Tuesday, 24 November 2015

#67. Late Video Blues – 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 2004.
Recorded at The Shed, Warrnambool in April, 2006.
Produced, engineered and mixed by Harry Fahey.

Songwriting tip #67: Be careful writing songs about technology.

Nothing makes a song date quicker than mentioning technology - especially anything related to computers or the internet. I remember my long-time songwriting partner Jade McLaren wanting to write a song about MySpace back in the mid-’00s. Thankfully, I stood my ground and it never happened.

"My my my MySpace!"
Picture: Damian White

But with this song, for some reason, we deliberately picked an already dated technology. I’m not sure why. We could have used ‘DVDs’ in place of the word ‘video’. It even has the right number of syllables. But it didn’t have the same ring to it. There was just something about videos. I’d already written a song in my previous band 21st Century Ox called Nobody Buys Videos Anymore. Maybe it’s just me, but there’s a certain crappy romanticism to videos - having to rewind them, going to a video store, dubbing them onto a blank tape. It’s probably something to do with lame nostalgia. Which I’m a fan of. Hence this blog.

Anyway, Jade and I deliberately wrote an out-of-date song about videos, and to be honest, I think it’s the funniest song we ever wrote. Jamaica and Lappers may have gotten more attention, but I think Late Video Blues is the most humourous set of lyrics we penned. Plus Jade’s vocal over-selling of the song - such passion! - just makes it even funnier.

You won't believe how many photos I have of Jade doing this.
Picture: Damian White

We were always going to write a blues. We were cycling through as many genres as we could at the time - rap-rock, reggae, country, post-punk, hip-hop, just to name a few - so we were bound to do a blues, especially because the blues is so fucking easy. I kinda hate it because it’s so easy. It’s three chords and a select number of grooves. I like it when people mess with the blues and subvert it, because otherwise it’s just the easiest musical genre in the world. Which is why I kinda hate it - it’s too easy. I mean, I can’t solo for shit, but the rest of it’s easy.

That's enough embarrassing photos of Jade - here's an embarrassing one of me.
Playing with your shirt off is the ultimate sign of a wanker.

We definitely didn’t bother subverting the genre musically - this is just a regular old 16-bar blues in G, if I recall correctly. We did try to subvert it lyrically though. It’s not a new trick, but we wanted to find something deliberately banal as a subject for a blues song - something mundane that then escalates to the point of insanity. That’s always funny. By my recollection, it was based on a true story. Jade’s girlfriend at the time was always reminding him to take DVDs back to the video store. I seem to recall a point in time when Jade was unable to borrow from any video store in town because he had amassed a huge debt at every single one of them. That was our inspiration. We started with the usual “I woke up this morning” bullshit blues cliché and tried to make it sound like we building towards something important, and then made the whole thing about late videos and video store fines.

We wrote this really quickly, pretty much just spilling the whole thing out, in order, line by line. Jade came up with “Asking me about Weekend At Bernies”, and I didn’t miss a beat coming up with the next line: “And Beverly Hills Cop II”. It was great fun to write - just real simple, dumb fun. We were writing a song a week at this point in time, mostly because it’s easy when the songs are simple and dumb and you don’t give a fuck.

Pictured: Eddie Murphy not giving a fuck in Beverly Hills Cop II.

The above recording was laid down just for the sake of it and to ensure we had a recording of this song before it disappeared into the ether, as so many songs do. That’s one piece of advice I’d share - record a version of every song you write. When they don’t get played, songs tend to disappear (unless you have a photographic memory) and that’s always a shame. No matter how dumb or inane or embarrassing the song might be in the future, every song is attached to memories and ideas and moments. For me, this one is a reminder of writing fun, stupid songs for the hell of it, back when it was easy because we didn’t care that much. And it’s a reminder of the nights hanging out in the shed, jamming with Jade and Matt Hewson and Harry Fahey. Those were good times, and we played well together.

And damn we were a handsome band.
Picture: Glen Watson

Below is an earlier version of the song (the riff here is how it was originally written before I got bored with it) smashed out a party at the house of a top bloke called Ross Carlson. 21st Century Ox did a couple of Rosco’s parties up in Melbourne in the early 2000s and The Extreme Sprinklers got invited to do one too some time in either late ‘04 or early-mid 2005. They remain to this day the best parties I’ve ever played at. The people there loved the music, they looked after you really well, and they loved it the most when you played your own originals.

