probably softened our sound a little in the hopes of chasing glory, and in the aforementioned battle between pop and the alternative, I think the former won out. In the end, I put most of my heavier riffs (such as those in Magicians or Invest In This Mess) to one side in order to compromise at the songwriting table. But we also broadened our sound in effort to try different things, so it certainly wasn’t just Jade’s fault that our sound changed. And in my book it wasn’t necessarily for the worse.

As for the lyrics this is probably the only political song The 80 Aces wrote. The magicians of the title are politicians. That’s about as complex as this one gets, but there are some nice lines and imagery among it all I think.

But my favourite bit (aside from the bass/vocal breakdown on the Houdini line) is the outro. When we played this live, we tried to stretch the end out for as long as we could, seeing how slow we could get it before it fell into a mess. I loved that shit.

As usual, Matt Hewson was unavailable for comment.


Lyrics:

I don’t believe it unless I can see it
Just show me exhibits and logical limits
The smoke and the mirrors flow into the river
of the shit that you dribble, it’s just so uncivil

Like sleeping dogs you lie all of the time

Bringing me closer with one hand diversions
You conjure illusions while casting aspersions
Saw me in half, a campaign in my neck
The ace up your sleeve, we’re all cards in deck

Talk in straightjackets and pull a Houdini
You don’t get three wishes from corrupted genies

Friday, 1 April 2016

#72. Magic Shoes – The 80 Aces


Jarrod Hawker – drums
Jade McLaren – vocals
Kyle McLaren – bass, vocals
Matt Neal – guitar, vocals, keyboard
Steven Schram - keyboard 

Lyrics and music by Jarrod Hawker, Jade McLaren, Kyle McLaren and Matt Neal.
Written 2010.
Recorded December 2011-January 2012 at Motherlode Studios, Warrnambool.
Produced, arranged and mixed by Steven Schram.
Additional recording and engineering by Tony Peel.
Released on the Dollars EP.
Buy it on iTunes here!





There’s more to being in a band than just playing music, and there’s more to a band than just the people in it, so in this week’s (month’s?) blog I’m going look at some of the important people that can help take your music and your band further, as seen through the prism of The 80 Aces’ attempted hit single Magic Shoes.

THE PUBLICIST

The more things change, the more they stay the same, as they say in the classics. Last week I was interviewing a couple of members of The Dead Livers and they explained to me how a journalist mate of theirs became their de facto publicist in the late ‘70s, hyping the band in print and raising their profile. It worked a treat. “It was a media manufacture to some degree,” Michael Schack said of The Dead Livers’ early fame.

This “manufactured” publicity helped set the band apart from others in the scene. It helped get them support gigs, draw more punters to their shows, and scored them more airplay than they might otherwise have got.

Fast forward three and a half decades and little has changed. In November 2015, I was invited to join a music industry forum chaired by Music Victoria as part of Warrnambool’s Aus Music Festival, which was pretty cool, and towards the end of the panel, we were asked for the one piece of advice we would give to bands. My advice was this: Get a publicist.

Here I am on the panel. In a weirdly circuitous coincidence, 
this pic was taken by Michael Schack. 

It’s the dirty secret of the music industry no one talks about, but having a publicist gets you a lot further than not having one. Bands scrape and save to afford to record their music, mix their music, master their music and release their music, but they forget the vital next step after that - promoting their music.

After The 80 Aces recorded the Dollars EP, we decided to go all out and get ourselves a publicist. We had a limited budget, but we wanted to see what would happen. I spoke to a couple of publicists I’d dealt with through my work as a music journalist. One of them told me that my band was too old for his company to take on (three of us were in our early 30s) and another said we hadn’t given them enough lead up time for the release (most PR companies prefer a few months lead up). In the end we went with On The Map PR, who are awesome. Emily, who runs the company, is supercool and used to work at Sony and she liked our stuff. I think On The Map was just getting going when we approached them but now they look after Boy & Bear, Rufus, The Presets, Ella Hooper and more.

Here's Emily with Bruce Springsteen. As you do.

I’ll be honest - this shit is expensive, but we’d busted our arses for three years playing shitty covers gigs and saving every cent for shit like this. Unfortunately we probably needed even more money - although Emily did us a good deal, she told that if we wanted to get played on the radio, we needed to hire a radio pusher. Yep, that’s a thing. If you want to get spun on Triple M or even triple j, a radio pusher helps get you on their playlists.

Although Emily couldn’t help us with airplay, she teed up a whole bunch of press opportunities for us, including a day of interviews for TV, radio and online in Melbourne.

So we did stuff like this great interview with Noise11 that it won't let me embed for some reason. And this Tone Deaf interview and we were featured on this mixtape with The XX, Cat Power and TZU and we did this AU Review interview and got this review, as well as this Beauty & Lace review and this The 59th sound review.

And this review in Xpress in Perth.


