Sunday, 22 May 2016

#74. March Of The Albatross – 21st Century Ox


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

Recorded in the Warrnambool City Band Hall in 2000.
Produced and mixed by Harry Fahey.
Released on the 21st Century Ox album What Am I Going To Do With All These Portaloos?.



This remains, to this day, the most Herculean feat of mixing I’ve ever seen. It probably doesn’t sound much chop to your modern ears, but this was recorded under various levels of duress by Ox drummer Harry Fahey, who it turns out is a Level 5 Sound Mage.

Here’s the set-up: It's the year 2000. My band 21st Century Ox - Warrnambool’s self-proclaimed “alternative to the alternative” - has set up shop for the day in the Warrnambool City Band Hall to do some recording. Harry, who is undertaking TAFE’s Music Industry Skills course at the time, has secured the use of TAFE’s digital four-track recorder for 24 hours. The plan is to record a demo for The Ignored so we can enter the song into the Couch Surfing competition and try to win us some money.

Yay, another chance to use this pic from The Standard of 
21st Century Ox with artist Damian "Macca" McDonald
to celebrate us all winning Couch Surfing.

The day progresses well. Harry, bassist Dion Barker, guitarist/vocalist Brendan Hoffmann and myself smash out a pretty decent demo of The Ignored (since lost to the mists of time) in between ducking up to Fishtails for coffees and getting progressively more inebriated as the day goes on.

My memories are hazy, but I think we had a crack at recording another song called Sorry I’m So Stupid after we’d finished The Ignored, but abandoned it because I couldn’t nail the vocals. So we turned our attention to a song Hoffa had written called March Of The Albatross. It was an odd tune, but one we’d been playing since our first gig in April, 2000.

First Ox setlist. April 2, 2000.

The song consisted of one lyric and one riff, played at varying degrees of heaviness, so there wasn’t much to it, but it was a song we could jam on and mess around with every time we played it. And given that we were getting pretty trashed by the time we turned our attentions to recording a new song, it was a perfect candidate.

This pic was taken during the recording session in the band hall. 
Hats took up much of the recording budget.
Pic: Brendan Hoffmann

“My original idea for the lyrics,” Hoffa said, “were my usual punk, anti-establishment comment on 'sheeple'. I was very much into me vs the drones back then. You may see a resemblance between the albatross, the cats (from a future blog) and the cash man... I definitely had a theme going!”

We laid down the basic tracks - I think the finished version was take 2 - and decided to start messing around with overdubs. This is where Harry’s heroics came into play. Remember: this is a digital four-track recorder we’re using so it only has four tracks to record on. Every time you want to record a new track, you have to “bounce” the four existing tracks on to one or two tracks to clear room. But bouncing means the mix is set. You can’t remix what you’ve bounced. There’s no undo button.

Myself, Dion and Harry getting set up for recording in the band hall.
Picture: Brendan Hoffmann.

By this stage we were fairly messed up, but Harry rallied like the trooper he is. Dion, Hoffa and I were running around coming up with crazy new layers to add to the song. There was an awesome Mega Boogie amp someone had left in the Band Hall that we made extensive use of because it sounded fucking incredible. We added stacks of percussion including coffee cups and gueros and thumping on tables (most of which is out of time and gives the song a certain psychotic seasickness). And we decided to make use of the acoustics in the bathroom for extra eerie vocals.

All the while, Harry bounced and bounced, somehow managing to retain the core drum, bass, guitar and vocal tracks. All while off his head. Like I said, it was a Herculean effort.

“Dude, it’s in the region of 40 tracks on a four-track recorder,” Harry recalled. “Fuck me that was epic! Best memory is you guys in the bathroom with a mic pointed into the sink to get that beautiful porcelain reverb and running water effect over a psycho screaming session.”

"You know what I think it needs, Harry? Psycho screaming!"
"Shut up, Doc."

Here’s Hoffa:

“The tracks upon tracks of Mesa Boogie guitar amp made for the most epic guitar sound ever in an Ox song! I remember the goth fans loved it!”

And here’s Dion:

“The recording was done in conjunction with The Ignored demo. Talk about layer upon layer upon layer! That thing had more bumps than all the posts on a Buy Swap Sell page!  A miracle of digital four-track technology, if you will.  And despite the many, many, many tracks, it's still a very uncluttered recording - it's not over-the-top, or a jumbled mess of nonsense (although very abstract).  It was one of the more polished Peppermint-esque recordings, and a symbolic representation of the playful and fun-filled genre that Doc so eloquently described as "the alternative to the alternative". Good times! Despite all the influences, H-Bomb (Harry) had the uncanny ability to keep us on task when needed. And it certainly was an experience, it just so happened that it resulted in a pretty good track, in spite of the absurdities.”

Me, laying down vocals on The Ignored. Pic: Brendan Hoffmann

Listening back, 16 years (holy shit!) later, it’s hard for me to separate the song from the experience. Compiling this track remains one of the most enjoyable recording experiences I’ve ever had. It was chaotic, experimental, and abstract, but the finished product wasn’t a total mess (thanks to Harry). We all learnt a lot and I think the recording is a good example of combining spontaneity and overdubbing, which can be tricky in a studio environment.

Yes it’s a bit of a mess. The aforementioned seasickness, as the tempo and out-of-time percussion pull against each other isn’t ideal, but it adds to the uneasiness of the finished product. Ditto for the disembodied backing vocals. But my favourite bits are a couple of unplanned guitar excursions that Hoffa does, most notably a weird little happy rhythm thing he does at 3.37, that burst of feedback that’s in there twice, and the random few chords he plays during the eerie outro as the final guitars whine out. It’s those impromptu moments that I love.

This recording ended up as one of the four hidden tracks on What Am I Going To Do With All These Portaloos?.