A guitarist named Chris Matthews jumped up and joined us on this track. At the time he was playing with a band called The Box Cutters, who I think we did a gig with at some point and who we met through our sound guy Dave Wilson. I haven’t seen him since the night of this recording, but he’s still around making music. Top bloke, and a handy musician. This isn’t the best example of his talents because we were all seriously loaded during this set. Completely fuck-eyed and off-head. Ah, the (lack of) memories.

Live in 2005 version

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

Recorded live at Rosco’s house in Melbourne, summer ‘04/’05?
Produced and mixed live by Dave Wilson.


I woke up this morning with my hair in my face
I decided not to brush it before I came over to your place
Cos I’ve been thinking about you girl and that thing you said;
“Take those videos back to the store and pay off all your late debts.”

I know the guy from the store has been calling saying those movies are overdue
Asking me about Weekend At Bernie’s and Beverly Hills Cop II
I’ve had them almost a decade - my fine could buy a small car
I said I’d take them back on Tuesday…
... and those stupid fuckers believed me

I didn’t take back those videos - I ain’t done with them yet
I just got to dub them on a blank cassette
If they ever want those videos they’ll have to pry them from my cold motherfucking dead hand

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

#66. Last Song - 21st Century Ox

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

Music by Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal. 
Written and recorded at the Barker residence, October 2-10, 2003. 
Produced by 21st Century Ox. 
Recorded and mixed live by Dave Wilson.

As mentioned in previous blogs, 21st Century Ox spent the first week of October 2003 supposedly recording songs to finish off our unreleased album but mostly we spent the time getting fucked-up and not finishing off our unreleased album. I think we almost finished three songs, plus we recorded a few live versions of things. Then there was plenty of jamming and drinking and playing FIFA on the Playstation. But on the whole it wasn’t as productive as I’d hoped.

To be fair, we were all to blame.
Picture: Dannii Hale.

I was obviously oblivious to the fact the band was slowly reaching the end of its useful life. I was still keen to try and push 21st Century Ox along and maybe get some new material happening. Everyone still seemed interested in music, but no one seemed really dedicated to working. But I pushed on, trying to drive some level of enthusiasm and achievement. I guess that made me the Paul of this Let It Be-style scenario.

While digging through some of the jam sessions that were recorded during “Dion’s Week Of Debauchery” I found this little artifact - evidence of my attempts to keep the band creating. It was just four chords that I brought in, but it turned out to be Ox’s final attempt at writing a song together. Since Matt Hewson had joined the band some time during 2001 we’d loved the fact we had two sax players in the group, and occasionally wrote material with the aim of Brendan Hoffmann putting down his guitar and picking up the sax to jam along with Hewy. The Axolotl is the best example (there was also a now-lost tune in 5/4 called The Psychiatrist, which was partially a poor man's rip-off of Take Five) but this little unformed nugget of a song was another attempt at the double sax attack.

This is the second and final take of what I have called Last Song. We’re just feeling our way through the changes and seeing what happens, but it’s kinda fitting as a final track for Ox. It’s slightly weird but kinda nice and sweet, with a hint of sadness. When I look back on the band’s four-year burst, that’s pretty much how I view it. 

PS. That’s Jade McLaren at the end saying it “needs more triangle”.

PPS. This is a really short blog so I’m going to throw in a bonus track - 21st Century Ox's cover of Norwegian Wood, which always sounded to us trying to be A Perfect Circle (on their first album) while trying to cover The Beatles. Sorry about the sound quality - this was mixed on the run by our good pal Dave Wilson, who was concentrating on the live sound, not the recording.

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

Written by Lennon/McCartney.
Recorded at the Henty Hotel, Portland, in November 2002.
Recorded and mixed live by Dave Wilson.

Friday, 9 October 2015

#65. Lappers – The Extreme Sprinklers

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

Music and lyrics by Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.

