Wednesday, 4 March 2015

#54. The Ignored – 21st Century Ox


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

Lyrics by Matt Neal.
Music by Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Written 2000.
Recorded at Motherlode Studios, Warrnambool, 2000.
Produced and mixed by Tony Peel.
Released on the 21st Century Ox album What Am I Going To Do With All These Portaloos?.


Thanks to this song I can put on my resumé “prize-winning songwriter”. It also happens to be the first song I recorded in a proper studio, the first song my first real band 21st Century Ox properly demoed, and probably the first “proper” song I ever wrote (ie. that wasn’t totally shite). So I have much to thank this song for.

But I kind of have a love/hate relationship with this song. The love side is the above – it certainly set me on a path and gave me a certain sense of confidence in what I was doing. The hate side – actually hate’s a strong word, it’s more like a vague dislike – comes from the contrivance of it all.

You see, not long after 21st Century Ox got together in early 2000 (we played our first gig on April 2 on the back of a truck parked in the Lady Bay Hotel carpark) we heard about a local competition called Couch Surfing which was calling for bands to submit a song about homelessness to be used as part of an awareness campaign. The prize was recording time and $500.

Here's the photo The Standard took after we won. 
That's Warrnambool artist Macca in the middle, who won the artwork side of the competition, 
and left to right Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Brendan Hoffmann and myself.

What the hell do I know about homelessness? Nothing. What the hell is writing a song about homelessness going to do to help people who are homeless? Nothing. But do I want to win $500 and recording time? Hells yeah.

I have an aversion to writing “issue” songs and perhaps it comes from my experience with writing The Ignored. I can’t help but be cynical – a song can’t save the world or solve a social problem. It’s usually just preaching, and more often than not it’s preaching to the converted. Ultimately, issue songs achieve little. Maybe there are some exceptions, but they usually never save the day, right all the wrongs, or convert the ignorant.

But that’s the 34-year-old me talking. The 19-year-old me was thinking, “Here’s a songwriting challenge – how can I write a song about a particular subject that I know nothing about in order to win my band money and studio time?”.

19-year-old me, thinking deep stuff.

Bassist Dion Barker agrees the lyrics are “a bit of a forced effort” but the judges liked it and I was satisfied that my words had done the job. I know they received at least two entries (including ours) but the only real feedback we got was that my vocals on the demo sounded a bit like “the guy from Jebediah”.

Musically, The Ignored stemmed from a little idea Dion, guitarist Brendan Hoffmann and myself had jammed on at Hoffa’s house in the early excited/excitable phase of the band when we were getting together every second day to try and write material or just make music/noise together. I took that initial musical idea and used it as the verse, which I crafted a chorus onto before taking it to the band. Together we knocked it into shape, adding the weird bridge section to ensure it wasn’t “too ‘simple’ to fit the Ox bill”, as Dion puts it.

Dion and Hoffa during a jam session at Hoffa's place.

“Yes, we set out to write a song to win a competition, but we did it well,” Dion said. “I believe it was more the promise of studio time than the money or glory that was driving us, and obviously that ultimately led to (us recording our first album).”

“The song was a bit of a forced effort, probably more lyrically than musically, but it still had all the Ox characteristics, in that it had the input and individualistic styling of all of us. It was another great example of the organic process that we went through with most of our songs.”

Dion and I in silly hat mode during the demo session for The Ignored.

Drummer Harry Fahey agrees.

“I really liked the way this song came together so organically - I think it really showed us all what we were capable of as a group, which gave us confidence and a spark that Ox could be something special - which it was,” Harry said.

“Also I got to use my 16th note patterns with the left hand on hats and right hand on snare - not traditionally a good idea but great for mollydookers on a right-handed kit.”

That last bit is so Harry. Hello to any drummers reading along who get what he’s on about.

Myself, Dion and Harry at work on the demo for The Ignored 
in the Warrnambool City Band Hall.

Here’s Hoffa:

“I was so excited about this song, even before it won the Couch Surfing competition, because it had the potential to win and get us some professional recording time,” Hoffa said.

“Which it did, and that was probably the most exciting time in my career as a musician. The birth of something great. I really liked how the song was put together too. It definitely captured the mood of the competition.”

We demoed the song on June 10, 2000, at the Warrnambool City Band Hall, which was home to TAFE’s Music Industry Skills (MIS) course at the time. We borrowed the MIS’s digital four-track recorder and got stuck into it.

