Wednesday, 27 November 2013

#29. Drive By Feel – 21st Century Ox


6/8 version

Harry Fahey: drums.
Matt Hewson: sax.
Brendan Hoffmann: vocals.
Matt Neal: acoustic guitar, vocals.
Richard Tankard: keyboards.

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



4/4 version

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

Recorded at Dave Wilson’s place, 2003.
Produced and mixed by Dave Wilson.


Yep, two versions of the same song. The big difference is the time signatures. For those non-musicians among us, it means the first track is in 6/8 aka waltz time. So it goes 1-2-3, 1-2-3, step-and-turn, step-and-turn. The second version is in 4/4 - it's a four-on-the-floor, regular-time rocker, just like most other songs.

One of the many things I learnt playing in 21st Century Ox was time signatures. Playing in that band was a great learning experience. When Brendan Hoffmann, Dion Barker, Harry Fahey and I started the band in early 2000, I’d only been playing the guitar for about five years and all of that was self-taught. My knowledge of musical theory was non-existent (and still is pretty much), I had no idea how to solo, and I was writing songs with the gleefully reckless and idiotic abandon of someone who has no idea what the rules are or how to break them properly.

Just look at all that idiotic abandon. That's Hoffa on the left, Harry at the front, 
Dion on the right, and I'm the other guy.

Dion was in the same boat – Hoffa and I had taught him the basics of bass-playing, just so we could start a band together. But thankfully for Dion and myself, we had Hoffa and Harry, who taught us so much about music. Both Hoffa and Harry had a knowledge of musical theory, and while they never really set out to educate us, Dion and I gleaned a lot from them over the four years the band was together, and even more when Matt Hewson joined the band on sax in 2002.

One of the things I was keen to learn about was time signatures. I was blown away by any song that wasn’t in standard 4/4, such as Nine Inch Nails’ March Of The Pigs, Primus’ Duchess & The Proverbial Mind Spread, and anything by Tool. To be able to play in something other than 4/4 seemed like the epitome of technical musicianship to me at that stage.

I fucking love this song:


Eventually I’d start writing songs in irregular time signatures, such as The Canadian Song, but before that we had Drive By Feel, which we could pull out in 4/4 or 6/8 depending on the occasion. I was quite stoked at the time about our ability to do this one song in two different time signatures, even though it was a pretty simple thing to do.

The song began in 6/8 – Harry recalls playing the waltz version first, often acoustically at open mic nights at The Cellar (which was below The Criterion Hotel for you young’uns out there).

Is that a blurry photo of a blurry photo of 21st Century Ox playing an acoustic gig at The Cellar?
Wow, this blog is quality!

I recall writing the whole song and showing it to Hoffa, who suggested the verses I’d written were a bit emo, so we scrapped the verse lyric and melody and came up with new ones, keeping the rest of the song structure and words. Hoffa was mostly responsible for that gorgeous verse melody.

“I like the song,” Hoffa said recently. “It was one of our first collaborations when we were writing songs together at my house at Janlor Drive.”

Whereas a lot of Ox songs were written by either myself or Hoffa, this one is a mixture between the two, with Hoffa coming up with a wonderful wandering verse melody and the pair of us combining our five and half years of French classes in an attempt to be clever in the first verse (with vague translations for the second verse). Hoffa and I seem to remember taking the lyrics to either our former French teacher Mr Franzoni or to another French student to get them checked, but we may be wrong about that, and as a result, the French might be pretty bad.

This is the first pic that came up when I Google Image searched "bad French".

Either way, at some point we figured out a rockin’ 4/4 version, and on any given night we’d metaphorically flip a coin as to which version we’d play.

The 6/8 version on offer here was intended for the unfinished second album The Last Sane Man On Earth. The highlight is the wonderful keys from Richard Tankard (go and buy his album). We pretty much played the song for him once and then let him cut loose. It might have been better to organise things a bit, but what Tank plays is awesome, and I think the free-flowing, unarranged quality of it works.

Strangely, there is no bass on this recording, nor is Hoffa playing guitar on it.

Here they are, not recording their instruments in Motherlode Studios.

