Thursday, 27 February 2014

#36. Fire Away – The 80 Aces


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

Lyrics by Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Music by Harry Fahey, Jarrod Hawker, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Written 2006?
Recorded at Motherlode Studios/Noise Studios, 2007.
Produced and mixed by Tony Peel or Marcus Jennings.



EVER seen a movie called Hitman? No? Me neither. I think it’s based on a computer game and it stars Timothy Olyphant. I have no idea if it’s any good or not.

It’s relevance to this blog entry is that we did this recording of Fire Away for a competition to get on the soundtrack for Hitman. We didn’t win, but it was a good excuse to go into the studio and get a decent recording of what was one of The 80 Aces’ heavier tracks before it dropped off the setlist as we progressively got poppier.


Here’s drummer Jarrod Hawker:

“I thought this song was cool - I really liked it. Another rock song that we dropped in favour of some obscure hipster pop."

Hmmm. Whether deliberately or not, at some point the band seemed to drift closer to the apocryphal “Triple J sound”. Songs such as Fire Away didn’t make the cut. This may have been a conscious or subconscious decision, I don’t know. During the Facebook discussions in the lead up to this blog, singer Jade McLaren seemed to think that was his fault (perhaps jokingly, who knows?).

Me and Jade, playing some obscure hipster pop. PIC: Aaron Sawall, Warrnambool Standard.

As to whether it we recorded this at Motherlode Studios with Tony Peel or Noise Studios with Marcus Jennings … none of the band can remember (or rather two of us say it was Peely and two of us say it was Marcus). They’re effectively the same studio, but we don’t know if it was before or after it changed hands.

The 80 Aces singer Jade McLaren and I wrote this one with the idea of doing a song about war and religion and all the senseless violence going on in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time (about 2006 I think). Not sure who’s idea that was, but I assume that because we had a heavier song on our hands, we’d decided we needed some heavier lyrical material.

Playing some heavy lyrical material at The Loft in Warrnambool. Probably.

Here’s Jade:

“I think this was mostly Doc. I don't recall a great deal about writing it. I think we got half the words down and we weren't really that impressed with it. Then I think I may have written the chorus melody and words and just started singing them without band approval.

“I liked it. It definitely rocked hard. The chorus was fun and quirky to sing but always took a massive run up to sing.”

I find it really hard to write about these kinds of subjects without coming off as preachy, wanky, naïve or lame. We certainly don’t pull any punches lyrically here – the second verse in particular – and part of me likes the lyrics, and the other part thinks it’s preachy, wanky, naïve and lame.

But if I don't have to sing the damn lyrics, it doesn't matter. PIC: Dannii Hale.

Musically, there’s some big riffs in here, which I dig. There was a time when The 80 Aces rocked hard, and this was the beginning of that time – Hawk had recently joined the band on drums and this was the first proper recording we did with him (although we had jammed on it with Harry Fahey on drums just prior to him leaving the band). It’s certainly different to any other song in The 80 Aces back catalogue, and I’m not sure what this was influenced by musically, but it was great fun to play.

Pretty sure this was recorded live in one take, maybe two, with Jade doing a couple of vocal run-throughs before his voice blew out.

“Two takes sounds about right,” Jade recalled. “I think I may have blown out a mic.”

Dunno how that would have happened.


Lyrics:

We spend most of our time
Avoiding a crossfire
We’re people all of the time
Who die

Fire away
Sticks stones and scissors again
Fire away
Save me ok

They both kill in God’s name
So no one is ever to blame
They’re probably one and the same
But they try

We’re people and all of us died
Stuck now on the other side
You’ll join us if you don’t decide
What’s right



Bonus track: Filtered Bond

Matt Neal: programming

Music by Matt Neal.
Written 1998/1999
Recorded at Mum and Dad’s house, Ballangeich.
Produced and mixed by Matt Neal.


Speaking of movies, I once did a faux James Bond theme when I was 18 or so. I was listening to a lot of Filter at the time and playing a lot of Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64, and the result is something like Filter doing a Bond theme, except it’s done on a shitty computer with bad samples and half the talent. It’s not very good, hence it being a bonus track.