And we're featured on this from 7:50 onwards:





But best of all, Emily managed to make this happen for us, which remains a career highlight:

Magic Shoes featured on Channel 7 footy coverage
Ok so, we thought that Magic Shoes was going to be played on the pre-game stuff before the Sydney-Collingwood clash. It wasn't. Instead they played about 30 seconds of Magic Shoes at the very end of the program, right after Collingwood sung their theme song. Only time I've ever been excited after a Collingwood victory. - Doc
Posted by The 80 Aces on Sunday, August 12, 2012



So that's our song being played underneath the end of the AFL coverage. How did that come about? Emily from On The Map PR knew the right person to ask and how to ask them. And that, in a nutshell, is what publicists do that you can't do. They know people you don't know, and they know how to approach them. Best of all, they know the right people.

We also appeared on this show for Syn FM but I can't find it anywhere.

So did all this make us famous? No. But if we’d been able to organise a tour and been able to afford a bigger PR push (and maybe a radio pusher), we could have been on our way. But hiring a publicist showed us how the industry really worked, and how easy it was to make it look like we were on our way. That’s part of the trick - looking like you’re on your way. Having someone else willing to publicise your music shows others that you’re worth being interested in. A good publicist will only publicise a band worth publicising - a shit band is not worth wasting their time/image/credibility on - and that says a lot to people.



THE PRODUCER


If you watched the Noise11 interview in the link above, you would have heard Jade and I reveal Magic Shoes wasn’t even going to be on the Dollars EP. We all thought Girl From The Future was the single. But with a day left in the studio and the four of us unable to settle on a fifth song to record, we played the demos to our producer Steven Schram and let him choose the final track for the EP. With barely a moments hesitation, he picked Magic Shoes.

We hired Schramy because we liked his sound, particularly on the Ground Components album An Eye For A Brow, A Tooth For A Pick, but also because we wanted to see what a hot-shot producer would do with our music (I think he was fresh off working with San Cisco at the time - he’s since worked with Paul Kelly). Part of the agreement was we had to do what he said. We did, mostly because his suggestions made total sense, but also because he was higher up the musical food chain than us.

And also because he produced this, which is fucking rad:


Below is the original demo recording of Magic Shoes, which we knocked out live in the studio with about 18 other songs in one live session at Tony Peel’s Motherlode Studios. The wonderful Mr Peel also served as engineer on the Dollars EP, and was a great help, but I’ll talk more about him in another blog.

Demo recorded and mixed by Tony Peel at Motherlode Studios, May 28, 2011.




You’ll notice some major changes between this version and the finished Dollars EP version. I think every song on the EP underwent some kind of change in Schramy’s hands, but Magic Shoes had perhaps the most dramatic alteration. He loved the intro, verses and chorus but had issues with the bridge - he called it “the Limp Bizkit bit” and decided it had to go. He asked us to come up with something else - on the spot - to become a new lead-in to the chorus. Schramy wanted something pop. I presented a G chord, followed by a G7 chord (I was thinking Beatlesy pop) and he went “yep, that’s it” and away we went. The solo also got chopped and changed and my Gran’s old Yamaha keyboard that had been sitting in my car all week finally got a guernsey. I think Schramy actually played part of it. The song ended up 45 seconds shorter than the demo version.

Recording the Dollars EP. Pic: Tony Peel

To all of us, Magic Shoes sounded like a pop-rock nugget, and as cool as the “Limp Bizkit bit” was, it derailed the song slightly, taking it out of the pop realm. The lengthy solo was also probably unnecessary. I think Schramy was right. That’s why he’s on the big bucks.


THE FILM-MAKER




I can’t talk about this song without talking about the film clip. The inspiration for the tune was an old guy called Chris who is a regular at The Loft. Somehow, with all four of us working on the lyrics together, we took Chris’ love of music and having a dance at The Loft into the story of a guy with a magic pair of shoes … well, kinda.

Anyway, Jade had the idea of shooting an entire music video from the knee down and I thought it was a stroke of genius. No one had done that before. We had to do it for this song.

Here’s how I described it in one of our press releases (sent out by On The Map PR, no less):

“Jade came up with the idea for the clip and at first we thought it might be too difficult to pull off with no money, no crew, no time, and nothing but favours… but we knew the song Magic Shoes was the ideal opportunity to use the concept, so we just went for it!”

This is from one of those video interviews we did that you didn't watch. 
See what you missed out on?

I called in a massive favour to get it made “with no money, no crew, (and) no time”. I had worked on a couple of short films for former Warrnambool filmmaker Johnie Stanley in the past, serving as an on-set gopher, helping with script re-writes, and doing some music for two of his films. I asked him if he was keen to shoot this because I knew he had the skills to make it work and Johnie agreed, partly because he keen to get a film clip in his show reel. He brought down his cinematographer Sasha Whitehouse and together they crafted what I think is a very under-rated local music video.

Jade and I wrote a list of things that could happen in the film clip that made sense to be seen from the knee-down. Basically we wanted to show a night out on the town, but at knee level. Johnie then picked out the bits he wanted to shoot, and away we went.