Recorded April 2, 2004 at Studio Studyo, Warrnambool.
Produced by Matt Neal and Jade McLaren.
Mixed by Harry Fahey.
Released on the Jamaica EP.

I’ve never thought of this as a real song. It’s a joke. Jamaica feels like a real song, despite it also being a bit jokey, but this one was just full-blown novelty in my mind.

The 80 Aces drummer Jarrod Hawker disagreed. Despite this song predating him joining the band (and the band’s name change from The Extreme Sprinklers) by about two years, he was convinced this song should have been part of our live set.

“I love it,” he said. “I wanted to play it ... which is why we never played it.”

Actually, we did play it. Once. At The Loft. I can’t remember why. But it confirmed everything I’d thought about the song. Namely that a) it wouldn’t work live and b) that it never felt like a real song. So, sorry Hawk, but I definitely tried to shut you down on the Let’s Play Lappers campaign.

Who could say 'no' to this guy? He's so rock.

And while I regard it as unfit for live consumption and more like a three-minute joke than a real song, I have to agree that Lappers is, in its own special way, kinda cool (or “super cool” as Extreme Sprinklers/80 Aces bassist Matt Hewson described it). The credit (or possibly blame) for it goes largely to Sprinklers vocalist Jade McLaren.

At the time of creating this very Warrnambool-white-people piece of hip hop, The Extreme Sprinklers was just Jade and myself. It was primarily a recording project. We were just writing for the sake of it and having fun learning how to record things. In those early days we would just write a song and record it pretty much straight away. Or just record it as we wrote it. Or write it as we recorded it. Either way, there was no filter and no rules and no band to consider and no “target market”. 

Lappers started with Jade getting my ex-wife to let him into my studio while I was at work so he mess around with some beats. 

This man should not be trusted in a studio by himself.

“I was working on it before you came home and when you came in and heard it, you thought I’d gone bonkers,” Jade said. “I remember you going ‘what the hell is this weird hip hop thing?’.”

If I recall correctly (which is highly unlikely) Jade had kinda pieced together a fair bit of the beat. It was nothing like wed done before, and yeah, I was probably wondering what the fuck was going on. Listening to some NWA recently, I heard a bit of a similarity to the start of Gangsta Gangsta, but I’ve got no idea if it’s what Jade was aiming for. But hey - if you’re gonna rip from someone, it may as well be Dre. 

Jade also already had his two vocal sections worked out - the “all the girls in the back” bit and the “you know he’s a fuckwit” bit. We wrote the rap together, laughing constantly, cracking ourselves up. “We’re doing it in front of cops, I get her first and you get slops” - that made us laugh.

I then (very badly) rapped it and we dropped the pitch on it to make it sound more like the dude from Jurassic 5 who raps real low (Chali 2na is his name apparently). His voice is boss. I added some guitar licks (the main guitar lick was called ‘The Arabian Chicken Lick’ because I declared it sounded like a Middle Eastern chook apparently) and we piled a bunch of badly sampled vinyl scratches and sound effects on to it (largely nicked from Grand Theft Auto I think).

My hip hop knowledge was fairly limited at the time but I can honestly say they biggest influence for me while doing this was Missy Elliot. The Arabian Chicken Lick was a reference to Get Ur Freak On, while the bit where we reversed the rap was a reference to Work It.

For those who don’t get what it’s all about, the whole thing is a Warrnambool in-joke. Lappers are douchebags who drive their cars up and down the main street at night for lack of anything better to do with their lives. It’s an insanely common pastime in Warrnambool. In fact, Jade and I stuck a microphone out the window of Jade’s apartment to capture the sound of someone lapping, preferably with their “shit music turned up to the max”, to add to the song. As if proving the point of the song, it took us no time at all to capture the required audio - that’s the bit at the end where a guy hoons past with L’il Bow Wow blaring out of his tricked-out Commodore (probably).

But back to Hawk. Why the hell did he want to play this jokey fake song live?

“I think it had great local relevance, it had comedy value, I actually also thought that the vocal rhythm of the ‘rap’ was quite good and I really liked the (original recording) so I thought that we could do a good live ‘band’ version,” he said. “It just so happens that when we did jam it live something about the groove struck a chord with me and I liked it.”