Needs more secret tracks.

And to cap it all off, here’s a live recording done in The Cellar (which was under the Criterion and no longer exists) on November 30, 2000 - most likely on the same four-track recorder. Not great quality, but there probably aren’t that many recordings from The Cellar kicking around.

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

Recorded in The Cellar, Warrnambool on November 30, 2000.
Recorded and mixed by the TAFE MIS crew of 2000 or maybe Harry Fahey.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

#73. Magicians – The 80 Aces


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

Lyrics by Jade McLaren & Matt Neal.
Music by Jarrod Hawker, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren & Matt Neal.
Written late 2006-early 2007.
Recorded at Noise Studios in mid-2007.
Produced and mixed by The 80 Aces and Marcus Jennings.




For reasons lost to the smoky haze of time, this song was left off the self-titled 80 Aces EP. We went into Noise Studios and recorded Guitarzan, I Am Trying To Read Your Mind, Acting Like A Child, Where Who What How Why, Lust, and this little number, with the latter not making it on to the final disc.

That's this one for those of you playing along at home.

The possible reasons are as follows:

1) I was certain that drummer Jarrod Hawker wanted it left off because he wasn’t happy with his drumming on it (Hawk assures me this is not the case).

Hawk during recording of the self-titled EP.

2) Singer Jade McLaren reckons we noticed some glitches in either the performance or the mix and we decided to leave it off because of that.

“I feel like we all decided that we wanted to put our best foot forward and we went off the quality of the recordings rather than the quality of the song,” Jade said.

“We all agreed that the recording of Magicians wasn’t as good because of a few errors that made it through to the final mix.”

Sounds legit, although listening back to it 10 years later, I’m fucked if I know what those errors were.

"How does the mix sound, Jade?"
"Shit, Hewy. Let's leave it like that."

3) Part of me suspects we left it off at my urging because my playing sounded way too Muse-like. There’s a lot of City Of Delusion in this, among other Muse tracks.


4) Another theory is that the song’s heaviness went against the grain of the rest of the EP and particularly Jade’s poppier inclinations. The 80 Aces sound was a bit of a running battle between my grungier preferences and Jade’s pop love. What I love about this EP is the balance struck between those two adverse ideologies. Whether this song tipped the balance too far one way may or may not have been a factor in it being left off the EP.

Grungey? Moi? Picture: Aaron Sawall.

Whatever the reason, the song pretty much sat in my song stash for the last decade, waiting for just this very moment to have its chance to shine.

“I always liked that song,” Hawk said.

“The rhythm section groove is cool, and the guitar sound is rad. I loved Doc’s Bellamy-esque solo and then in particular the guitar sound after that weird little bit about Houdini - it’s ‘ph’ fat. The vocal melody never say right with me but with a bit of re-working or putting through the Matt Hewson filter it could have been up there with I Am Trying To Read Your Mind. I was channelling my doppelgänger from The Butterfly Effect at the time. I was also listening to a lot of Tristan Piper haha.”


Hawk described Magicians as “the sound of The 80 Aces that I joined” and “Magic Shoes is the sound of The 80 Aces that I left”. It’s a fair point - the sound of the band changed a lot, for a number of reasons. We probably softened our sound a little in the hopes of chasing glory, and in the aforementioned battle between pop and the alternative, I think the former won out. In the end, I put most of my heavier riffs (such as those in Magicians or Invest In This Mess) to one side in order to compromise at the songwriting table. But we also broadened our sound in effort to try different things, so it certainly wasn’t just Jade’s fault that our sound changed. And in my book it wasn’t necessarily for the worse.

As for the lyrics this is probably the only political song The 80 Aces wrote. The magicians of the title are politicians. That’s about as complex as this one gets, but there are some nice lines and imagery among it all I think.

But my favourite bit (aside from the bass/vocal breakdown on the Houdini line) is the outro. When we played this live, we tried to stretch the end out for as long as we could, seeing how slow we could get it before it fell into a mess. I loved that shit.

As usual, Matt Hewson was unavailable for comment.


Lyrics:

I don’t believe it unless I can see it
Just show me exhibits and logical limits
The smoke and the mirrors flow into the river
of the shit that you dribble, it’s just so uncivil

Like sleeping dogs you lie all of the time

Bringing me closer with one hand diversions
You conjure illusions while casting aspersions
Saw me in half, a campaign in my neck
The ace up your sleeve, we’re all cards in deck

Talk in straightjackets and pull a Houdini
You don’t get three wishes from corrupted genies

Friday, 1 April 2016

#72. Magic Shoes – The 80 Aces


Jarrod Hawker – drums
Jade McLaren – vocals
Kyle McLaren – bass, vocals
Matt Neal – guitar, vocals, keyboard
Steven Schram - keyboard 

Lyrics and music by Jarrod Hawker, Jade McLaren, Kyle McLaren and Matt Neal.
Written 2010.
Recorded December 2011-January 2012 at Motherlode Studios, Warrnambool.
Produced, arranged and mixed by Steven Schram.
Additional recording and engineering by Tony Peel.
Released on the Dollars EP.
Buy it on iTunes here!





There’s more to being in a band than just playing music, and there’s more to a band than just the people in it, so in this week’s (month’s?) blog I’m going look at some of the important people that can help take your music and your band further, as seen through the prism of The 80 Aces’ attempted hit single Magic Shoes.

THE PUBLICIST

The more things change, the more they stay the same, as they say in the classics. Last week I was interviewing a couple of members of The Dead Livers and they explained to me how a journalist mate of theirs became their de facto publicist in the late ‘70s, hyping the band in print and raising their profile. It worked a treat. “It was a media manufacture to some degree,” Michael Schack said of The Dead Livers’ early fame.