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

#35. Everyone’s A Photographer – The Extreme Sprinklers


Jade McLaren: vocals
Kyle McLaren: bass
Matt Neal: guitars, programming, keys

Lyrics by Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Music by Jade McLaren, Kyle McLaren and Matt Neal.
Written mid-2009, March 15 and April 6, 2012.
Recorded at the Hai Bin, Warrnambool on April 27, 2012.
Produced and mixed by Matt Neal.
Additional mixing by Brendan Hoffmann.


The Meredith and Golden Plains music festivals are the best festivals I’ve ever been to. They’re the perfect blend of location, duration, line-up and atmosphere. I’ve written about how awesome they are here, here, here, and here.

I only mention Meredith and Golden Plains because this week’s entry began with an innocuous comment made by one of my friends at one of those festivals. I don’t know which one because a) they all tend to roll into one giant decade-long festival in my memory and b) those events are a major factor in why I have no memory left anymore.

The comment was a throw-away line that was said during one of those moments when there seemed to be a lot of people around us in the Supernatural Amphitheatre taking photos. People were taking photos of the band, people were taking photos of their friends, and people tripping balls on acid were taking photos of their shoes.  

Whoa.

“Everyone’s a photographer,” my friend said, and for some reason that really stuck with me.

I took that line – and a bunch of chords written a few years earlier – around to The 80 Aces vocalist Jade McLaren’s place one day and we wrote this collection of lyrics about social media and the government spying on the populace. Basically it’s about how we give up so much information about ourselves that it’s made things so much easier to be monitored by the powers that be.

This was written with the intention of becoming an 80 Aces song. For whatever reason (I’m not sure), it never made it to rehearsal stage. There was some suggestion that the opening guitar rhythm and chord change was too reminiscent of Eminem’s Lose Yourself but that can’t have been the whole reason (although it's partly why I added keys to the demo - just so it sounded less Lose Yourself-like). I think the main reason The 80 Aces didn't pick it up is because it wasn’t pushed very hard as a potential song for the band.


Jade suggested “the song was a bit predictable in its changes, which overall kinda killed its prospects”.

There are a couple of little tricks in this track where I can pinpoint exact influences. Kyle’s opening bassline is a lot like the start of The Clash’s London Calling – in fact, the guitar rhythm and progression in the verse is similar but played twice as fast.

But the nifty little production trick I’m most proud of is the way Jade’s voice on the word “shoot” at the end of each chorus morphs into a synth sound. I pinched that idea from an XTC song (yes, those guys again) called The Last Balloon, where at the very end Andy Partridge’s vocal morphs into a trumpet. I’d probably heard this move in other songs but the first time I noticed it and had my mind blown was in The Last Balloon. If you’re wondering why the hell I keep referencing XTC in these blogs it’s because they’ve done just about every great musical idea I can think of … and they’re fucking awesome.

The bit I'm talking about is just after the four-minute mark. It's cool.


Lyrically, I think this might be one of the best things Jade and I have written. It seemed to hit the zeitgeist on the head – it’s Facebook and Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks all rolled into one, although this was written before the Snowden saga so I guess it’s more just about general surveillance paranoia. There are so many lines I really dig, such as the “piece of our soul” line and the first line in the second verse. Jade and I worked really hard on these words – probably four hours over two sessions – and I hope it shows.

“I remember spending a lot of time on the lyrics trying to write a song about the culture of Facebook photo-tagging without it coming across as preachy,” Jade recalled.

“My favourite part of the song was the chorus - the melody is fun to sing. The line ‘we’re all framed and we don't have a choice’ is probably my favourite line. It does what a chorus is supposed to in terms of summing up the song.”

"Spies are never needed 'cos we already pose." PIC: Gareth Colliton.

Lyrics:

We’re all taking photos, we don’t know where they go
Bring us into focus, become part of the show
Capturing our moments and a piece of our soul
Everyone’s a photographer

Spies are never needed when we already pose
Smiling for the camera ‘cos we’re all turning pro
If we’re doing something and we want you to know
Everyone’s a photographer
Everyone’s a photographer

We’re all framed and we don’t have a choice
Just point and shoot
Everyone’s a photographer
Everyone’s a photographer

Pixellate the people, we’re collecting them all
All of this exposure just to hang on a wall
Now we’re doing something and you will want to know
Everyone’s a photographer
Everyone’s a photographer


Friday, 14 February 2014

#34. Erstwhile – 21st Century Ox


Dion Barker – bass.
Harry Fahey – drums, keyboards.
Matt Hewson – saxophone.
Brendan Hoffmann – guitar, backing vocals.
Matt Neal – vocals, guitar.
Richard Tankard – keyboards.