It must have struck a chord with Harry Fahey and Matt Hewson, who helped Jade and I bring The Extreme Sprinklers to life as a live band in that latter half of 2004. I’m not entirely sure why, but this recording ended up on the Jamaica EP, confirming the fact that we were trying to rival Ween in the weird eclectic stakes in those early days. Harry did some tasty mixing on it too, just to tidy the whole thing up.


All the girls in the back have been lickin’ his sack
Oh no he be trippin’ he’s been smokin’ crack
He’s got little blue lights to make eyes attract
And he’s got his shit music turned up to the max

Got a sweet ride, blue lights, see if I can maximise
bitch-pulling power every hour when I hit the night
My doof-doof could flatten a city block
I get the bitches then you watch my vehicle rock
Can’t stop, get on top, we’re doing it in front of cops
I get her first and you get slops

One time for my wiggas

You know he’s fuckwit
An IQ to match his gears
He wants her to suck it
But he hasn’t had a lady friend in years

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

#64. Kick Out The Housemates – The 80 Aces

Jarrod Hawker – drums
Jade McLaren – vocals
Kyle McLaren – bass
Matt Neal – guitar

Lyrics by Matt Neal.
Music by Jarrod Hawker, Jade McLaren, Kyle McLaren & Matt Neal.
Written 2010.
Recorded at Motherlode Studios, Warrnambool, May 28, 2011.
Produced and mixed by Tony Peel.

Change is scary. When The Extreme Sprinklers’ drummer Harry Fahey told us in late 2006 (quite abruptly and just as we were about to start rehearsing) he was leaving the band, I was terrified. Harry was the only drummer I’d played with over the preceding seven years – a length of time that bridged two bands, dozens of songs, and hundreds of gigs. We’d developed one of those unspoken musical connections and had become best mates. Our birthdays are on consecutive days, which meant joint birthday parties every year. Not playing in a band with him seemed like a weird and frightening proposition.

Pictured: Something not weird and frightening. Picture: Glen Watson

The remaining Sprinklers – Jade McLaren, Matt Hewson and myself, soon to be renamed The 80 Aces – began the daunting task of looking for a new drummer. We had a stack of cover gigs already on the books, as well as quite a few original shows, and we needed someone who could learn about 50 covers and 20 originals. Harry agreed to play on ‘til we found a new drummer but we didn’t want to stretch the transition out, for all our sakes.

Jon Emry, who in my eyes was the best drummer in Warrnambool at that time, came and had a jam with us in our rehearsal shed behind the old La Porchetta restaurant (now Reunion) but you could tell he was too busy and not totally interested. It ended up being a cool jam though because we ended up drinking beer and playing Ween covers.

I'm just gonna leave this here and mention that me and Jade were at this gig and it was the greatest motherfucking thing ever:

I think it was Hewy who suggested Jarrod Hawker. I knew of Hawk, but didn’t really know him. We’d probably crossed paths somewhere on the scene and his reputation for being a great rock drummer preceded him. He turned out to be the perfect pick for The Extreme Sprinklers, who were about to be renamed The 80 Aces. Harry was the ideal backbeat to the first half of my musical career, and Hawk has been the perfect percussionist for the second half.

Hawk joining the Aces not only sparked the name change (which was voted on over a drunken poker game in a smoky room following a gig at Hamilton’s Cally Hotel) but it began a beautiful musical relationship and a solid gold friendship. Through The 80 Aces and on into Doctor & The Apologies (new EP out now!) with the occasional Gutsy As!! diversion in there, it’s a partnership that’s been going for nine years. 

"Doc, you're guitar's not plugged in." Picture: Leesa Donkers

I mention all this because this song Kick Out The Housemates is a good example of what I like about working with Hawk. When I asked him recently about this song, he just replied that his drumming was “very loose”, which is totally ignoring the fact that the drum patterns are really cool and kinda weird, and that Hawk played a massive part in arranging the track – I basically brought in the chords and words but Hawk really drove the arrangement. The final 30 seconds in particular were his idea, inspired by a Supergroove song I believe. There’s a bit at 2m47s where it all straightens out in a good way and we both agreed it should have done that more often in the song, but this was probably one of the first (and last) times we played this track. More playing would have probably locked that shit in.