This “manufactured” publicity helped set the band apart from others in the scene. It helped get them support gigs, draw more punters to their shows, and scored them more airplay than they might otherwise have got.

Fast forward three and a half decades and little has changed. In November 2015, I was invited to join a music industry forum chaired by Music Victoria as part of Warrnambool’s Aus Music Festival, which was pretty cool, and towards the end of the panel, we were asked for the one piece of advice we would give to bands. My advice was this: Get a publicist.

Here I am on the panel. In a weirdly circuitous coincidence, 
this pic was taken by Michael Schack. 

It’s the dirty secret of the music industry no one talks about, but having a publicist gets you a lot further than not having one. Bands scrape and save to afford to record their music, mix their music, master their music and release their music, but they forget the vital next step after that - promoting their music.

After The 80 Aces recorded the Dollars EP, we decided to go all out and get ourselves a publicist. We had a limited budget, but we wanted to see what would happen. I spoke to a couple of publicists I’d dealt with through my work as a music journalist. One of them told me that my band was too old for his company to take on (three of us were in our early 30s) and another said we hadn’t given them enough lead up time for the release (most PR companies prefer a few months lead up). In the end we went with On The Map PR, who are awesome. Emily, who runs the company, is supercool and used to work at Sony and she liked our stuff. I think On The Map was just getting going when we approached them but now they look after Boy & Bear, Rufus, The Presets, Ella Hooper and more.

Here's Emily with Bruce Springsteen. As you do.

I’ll be honest - this shit is expensive, but we’d busted our arses for three years playing shitty covers gigs and saving every cent for shit like this. Unfortunately we probably needed even more money - although Emily did us a good deal, she told that if we wanted to get played on the radio, we needed to hire a radio pusher. Yep, that’s a thing. If you want to get spun on Triple M or even triple j, a radio pusher helps get you on their playlists.

Although Emily couldn’t help us with airplay, she teed up a whole bunch of press opportunities for us, including a day of interviews for TV, radio and online in Melbourne.

So we did stuff like this great interview with Noise11 that it won't let me embed for some reason. And this Tone Deaf interview and we were featured on this mixtape with The XX, Cat Power and TZU and we did this AU Review interview and got this review, as well as this Beauty & Lace review and this The 59th sound review.

And this review in Xpress in Perth.


And we're featured on this from 7:50 onwards:





But best of all, Emily managed to make this happen for us, which remains a career highlight:

Magic Shoes featured on Channel 7 footy coverage
Ok so, we thought that Magic Shoes was going to be played on the pre-game stuff before the Sydney-Collingwood clash. It wasn't. Instead they played about 30 seconds of Magic Shoes at the very end of the program, right after Collingwood sung their theme song. Only time I've ever been excited after a Collingwood victory. - Doc
Posted by The 80 Aces on Sunday, August 12, 2012



So that's our song being played underneath the end of the AFL coverage. How did that come about? Emily from On The Map PR knew the right person to ask and how to ask them. And that, in a nutshell, is what publicists do that you can't do. They know people you don't know, and they know how to approach them. Best of all, they know the right people.

We also appeared on this show for Syn FM but I can't find it anywhere.

So did all this make us famous? No. But if we’d been able to organise a tour and been able to afford a bigger PR push (and maybe a radio pusher), we could have been on our way. But hiring a publicist showed us how the industry really worked, and how easy it was to make it look like we were on our way. That’s part of the trick - looking like you’re on your way. Having someone else willing to publicise your music shows others that you’re worth being interested in. A good publicist will only publicise a band worth publicising - a shit band is not worth wasting their time/image/credibility on - and that says a lot to people.



THE PRODUCER


If you watched the Noise11 interview in the link above, you would have heard Jade and I reveal Magic Shoes wasn’t even going to be on the Dollars EP. We all thought Girl From The Future was the single. But with a day left in the studio and the four of us unable to settle on a fifth song to record, we played the demos to our producer Steven Schram and let him choose the final track for the EP. With barely a moments hesitation, he picked Magic Shoes.

We hired Schramy because we liked his sound, particularly on the Ground Components album An Eye For A Brow, A Tooth For A Pick, but also because we wanted to see what a hot-shot producer would do with our music (I think he was fresh off working with San Cisco at the time - he’s since worked with Paul Kelly). Part of the agreement was we had to do what he said. We did, mostly because his suggestions made total sense, but also because he was higher up the musical food chain than us.

And also because he produced this, which is fucking rad:


Below is the original demo recording of Magic Shoes, which we knocked out live in the studio with about 18 other songs in one live session at Tony Peel’s Motherlode Studios. The wonderful Mr Peel also served as engineer on the Dollars EP, and was a great help, but I’ll talk more about him in another blog.

Demo recorded and mixed by Tony Peel at Motherlode Studios, May 28, 2011.




You’ll notice some major changes between this version and the finished Dollars EP version. I think every song on the EP underwent some kind of change in Schramy’s hands, but Magic Shoes had perhaps the most dramatic alteration. He loved the intro, verses and chorus but had issues with the bridge - he called it “the Limp Bizkit bit” and decided it had to go. He asked us to come up with something else - on the spot - to become a new lead-in to the chorus. Schramy wanted something pop. I presented a G chord, followed by a G7 chord (I was thinking Beatlesy pop) and he went “yep, that’s it” and away we went. The solo also got chopped and changed and my Gran’s old Yamaha keyboard that had been sitting in my car all week finally got a guernsey. I think Schramy actually played part of it. The song ended up 45 seconds shorter than the demo version.

Recording the Dollars EP. Pic: Tony Peel

To all of us, Magic Shoes sounded like a pop-rock nugget, and as cool as the “Limp Bizkit bit” was, it derailed the song slightly, taking it out of the pop realm. The lengthy solo was also probably unnecessary. I think Schramy was right. That’s why he’s on the big bucks.


