Friday, 29 May 2015

#57. I Will – The Extreme Sprinklers


Demo version

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

Lyrics by Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Music by 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.
Additional mixing by Brendan Hoffmann.



Shed version

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

Recorded at The Shed, Warrnambool in April, 2006.
Produced, engineered and mixed by Harry Fahey.



Way back in early 2005 when I was about to get married for the first time, my songwriting buddy Jade McLaren and I – unsurprisingly – decided to write a song about weddings. Given these things tend to be all-consuming, it’s entirely possible we couldn’t think of anything else to write about, but I do recall thinking at the time that despite there being an inordinate amount of songs about love, there didn't seem to be a hell of a lot of songs about getting married.

One wedding-themed song we could think of and liked, and which served as something of an inspiration, was Big Day by XTC (there’s that band again). Our matrimonial ode shares very little in common except that it’s guitar-based and kind of alt-poppy, but we were aiming to do something similar. We wanted to write a vaguely alternative, all-purpose wedding song that would hopefully encapsulate the feelings most people have about their big day (but that was a damned-sight less ominous than Big Day).


Jade and I had been writing songs together for about a year and a half by this stage and had developed something we called The Wankometer (as Jackson McLaren will attest to). This imaginary device was basically our way of saying whether something was too cheesy or sappy or, well, wanky. Any lyric that seemed too saccharine was described as “scoring high on The Wankometer” or "registering an 8.5 on The Wankometer" and thus thrown on the scrapheap (or “into the Hellmouth” as we called it).

For this song, however, The Wankometer was turned off. I don’t recall if that was a decision made prior to starting writing or part-way through the process when we realised it was an impossible task to write a song about getting married with The Wankometer turned on, but either way, it was switched off.

"With The Wankometer off, I can finally write that song 
I've always wanted to write about bunnies." PIC: Kellie Johns.

Hence, I Will is the wankiest set of lyrics Jade and I have written together, although to be honest I think we did a good job of keeping the cheese to a minimum (“I will push your swing as high as you want to go” is probably the worst offender). Ultimately though it was very sincere and the sentiments were genuine for how I was feeling at the time (and Jade was using his imagination or perhaps channeling something related to his girlfriend at the time). We were still keen to keep the song generic though and only two words belie that ambition – “bodyguard” and “doctor”. That was our in-joke – Jade was working as a security guard at the time, and my nickname is The Doctor.

Speaking of lyrics, there are two things of note in here. The first, which Jade pointed out to me recently, is the line “let’s get this ceremony over”. He reckoned that related to my own dread of the actual ceremony bit of getting married, noting that it was a fairly un-romantic line in an otherwise romantic song. He’s probably right. I certainly managed to largely dodge the whole ceremony thing second time around – I highly recommend eloping.

The second thing is the line “some kind of plant will grow”. That was another cop-out lyric, as previously seen in Disco In Borneo. It was a placeholder that was meant to be replaced by the name of an actual type of romantic-sounding plant, except we couldn’t think of one so we instead stuck with the lyric that effectively means “insert plant name here”. It still makes me laugh.

"Rose? Tulip? Rhododendron? Hydrangea?"
"Stop saying plant names or I'll judo chop you in the throat."
PIC: Dannii Hale.

Musically I was really pleased with this song. Jade came up with a wonderful melody to go with the strange chords I had put together. I have no idea what the chord names are, but most of them are built around using just three strings at a time. It’s likely that the ascending chorus and the use of these strange chord voicings is something influenced by Jeff Buckley’s song Grace, which I learnt to play in my teenage years and was blown away by some of the strange chord shapes. The way the pre-chorus ascends in Grace is something I’m no doubt mirroring in the chorus of I Will.


Rather bizarrely, the other obvious musical influence here, believe it or not, is System Of A Down. There’s a bit in the outro that I ripped holus bolus from their song Aerials. I’m pretty sure I knew I was stealing it, but that one bit was so cool I had to do it. As to why this otherwise lovely little ditty suddenly turns into a wailing guitarfest at the end, I have no idea. I just couldn’t control myself and decided for some reason that the end bit needed four simultaneous guitar parts.


Final notes: I really wanted this song to be called I Will rather than "Yes I Will" or "Yes I Do" or whatever because I wanted it to share a title with both a Beatles song and a Radiohead song.


Lastly, the two different recordings above were made roughly a year apart. The first one is the original demo Jade and I made with the assistance of my old band mate Brendan Hoffmann (same weekend we demoed Ignorance Is Bliss). It came up pretty good I reckon. The second one is a rehearsal recording of The Extreme Sprinklers as a live band (viva Harry Fahey and Matt Hewson!) working through the song (and largely nailing it except for my piss-poor playing in the outro).