Here are some of my rather quaint (and slightly giddy) notes from that demoing day, which I found in one of my old writing notebooks. It’s proudly titled “A Journal Of A Recording Session – 10/6/00”.

June 10, 2000.

“Hoffa and Dion and I met at Cleves to buy strings and leads and stuff and frankly I was excited. The guy in the shop asked us what we (were) up to and we very keenly told him. We arrived at the Band Hall a little after 11 and began setting up.

“It’s kind of surreal in here. There are amps and leads and instruments everywhere and I feel like a rock star in here.

“It’s 3.15 and we’re halfway through The Ignored. It sounds good so far; heavier than we’ve ever done it.

“The vocals went down well and the finished product was really good with perhaps three faults; 1) there’s one bit where one of Harry’s drum fills goes about half a beat too long, 2) the vocals are perhaps awkward, and 3) at the end there is a semi-audible telephone ring (but it’s a nice little quirk).”

Recording the vocals for the demo of The Ignored.

The demo was printed on a CD with a hastily made cover featuring me and Hoffa wearing beanies in the Coles supermarket late at night, looking like a couple of fools, and sent in to the competition. Some months after we won, I saw that demo CD for sale at Kulcha Shift for $10. I have no idea what happened to the CD after that. Maybe I should have bought it.

The demo is long lost (a shame given it was our first) so the only recording I have of The Ignored is the one we did at Tony Peel’s Motherlode Studios later that year as part of our prize. It came up a treat and formed the backbone of 21st Century Ox’s admittedly bizarre first album What Am I Going To Do With All These Portaloos?. I don’t remember anything about the session itself, but we were all immensely proud of the results.

Definitely bizarre.

Lyrics: 

I will be here when it rains
Bet you hope I’m washed away
When the deluge buckets down
‘Cos I’m a plight on your perfect town

But I’m still here
I won’t just disappear
And make your conscience clear
Get me out of here

Do you think I had some say
And that I chose to live this way
You just turn your perfect face
Oh, how did I become so ignored?

I will be here when it’s night
When you tuck your kids in tight
Think of me when you look into their eyes
I too am someone’s child

But I’m still here
I won’t just disappear
And make your conscience clear
Get me out of here

Do you think I had some say
And that I chose to live this way?
Do you think this is my dream;
To be living on the street?
You just turn your perfect face
Oh, how did I become so ignored?

Thursday, 12 February 2015

#53. Ignorance Is Bliss – The Extreme Sprinklers


Original demo version:

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

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



TAFE version:

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

Lyrics by Jade McLaren.
Music by Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Recorded 2005 at Motherlode Studios, Warrnambool
Produced, mixed and engineered by Tony Peel
Released on the South West TAFE 2005 MIS compilation Mixed Nuts



Welcome to another edition of Doc’s Anthology – the boring and repetitive blog where Matt “Doc” Neal craps on about the songs he recorded ages ago that no one cares about!

This week’s special guest is lead singer from The Extreme Sprinklers and The 80 Aces ... Jade McLaren!

**APPLAUSE**

DOC: Hi Jade, thanks for joining us.

JADE: Where am I? Why am I tied to this chair?

"And what's the deal with sticky tape?"

DOC: Well, I’ve been trying to get you to contribute to this blog for ages but you haven’t been replying to my messages or emails.

JADE: That’s because I’ve been busy. Also: your blog sucks.

DOC: Yes, well, you’re here now, unable to escape and slowly losing circulation in your extremities, so you may as well tell me all about this week’s song.

JADE: Will you let me go if I play along?

DOC: Possibly.

JADE: Fine. What’s the song?

DOC: It’s called Ignorance Is Bliss. You wrote it and we demoed it together prior to getting The Extreme Sprinklers to record it as part of your studies at TAFE’s Music Industry Skills course. So what’s it all about, Jade?

JADE: And if I play along you’ll let me go?

DOC: Like I said: “possibly”.

"Mwuhahahahaha!"

