Monday, 28 July 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what did the other guys think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Straight out of my first-year TAFE journal.

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


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

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

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

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

#44. Housework – The Extreme Sprinklers

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

Lyrics by Matt Hewson 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.

I’m not sure why, but Extreme Sprinklers bassist Matt Hewson and I have never written many lyrics together. It’s strange – we both love to write and both seem to be on the same wavelength creatively, musically and intellectually (I think). Yet I can count on one hand the number of things we’ve written together, despite being friends for close to 15 years and playing music together for nearly a decade in 21st Century Ox, The Extreme Sprinklers and The 80 Aces.

One of the few things we have written together is the lyrics for Acting Like A Child (click the link for more info, yo) and another is the lyrics to this song, Housework. Here’s Hewy to explain the genesis of the song.

Jazzing out together at the Timor Street art house party. PIC: Colleen Hughson.

“So at the time I came up with the tune for this, I was playing a bit of guitar and expanding my own songbook as an after-party amateur guitarist-singer,” Hewy said.

“I was listening through my iTunes and came across some You Am I stuff, and I'm pretty sure the idea for the beat came from Good Morning, which is a tune I really dig. So I sat down with that beat in my head, came up with the chords, and then heard Tim Rogers singing a melody to it in my head. Voilá."

“Unfortunately, my internal Tim Rogers didn't help me out with lyrics. I needed Doc to help me with them, and I'm pretty sure it was a one-session job out in my studio*. I think Doc and I found a bit of a synergy with the creative use of words in that one, so the lyrics are actually pretty cool, even though I had a hand in them.

“This is maybe the only tune I've brought along to the Sprinklers/Aces that they didn't seem to secretly (or not-so-secretly) hate at first listen and forever more. It's probably the pop/rock tune that I'm most proud of having a big hand in writing, and I have always been pretty stoked that the rest of the band always seemed to enjoy playing it a lot.

*May not be actual studio.”

Me and Hewy, prior to being falling-down drunk at 
Kennedy's Creek Music Festival. PIC: Pudgey O'Keefe.

In fact, this song outlived Hewy’s longevity in the band. When he quit to go and be a jazz superstar (this may or may not be the actual reason he left The Extreme Sprinklers, which had morphed into The 80 Aces by then), the song continued on in the setlist, and was even recorded by the current line-up during a demoing session at Tony Peel’s Motherlode Studios a couple of years ago.

But I’ve got to say it never sounded as good as when Hewy, Harry, Jade and I played it. That line-up built the song up around Hewy’s cool seventh chords in the verses and that killer chorus progression and it just felt more natural when that line-up got that swing going. The version at the top of this blog is the best take from a live session we did in Peely’s studio with Gus Franklin at the helm. I’m not sure why exactly we were recording – I think we were just demoing.

While Hewy hears Good Morning, I always thought there was something a bit Green Day-ish about the song, in particular Longview – maybe it’s just the same groove. But, in my opinion, the song that Housework is most reminiscent of is this:

Drummer Harry Fahey agrees, although he said he also heard something “Ben Folds Five-esque” in the backing vocals in the chorus.

“(It was a) fun song to play and bop to, but listening back I wish I had played less notes on this one,” Harry said.

“In fact that seems to be a common thought for me with a lot of these songs, less would have been more. Thanks hindsight, you tricky bitch!”

The Extreme Sprinklers, playing too many notes in The Shed. PIC: Glen Watson.

Hewy agrees with Harry's Ben Folds Five sentiment: "As a huge BFF fan the harmonies were definitely influenced by them," he said.

"The chorus chords were also deliberate modulations to Bb and Ab, and those ultra-poppy harmonies helped make the strange sound familiar. I think that's all I've got (about this song), except that the lyrics were really fun to write as well."

Lyrically I’m pretty proud of this one too and enjoyed the process. Hewy and I definitely got on a wavelength and conjured up a scene of domestic "unbliss" that we figured a lot of people could probably understand.

On a wavelength after a gig at The Cally in Hamilton.

Final word from singer Jade McLaren:

“Lyrics were great … ‘Our crosswords have no clues’ ... love that line.”