THE FILM-MAKER




I can’t talk about this song without talking about the film clip. The inspiration for the tune was an old guy called Chris who is a regular at The Loft. Somehow, with all four of us working on the lyrics together, we took Chris’ love of music and having a dance at The Loft into the story of a guy with a magic pair of shoes … well, kinda.

Anyway, Jade had the idea of shooting an entire music video from the knee down and I thought it was a stroke of genius. No one had done that before. We had to do it for this song.

Here’s how I described it in one of our press releases (sent out by On The Map PR, no less):

“Jade came up with the idea for the clip and at first we thought it might be too difficult to pull off with no money, no crew, no time, and nothing but favours… but we knew the song Magic Shoes was the ideal opportunity to use the concept, so we just went for it!”

This is from one of those video interviews we did that you didn't watch. 
See what you missed out on?

I called in a massive favour to get it made “with no money, no crew, (and) no time”. I had worked on a couple of short films for former Warrnambool filmmaker Johnie Stanley in the past, serving as an on-set gopher, helping with script re-writes, and doing some music for two of his films. I asked him if he was keen to shoot this because I knew he had the skills to make it work and Johnie agreed, partly because he keen to get a film clip in his show reel. He brought down his cinematographer Sasha Whitehouse and together they crafted what I think is a very under-rated local music video.

Jade and I wrote a list of things that could happen in the film clip that made sense to be seen from the knee-down. Basically we wanted to show a night out on the town, but at knee level. Johnie then picked out the bits he wanted to shoot, and away we went.

So many people helped make it happen. We roped in some girls from Melissa’s Dance Elements (that’s them in the dance-off sequence), my lovely wife Dannii played the lady in the red shoes, and a heap of our friends helped make it look like a full dance floor at The Loft. It was a big effort, shot in just two days. To my eye, the end result looked professional and smart. Like I said, I reckon this clip is under-rated.

***

If you’ve made it this far into the blog, thanks for reading. Here is some bonus material to reward you for your effort. Here’s our good mates Hyperdrones doing a cover of Magic Shoes because they’re a bunch of swells. Having another band cover your material is the ultimate compliment.



And here’s a bonus live version (featuring the “Limp Bizkit bit”):



And here we are playing the damned thing on Channel 31:



And finally, here’s a shitty “dubstep” version of the song I did for shits and giggles one day. I'm not sure if this is a prize for making it to the end of the blog or not.

Matt Neal: programming, vocals 
Recorded at Mandeville Court, Port Fairy in October, 2012. 
Produced and mixed by Matt Neal.


Lyrics:

Ooh yes, get it right now

Well I could tell right away when I walked through the door,
The charm’s gonna work tonight
I get my shoes and I step on the town
I feel alive like I’m high with a bop in my walk
I’m gonna get it right
I check my phone and the feel tonight

I could tell right away when I walked on the floor
You get the clues to my moves now you’re asking for more

Walking round picking wallflowers off of the wall
Because that’s where they grow
But secretly they all wanna get down
So many are reluctant to answer the call
They don’t wanna know
Too bad so sad oh they miss out

Extra demo lyrics:

If the shoe fits, I think I can do it
If the shoe fits, I’ve got the kicks to prove it

Sunday, 20 March 2016

#71. The Mad Hatter's Tea Party - The Doctor & The Nurse

Dannii Hale: programming, guitar 
Matt Neal: programming, guitar 

Written by Dannii Hale and Matt Neal 
Written and recorded on May 24, 2013 at Mandeville Court, Port Fairy 
Produced and mixed by Matt Neal



Up until we made a baby, this song was the coolest thing my wife and I had created together.

Insert gratuitous baby photo here.


It was a drunken spur-of-the-moment thing (the song, not the baby) thrown together one night in Port Fairy. I’d spent the better part of a week over there recording and writing, which I find is the best way for me to work on music these days - removed from all the distractions and set up to create for a prolonged burst at my parent’s unit in Port Fairy. For some reason making music takes more concentration than it used to.

Anyway, Dannii had come over to Port to hang out for the last night of my “prolonged burst”. I had all my recording gear set up and we thought it might be fun to get drunk and record a song together. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is the result. Listening to it recently for the first time in almost two years, Dannii admitted the finished product “sounded a lot better after a six-pack and half a bottle of wine”.


This photo was taken during recording, so you can trust me on 
the "six-pack and half a bottle of wine".


Dannii is a wonderfully creative person, but she’d be the first to admit she’s not musical (at least in an overt way). For a little while she could handle a couple of chords on the guitar, but that vanished as quickly as it was learnt. So making this song together, from scratch, was really just an exercise in trying to make it as fun as possible. I didn’t want to “write” a song but rather “make” a song - no overthinking, just creating. It was a bit like making an abstract painting together, but using sound instead of paint.


A bit like this cool abstract painting Dannii did which hangs over my writing desk.


“What do we do first?” she asked.


I told her the first step would be to create a beat. I think we initially tried sampling some found sounds around the house (because I’d been doing that earlier in the week to record the demo for I Can’t Help Who My Daddy Was), but it was sounding shit, so I suggested we give Fruity Loops a try. At first she thought it was a cop-out until I showed her how the program worked. We picked a bunch of random percussion samples and Dannii messed around for about five minutes to come up with the beat you hear in the first half of the song. What I love about it is the fact that it was something I would never have thought to come up with. It’s unconventional, quirky and interesting.


Using a guitar and an octave pedal, I whipped up a quick bassline, basically playing the first thing that came to mind that suited Dannii’s beat. I then handed the guitar to Dannii and told her to solo over the bass. She looked at me like I was mental. “Just play whatever,” I said. So she did. And that’s her soloing over the first half of the song. It’s messy and ridiculous and abstract - more noise than notes - but who cares?