JADE: Okay, well I wrote this after I’d been out on date with this girl and we went to the Hotel Warrnambool, had a few drinks, went back to my place, blah blah blah… anyway, the following day we exchanged numbers and she left and I thought, that was cool, maybe it will turn into something, and I was all happy and shit. I spent the morning pottering around the house and then decided to go for a walk down the beach. As I walked over the dune at the main beach, I spotted this girl I’d slept with the night before sitting on some shirtless guy, kissing and playing around and stuff. We caught each other’s eye, had this “oh fuck” moment and then I put my head down and kept walking. I was pretty disappointed and a little bit cut so I got home and went to write a song about the situation, but as I was sitting there trying to piece together some lyrics I was thinking about how it wasn’t the girl’s fault I felt down about it - she wasn’t a bad person, she didn’t owe me anything, and we weren’t in a relationship. Then I started thinking about that phrase “ignorance is bliss” - that not knowing what this girl was like or what was going on had me blissfully going “oh this could be good thing, this could be really cool”. I broadened that thought and starting thinking about how when you see an acquaintance and say “how ya goin’?” no one ever really gives you an honest answer. They just give a superficial response, and you think “everything’s good”. They could have broken up with their partner but they just say “yeah good” and you think “it’s all cool”. It’s blissful ignorance again. So I pulled out this old little Casio keyboard and started playing around and came up with the song.

DOC: You’d never written a song chords and all before had you?

JADE: No. I’d picked up guitars and played stuff and come to you and said “hey what’s this?” but at this time I was learning about how to play chords through the MIS course. A lot of it was by ear or just guessing. I was writing to what I could play. I don’t have any ability on the keyboard, but I figured I could tell what was right and wrong.

"What chord's this, Doc?"

DOC: Knowing you and what we were listening to at the time, it definitely reminded me of a couple of things. In particular XTC, because we’re both huge XTC fans, but in particular the song This World Over, if not melodically but that line “oh well that’s this world over”, which becomes in your song “it’s the same the whole world over”.

JADE: That’s probably a subconscious thing but I was definitely listening to XTC’s The Big Express a lot at the time because I got that on record and was playing it heaps.


DOC: We demoed this song over a weekend we spent at Hoffa’s place. What do you remember about that weekend?

JADE: Not much really – I do remember that weekend but no specifics. We did that song and then branched off and had two separate studios running, right? I don’t remember a great deal of recording that particular demo though.

DOC: Yeah that’s right. I think it came out ok - as far as the demos we did went, this one’s all right. The other influence I can hear in it is Tears For Fears.

JADE: It captures what we were trying to do with the song I think. I always had the intention of re-recording it and putting in something straight from Tears For Fears - that echoing snare hit which is in the TAFE version. That’s one of the things I loved about Tears For Fears - the drum sounds.


DOC: Yeah - apparently they used to spend weeks in the studio just perfecting a snare sound. Mental. But there are certain things that bother me about that demo - mostly that we couldn’t get the drums to shuffle. The beat is too straight, and I couldn’t make it swing. I think that’s why we programmed the drums to be really simple at the start - to hide the fact we couldn’t shuffle them. It’s only in the middle section and the outro you can really notice it. It’s got this weird push-pull between being straight and shuffled. But what I do love about the outro is that it’s in 7/8 or something - that’s really cool. That’s one part that really shined in the TAFE version.

JADE: I remember sitting in my loungeroom playing that song over and over again and messing around with that weird timing at the end of the song but never thought it was a major part. I do know Harry suggested we should really mess with that when we recorded it as a band.

DOC: I remember being excited about the outro simply because it was in 7/8 when you first showed me the song. Not that you said “it’s in 7/8”...

JADE: Ha! No, I’d just go “ok, it goes like this”....

DOC: Speaking of the TAFE version – what do you like about it?

JADE: Harry.

The Extreme Sprinklers drummer Harry Fahey and I rocking out
at Wunta in 2005. PIC: Glen Watson.

DOC: Absolutely. Harry’s so much better than a drum machine, ha!

JADE: Ha, yeah. But the keys sound great. The guitar sounds great. The bass is just awesome.

DOC: Yeah, there are some basslines in there that are very cool.

JADE: The first half of the song is fucking amazing. When Lyn Eales comes in it just takes off; it launches. But then me being stubborn, and having played the song multiple times in my loungeroom and doing it in a particular way, I didn’t want to move from having that weird falsetto melody at the end….

DOC: I think you were singing a major scale over a minor chord or vice versa.

JADE: Whatever it was, clearly I was completely wrong, ha ha! But you do the MIS course to learn things and you make mistakes and that was a mistake I made. But I still like the song. It gets across the idea. That section where it says “I’ve got my problems and so do all of you/and it’s against the program for you to have a clue” - that summed up the idea of the song. Not knowing about someone’s problems makes you feel more positively about them. The part about “I’m not trying to blame that on you” was me talking to that girl - things weren’t going to work out but it’s not your fault.

(left to right) Me, Matt Hewson and Jade at an Extreme Sprinklers
gig on the Civic Green in 2005. PIC: Damian White.