Lyrics by Matt Neal.
Music by Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Written 2000/2001?
Recorded at Motherlode Studios, 2002.
Produced and mixed by Tony Peel and Harry Fahey.



Happy Valentine's Day! Here's a break-up song!

While 21st Century Ox was in its enthusiastic heyday, bassist Dion Barker, guitarist Brendan Hoffmann and myself would catch up on an almost-daily basis to jam, write songs, and just generally hang out.

On one of those days, Hoffa showed me a chord progression he’d come up with. I immediately loved it and I couldn’t get it out of my head as I driving home, so I raced inside and wrote a song using the chords. At the time it seemed reminiscent of the verse of the Ben Folds Five song Evaporated although I didn’t think about that too much then (I’m pretty sure now that it’s actually the exactly same progression from the start of Evaporated, just with a slightly different feel).


I didn’t give any consideration to whether Hoffa was going to do something with the progression (and I’ve since apologised about borrowing his chords without asking). But in hindsight it seemed a bit wussy for him – I usually wrote the wussy, emo ballads in the band, and he wrote the cool, weird, dark stuff.

The end result was Erstwhile – a song so wussy that I considered not including it in Doc’s Anthology (but that felt too much like cheating). Listening back to it, it is what it is - it’s an angsty piece of self-loathing, woe-is-me balladry of the “why have I been dumped?” variety.

Here's 21st Century Ox looking angsty and "why have I been dumped?".

Looking at the timeline of my life, I’m not even sure if I had been dumped prior to the time of writing (it’s possible, but I can’t be sure). What I do remember about writing the song was that it came together in a matter of minutes and that the lyrics were all based around a word I’d just learnt the meaning of: “erstwhile” (which means "former"). I think I picked it up from a crossword.

So, rather carelessly, I threw together a bunch of lines that overused the word “erstwhile” so much it had almost lost all meaning by the end of the song. I was kinda surprised when Hoffa told me recently that he really liked the lyrics, particularly the line “all the songbirds that sang and flew have left and flown”. I guess it has a nice ring to it syllabically and image-wise, but the whole thing sounds like a bit of rush-job, in hindsight.

The song was a regular in the 21st Century Ox setlist, usually as a down-tempo breather between the harder, more abrasive songs (it was also in dropped D tuning so it usually fit into the ‘dropped D’ part of our set). It made it into the recording session for our unreleased second album, where we turned the epic up to 11 and called in Richard Tankard to add some keyboards.

There is at the end of set two on this setlist from The Cellar (dated May 24, 2002).

Here’s Dion:

“I barely remember ever hearing that recording, but to be honest I think we were trying a little too hard with that one,” he said.

“I always hated the fact that we couldn't find or afford a real string section for those recordings. Yeah, we did well to come up with the piano and string lines, but they do sound very synthetic.

“The song itself, on the other hand, was one I always enjoyed playing. The fact that it goes from such a slow and ‘pretty’ start to build into a full-on, all-in outro again shows how we were able to show diversity in our songs. I wish it was a longer song!

“But if I had my time again, I'd love to re-record that song. I always wanted to sing a third harmony in it, too. We should have gone for a five-part harmony instead of the fake strings! Nothing wrong with epic, I think it just tries too hard to be epic without a real need to.”

Here's Dion, trying hard not to be too epic.

Personally, I like the epic outro. The mix is a bit messy, which doesn't help, but there are some great ideas and vibe in there.

Here’s drummer Harry Fahey:

“That’s me on the piano at the start and Richard Tankard doing string pads (on the keyboard) in the outro,” he said in response to my enquiries as to who was playing what.

“Also, I didn't remember ‘til now that the entire track has the snare bed (that’s the ‘wires’ (under the snare) to the lay-drummer) turned off. Gives it a big cavernous sound at the end.