Here's the recording set-up.


To ensure there were some dynamics to the song, I made up a quick “normal” beat for the breakdown in the middle of the song and gave it a little funky groove, before heading back into Dannii’s beat and playing the most random rapid-fire solo I could. Again, it’s just a bunch of noise, but whatever.


As opposed to the rest of my solos? Picture: Dannii Hale


Upon listening to the completed song, which featured a few additional atmospheric guitars here and there, Dannii commented that it sounded like the musical equivalent of the Mad Hatter’s tea party from Alice In Wonderland. She asked if we could add in some voice samples from the Tim Burton version of Alice as a cherry on top. “It makes the shit song a bit less shit,” she later said.


Johnny Depp: Making things a bit less shit since 1984.

So there you have it. Not a great song by any stretch, but it was fun to make and I like the fact it’s unlike anything I would have made or anything I’ve heard before. And that I made it with my awesome wife.



Thursday, 11 February 2016

#70. Lust – The 80 Aces


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

Lyrics by Jade McLaren & Matt Neal.
Music by Jarrod Hawker, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren & Matt Neal.
Written 2004.
Recorded at Noise Studios in mid-2007.
Produced and mixed by Marcus Jennings.
Released on The 80 Aces EP.


If Lose Control was the worst set of lyrics Jade McLaren and I wrote, then I think Lust was probably the best.

“This song is definitely one of our finest,” Jade said.

“Lyrically, Doc and I were channeling a bit of The Police’s Every Breath You Take. I think we did it justice considering it’s not until you listen to every line that it becomes apparent how dark the story is.”

Ah yes, Every Breath You Take - the perennial wedding favourite that happy couples play  oblivious to the fact it's "very, very sinister and ugly".


Drummer Jarrod Hawker called it his second favourite 80 Aces song (I think his favourite is I Am Trying To Read Your Mind), partly because of that darkness too.

“I like that it sounds like a nice ballad/love song but the lyrics are pretty dark and disturbing,” Hawk said.

The initial idea came from a plan I had to write a seven-song EP where each track was based on the seven deadly sins (Has this been done before? I don’t know). Jade liked the idea so we picked a sin that we thought would be easy - lust - and started writing.

(On a side note, I did start writing an envy song and a greed song, but they never quite worked out and the concept EP was abandoned.)

"How about we pick 'stupidity'?"
"I keep telling you, Jade - that's not a sin. Unfortunately."

Anyway, Lust’s lyrics came about pretty easily. We decided to do it as a character piece about a man lusting after his neighbour. For some reason, I pictured Annette Bening in American Beauty as the object of his affections, and whenever I hear the song, I always picture the narrative being set in an American Beauty-like world. The line “I need you, like your roses need care” is the most obvious manifestation of that. The film and our song were also hitting on the same broader themes - about a darkness that stirs beneath the perfect-looking pretence of white-picket-fence suburbia.

Stills from American Beauty.

I think this is partly what makes Lust’s lyrics work so well. All the sensual moments that are implied are centred around banal and normal visuals from everyday living - “meet at the mailbox”, “one moment beneath your clothesline”, “climb out of your yard and into mine”. That banality and normality gets particularly creepy in unexpected ways too - tending to roses, getting "the husband out of your hair", and popping over to the neighbour’s place to ask a favour suddenly take on whole new meanings when you realise the narrator has been watching the object of his affections “through windows” and becoming increasingly unsatisfied by the “glimpses through the curtains”.

There are two things about the lyrics that I’m especially proud of. The first is the escalation of the narrator’s intent. Jade and I deliberately set about making the song get darker as it progressed. Hence the increased intensity of each verse’s opening line - “I want you”, “I need you,” and “I crave you”. It also builds through the way each verse is expressed. While the narrator’s intentions are made clear in the first couple of lines, it’s merely an invitation - “climb out of your yard and into mine”. In the second verse, the narrator wants to simply meet and discuss the proposition. But in the last verse, he’s coming around to "ask a few favours". I don't think there's a happy ending beyond the final chords of this song.

The other bit I particularly like is the line “we can talk about suburban affairs”. I thought it was the cleverest lyric I’d ever come up with at that point (at least I’m pretty sure I came up with that - Jade may say otherwise!).

Pictured: Jade saying otherwise.

Anyway, here are some words from people that aren’t me.

Kyle McLaren, who replaced Matt Hewson on bass: “I think (The 80 Aces EP version) was some of Jade’s finest work vocally. I also second (Hawk) on the fact that I like it so much because it's a ballad with some really dark lyrics that no one notices unless you (point out) how disturbed the song really is.”

Here’s Hawk again: “It was also a lot of people’s favorite track from that EP.  That, together with the fact that I would always suggest it, is probably why we never played it live.  Under no circumstances did we give the people what they wanted.”

*Doc's note: it did get left off setlists a lot, but mostly because it was so downbeat and slow that it had a tendency to ground a set to a halt and kill whatever energy we'd worked up. That, and because it was an old song, which tend to make way for new songs.

Live at World Vegan Day in Brunswick. That's not even a joke. 
Picture: Dannii Hale.

And here’s Jade: “Everyone was a star in the recording of this song (on The 80 Aces EP). Doc’s solo is particularly painful and wanting, which gives this character’s inner lustful desires a sound that is fitting. Being the singer, I loved doing the huge vocal at the end of the third verse. It was a bit self-indulgent but I always looked forward to showing off a little in that bit.”

*Doc's note: I think he meant “pained”, not “painful”, although many people have described my guitar playing as “painful” over the years.

Hewy was going to give me some words for this blog, but he ended up being unavailable for comment.