DOC: I always took the line “I’m not trying to blame that on you” to mean that you remain ignorant if you don’t ask the right questions, as in “I can’t blame it on you because I’m not asking the right questions”. So if I meet you down the street and say “how ya going?” and you say “fine” and I accept that and remain ignorant and blissful then that’s my fault because I’m not asking the right questions and getting the right answers. But you’re right about Lyn’s part - that is a great section in the song. And the overall sound is pretty cool. Hewy’s basslines are great. Harry’s drumming is great.

JADE: It’s not messy because it’s in time, but I just love how "messy" those fills of Harry’s sound at the end.

DOC: I remember giving you a heap of notes on this song in the studio on how you could improve the mix. And I remember showing them to you and you going, “no, no, this is my recording for TAFE, I don’t want your notes, I want to do it how I’m going to do it”. And I think I want to Harry to complain that I had all these great ideas but you weren’t listening to me and Harry said “Yeah, but this is not your recording, dude. We’re playing on it, but it’s not your recording”. And I thought, yeah you’re right - it’s Jade’s thing, let him do it the way he wants to do it to get the sound he wants.

JADE: Yeah, it wasn’t that I didn’t think you could make the song better - it was because I wanted to do it myself.

DOC: And listening to it now, I was probably right about some of the stuff, but you had to go and learn for yourself, ha ha.

JADE: Yeah. I wanted to be able to go “I did this” because up until that point I’d never done anything completely by myself. It was an experiment. You do the MIS course and you make mistakes and you learn from them and you develop as an artist. I was probably rebelling against you a bit there too.

South West TAFE's 2005 MIS course compilation Mixed Nuts
featuring Ignorance Is Bliss.

DOC: Oh yeah, definitely. I’m sure that’s what you were doing. And for good reason - whenever we demoed stuff, I was the one who knew the program and knew how to vaguely produce and mix but you didn’t, so obviously you were going to rebel at some point and take control of a song. And when Harry pointed that out - that this was your song for your TAFE course - I got that. I was being pushy. I was only trying to serve the song, but eventually I realised you had to do your own thing.

JADE: At some point early in your writing career you probably had the same moment where you felt you had to do it your way, whether it was right or wrong, where it was about doing something your own way. I couldn’t communicate properly with you guys because I wasn’t a musician and couldn’t play an instrument so it was a big thing for me to go “I want to do it this way”. In hindsight I was wrong, ha, but I had to make that step.

DOC: Ha. I don’t think I ever had that moment because I was always the pushy one in bands! I always have been. I’ve always had the courage of my conviction on an idea and will try and get it across the line unless someone can convince they’ve got a better way to do it.

JADE: Yeah, it was different for me because I was surrounded by you, who had been in multiple bands and done multiple recordings, Hewy, who is an outstanding musician, and Harry, who’s outstanding as well.

DOC: Yeah, they’re both fucking geniuses.

JADE: Absolutely. So this song was me trying to take what I’d learnt from all three of you guys and the TAFE course and trying to do that myself. And I fell over, ha ha, but parts of the song are still good. If we went and recorded that same song again with the same four guys in the same studio it would be stellar.

DOC: It is a really good song and I always felt it was a shame that you never brought in another song that you’d written the chords for. That was the only song for The Extreme Sprinklers or The 80 Aces where you went “here are the chords”. It’s like you wrote that one song and put the keyboard away and went “Done!”.

JADE: It’s because you were so down on me about it. This is probably more about me than you but I remember you changing the lyrics in the chorus and singing it….

DOC: “It’s the same the whole song over!” Yeah. That was hilarious.

JADE: I took it to heart and thought maybe I don’t have that ability - that maybe I need to write with other people and not solo - because the song is kind of monotonal… and I overthink things.

Here's Jade overthinking things during one of our songwriting sessions.

DOC: I didn’t mean to be mean. In our bands we’ve always ribbed each other about stuff but it’s always lighthearted. How many times did you guys bag me out about my guitar skills or lack thereof, or my singing ability or lack thereof? It’s never serious, and I never took it serious, but if you took it seriously, I’m sorry.

JADE: It’s water under the bridge now. But I did take it seriously at the time and thought maybe I’d overextended myself.

DOC: It was just a joke, probably because the song isn’t concise and it’s a slow song. I did notice that the TAFE version is a good minute-and-a-bit longer than the demo version, and I reckon the demo version probably could have been cut down. You said monotonal, but I’d say it’s maybe a bit long and not as dynamic as it could have been.