So many people helped make it happen. We roped in some girls from Melissa’s Dance Elements (that’s them in the dance-off sequence), my lovely wife Dannii played the lady in the red shoes, and a heap of our friends helped make it look like a full dance floor at The Loft. It was a big effort, shot in just two days. To my eye, the end result looked professional and smart. Like I said, I reckon this clip is under-rated.

***

If you’ve made it this far into the blog, thanks for reading. Here is some bonus material to reward you for your effort. Here’s our good mates Hyperdrones doing a cover of Magic Shoes because they’re a bunch of swells. Having another band cover your material is the ultimate compliment.



And here’s a bonus live version (featuring the “Limp Bizkit bit”):



And here we are playing the damned thing on Channel 31:



And finally, here’s a shitty “dubstep” version of the song I did for shits and giggles one day. I'm not sure if this is a prize for making it to the end of the blog or not.

Matt Neal: programming, vocals 
Recorded at Mandeville Court, Port Fairy in October, 2012. 
Produced and mixed by Matt Neal.


Lyrics:

Ooh yes, get it right now

Well I could tell right away when I walked through the door,
The charm’s gonna work tonight
I get my shoes and I step on the town
I feel alive like I’m high with a bop in my walk
I’m gonna get it right
I check my phone and the feel tonight

I could tell right away when I walked on the floor
You get the clues to my moves now you’re asking for more

Walking round picking wallflowers off of the wall
Because that’s where they grow
But secretly they all wanna get down
So many are reluctant to answer the call
They don’t wanna know
Too bad so sad oh they miss out

Extra demo lyrics:

If the shoe fits, I think I can do it
If the shoe fits, I’ve got the kicks to prove it

Sunday, 20 March 2016

#71. The Mad Hatter's Tea Party - The Doctor & The Nurse

Dannii Hale: programming, guitar 
Matt Neal: programming, guitar 

Written by Dannii Hale and Matt Neal 
Written and recorded on May 24, 2013 at Mandeville Court, Port Fairy 
Produced and mixed by Matt Neal



Up until we made a baby, this song was the coolest thing my wife and I had created together.

Insert gratuitous baby photo here.


It was a drunken spur-of-the-moment thing (the song, not the baby) thrown together one night in Port Fairy. I’d spent the better part of a week over there recording and writing, which I find is the best way for me to work on music these days - removed from all the distractions and set up to create for a prolonged burst at my parent’s unit in Port Fairy. For some reason making music takes more concentration than it used to.

Anyway, Dannii had come over to Port to hang out for the last night of my “prolonged burst”. I had all my recording gear set up and we thought it might be fun to get drunk and record a song together. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is the result. Listening to it recently for the first time in almost two years, Dannii admitted the finished product “sounded a lot better after a six-pack and half a bottle of wine”.


This photo was taken during recording, so you can trust me on 
the "six-pack and half a bottle of wine".


Dannii is a wonderfully creative person, but she’d be the first to admit she’s not musical (at least in an overt way). For a little while she could handle a couple of chords on the guitar, but that vanished as quickly as it was learnt. So making this song together, from scratch, was really just an exercise in trying to make it as fun as possible. I didn’t want to “write” a song but rather “make” a song - no overthinking, just creating. It was a bit like making an abstract painting together, but using sound instead of paint.


A bit like this cool abstract painting Dannii did which hangs over my writing desk.


“What do we do first?” she asked.


I told her the first step would be to create a beat. I think we initially tried sampling some found sounds around the house (because I’d been doing that earlier in the week to record the demo for I Can’t Help Who My Daddy Was), but it was sounding shit, so I suggested we give Fruity Loops a try. At first she thought it was a cop-out until I showed her how the program worked. We picked a bunch of random percussion samples and Dannii messed around for about five minutes to come up with the beat you hear in the first half of the song. What I love about it is the fact that it was something I would never have thought to come up with. It’s unconventional, quirky and interesting.


Using a guitar and an octave pedal, I whipped up a quick bassline, basically playing the first thing that came to mind that suited Dannii’s beat. I then handed the guitar to Dannii and told her to solo over the bass. She looked at me like I was mental. “Just play whatever,” I said. So she did. And that’s her soloing over the first half of the song. It’s messy and ridiculous and abstract - more noise than notes - but who cares?


Here's the recording set-up.


To ensure there were some dynamics to the song, I made up a quick “normal” beat for the breakdown in the middle of the song and gave it a little funky groove, before heading back into Dannii’s beat and playing the most random rapid-fire solo I could. Again, it’s just a bunch of noise, but whatever.


As opposed to the rest of my solos? Picture: Dannii Hale


Upon listening to the completed song, which featured a few additional atmospheric guitars here and there, Dannii commented that it sounded like the musical equivalent of the Mad Hatter’s tea party from Alice In Wonderland. She asked if we could add in some voice samples from the Tim Burton version of Alice as a cherry on top. “It makes the shit song a bit less shit,” she later said.


Johnny Depp: Making things a bit less shit since 1984.

So there you have it. Not a great song by any stretch, but it was fun to make and I like the fact it’s unlike anything I would have made or anything I’ve heard before. And that I made it with my awesome wife.