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.

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.


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!


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.

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.


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

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

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

Monday, 3 November 2014

#47. IAmAI – The Extreme Sprinklers

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

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

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

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

1. IAmAI is a missed opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

Is this how you improvise? PIC: Glen Watson

2. IAmAI is about a robot

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

3. The title changed for nerdy reasons

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

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

Cool story, bro.

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

4. I really like this song

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the fucking time.
PIC: Glen Watson.


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

Accept me, even though I’m only wires

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

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

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

Accept me even though I’m only thinking in numbers

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

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

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

#46. How To Get Kidnapped

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here I am, getting weirdly jazzy in a solo.

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

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

Maybe it needed another guitar solo.

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

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

Fuck feelings.

Pics by Tenielle McLam and Dannii Hale.


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

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

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

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

Monday, 28 July 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what did the other guys think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Straight out of my first-year TAFE journal.

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


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

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

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