JADE: Having the song last that long made time for Harry to do his thing and I’m glad for that!

DOC: Yeah but I think it needed something in that end bit to make it soar… like if that vocal melody had been more precise or in the right scale, ha, it could have soared, but you could have done that with anything. It was like we’ve got this great 7/8 outro but we should have had Hewy play a wailing sax solo over it or the guitar solo that’s buried in the mix couldn’t have been brought up more and really sold that bit.

JADE: Given the skills we have now, we could totally nail it in the studio and come up with something really fucking cool.

DOC: And that’s because the song itself is fundamentally good, which is why I was bummed that you didn’t bring in other songs with chords and all. When we were playing with Harry and Hewy, we’d always bring them songs - “these are the chords and the melodies” - and then let them put their own thing on it. This song was great for me because I got to do that for a change. I didn’t write it so I could do little bits and pieces and play on it at a step removed from the songwriting process. I always wish you’d written more songs from a chordal point of view because it made things more interesting for me.

JADE: You know in a lot of ways, the demo of Ignorance Is Bliss is better than the TAFE version.

DOC: I wish we’d taken it to the studio in an EP or album sense and done a third version, where the whole band could have had input, instead of it just being me (in the demo version) or you (in the TAFE version).

JADE: Agreed. Can you untie me now?

***

So there you have it folks. But because I couldn’t leave it alone, here’s a third version – a new mix of the original demo that a) corrects the weird straight-vs-shuffle battle that was going on between the programmed drums and everything else in the demo, b) cranks up the bass, and c) basically utilises 10 more years of mixing and production experience to hopefully make it all sound better. I find it kind of funny that this remix was done in the same house it was originally recorded in, almost exactly 10 years on.

2015 mix

Mixed on February 12, 2015, at Hoffa’s House, Warrnambool.
Drum programming and mixing by Matt Neal.
Additional programming, mixing and assistance by Brendan Hoffmann.




Lyrics:

We’re all living for ourselves
We’re all dying for someone else
I see you in the street how are you
I walk past before you can answer

And it’s the same whole world over, yeah
It’s the same the whole world over
It’s the same the whole world over
but I’m not trying to blame that on you

I’ve got my problems, so do all of you,
and it’s against the program for you to have a clue
so if you ask me, “how are you going?”
I’ll nod rather than give you a truthful answer

Ignorance is bliss





Friday, 6 February 2015

#52. I Don't Know When To Leave The Party


Matt Neal – vocals, guitars, bass, drum programming.
Brendan Hoffmann – backing vocals.

Music and lyrics by Matt Neal.
Written August 2012.
Recorded May 23, 2013 at the Port Fairy House and January 21, 2015 at Hoffa’s House.
Produced and mixed by Matt Neal and Brendan Hoffmann.


80 Aces singer Jade McLaren and I have written dozens of songs together and each song has had varying degrees of input from both of us. However I’m pretty sure this song, despite being written in a joint songwriting session, was entirely my work. Not that Jade would want to claim it - it's not great, hell, it's not even good - and it was never going to end up being played live or recorded by The 80 Aces. It just kind of came out the way it did and that was that – another song all dressed up with no place to go.

This was one of a couple of songs we nutted out during a few days spent at my parents' "weekend house" in Port Fairy, which has been the scene of many songwriting sessions for the pair of us as well as for the whole band. It's also one my preferred places to go and demo/write stuff on my own.

Which invariably results in me re-decorating thusly.

When it came time to write this one, I believe I presented Jade with all the chords and the chorus as they appear in the recording above. I wanted help with the verses. I explained that the title/chorus was a line that occurred to me after a few too many nights when I should have gone home earlier and regretted not doing so the following morning, and that we should use that as the jumping off point lyrically.

We went into our respective corners to work on our tried and true list method, whereby each of us goes off and writes a list of words, phrase and lines that can then get shaped into lyrics. But as I sat back to begin writing, I had a brainwave - what if the verse lyrics were spoken word, told from the point of view that annoying guy at the party who has worn out his welcome?

Having lived for more than 12 months in a house that's proximity to the pubs meant it was the “after party house” come closing time, I had more than enough material for a list of after-party annoyances: people who pinch grog, who wreck things, who corner you and crap on forever, who never bring cigarettes. Within five minutes, I'd written all the words. Jade hadn't come up with much so we went with what I had. We recorded a quick version into my phone and moved on to the next song.

These kind of parties. Not pictured: people who don't know when to leave.