Supergroove. Fuck yeah:

I’d written this, incidentally, about the place where Hawk was living at the time. He was sharing a house with three other dudes (one of whom was Jade) in Merrivale, and the place was a regular hangout and after-party spot. There were also three or four girlfriends at any one time who were also calling that sharehouse "home" and it occurred to me that the almost-constant parties, poker games and songwriting sessions going on in the house would have made it pretty hard for any of the guys and their partners to do something as simple as hang out on the couch and watch a movie together (or “Netflix and chill”, if you will).

"All right - I'm chipped up, now get the fuck out of my house." Picture: Matt Neal

This realisation didn’t stop me going around there getting hammered four or five times a week, but it did inspire me to pen this song. It never got much of an airing in the band unfortunately, which is a shame because I love the way Hawk’s beat, Kyle’s bass line and my guitar rhythms marry up in the verse and how it gets loud and grungey and screamy in the chorus. Jade put the kibosh on it though, saying it was murder on his voice, but realistically I don’t think it really married up with his vision for what The 80 Aces should sound like. Shame - I thought it rocked, and with a little bit of polishing would have come up alright. Sure, it was kinda like bad RHCP mashed up with bad Foo Fighters or something, but I thought it was cool. Not my best effort lyrically, but cool nonetheless.

I wish we hadn't decided to take band photos 
when we were all in such a nonchalant mood.
Picture: Gareth Colliton

This demo was made with the able assistance of Tony Peel at Motherlode Studios. We went in there for a day in May, 2011, to lay down a version of every song we hadn’t recorded yet in preparation for the Dollars EP, which we recorded in December that year. This “Demo For Dollars” session saw us smash out live takes of 16 songs in one day, giving us recordings of song that otherwise would have been forgotten (such as Elevator) and plenty of extra fodder for my blog.

Hawk during the Demo For Dollars session. Picture: Dannii Hale


This place stifles
It’s full of people
No room in this crowded house for kisses
I’m here, you too, and so many more people cramping, squeezing, suffocating the pleasing

Kick out the housemates
Get the motherfuckers out of the way

All this public
No privacy just static
Grasping, wishing, a bodily friction

Friday, 11 September 2015

#63. Karma Comes Around – The Extreme Sprinklers

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

Lyrics by Jade McLaren and Matt Neal
Music by Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Written summer of ’05-‘06.
Recorded at The Shed, Warrnambool in April, 2006.
Produced, engineered and mixed by Harry Fahey.

By the start of 2006, The Extreme Sprinklers were on a roll. We were playing just about every weekend, there were some great support gigs (67 Special, The Exploders, Regurgitator, The Vasco Era), our own headline shows, plus plenty of cover gigs to help us pay the rent on the rehearsal shed we shared. Singer Jade McLaren and I were writing more songs than we knew what to do with, the band was building up a strong local following, and the after-parties were plentiful.

And we looked fabulous. Picture: Glen Watson

Sometimes I had to forego the after-party and be the designated driver, purely because I drove a stationwagon. So did The Extreme Sprinklers’ drummer, Harry Fahey. That meant that when we packed up following a gig, the kit and the bass rig went in his car, and the PA system and my gear went in my gear, and we were the poor sober bastards who had to drive drunken Jade or drunken bassist Matt Hewson home.

Pictured: Drunken Jade and Hewy.

After once such gig (at the Seanchai I think), I drove home and pulled up out the front of my house. It was about 3am and it had been a long night of entertaining drunk punters while having to stay sober myself (which makes long covers gigs even longer). I really couldn’t be fucked loading all the gear out of the car and into the house as usual, so instead I just loaded my gear inside and left the PA in the back of the wagon. You can probably guess where this is heading.

When I awoke the next morning, the car was still there but the PA was gone. I rang the cops, who came out and dusted the wagon for prints. They pointed out there didn’t appear to be any forced entry, which most likely meant I’d left the car unlocked. Idiot. I knew a lot of the cops at the time because I was on the police rounds at The Standard and spent a lot of my spare time drinking with cops and lawyers, so they didn’t give me too much of a hard time about leaving the car unlocked.