Hewy: unavailable for comment.

But, yeah, Jade always nailed this song. As Kyle said, the recording on The 80 Aces EP was one of Jade’s best performances, plus the melodies he wrote for the song were awesome.

The song was demoed previously during a day-long session we did with Gus Franklin and Tony Peel in Motherlode Studios back when we still known as The Extreme Sprinklers. Harry Fahey was on drums at that stage, Matt Hewson was on bass, and we smashed it out live with no overdubs.

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

Recorded on February 24, 2006, at Motherlode Studio, Warrnambool.
Produced, mixed and engineered by Gus Franklin and Tony Peel.


I love the tremolo guitar sound on that demo. I wish we’d used that same sound when we recorded it for The 80 Aces EP instead of the wishy-washy faux-chorus effect we ended up with.

Musically, its closest relative is I Could Have Lied by Red Hot Chili Peppers. There's something in the slow groove, the rhythm, the chords, and the "painful" guitar solo that hint at I Could Have Lied as a relative of sorts. All four members of the Sprinklers were right into Blood Sugar Sex Magik, so the influence was bound to manifest somewhere.


Lyrics:

I want you, and not this life
I’ll trade it all in - the house and the wife -
for just one moment beneath your clothes line
Climb out of your yard and into mine

Well, I’m tired of watching you through windows

I need you, like your roses need care
I can tend to you when no one is there
Meet at the mail box when he’s out of your hair
We can talk about suburban affairs

I crave you - just one touch
Glimpses through the curtains isn’t enough
We could be such good neighbours
I’m coming over to ask a few favours

Saturday, 30 January 2016

#69. Lose Control - The 80 Aces


Gus Franklin - percussion, effects, additional guitar
Jarrod Hawker - drums, percussion
Jade McLaren - vocals
Kyle McLaren - bass, backing vocals
Matt Neal - guitar, backing vocals
Steven Schram - bongos

Lyrics by Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Music by Jarrod Hawker, Jade McLaren, Kyle McLaren, and Matt Neal.
Recorded at Motherlode Studios and The Hai Bin, Warrnambool, August 19-31, 2013.
Produced by Gus Franklin.
Mixed by Steven Schram.
Additional engineering by Tony Peel.

Released on the album Tales Of Great Adventure.



In case you don't Spotify or it doesn't work:


THE ORIGIN

The song started life around the time Jarrod Hawker joined the band on drums (late 2006, according to the archives). Matt Hewson was still playing bass with us at that stage. Singer Jade McLaren brought the idea in, which was just the chorus guitar riff and bass riff serving as both a verse and a chorus. Hawk “impregnated the song with the riff/middle section but Hewy gave birth to it”, according to Hawk (whatever that means).

I like the middle section, but I wasn’t feeling the rest of it. It felt like a poor man’s Take Me Out at that stage. It lacked dynamic - it was basically the same thing the whole way through until it got to the middle section. I don’t think the song ever made it out of the rehearsal shed at that stage.

Me, Hawk, Hewy, and Jade in the rehearsal shed. Picture: Dylan Buzolich.

THE RE-WRITE

Jade is nothing if not relentless, as he proved with Bandwagon. Much like how he thought that song would be a hit, he wouldn’t let this song (then called The Dancing Song) go. So when it came time to write some tunes to fill out The 80 Aces album Tales Of Great Adventure, Jade had this at the top of the list of tracks to work on.

The second attempt at writing this song happened in a semi-renovated mansion called Narrapumelap near Wickliffe in December 2012. Jade, Hawk, bass player Kyle McLaren, myself, and our good buddy Chris Hedges decamped to this mansion to write and demo some new tunes.

This is Narrapumelap. Seriously.

We came back with four or five songs. Among them was Attack Of The Killer Butterflies (which was already written by that stage and just needed to be demoed), Space Junk (written and recorded there), and The Dancing Song V2.0 aka Lose Control.


Seriously, this place is fucking rad. The weekend we spent there
was one of my favourite times with The 80 Aces.

What the song had been missing was a verse section. Jade was pretty set on the chorus and the rest of us dug the middle riff, so it was up to Kyle and I to find some funky groove to get it all started. At the time, I was on a bit of an INXS kick (pun intended) so my opening guitar riff is an attempt to get something like Need You Tonight, New Sensation, What You Need, or Original Sin. Maybe a combination of all four. I’d also seen Nile Rodgers & Chic play at Golden Plains earlier that year so there’s a bit of that in the opening guitar lines, with the crossover being Rodgers played on INXS’ Original Sin (but you all knew that, right?).


Here’s the demo from that session. Note the lack of guitar solo/production trickery:

Recorded at Narrapumelap by Chris Hedges.
Mixed by Chris Hedges.




Also note that this was one of our first times playing the damned thing.

THE PRE-PRODUCTION

Gus Franklin is a musical genius, in my opinion. He can play any instrument you throw at him, plus he’s got great ears and mad production skills. We played in a band together called Ted Dancin’ when we were in high school - Gus had already won a triple j Unearthed competition with his band Gramps by that stage, so we all knew he was destined for greatness. He went on to play in The Smallgoods and Architecture In Helsinki. Greatness, I tells ya.



Anyways, we knew we wanted Gus to produce Tales Of Great Adventure - if nothing else, we thought it would be cool to hang out with him for two weeks while we made a record. And we knew he’d make the album better than it ought to be (which he did).

In the lead-up to recording Tales Of Great Adventure (available now on iTunes), we sent a big digital pile of steaming hot demos to Gus. Gus replied with some helpful (and brutally honest) notes.

Here are the notes he wrote for Lose Control (which was one of the songs he didn’t hate):

- i love disco

- very good vibe… would you want the drums to be that spacey all the time?