Next time I was in Port Fairy, I recorded the guts of the song - the acoustic guitar, the lead vocals and some drum loops, but left it unfinished. I was convinced at the time (as I still am now) that the song didn’t have much promise.

I dug it out earlier this year while going through some folders of unfinished songs. I’d started doing bits and pieces of recording with Brendan Hoffmann, the guitarist/singer from my erstwhile band 21st Century Ox. I Don’t Know When To Leave The Party seemed like it could be a fun little song to finish off, so I took what I’d recorded so far to his place and within a couple of hours we had a rough mix in the bag.

Pictured: me not knowing when to leave the party.

The final mix is the result of me trying to turn this into something worth listening to – at least the guitars are rocking (and loud - crank it up!), there’s a drunken-crowd-singalong-quality to the chorus to suit the theme of the song, and there’s a cool riff at the end (which I kind of see as a reward for making it that far).

Musically, I think I was trying to mess with the chord progression out of the awesome Muse b-side The Groove (although in hindsight it's not very close):


As for the vocals in this, I’d just like to say that I hate the sound of my own voice talking almost as much as I hate the sound of my own voice singing. I contemplated getting other people to speak the verses or trying it in an American accent but in the end I thought, ‘fuck it – the song’s not that great anyway’.

Lyrics:

You kinda just walked away there in the middle of our conversation. I see you were distracted by the girl who tried to slap me earlier. This drink was full, I swear, just a minute ago… and why are my shoes so wet? It’s ok – I came with that guy. Can I pinch another cigarette?

I dunno when to leave the party

I just found this beer in the fridge. And that glass coffee table was like that when I got here. You’re a great friend and I like you a lot – now help me look for my phone. I didn’t mean to corner but I really needed to get that off my chest for the last one and half hours. God, I must have been boring you to death.

I dunno when to leave the party

I don’t care if the sun’s coming up – let’s keep going to the next house. No, I don’t like to have people over to my place – I prefer to leave a mess elsewhere.


Saturday, 3 January 2015

#51. Identigirl – The Extreme Sprinklers


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

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




Much like Guitarzan, this song started with a really good portmanteau - another one of The Extreme Sprinklers' singer Jade McLaren's made-up words that work as song titles/lyrics because you instantly know what it means even though you've probably never heard the word before.

This was written in the heady days of us playing a shitload of cover gigs in 2005 at every pub that would have us. During that time we saw a lot of identigirls - these young women who dressed the same, had the same hairstyle and behaved the same. They're still around and probably always have been. Does that make this title and theme timeless? I don't know.

Here we are rocking TAFE. Apparently, beanies were the fashion of the day.

When Jade told me his new made-up word, I agreed it was a good idea/name for a song and we set about writing it at his place in Liebig St above Mac's Snacks in Warrnambool - the same place we wrote a lot of our songs in the early days. I've got the feeling Jade wrote a lot of the lyrics before I came to the party - I think my main lyrical contribution may have been the "strawberry swirl" line, which I seem to recall Jade disliked but begrudgingly agreed to use because rhyming with "girl" is tricky and he couldn't come up with anything better.

Musically, this was an opportunity to rock out for the band. We were finally moving away from the genre-hopping and becoming a rock band, embracing the style of music that we were enjoying playing in our alter-ego cover band The Front.

The Extreme Sprinklers jamming in The Cellar circa 2005. PIC: James Colquhoun.

Identigirl is in dropped D tuning on guitar and largely based around what I like to think of as the power chord version of a D minor 7th - at least that's what makes up most of that striking rhythm in the verses and the intro. Speaking of the intro, that was an attempt to find a way to start a song that was different to the two most common ways of starting a song - ie. “all in” and “one person starts then all in”.

We recorded this at Tony Peel's original Motherlode Studios, with my old schoolmate Gus Franklin (of Architecture In Helsinki fame) helping Peely produce and engineer it. I'm not entirely sure why we got Gus to come down from Melbourne for what was effectively a demo session but my gut tells me it was to try to draw a slightly different sound out of Peely's studio, as well as being an excuse to work with an old friend.
We tracked this live - vocals and all - only doing three takes. If I remember correctly, Extreme Sprinklers drummer and sound whiz Harry Fahey did some clever editing to tighten the whole thing up and fix up the shit bits, and the resulting recording ended up as the title track on a limited release EP. I don’t actually have a copy of the EP so I’ve got no idea what else was on it but I think it was entirely comprised of songs from this "demo" session with Gus and Peely.