PIC: Glen Watson

Lyrics:

I won’t weigh you down
like sand
pouring through the hourglass
I will be around
on hand
like I always was in the past
I will push your swing
as high
as you want to go
Will you wear my ring?
Be mine?
Some kind of plant will grow

Yes I will
Yes I do
Let’s get this ceremony over
So we can start anew

I won’t break your stride
as you
walk into another day
Everything you try
to do
I’ll help you up to try again
I will be your fort
your home
bodyguard and doctor too
‘Cos time is far too short
alone
it’s better when it’s shared by two



Friday, 22 May 2015

#56. I Want Everything – 21st Century Ox


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

Lyrics by Dion Barker, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Music by Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Written late 1999-early 2000.
Recorded at Motherlode Studios, Warrnambool, 2000.
Produced and mixed by Tony Peel.



When bands are starting out, the first couple of songs they write usually set the tone for what their sound will be. This track was among the initial batch of tunes 21st Century Ox played at the very first gig we did and it certainly set the tone for us – I think our credo went something along the lines of “rock is good, but weird is also good”.

That first gig was on April 2, 2000 on the back of a truck in the car park outside the Lady Bay Hotel, and it was the first of about 50 gigs we did over the course of the next 12 months. Check it out – I’ve still got our first setlist:


There’s I Want Everything, sitting plum in the middle of the set next to the even weirder March Of The Albatross, ready to freak out the norms. The plan was to win them back with a Britney Spears cover at the end.


In the year leading up to this gig, Brendan Hoffmann, Dion Barker and I had been hanging out a lot and making a lot of music. We were 18, fresh out of high school, and had heaps of spare time to jam, write songs and make weird impromptu recordings. Hoffa and I taught Dion how to play bass, and by February 2000 we had put together 21st Century Ox with drummer Harry Fahey.

I have fond memories of writing this song. Hoffa, Dion and I were hanging out at McDonald’s, probably drunk. While we sat their drinking our cokes we started writing these nonsense juvenile lyrics. It was just fun and silly – it was a song written with no regard for any rules of songwriting or common sense. We probably never even intended for it to be a song, or that anyone would hear it. We were just goofing around. Hoffa came up with the staccato title chant and we later crafted some riffs onto it in the rehearsal room with the rest of the band.

Dion, Harry and the back of my head in the rehearsal room. PIC: Brendan Hoffmann.

Here’s Hoffa:

“I remember we wrote the lyrics to some or all of it eating in McDonald's. I think we had a sugar rush and were hyperactive! As for the music, I think I came up with the first bit and Nealy came up with the main verse riff - not sure about the bridge. Was such a fun song to play and I remember the crowd used to like it too and sing along! Was a good team effort (and) was aesthetically a good sounding song - lots of interesting changes.”

Hoffa penning another potential classic. PIC: Janelle Mentha.

Here’s Dion:

“I remember that trip to McDonalds. Back in the days when McFlurries were just a sparkle in Ronald's eyes and 30 cent cones had an entirely different meaning... but I digress. Actually, I'm not sure if you can digress before actually mentioning something about the topic at hand, can you? Someone Google that. Google. That was something else that hadn't been invented either when we wrote this song. I suddenly feel very old!

“So, I too remember this being a favourite with the young’uns... I do recall thinking on several occasions as to its appropriateness for a bunch of impressionable young teens.  In fact I think it dawned on Hoffa on one occasion and he refused to play it! Suddenly had an attack of conscience, maybe?

Ox live on the Civic Green. PIC: Kellie Johns.

“It definitely was a tone setter for many of our earlier songs, and is typical of our younger Ox material. Very reminiscent of that first summer as a band and the fun times we had.  That's not to say there weren't more fun times in the latter days of Ox, but I Want Everything had that youthful playfulness about it, when we probably weren't thinking too much about its intended audience.  Fun times.”

Fun times indeed, Dion.

That weird sound at the end of the track is a loop of me screaming, which was part of all the strange little intricacies we hid all over our first (and so far only) album What Am I Going To Do With All These Portaloos?. That album, and this song, were recorded by Tony Peel, who opened our eyes to the world of studio recording.

Me being suave as fuck. PIC: Brendan Hoffmann.

Lyrics:

I want everything!

I don’t wanna be your sunshine
I don’t even like you much
I just wanna steal your French fries
and fondle with your crotch

I just wanna take your beauty
I just wanna take your tongue
and stick it in your earhole
while fingering your bum

Oh

Everyone’s trying to kill me
and shave my pubic hair
and eat it down with gravy
like a pouting Fred Astaire

Yum mum mum mummin yuppa
Myum mum muppy da ba
Duppy duppy duppy duppy yuppa
Myum mum muppy da ba

I want everything!


Wednesday, 13 May 2015

#55. Invest In This Mess – The Extreme Sprinklers


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

Lyrics by Jade McLaren and Matt Neal
Music by Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Written December 25, 2005.
Recorded at The Shed, Warrnambool in April, 2006.
Produced, engineered and mixed by Harry Fahey.