Dion explains:
“This was one of my favourites. If I do recall (and I do!), I was absent on the day that you recorded it and decided it didn't need bass. Ouch! Leaving the bass out wasn't intentional ... or at least that's what you guys told me! It was just that you'd started recording it without me and by the time you'd done all the other tracks, you'd all decided it didn't need bass.

“I do recall that our intention was to try to create a different sound for some of the tracks on the album, and this was the result for Drive By Feel. Although I prefer the rockier (4/4) version, I still think the (6/8) recording came out really well and again demonstrates our ability to rework the songs to suit a different feel or mood. Good work, team!”

So it was just Harry on the drums, me on the acoustic, and Tank doing whatever he wanted on the keys. As for the vocals, this is one of my favourite vocal performances from Hoffa – there’s something majestic, controlled and warm about his singing.


“I always liked opera,” Hoffa said about his vocals on Drive By Feel, agreeing that Jeff Buckley was also a likely influence. We were certainly all big Buckley fans – I’m wearing a Jeff Buckley t-shirt in the booklet for our first album What Am I Going To Do With All These Portaloos?.

Buckley's song Lover, You Should Have Come Over is a likely influence on this track, now that I think back on it, but the bigger influence was probably Coldplay’s Shiver. I loved that song when it first came out (and still do). If you metaphorically mashed up the two versions of Drive By Feel, it would sound a little bit like Shiver.


In a final note, I’d like to talk about the final notes. The 4/4 version features Hewy and I having a guitar/sax wrestle over the melody lines, but Hewy was strangely absent from the 6/8 studio version … until the last few seconds. That little sax bit right at the end started as a joke – Hewy played it one time and we laughed and loved it, referring to it as “The Neighbours Note” because the little melody sounded like the tag at the end of a TV soap theme song.

Lastly, the 4/4 version was recorded at Dave Wilson's rehearsal space, which we jammed at weekly. One week, probably not that long after Hewy joining the band, he let the tape run while we were practicing. The results ... err ... speak for themselves.

Lyrics:

Je ne connais pas cette personne
Je rigole comme un garçon
Je pense que je suis près de la fin

And I get lost sometimes
And I need my head kicked in line
The road map is just ashes
And I'm having to drive by feel

I don't know this person
And I do laugh like a little boy
Sometimes I think I think that I'm close to the end

Drive by feel (oh my love)


Sunday, 17 November 2013

#28. Doin’ Whatever – The Extreme Sprinklers


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

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


Remember the War on Terror? That went well, didn’t it? We won and Terror was sent crying and pissing its pants all the way back to its mother, right?

Doin’ Whatever was our War on Terror song. I’m not sure whether Extreme Sprinklers singer Jade McLaren and I specifically set out to write a Ween-esque anthem about the invasions of privacy and threats on free speech that seemed to go hand-in-hand with George W Bush and John Howard’s battle, but that’s what we ended up with.


Jade (left) and me discussing the War on Terror over a quiet ale or two.

We were writing a lot at this time and trying out a lot of different ideas, exploring different styles, and attempting to write about different themes. Why not merge a here-and-now message with a singalong ballad and a funny-cos-they-swore chorus? Why not indeed. This track, I seem to recall, was a very fast, spur of the moment kind of thing that mashed those ideas together, most likely built from the chorus up, and it was one of the fastest songs we’ve ever written.

It shows.

But goddamn Doin’ Whatever was fun was to play, as the above recording hopefully demonstrates. The harmonies from me and bassist Matt Hewson are bung, Jade’s vocals start muffled and end up peaking out, and I hit more than a few “jazz” notes in the solo, but the over-riding thing that strikes me about this recording is we’re having fun, goshdarnit, George Bush and John Howard be damned! The chorus line of the song became something of an ethos for how to play it.

Stencil by Jade McLaren.

Musically, the verses owe a debt to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, the stop-start solo section is a rip-off of a similar stop-start solo section in Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love, and the chorus is going for a We Are The World/Heal The World, lighters-in-the-air vibe. And the whole thing smells like Ween. I’m happy to admit that I was inspired by those songs/bands – the trick is putting some of their cool elements together in different and refreshing ways.