I awake to my alarm
She’s already gone and broke the morning calm
Waking up begins the day
The sour taste of breakfast always is the same

I’m going crazy
But is it you or is it me
Give me something
Won’t you tell me what you see from your side of the room

Midday movie tells the time
Head to head but never seeing eye to eye
You know our crosswords have no clues
The housework’s not the only work we have to do

The table’s set, let’s take a seat
Dinner’s cold but we both know we’ll still eat
Things will go bump in the night
Maybe next time the sunrise will make it right

Monday, 14 July 2014

#43. Hey Jade – 21st Century Ox

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

Lyrics by Matt Neal.
Music by Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Written late 2001.
Recorded at the Barker residence, October 2-10, 2003.
Recorded and mixed by Dave Wilson.

You can blame 80 Aces singer Jade McLaren for this one. Not only is it about him, but the style of the song was inspired by Fountains Of Wayne, which was a band Jade got me in to.

When we were doing a writing course at TAFE together in 1999-2000, we hung out constantly and Jade would often play Fountains Of Wayne’s self-titled debut, which is a killer album. I knew a couple of the songs (Radiation Vibe, Sink To The Bottom), but the whole record is really cool – it’s solid, smart guitar-pop. If the only Fountains Of Wayne song you know is Stacy’s Mom, you’re doing yourself a disservice. That is their worst song. Go and listen to their first album. Do it now. I’ll wait.

Here's track one to get you going.

Cool. Welcome back. I love the lyrics on that first album - a lot of the songs seem to be just simple little snapshots about regular, everyday people. I figured they must be real people because they were such neatly drawn yet almost mundane portraits of characters that seemed too innocuous to be fictitious – the Spanish ladies man who can do sign language (Joe Rey), the strange girl who moved to New York (Barbara H), the office worker who’s over it (Sick Day), the cool girl with the jerk boyfriend (Leave The Biker).

I also liked that they wrote songs with titles that were people’s names. Sure, The Beatles did that all the time (Michelle, Eleanor Rigby, Dear Prudence), but The Beatles were in a league of their own. The music of Fountains Of Wayne (and Ben Folds and his Five for that matter – they have so many songs named after people) seemed to be on a more reachable level. So I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to write a song about somebody, and name it after somebody’.

So I picked Jade, primarily for the Fountains Of Wayne connection. I was trying to sound a bit like them – musically it feels like a mixture of Leave The Biker and Sink To The Bottom – so it seemed fitting to write it about Jade. Also, I got to use a bad Beatles reference (much like the final piano chord in Leave The Biker) by calling it Hey Jade. Geddit?

That guy with the tape dispenser.

I think I achieved the mundane simplicity I was going for. It’s just about us going to class and shooting hoops in his backyard, as well as the fact that Jade loved to sing while driving and rarely got up before the crack of noon. Nothing terribly spectacular there.

This recording was a live demo my old band 21st Century Ox did during Dion’s Week Of Debauchery, where we set up a studio-load of gear in bassist Dion Barker’s lounge room while his folks were away. I reckon this take was done on one of the first two days of that week-long stint when we were just running through a bunch of songs to test out the recording gear, get a feel for the set-up, and get some kind of recording of some songs we’d never laid down before.

Dion, prior to debauchery, with a 21st Century Ox poster.

As a result the playing is a bit sloppy early on, but finds its feet by the end. I like the tasty sax that only comes in right at the end and the grungy rhythms of the chorus. The “ahh-ahh” pre-outro is pretty cool too, even if I do say so myself.

This song was largely forgotten by the members of Ox until it was unearthed by drummer Harry Fahey, who found it in a forgotten box of forgotten recordings.

Here’s Dion:
“I'd forgotten how awesome that song was! How come that never made it to number one in the charts? It was (added to the set-list) very late in the Ox years and I do remember struggling a bit with the changes, although that was probably true for a lot of the songs! It was a really fun song to play though when we nailed it.”

But the last words should undoubtedly go to the man himself.

The man himself.

“Back when music was still wizardry to me, Doc came up to me and asked me to have a listen to a song he'd written about me,” Jade recalled.

“So I sat waiting for the punchline but he was serious. I can’t remember where we listened to it but I liked it and was humbled that someone could make a song about me last for longer than 30 seconds. I can see what he was going for - trying to get all those little catchy things I liked at the time in one song. My favourite line is ‘hey Jade you live hand grenade’ – I gotta use that again somewhere.”


Hey Jade
You sleep all day and when you get out of bed the nights on its way
Hey Jade
Come out and play we found a new ball and there’s a game under

Hope this is the kind of song you like
Listen to it when you’re up all night
Hope this is the kind of song you’ll sing
At the top of your voice when you’re in your car

Hey Jade
You live hand grenade, a victory dance for every shot that you’ve made
Hey Jade
What have you written today, get ready for class or else we’re gonna be late