The EP featured this awesome cover artwork by Phil Cooke
who is one seriously talented motherfucker.

Jade and I were obviously proud of the song because about eight years later when we were shortlisting potential tunes for The 80 Aces debut album (coming out in 2015!) we both picked this as a wildcard of sorts. We even got so far as to run through it a couple of times in the studio during the recording of Tales Of Great Adventure (coming out in 2015!) but it wasn't quite there; the reason being we hadn't hardly played it in the intervening years after Harry Fahey and Matt Hewson left The Extreme Sprinklers and we morphed into The 80 Aces with Jarrod Hawker and Kyle McLaren. Me and my fellow Aces we’re never going to be able to pull it off after only a couple of rehearsals. The above recording is a good example of what happened when Hewy, Harry and I really locked together, tweaking and fine-tuning things through weekly rehearsals. And I’d just like to point that Harry’s drumming is absolutely rad in this song – the way he drops in disco beats, some great fills, half-time beats, and then perfectly switches into the 6/8 ending ... it's all gold.

Some Harry gold. PIC: Glen Watson.

I’m not sure what the main influences are in this song (aside from Jade’s rather obvious Kaiser Chiefs bit in the breakdown/build-up) but I just love how noisy and clattering the whole thing is. That distinctive rhythm makes it stand out a bit I think, and I don’t know which one of us came up with the time-signature-change ending but I always thought that was pretty clever and cool. It was also reasonably catchy for something so grungy.

It remains one of my favourite tracks, and if nothing else, I think it showcases what The Extreme Sprinklers could do at the top of their game – be loud, rocking yet still poppy and kind of smart.

Lyrics

Well all right
I said shit goddamn

We're all here to fill a small silence
So what's your decibel level?
She can barely see you
you're at the back of the queue
another extension of her crew

Step out step out step out step out
The carbon copies of yourself

Take a ticket just like the other one
You're only here to have fun
I guess you're an identigirl
The new model it spins and twirls
and it's got the strawberry swirl

Monday, 1 December 2014

#50. Ice Cream Headaches – The Extreme Sprinklers


Harry Fahey: drums, percussion
Matt Hewson: bass, backing vocals
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 between October 2-10, 2003.
Recorded at Kellie’s Swamp, Warrnambool on January 2, 2005.
Additional recording done at Drum Drum, Warrnambool, in late 2004.
Produced, engineered and mixed by Harry Fahey.
Released on the Jamaica EP.


During Dion's Week Of Debauchery - a week-long recordingsession for 21st Century Ox at bassist Dion Barker's house - future 80 Aces singer Jade McLaren and I penned this icy little grunge ballad. At the time, we were infrequently writing songs for The Extreme Sprinklers; our Ween-esque project that we hoped to some day turn into a real band (spoiler alert: it did become a real band).

Pictured: A real band. The Extreme Sprinklers - (l-r) Matt Neal, Matt Hewson, 
Harry Fahey and Jade McLaren - at the 2005 Warrnambool Associated Music Industry awards, 
where we won "best recording" for the Jamaica EP. PIC: Michael Schack.

Jade had come along to the Debauchery sessions partly to enjoy the incessant partying but also to write and record some tunes with me in the downtime between Ox recording, which proved to be a lot of the time. Another factor was the opportunity to get down to Warrnambool from Melbourne - things weren't going well in his relationship at the time.

Sometime during that week, he got the phone call that his relationship was over. I can't remember if that was before or after we wrote this song but it definitely came into play (although I'm not sure we realised it at the time).

Either way, the song proved formative in a couple of ways. Firstly, it's a good early example of our songwriting technique. We would nut out the rough melody and chords and song idea then each brainstorm a list of words, phrases or lines relating to the song's theme. We'd then put the two lists together, decide/argue about which words, phrases or lines were good and arrange them into verses and choruses. It's that easy, kids.

The original scribblings for (apparently deliberately mis-titled)
"The Ballard Of Frost Bite Freezer" (sic). If you zoom in, 
you can see part of the list of possible keywords down the right-hand side 
(the words "Eskimo" and "igloo" didn't make the cut, apparently). 
And yes, my song book was a Buffy scrapbook at the time. Because Buffy rules.

Secondly, with this song we ended up writing a straight-up rock song, which was a signpost to the non-genre-hopping that would mark the second phase of The Extreme Sprinklers, whereby we would try to be a "normal" band and not some weird reggae/country/rap/blues bunch of Ween wannabes. Ice Cream Headaches seemed like a "normal" song compared to the genre-specific and jokey tunes we'd written previously.