Money makes the world go round, it's the root of all evil, and it's a good songwriting subject.


It's certainly the subject of a few songs 80 Aces singer Jade McLaren and I have written over the years, though none quite as obvious or as heavy as this one (and by “heavy” I mean “grunge-metal”, whatever that may be).

Jade reckons this song was written at the house he was living at in Kerr St, Warrnambool, but I’m not sure, mostly because he thought the song was written the day Steve Irwin died. He was absolutely certain of this for some reason. It’s not the case though – according to my songbook it was written on Christmas Day, 2005. The reasons why we wrote such a song on Christmas Day are lost to the mists of time, and this track certainly won't be appearing on any Christmas albums in the foreseeable future. Maybe we were broke from buying presents. 

Anyway, the main riff of Invest In This Mess is pretty generic in a grungy metallic way - it's the bastard child of Pink Floyd's Have A Cigar (especially the Foo Fighters' version which heavies it up some) ...


... Jane's Addiction's Mountain Song ...


... and Tool's cover of the Peach song You Lied (the bit at the 1:40 mark).


Jade said it sounded "Grinspoony" and “pretty derivative”. The rest of the song is kind of Muse-like, particularly this song with its arpeggios and guitar effects and shit:


But what I liked about it was how fun it was to play and how heavy it sounded, especially that opening riff – for me, it’s the epitome of the big, dumb, fun riff. I think I had the riff up my sleeve for a few years before it finally found its way into Invest In This Mess.

The Extreme Sprinklers original modus operandii had been "play all the genres" - we'd written blues, reggae, country, disco, funk, pop, punk, rap and just about everything else we could think of, but nothing heavy, so I guess this made sense. Also it was around this time - early 2006 - that we started to ditch the genre-hopping in favour of being a rock band, so it made sense in that sense as well. So much sense (or cents as it were, considering the lyrics of this song).

Despite this rational for its existence, Invest In This Mess didn't last long in the set list. I think it was mostly Jade who felt it was too heavy. Plus this was in the last batch of songs written before drummer Harry Fahey quit the band, leading to the arrival of Jarrod Hawker (and a name change to The 80 Aces) and a general move toward new songs and a different sound (although Hawk probably would have enjoyed playing this one – I’m not sure why that didn't happen).

The Extreme Sprinklers: (l-r) Jade McLaren, Matt Hewson, me, and Harry Fahey.
PIC: Glen Watson.

Lyrically it's about “being fucking broke and trying to find a girlfriend”, as Jade puts it.

“It’s just playing on all those money metaphors,” he recalled. “I don’t know whose idea originally it was – it may have been a ‘play me what you’ve been playing, Doc’ kind of thing. It sounds like a Doc riff and then we moulded it into a song.

“Quite often we were both writing a song and working on them from completely different points of view. That happens a lot. (From my perspective) I was about to date someone and I was just a complete fucking mess as I usually am when I’m single and I was like ‘love me - I’ve got nothing, but love me!’.

“It was probably me that was backing away from (playing) the heavier stuff. (But I) used to love performing that song because it just felt so rock ‘n’ roll. So I enjoyed playing the song, but I never thought it was what our band should have been like.”

Jade, being rock 'n' roll. PIC: Glen Watson.

As Jade pointed out, the lyrics are a mess of money metaphors. I like that “no dough to make the bread" and "I’ve never brought home the bacon” go together (mmm, bacon sandwiches), and I’m pretty sure I had the bridge line about one’s wallet being as bare as one’s fridge sitting around in my notepad for some time. Also “no sense (cents) to make the dollars" is a good lyric, no matter how obvious it may be.

This particular version of the song was recorded in The Shed (located behind Reunion, previously CRB, previously La Porcetta). Harry used to ingeniously hook up a handful of mics and record our rehearsals (I’ve no idea how he did it to be honest) and this is from one of those jam sessions. The slightly overblown mix is due to the fact Harry used to have to “set and forget” the mixing desk because he was busy drumming while it was all being recorded in another room.

Here's Harry "setting and forgetting", ably assisted by Hewy.
PIC: Glen Watson.

Final note: because this was as “metal” as we got, Jade and I decided we should do our best metal screams at the end of the song, so that’s me and him trading screams at the end of the song. Personally, I think it’s kind of hilarious.

Lyrics:

Got no mint to make the money
My state has no capital
The cash flow's stopped running
The rapids are non-negotiable

But I’ll do everything I’m able
To put food on the table
Though my wallet’s as bare as the fridge

No sense to make the dollars
This bank has lost its balance
I’m losing interest in what follows
And withdrawing from this madness

Invest in this mess

No dough to make the bread
I’ve never brought home the bacon
My stocks are in the red
There’s no coins in this pudding




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 blight 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