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.


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?


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.”


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.”


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

Saturday, 21 June 2014

#42. Hackysack – 21st Century Ox

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

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.
Additional recording and mixing by Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal at Hoffa’s, July 14, 2014.

Two things that remind me of my erstwhile band 21st Century Ox are hackysacks and Mr Bungle, and this song is the place where these things kinda meet.
Firstly, the hackysacks.
In breaks at rehearsal, before gigs, after gigs, at parties, wherever and whenever, we would usually be kicking around a hackysack. It was the closest thing to "exercise" that we did.
We were mad for it - so much so that we invented a sport called Hacketball which was a loose (yet awesome) combination of hackysack, cricket and baseball. People still talk about Hacketball in hushed, awed tones. Despite this, the IOC is yet to award it Olympic status.

Hacketball in action. PIC: James Colquhoun.

This song was our ode to the art of hackysack. I wrote the guts of the music and the words and took it to the band, who knocked it into shape. Lyrically, it’s nothing special but at the time I was working on the songwriting principle that you could write songs about anything at all, no matter how silly, and ultimately it could become a metaphor for something. Thus, the idea of hackysack – a non-competitive “sport” that can’t work without teamwork and sharing – became a hippy-ish plea to humanity for peace, love, and understanding: “No teams, just friends, we’re all the same”. This was like my Imagine, man… but shitter.

It's like the hackysack is the world, man... no, wait....

Here’s Ox bassist Dion Barker:

“Much like the activity of the same name, Hackysack is a fun, punchy and uplifting way to spend several minutes,” Dion said of the song.

“I don't particularly remember how the song came about but I do recall playing it through and Hoffa adding that awesome guitar riff that went on to become an awesome guitar-and-sax riff, with the rest of us dropping back in over the top... it just fit perfectly! I have a feeling that the whole song just fell together easily, as did a lot of Ox songs.”

That riff in the breakdown section is indeed the work of guitarist Brendan Hoffmann, and it became the coolest part of the song.

Hoffa steps up to the pitcher's mound in a hacketball game. PIC: James Colquhoun.

“My memory of Hackysack is that it was mostly a song written by Nealy, but when we jammed on it, it really came to life,” Hoffa said.

“The ripping riff in the middle was my idea – (I) just heard a swamp, pluck, hoe-down thing and my fingers just seemed to fall into place.

“(It was) one of our best live songs I think. I remember many a great gig with the crowd dancing or moshing their arses off to this.”

Drummer Harry Fahey said he doesn’t “ever remember the crowd response at the sudden end being as big as it deserved” and admitted the tempo was hard to nail (although I think that was my fault mostly – see live version posted below).

“(But) I loved playing the verses of Hackysack for the open/close hi-hat-snare syncopation - fun and bouncy,” Harry said.

Harry relaxes after a hard game of hacketball. PIC: James Colquhoun.

Time for a hackysack/Ox-related anecdote:

Ox once had the honour of supporting Something For Kate (one of my favourite bands) and someone had told us they were mad for hackysack too (I’m not sure who and I have no idea how such a conversation came up). So after we'd played and loaded out we headed to the green room to see if SFK wanted to kick the hack around with us. Our way was barred at the entrance to the green room by someone from their entourage who said we weren't allowed in because SFK were in the middle of a band meeting. Sure enough, they were huddled together in the centre of the room, arms around each other like a pre-game basketball team.

We explained to the entourage member that we just wanted to see if SFK wanted to come out and kick the hack around before the gig because we loved hackysack and we'd heard SFK did too.
The guy just looked at us weirdly, said he'd pass it on and told us to bugger off. So we stayed outside and began to play hackysack, hoping they'd see us through the window and come bounding out full of enthusiasm, keen to "hack in".

They never did.

Feeling slighted, we ate all their green room sandwiches in retaliation. True story.

Anyway, on to Mr Bungle (who Ox drummer Harry Fahey met but sadly didn't get to play hackysack with either).

It probably doesn't show in our music, but Bungle were a huge influence on Ox. We listened to their albums all the time and were endlessly impressed by their musicianship, genre-hopping and anything-goes musical attitude.

While California is my favourite Bungle album, I loved the weird circus-metal of their self-titled debut. It was something I was partially trying to emulate on the song Hackysack, which is only really evident in the sax line of the studio version but can be heard in the intro (0:30-):38) of this live version recorded the long-gone Cellar in Warrnambool.