- we could go all Daft Punk - "Random Access Memories," on this?

- sounds like The Police in the verses and i like that.

The Daft Punk thing struck a chord with me. Get Lucky was the feel good hit of the year and it happened to feature Nile Rodgers. So we were on the same wavelength there. We agreed we should try to get that real Nile sound in the guitars.


Here’s Gus:

“I decided early on in the process of making the album that Lose Control was the best potential single. Therefore we worked it hardest. I had it in my head that if the song was good enough, it might surpass triple j and fly onto Triple M somehow. This level of delusion is how I roll day to day. Some may say I'm a dreamer… etc, etc.”

THE RECORDING

We spent five days week recording at Tony Peel’s Motherlode Studios in Warrnambool - I think we smashed out the drum and bass tracks for the 10 songs (we’d already recorded Magic Shoes) in two or three days and spent the remainder of the time there recording guitar parts.




Day three of recording begins!
Posted by The 80 Aces on Tuesday, August 20, 2013


The guitar sessions for the album took about four or five days all up though. We relocated to The Hai Bin - our rehearsal space - to finish off the guitars. Kyle, Jade and Hawk would pop their heads in, see me and Gus were still going through guitar tracks, and promptly bugger off again. We spent more days on recording guitars for the album than anything else, which was awesome.



Day 4: Doc steps up to the plate. Gus checks his Rock Emails.
Posted by The 80 Aces on Wednesday, August 21, 2013


“The guitar sessions with Nealy were a lot of fun,” recalled Gus, adding that the “big riff in the middle section” of Lose Control was particularly fun to work on.




Here's a sneak peek ;\
Posted by The 80 Aces on Thursday, August 29, 2013


In the remaining three or four days of recording time, we raced through the vocals and then got stuck into the bells and whistles, such as recording the massive drum fill that leads into the choruses of Lose Control:





Day 9: All the drums!
Posted by The 80 Aces on Friday, August 30, 2013




THE LYRICS

This song had no lyrics right up until Jade recorded his vocals. We’d played it live heaps, but Jade had pretty much made word-like sounds each time, never bothering to write any real words. When we got around to recording the vocals at The Hai Bin, Jade and I sat down with Gus to put together some lyrics. Initially, I wrote down what I thought Jade had been singing all this time (I thought there were words already, to be honest), and then Gus directed us.

The song checklist.

“I asked Jade and Matt to re-write the lyrics to be really dumb and easy to get,” Gus explained.

“Basically I asked them to sell out. I remember the writing session and some groaning at how the lyrics were getting really cheeseball.”

I guess we figured if we were gonna write a big dumb pop hit, we may as well make the words seem like they were from a big dumb pop hit.

THE PRODUCTION


Aside from a few of Jade’s vocal sessions, I sat through the whole recording process with Gus. He said my job was to make sure he didn’t get too fixated on one thing or get bogged down in trying to mix stuff too much while recording. Basically, I’d lie there on the couch, usually with a beer, and listen to Gus go through the same five seconds of a song again and again for half an hour before I’d say “Gus - time to move on, mate”. It worked well.

"Gus - time to move on, mate."
"Doc, can you just fuck off a little bit?"

But the whole time, I was trying to learn stuff, which is the best bit about working with producers. From Peely to Steven Schram, from Gus to Joe Gardner, I’ve learnt something from each of them while making various recordings over the year.

Gus worked his arse off on Tales Of Great Adventure. It was basically an impossible task - we were never going to be able to make our magnum opus in just two weeks. But he fucking nearly did it. He worked 14-hour days and by the end of the final day he was nearly broken but the record was almost finished.

A little while later, I went up to Melbourne and stayed at Gus’ place so he could finish off a few arrangement things. He had done a bit of mixing and the songs were taking shape. In particular, he spent a lot of time of Lose Control.

Over to you, Gus:

“We were going all Max Martin/Daft Punk on this to try and make it sound like Get Lucky/current-pop-hits basically. It was the style of the time. I blame the current climate of pop music for the production on Lose Control. It’s not my fault, yer honour. I remember spending ages on the chorus hook - “la la la-la”. Pretty sure Matt Neal has heard that loop a billion times. I have too, but it’s my fault so I can’t really be upset about it. It’s still not very good, that hook, but we were worked as hard as we could with the skills that I had at the time to try and make it as good as possible. By the way, I played some sneaky guitar at the end. The really high one that comes in to finish the song. It’s pretty shit.

“I think what also should be noted in the summary of the making of this song is the pretty stupid pop trick-hooks - the swoops and pings that I decided would be good to put in the track at the last minute. I’m not ashamed of them, but they’re shit. But I think they make the song better, if that makes any sense.”

"Hawk, can I mic up your dip?"


THE MIX


Steven Schram produced, mixed and arranged the Dollars EP, which turned out pretty awesome, so we thought it might be good to get him to mix a track off Tales Of Great Adventure. Schramy was super-nice about it and offered to mix the whole record at a cut rate, but we couldn’t afford it, which was a shame. We had enough money for him to mix one song (at a cut rate) and that was it. In October of 2013, we sent him Lose Control - he was just about to head into the studio to record Paul Kelly’s Merri Soul Sessions but made time to mix our single. What a swell guy.

The first mix he sent back got rid of the Nile Rodgers guitar sound. I jumped on the phone and explained how that was the one thing we really wanted to keep sonically speaking. He thought for a second before saying very wryly, “How very 2013 of you”, but he did what we asked.

I also asked him what the hell he did to make the chorus so ballsy. He explained that there are THREE bass guitars in the chorus, each with different tones and levels of distortion on them. Whoa.

It’s worth noting (and Gus reminded me of this) that Schramy added some bongos to the song. They kick in around 2m33s and are there in the last chorus too. It’s a great touch and something we wouldn’t have thought to do. He’s a freakin’ genius.