“Not a bad mix I thought. It would be the working mix that was being updated every listen, but it hasn't had the final touches put on yet. Overall a good track, bit loose on the tempo reins but suits the vibe.”

Here's Harry at the desk in Motherlode Studios, not putting the final touches on the mix.

And finally, here's guest keyboardist Richard Tankard:

"Similarly vague memory to the last track I was (apparently) on - but it must've happened," he said.

"Sounds like the quite-wonderful-for-its-time Ensoniq TS10, before they went out business.  I still own the keyboard though, it lives on.  I think I'm noodling around with single electric piano notes at the start.  I'm a sucker for repetitive outro lines, in this case, string ones. You want repetitive? Just give me a call.

"It's Harry doing chords, but there's a 2nd electric piano doing single notes (plus a slight jazz chordal moment) on top of those chords. Sounds like me to me."

Here's Tank, sounding like Tank. PIC: South West TAFE

So there you have it – another of Ox’s soft and wussy songs, written by me. Harry and Dion used to love miming along to me singing the opening verse, which put me off no end. There’s a reasonably amusing rehearsal recording of us doing the song where I have to stop part-way through the start ‘cos I’m slowly losing my shit while Harry and Dion copy me, but I’m not going to post it because it sounds so inebriated as to be almost unlistenable. But we were that kind of band.

Lyrics:

I'm an erstwhile lover again
It's becoming a regular occurrence
Time continues to tick away
The erstwhile seconds of an erstwhile day

And I try to understand
Why I fail and what you demand
What I need to retain comman
And why I'm an erstwhile lover again

An erstwhile garden sits lost and overgrown
All the songbirds that sang and flew have left and flown
All that's left in the trees is dead wood

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

#33. Elevator – The 80 Aces


Jarrod Hawker – drums
Jade McLaren – vocals
Kyle McLaren – bass, vocals
Matt Neal – guitar, vocals

Lyrics by Matt Neal and Jade McLaren.
Music by Jarrod Hawker, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren, Kyle McLaren & Matt Neal.
Written late 2007/early 2008?
Recorded at Motherlode Studios, Warrnambool, May 28, 2011.
Produced and mixed by Tony Peel.



On October 28, 2007, I was lucky enough to attend the ARIA Awards in Sydney. Sadly, it wasn't as a musician; it was as a journalist for the Warrnambool Standard. Even sadder, The Standard didn't pay for me to go - I had to pay my own way. I was dead broke at the time but it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

So despite the fact I barely had enough money to get my car out of the carpark when I got back to Avalon Airport, it was a great experience. I didn't get to sit in the main hall at Acer Arena while the show was on but I did get to line the red carpet with the rest of the media throng and be in the media room where the winners were ushered into after they'd picked up awards (winners that year included Silverchair, John Butler Trio, Sarah Blasko, Gotye and Keith Urban).

Here's a fresh-faced Wally de Backer (aka Gotye) 
collecting an ARIA in 2007. PIC: contactmusic.com

This was the year Nick Cave was inducted in the ARIA Hall of Fame (I got to sit a few metres away from him in the media room after his induction), John Butler Trio jammed with Keith Urban (and were surprisingly rad), Gotye played a show-stealing version of Learnalilgivinanlovin, and Media Watch accused Channel 10 of using subliminal advertising during the broadcast.

Things I noticed while lining the red carpet included Nicole Kidman’s face looked like it was made of fragile porcelain, Delta Goodrem is as gorgeous in the flesh as she’s appears on TV, and The Veronicas have freakishly large heads.

Seriously, their heads are fucking enormous. PIC: zimbio.com

After the show, I wandered around the arena complex and bumped into Warrnambool comedian Dave Hughes, who had just won an ARIA for best comedy release and had promised me earlier in the night that I could have his after-party pass, seeing as how he had to host his breakfast radio slot the next morning and wasn’t planning to party on.

But seeing as how he'd just won an ARIA, Hughesy changed his mind and decided that he would go to the after-party after all, and, sorry, but I couldn't have his pass. Fair enough.