The finished song ended up being far poppier and grungier than Bungle, which helped it become one the closest things we had to a fan favourite (along with Sweet Sweet Coffee). Dion recalls discussion of doing a film clip, which makes me think we discussed making it a single.

The intro on the studio version comes from another of Ox's favourite bands and biggest influences - Tool. We had always intended to record a keyboard intro to the song that captured the circus-y vibe of the Bungle song Quote Unquote (see above), but which was reminiscent of Tool's Intermission in the album Aenima (which was actually the song Jimmy played in muzak style).

We never got around to doing it at the time in 2002 and it was one of the puzzle pieces that was missing which left our second album The Last Sane Man On Earth remained unfinished.

That was until a couple of weeks ago when Ox guitarist Brendan Hoffmann and myself got together and finally recorded that long forgotten intro. We were pretty stoked with the end result. Others weren’t.

“To be honest, I don't think much of the recently recorded intro,” Dion said.

“But if that's the sound we were aiming for, then you've nailed it perfectly!”

Thanks, D.


Come play the game it’s always fun
One for all and all for one
Hack in, join in, enjoy the game
No teams, just friends, we’re all the same

Come and play with the hackysack
Come and play

To find us follow the laughing sound
And watch the hack go around and around
Hack in, join in, enjoy the game
No teams, just friends, we’re all the same

Peace and love and harmony

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

#41. Guitarzan – The 80 Aces

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

Chanting by Jackson McLaren, Kyle McLaren, Tim Emanuelle and Marcus Hall.

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 Marcus Jennings.
Released on The 80 Aces EP.

Alan Brough, he of Spicks & Specks and ABC Radio fame, once called this "one of the greatest names for a track I have heard in a long time". Credit for this goes to 80 Aces singer Jade McLaren, who penned the majority of this song and came up with the clever titular portmanteau.

Unfortunately, as with most good ideas, it had been done before. Here's a song called Guitarzan (although it’s spelt Gitarzan for some weird reason) recorded back in 1969 by novelty song specialist Ray Stevens (probably best known for The Streak).

We didn't know this song existed until well after we'd recorded and released our Guitarzan. The two songs couldn't be more different, plus I'm fairly certain Stevens' song isn't about our good friend Jackson McLaren like ours is. I can't be 100 per cent on that, but I'm fairly certain.

Jade's starting point for the song was watching young Jackson cut his teeth playing with The Roaring 40s (a band which also featured Jade's younger brother and future 80 Aces bassist Kyle – Jackson is no relation to these McLaren’s, by the way). We were bemused, impressed and intrigued by the dichotomy of Jackson back then - at rest he was a quiet, polite and calm teen, but put a guitar in his hands or place him on stage and he became a wild man; a raucous, unbridled soul beyond his years who could howl up a storm and stomp a rocker with the best of them.

Jackson, Kyle and Marcus aka The Roaring 40s.

Here’s Jade:

Guitarzan started as a word play idea I had at the time. I thought the word Guitarzan was interesting but was struggling to find a way to use it, then I thought about writing it about a guitarist and the most impressive guitarist that I knew personally at the time was Jackson McLaren.”

Jeez, thanks dude.

I kid. Jackson was better.

“If anyone was lucky enough to witness Jackson McLaren fronting The Roaring 40s, you'd most likely agree he was impressive. A 14-year-old kid who played the guitar upside-down and left-handed and moved around on stage like Chuck Berry… I thought he was great.

“I was also interested in the way Jackson, as a relatively softly spoken, shy kinda guy, would get a guitar in his hands and perform like he was a beast. I’d never written a song about someone I’d known before and thought it would be a fun challenge.”

Jackson in action aka Action Jackson.

Jade came to me with the melodies fully formed and it was my job to put chords to them. First I had to convince Jade to switch the verse and the chorus - he had the 'Hey kid" part as the chorus and the climbing falsetto section as the verse. Eventually he agreed I was right and we carried on.

As is usually our way, we did the song over two sessions, leaving the hard part of writing the second verse til later (I know there aren't many words, but we tended to take our time). Once that was in the bag, we took the song to the rest of the band - drummer Jarrod Hawker and bassist Matt Hewson.

“It came to me pretty fully formed except for the bass line,” Hewy said.

“Even then it was obvious what I had to play. It was one of those tunes that required resisting the urge to get fancy or overplay, which I think I almost succeeded at. It was punchy; a very energetic song. It was always fun to play for that reason, and because it was easy for Hawk and I to lock in and just drive it.”

Me, Hawk, Hewy and Jade.