Not pictured: Cops and lawyers.

“Don’t worry,” the detectives said, “we think we know who has your PA, but we’ll put the word out at the music stores just in case they try to sell it. We’ll keep you posted.”

I rang the rest of the band and broke the bad news. I can’t remember if I mentioned the bit about possibly leaving the car unlocked, but it didn’t matter – either way, we had lost our PA, which we’d worked our arses off to buy. We figured we’d never see it again and starting working out how many gigs we needed to play to buy a new one and how much it was going to cost to hire another one in the meantime.

"Ok everyone, we're just going to pass Doc's hat around...."

Amazingly, within a couple of days, the cops recovered our PA. A couple of knobs had been busted off the head, and the back had been taken off one of the speakers so it could be wired up to a stereo apparently, but otherwise it was in full working order. Great work, Warrnambool police.

That incident sparked this song. If Jade had gotten his way, it would have been a song about going out and inflicting violent retribution on the thieves. I threw a mild tantrum and said I wouldn’t be a part of a song that promoted violence as I didn’t believe that was an appropriate response to such an incident. The tantrum must have worked, as Jade agreed to my approach of passive resistance. I’m not religious at all, but I like the Buddhist notion of karma, and Jade eventually agreed it was a better angle for turning the PA theft into a song. We were angry at the thieves and Jade genuinely wanted to go out and inflict violence upon them, but I was content to let the universe have its revenge (which is both the last line of the song and the title of another song I had written prior to this one – it will be in a later blog).

Artwork: Jade McLaren

The chorus – “You can’t stop us, you can only slow us down” – is Jade’s lyric, I’m pretty sure. It sounds like his sense of bravado anyway, and reflects his more assertive and defiant mindset about the theft. But the rest of the words were a real team effort.

There’s one line in this song I particularly like (and I honestly don’t know who came up with it). It’s the phrase “like a panic in your skeleton”. I really love that – it’s so weirdly evocative of that deep down feeling something is wrong. It sounds like a Thom Yorke lyric. Jade obviously liked it too – I found a file recently that he’d put together compiling all the Extreme Sprinklers lyrics and it was titled “A Panic In Your Skeleton – The Complete Extreme Sprinklers Songbook”.

Artwork: Jade McLaren

This recording, made during band practice one night in 2006, is a good example of Harry, bassist Matt Hewson and myself clicking together. It's a little rough (especially my falsetto at the start) and Jade forgets a few lines (full correct lyrics below), but otherwise this rehearsal recording is pretty cool. Everyone is on song (or at least “close enough for jazz” as they say in the classics). I always loved the middle section of this song – it gave Harry and Hewy a chance to go nuts and I got to make feedback and noise rather than solo, which played to all our strengths to be honest.

Rehearsing in the shed. Picture: Glen Watson

The intro, I realised belatedly, sounds a little bit too close to the Coldplay song God Put A Smile Upon Your Face but I’m not sure what the rest of it sounds like. I dig it though. It's rocking and each bit feels interesting. When Harry left the band not long after this recording, this was one of the many songs that fell by the wayside, probably because it was hard to dance too or some similar bullshit.


Karma comes around to make some waves while ships are safe and sound. Now our precious spice, our livelihood which grew from good advice, is paying dividends. We can score so much more again. Stealing through the night... something’s coming. Things are running right....

A wave of karma, like a panic in your skeleton

You can’t stop us, you can only slow us down

Stealing through the night, son of a snake - you can’t take the light, like a nuisance leech, siphon blood where it is hard to reach. You won’t drag us down to where you’re from - hiding underground. Karma come around and salt the leech that tries to breach our sound.

A wave of karma, like a panic in your skeleton

You can’t stop us, you can only slow us down

Slow down

Stealing through the night comes the breeze and it sees it right. Karma comes again - the universe will have its revenge.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pictured: Unblemished potential.

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

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

This guy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early 21st Century Ox pic from The Warrnambool Standard.

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

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

Ox live at The Cellar.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

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

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

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

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

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

So kinda something between this:

... and this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rig. Pic: Matt Neal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Say goodbye tonight
We gotta fly tonight