Fine, go and party with your hot wife, Dave, see if I care. PIC: matpacker.com

Rather than walk the three kilometres back to my shitty hotel room (I couldn't afford a taxi), I decided to try my luck and attempt to crash the official after-party. The doors leading into the party were very wide so I manoeuvred my way into the middle of the throng entering the party, perfectly positioned between the security guards on either side but out of their reach. I made it in - few passes were checked that night.

The after-party was ok but not great. I had a few drinks (they were free), wandered around looking at the D-list celebs (anyone important had gone back to their label-run after-parties), and chatted to the bored wives outside smoking (their husbands were inside schmoozing).

The night was a bit of a bust (I wasn't going to get to hook up with Delta Goodrem or throw things at The Veronicas) and I was about to leave when I bumped into Ted O'Neil of The Vasco Era. We'd played a bunch of gigs together previously and he seemed pleased to see me. Ted told me his bandmates had gotten so drunk during the awards ceremony that they'd had to be limousined back to their hotel.

Ted O'Neil, rocking out at the Kennedy's Creek Music Festival in 2013 
with his band Brother James. PIC: Matt Neal

“I’m about to head to Universal’s after-party – you wanna take their place and tag along?” he asked.
I eagerly accepted and soon we were in a cab with Vasco's PR person and her partner on the way to the skyscraper where Universal Music’s after-party was being held. We arrived, jumped into an elevator and rode 30 or 40 storeys up to the party, which was located in a skyscraper within spitting distance of the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge.

Once inside (after we had convinced security that I was indeed a member of The Vasco Era), I got drunk on Universal's hospitality and wandered around trying not to stare at Sarah Blasko, the members of Powderfinger, and Kram from Spiderbait (I did hang out with Delta Goodrem's stylist, who tried to palm two models off to me but they weren't keen). At the end of the night, Ted slipped me a cab-charge - courtesy of Universal Music - and I made my way back to my shitty hotel at four in the morning.

Thank you, Universal Music.

Elevator is the song that came of that experience. On a basic literal level, it's about riding in an elevator. On a metaphorical level (although I doubt that was clear in the song), it's about rising up to a higher plane, or at least the desire to rise to a higher plane. To me, that elevator ride was symbolic of ascending - in this case, to a higher level of the music biz, albeit for one night (where I was barely able to speak to anyone). I got to see how the other half lived - just for a few hours - and it was cool.

I kept things deliberately vague in the lyrics so the song wouldn’t be some “I went to the ARIAs” wank (as opposed to this blog), although The 80 Aces’ singer Jade McLaren would usually ruin that by introducing the song with the line, “this is a song about going to the ARIAs”.

“(Elevator) was a good song and one of the best rock/pop songs written by Doc,” Jade said.

“It always reminded me of The Mess Hall’s Keep Walking. I would have loved to record this (properly) as it was one of my favourites.”


Drummer Jarrod Hawker agreed, although he wasn’t a fan of my bad Tom Morello impersonation at the start of the song.

“Your ‘Rage Against The Machine’ intro never worked, but it was a rock song and for that reason I liked it,” Hawk said.

Hewy was in the band when we first started playing the song, but that’s Kyle on this recording, which was made at Tony Peel’s during the demo session for the Dollars EP. When we were recording Dollars and had time to do one final song (which ended up being Magic Shoes), producer Steven Schram went through the tracks from that demo session, listened to the first 15 seconds of Elevator, said “nope”, and kept going through the recordings. Understandable – the song is probably what he would have referred to as one of our “Limp Bizkit moments”.

As Schramy has expressly forbid me from posting any photos of him
 on the internet, here's the Dollars EP cover.

I wrote the guts of this, handed the lyrics to Jade to do with them as he pleased, and just focused on making fucked up guitar sounds as often as possible with my Digitech Whammy pedal (aka The Ferrari). I was never too sure about the chorus, but I loved the verse riff – it’s so simple but so effective. I was going to try to describe how to play it but instead I just did this:


So there you have it: a song about riding in an elevator.


Lyrics:

Push my button, take me to the top
I wanna ride on the elevator
My arrival, never gonna stop
Oh I wanna ride on the elevator

Here we go
40 floors and rising and still rising
Go
40 floors and rising and still rising

Push my button, take me to the top
I wanna ride on the elevator
My arrival, never gonna stop

Take me to my floor, I gotta get more, gotta get more