Here's what it sounds like when you mix Pink Floyd and Ween together, but in a much more awesome way (songs starts about 1.13, but play it all the way through for the full trip):


This is probably as good a point as any in this blog to partially explain my ethos of writing music. It goes like this:


  • Every chord progression has been done.
  • Every rhythm has been played.
  • Every melody is just combinations of other melodies that have gone before.
  • If you think some progression/melody/rhythm you’ve written sounds original, you haven’t listened to enough music.
  • As a result of these four previous points, all that’s left to do is to rearrange the pieces of the past in new and exciting combinations.
  • The trick is trying to make all the old pieces sound new and original – classic like it’s familiar, but different enough that it’s exciting and fresh.
This last "trick" is a hard thing to do. And overall, the approach may sound too clinical or negative but it’s a way of thinking that's helped me get out of many a writer’s block where I thought everything I was doing sounded like everything else.

But back to the song. Most bands (aside from Ween) probably wouldn’t try to get away with a chorus that repeats “I’m doin’ whatever the fuck I want” and rather than dousing it in punk attitude, tries to make it a singalong pop ballad. The Extreme Sprinklers did though. We were rebels without a clue, but at least most other bands weren’t trying what we were trying. It felt like we were being different and therefore interesting. It probably put some people off, but whatever. Better to get any reaction than no reaction, as they say in the classics.

Although we did still take lame promo photos like every other band.

As mentioned, this recording – made in our unimaginatively named, cavernous rehearsal space The Shed – sounds like we’re enjoying ourselves. Drummer Harry Fahey pulls out some cool fills and tricks towards the end, the way he works with Hewy is freakily good, Jade lets it rip for all it’s worth (and so does Hewy at the end), and I’m giving that solo everything I’ve got, jazz notes and all.

Here's Harry: 

"I don't remember being part of writing this tune - I'm pretty sure I just lay my shit over the top like meatballs over spaghetti. (But I) loved playing this track and just playing whatever the fill I wanted."

Harry, playing whatever the fill he wanted, in The Shed.

Nice gag, Harry. Here's Jade:

"It was always fun to play. My fondest memory of this song was of it being the one at the end of the gig or the encore and I'd be drunk as by then and basically doing whatever I wanted. Which sometimes included climbing on the speakers and singing the chorus."

And last but not least - Hewy:

"It was definitely a chance to indulge in some straight-up rock anthem fun. I didn't sing those chorus harmonies perfectly all the time, but the subject matter allowed for that. It was one of the most fun Extremes/Aces tunes to play."

The Extreme Sprinklers drinking and smoking inside The Criterion Hotel.
Does this photo make anyone else feel old?

The recording is from a series of three rehearsals we recorded between March and May, 2006, that were planned to be cherry-picked to make an EP or two (one came out with a wolf on the cover that we only printed about 30 or 40 of). We were really hitting our stride at this point – we had so many songs, across so many genres, and Jade and I were coming up with new ones almost weekly. Good times.

However, within a matter of months of those recordings, Harry parted ways with the band, ending an era – Harry and I had been playing in bands for six years together at that point. I was sad to see him quit the band because I felt we’d developed that cool sixth sense you sometimes get with other players where occasionally you just know what they’re going to do next and you can lock in with them on the spur of a semi-quaver. It’s a wonderful thing to experience and Harry is one of the few players I’ve shared it with.


So Harry left, and it was a downer, but on the upside, Jarrod Hawker joined the band, we re-branded ourselves as The 80 Aces, and carried on, onwards and upwards. One door closes, you climb out a window.

But back to the song: Doin’ Whatever has one of my favourite lines out of any of the thousands of lines Jade and I have written together: “If I want I’ll burn the flag … just because it’s Christmas”. It seemed like the most hilariously rebellious way of doing whatever the fuck you wanted.

Lyrics:

Keep your hands out of my bag
Keep your nose out of my business
‘Cos if I want I’ll burn the flag
Just because it’s Christmas

I’m doin’ whatever the fuck I want

I can see them coming up the drive
Even though I didn’t hurt anyone
Would you rather we were a hive
To avoid you dropping megatons?