I think it was Jade who had the idea of writing a song about an "ice queen" (whom we nicknamed Frostbite Frida). From there we listed a shitload of "icy" terms and began sculpting them into lyrics. Very early on in the partnership we had come up with a list of words we vowed not to use in songs: "hate", "pain" and "soul" are the only ones I can recall. But we broke our own rule here - the phrase "pneumonia in my soul" was way too good to pass up. There are so many lines in this song that I'm proud of - "a snowflake with sharp edges", "you give me ice-cream headaches", "you're human hypothermia, you're a glacier that crawls through my veins" and the use of the term "below Kelvin" in particular.

One of the first people to like this song was my wife Dannii, who I didn't really know at the time. It was she that suggested renaming the song from it's original title The Ballad Of Frostbite Frida to Ice Cream Headaches - a much better name. The fact I married her later is completely unrelated to this piece of information (probably).


The song appeared on The Extreme Sprinklers debut release - the Jamaica EP - and was among the first batch of original songs we played when Harry Fahey and Matt Hewson joined and turned us into a real band instead of a joke duo. For this recording, Harry recorded his drums at Drum Drum in Warrnambool and we tracked the rest of it in my makeshift studio known as Kellie's Swamp on my shitty PC. To be honest, I was blown away with Harry's ability as a producer during those sessions - I'd been making shitty demos for ages on that computer and was stunned to hear someone produce something on the same machine that sounded genuinely good.

The manifesto was to make the recording sound cold and stark, hence the wind sample at the start, the clanging rhythmic guitar non-chords, the sound of the bass and the guitar, and Hewy's tasty harmonics. Musically the song owes a lot to Nirvana's You Know You're Right - the chords and the dynamics are identical. But the band, the rhythm, the melodies. and Harry's production make it sound suitably different.


The other musical touchstone is The Wizard Of Oz - in particular the Wicked Witch's guard chant: "Oh-wee-oh, wee-oh-oh". Not sure how a variation of that ended up in the song, but it did.


Ice Cream Headaches remains a favourite of mine. It's super simple and not over-thought. It's basic, straight-up grunge-rock... and there's nothing wrong with that.

Below is the demo (and below that the full lyrics) which I think I may have recorded the night before Jade and I wrote the lyrics and melodies. Because of that keyboard melody, it was tentatively titled Arabian Nights. It was just something I threw together while the recording gear was lying around, and I got some of the other guys who were there - Ox guitarist Brendan Hoffmann and our sound engineer Dave Wilson - to add bits and pieces to it, perhaps with the idea it might become an Ox song.

Ice Cream Headaches (Arabian Nights demo)

Brendan Hoffmann: guitar, keyboard
Matt Neal: guitar, keyboard, drums, bass
Dave Wilson: acoustic guitar

Music by Matt Neal.
Written between October 2-10, 2003.
Recorded at the Barker Residence, Warrnambool between October 2-10, 2003.
Produced, engineered and mixed by Matt Neal.



Lyrics

All of my extremities
Are freezing off because you're so damned cold
You've got popsicles for fingers and an icicle instead of a heart

You're an avalanche of woe
You give me shivers like a sleep in the snow
You're a snowflake with sharp edges, you're the winter coat that keeps me cold

You give me ice cream headaches
You give me freezer burn
Your love gives my frostbite, yes, it does, oh-we-oh
You give chilblains baby
Pneumonia in my soul
Your love gives my frostbite, yes, it does, oh-we-oh

I'm always skating on thin ice
Frozen solid by your winter lights
You're human hypothermia, you're a glacier that crawls through my veins

You're below Kelvin baby
You're liquid nitrogen
Your love gives my frostbite, yes, it does, oh-we-oh
You're Frostbite Frida baby
Pneumonia in my soul
Your love gives my frostbite, yes, it does, oh-we-oh
You give me ice cream headaches
You give me freezer burn
Your love gives my frostbite, yes, it does, oh-we-oh
You give chilblains baby
Pneumonia in my soul
Your love gives my frostbite, yes, it does, oh-we-oh

Saturday, 15 November 2014

#49. I Can’t Help Who My Daddy Was


Matt Neal: guitar, vocals, percussion, mandolin.

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



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

Me and my dad.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Lyrics

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tasty. 
PIC: Dylan Buzolich.

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Another shot from the filming of the clip.

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

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

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

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


Lyrics:

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

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

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