Hawk recalls attempting some Tool-esque beat before giving up and acquiescing to mine and Jade's suggestion to play something "jungle".

“I always liked it,” Hawk recalled.

“It came together quickly and was a good set opener. I felt it had a good pulse, and the guitar rhythm sat well with me.”

Lyrically, I think it captures the essence of Jackson and the “beast” he became on stage, as well as hinting in the chorus that Jade and I felt he was destined for great things. Jackson actually sings on the song too - the chanting in the outro features himself, fellow Roaring 40s Kyle McLaren and Marcus Hall, and our good friend and one-time Greens candidate for Wannon Tim Emanuelle.

Yep, this guy.


Hey kid, you’re the man, Guitarzan

Leap off your branch and swing
On vines made of guitar strings

When you’re on the ground you wish you were howling at the moon
But you’re not, you’re stuck here with the rest of us baboons

Your hair, undergrowth, you wild thing
Cut loose, primal, and plugged in

Monday, 19 May 2014

#40. Guatemalan Rock & Roll – The Extreme Sprinklers

Jade McLaren: vocals, whistling
Matt Neal: keyboards, vocals, guitar

Words and music by Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Recorded and written May 31, 2003 in Studio Studyo, Warrnambool.
Produced by Matt Neal and Jade McLaren.

The musical relationship between myself and Extreme Sprinklers/80 Aces singer Jade McLaren began at 4.30am on May 31, way back in 2003. It’s weird to be able to pinpoint such a thing so precisely, I know, but it’s also probably weirder to have something happen at 4.30 in the morning that isn’t forgettable, regrettable or just generally a bad idea. Guatemalan Rock & Roll is none of those things. It may seem strange when you hear the track, but this is one of my favourite songs that will appear or has appeared on this blog.

The story behind this song, for what it’s worth, goes like this: Jade McLaren was back in Warrnambool to catch up with some old mates, and we’d been hanging out a friend’s place for a while before heading back to my joint for some steady drinking and because Jade needed somewhere to crash.

After a few hours of talking shit, we decided we should record a song. Didn’t matter that it was 4.30am in the morning, didn’t matter that people were trying to sleep elsewhere in the house, didn’t matter that we’d never written or recorded a song together before. Fuck it.

Fuckin' rebels. 
(Pic by Angela Milne, circa 2004)

In the minds of Jade and I, this song is kind of momentous, though it may seem like a pile of weirdness to you. This bizarre little number is the beginning of a musical partnership that has lasted 11 years, and as such, it holds a special place in our hearts. It kickstarted The Extreme Sprinklers, which would eventually become The 80 Aces.

The recording was done as quietly as possible so as not to wake the sleepers in the house, which is why it comprises mostly keyboards and quiet singing. The noisy guitar was added the next day, but the rest of the song was completed by 6.30am.

Apparently the song was almost called Descent Of The Clowns 
(or rather Decent Of The Clowns as it says here)

“I remember how excited I was to actually be making a song as it was my first time writing a song with anyone,” Jade recalled.

“I was amazed at how the recording technology worked and how we could change and manipulate what we sounded like in strange and weird ways. The song itself is pretty much a tech demo of us playing around on various instruments and effects.

“I make no excuses for what I am about to say and that is this; ‘I love this song’. I’m as proud of it today as I was 11 years ago when we made it. Not because it’s a good song but because of what we achieved on our first ever go at writing together and how cool some of the effects and that sound.

“We eventually released it to some of our fans (we used to have fans), and they were so freaked out by the song that some swore never to listen to it again,” Jade laughed.

Not sure why that was.

One thing I like about Guatemalan Rock & Roll is that it doesn’t sound like anything else I can think of. We both freely admit that we were trying to emulate our heroes Ween, and generally speaking it’s reminiscent of Ween in the sense that it’s weird and sung in funny voices and has an “anything goes” attitude to it, but it doesn’t sound much like a particular Ween song. It just has a general Ween vibe.

This is about the closest thing I can find:

I still like Guatemalan Rock & Roll 11 years on. It’s the kind of song you make when you don’t give a fuck and you don’t really know what you’re doing, and I miss doing that.


Elevators scare me so,
What’s below me? I don’t know
Sinking down into a hole
Falling gently in slow-mo

What’s below him? He don’t know
Elevators scare him so
Sinking down bellisimo
Guatemalan rock ‘n’ roll

Feel the movement in my bones
Technicolour rainbow tones
Push the button, down we go
Maybe I should sing down low

Guatemalan rock ‘n’ roll