THE FILM CLIP


Damn, that’s a good film clip. I had absolutely nothing to do with it, so I think I can say it wholeheartedly and with a fair amount of objectivity. Jade McLaren did a bloody good job with that video. He had some help from James McAnulty (who filmed the clip for I Am Trying To Read Your Mind) to shoot it, but it was pretty much all Jade. He painstakingly edited that damned puppet head into every single frame, having previously danced around Warrnambool like a goon with a green hood over his head and Jim Hensoned the shit out of that puppet in front of a green screen.

Hawk and I share similar sentiments regarding the song itself (more on that in a minute), but we also agree on the clip.

“I was pretty bloody impressed with Jade’s effort on the video,” he said. “(My) hat came off briefly.”

Jade said it’s the hardest he’s ever worked on something. Given it took six months to make, I’m not surprised.




So apparently we're back ladies and gents.And to celebrate our second coming we would like to invite you to join us on New Year's Eve at The Loft to get a sneak peek at our upcoming album "Tales of Great Adventure". Single release and film clip to come sometime in the new year. Hope to see you soon. xox
Posted by The 80 Aces on Saturday, December 27, 2014


THE AFTERMATH

Gus did an amazing job with the song, Schramy’s mix is rad, and Jade’s film clip is awesome.

As for the song, well, it’s probably my least favourite 80 Aces tune. In hindsight, it was an attempt to find a middle ground among us all. Jade wanted to write pop bangers (he now listens to K-pop and nothing else) while the rest of us wanted to rock and groove. We were hoping to create a worthy successor to Magic Shoes, but it didn’t work because it wasn’t as good. There are good bits to the song, don’t get me wrong, but as a whole I reckon it sounds like a bunch of guys with very little pop nous trying to write a pop song. It’s trying really hard, and in the end, it’s a bit try-hard.

Hawk described it as “poo” but admits it’s “poo that sticks in your head”.

Jade said he’s proud of the song, particularly because it doesn’t sound like anything ever recorded in Warrnambool by a Warrnambool band before. He got that right.

It's definitely one of the better songs recorded 
in an abandoned Chinese restaurant using a vocal booth 
made out of an old poker table. Picture: Gus Franklin.

And here’s a final word from Gus:

“I actually reckon the song’s really good. It’s basically ahead of its time - it’s the Can’t Feel My Face of 2013.”

I think he might be joking.

Lyrics:

It’s too late
We’re gonna blow up
No escape
We set the fire
Escalate
It’s gonna burn us
All through the night

You make me wanna wanna lose control

See you sway
And get beside you
Just a taste
I’ve got to try
Bump and grind
We cannot fight it
All through the night

Saturday, 9 January 2016

#68. Like Wine – 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 and Tony Peel.



Every songwriter eventually writes a song about getting old. The trick is to not write that song for as long as possible. This is because the second you write it, you’re doomed to think of yourself as a naive unappreciative fool in only a few years time.

Me and my songwriting partner Jade McLaren managed to wait until we were the ripe old age of 25 before we penned this ode to feeling like life had started to pass us by. To be fair though, it was Jade’s idea. And to be doubly fair, and I’d already penned a similarly themed song when I was 23 (the aforementioned Nobody Buys Videos Anymore).

Definitely not old in 2005. Picture: Warrnambool Standard

Perhaps having already been down this path and, ironically, having gained wisdom with the passage of time meant I had a very different perspective on this song to Jade. If I remember correctly, Jade’s angle was something like “I went to the Gal and I felt really old”. My angle was “getting old can be a good thing… like how wine gets better with age”.

I’m not sure if the two perspectives match up, but that’s the gist of this song. Jade was responsible for the melodies and most of the verse lyrics I think. I just remember trying to match chords to his vocals and coming up with the outro, which was my attempt at replicating the “I got soul but I’m not a soldier” crescendo of All These Things That I’ve Done by The Killers. That song (and the album Hot Fuss) came out around the time we wrote this and I was blown away - it's an amazing track from an amazing album.


As for the rest of the song… I have no idea what it sounds like or what were trying to sound like. At the time, we were outgrowing our genre-hopping inclinations and transitioning into a rock band and this song was very much an attempt to hit the rock button. I don’t think it really worked though - Harry Fahey does an amazing job on the drums to keep it all together, while Matt Hewson’s fingers are working overtime on the bass, but the whole thing is a bit too stop-start and lacking in groove.

Harry slightly disagrees:

“Just having a listen now and loving it. Great work everyone on tying together some really rockin’ verse patterns without destroying the groove of the tune.”

Here we are rocking the old TAFE caf a few months before writing this song (I think).

Hewy is also a fan of the song:

“I'd completely forgotten about this tune, but it was one of my favourites. Listening back, it was probably one of the only legitimately good rock tunes we came up with. The lines were cool, the vocals were loose but appropriate, and the change up with harmonies was a fun singalong.”

Personally I think we had plenty of better rock tunes, such as Identigirl, Ice-Cream Headaches and Karma Comes Around. But that’s just me.

Pic: Dylan Buzolich

The recording was done during a demoing session where we roped in our good pals Gus Franklin and Tony Peel to twiddle the dials while we played live in the studio. It was a fun session.

Anyway, now that I’m 35, I’m going to go away and write a song about getting old…..



Lyrics

What happened to you?
It’s like you’re see-through
Thrown out of the loop
It’s time to face the truth
New faces, no names
Less laugh lines in the frame
This is the new age
Too old to act this way

I feel like wine
Drink to my health
The passing of time
Increases my wealth

The shelf life of youth
Race past and show your proof
Didn’t you get the news
Back away you’ve been excused

I am the wine
Drink to my health