Saturday, 9 November 2013

#27. Dog Poo Summer – The Extreme Sprinklers


Harry Fahey: drums.
Brendan Hoffmann: keys.
Matt Neal: acoustic guitar, bass, keys.

Music by Matt Neal, Jade McLaren and Brendan Hoffmann.
Written on October 4, 2003.
Recorded at the Barker Residence, Warrnambool on October 4, 2003.
Produced, engineered and mixed by Harry Fahey and Matt Neal.



The week of recording known as Dion’s Week Of Debauchery proved to be a strangely momentous time for two bands – one on the way out and the other about to begin. Of course, none of us who took part in that fateful week in early 2004 (at least we think that’s when it took place) realised it at the time, probably because we too busy drinking, shooting hoops, and playing soccer on the Playstation.


We were supposed to be recording and making music. Dion’s folks were away for the week so 21st Century Ox had taken over their house and turned it into a studio/rehearsal space with the aim of putting together additional tracks that would go on our ill-fated unfinished second album The Last Sane Man On Earth. Some recording was done – we demoed about a dozen tunes, jammed on a couple more, and put together about three proper recordings. But it seemed like Ox wasn’t quite functioning, or we were more keen to party than work.

Either way, Ox was on the way out, just as we were hitting our creative peak. And on the rise was The Extreme Sprinklers.

We'd already started working on our "rockin' out" poses. PIC: Dylan Buzolich.

I had invited Jade McLaren down from Melbourne for Dion’s Week Of Debauchery. We’d become friends while doing a writing course together at TAFE in ’99-’00 and in the months leading up to Dion’s Week Of Debauchery we’d written a few songs together. The idea was that during the downtime between working on 21st Century Ox stuff, Jade and I could write more music. These were the beginnings of The Extreme Sprinklers, which would some day morph into The 80 Aces.

There are only three (I think) Extreme Sprinklers recordings that came out of that week of recording, and Dog Poo Summer is the least interesting of them (sorry). It’s kind of a crossover between Ox and the ES – all the music is performed by Ox members, but it was intended to be something Jade and I wrote lyrics for so Jade could sing it.

Like this, but with more restraint.

Ox guitarist Brendan Hoffmann, Jade and myself jammed on this with keyboards and acoustic guitars, got Harry to lay down a beat, we chucked the bass, keys and acoustic on it, and then… nothing.

Jade and I discussed lyrics and it was my bright idea to turn this wonderfully upbeat and happy piece of music into a song about dog shit. I found something incredibly hilarious about the idea of such a pretty piece of music being about something so repellent. We actually wrote some words around this dog shit theme, with a peppy little melody and all.

Later on, Jade told me it was a stupid idea to write a song about dog shit. He was dead right. We vowed to write a new set of lyrics. We didn’t. There was some talk of putting it on a summer-themed EP Jade and I had planned to do, and writing some summery lyrics for it, but that didn’t happen either.

"Doc, dog shit isn't as funny as you think it is."

“I reckon we tried to write words for it several times but always failed,” Jade recalls.
“We should have turned it into the theme for a fictional children's television show!”

Jade’s absolutely right - that’s exactly what it sounds like.


***

Speaking of theme songs, here’s a bonus track for you to make up for my recent laziness. This tune is one Jade and I threw together for a podcast we never finished that was intended to coincide with the final columns of The Doctor & The Colonel column in The Standard. We turned the last few columns into a radio play, recorded the voices, but never found time to edit it together. The theme song was pretty cool though:



Jade McLaren: vocals.
Matt Neal: bass, guitar, programming, backing vocals.

Music and lyrics by Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Written and recorded September, 2011.
Recorded at the Hai Bin, Warrnambool.
Produced and mixed by Matt Neal.

That pickscrape is a straight rip-off of the theme song for Buffy The Vampire Slayer. My apologies to Nerfherder. And that may be Kyle McLaren from The 80 Aces on bass guitar, I can’t remember.


Lyrics:

Protecting from the Silver Ball,
Watching over Warrnambool.
The Colonel’s crazy and he likes to fight,
The Doctor is the other guy.

It’s the Doctor and Colonel Show!