Saturday, 15 November 2014

#49. I Can’t Help Who My Daddy Was

Matt Neal: guitar, vocals, percussion, mandolin.

Lyrics and music by Matt Neal.
Written in 2012.
Recorded at Mandeville Court on October 1 in 2012.
Produced and mixed by Matt Neal.

Firstly, I need to state that my dad is awesome. This song isn't about him. I get along great with my old man - he's an amazing guy and I love the fact that after my troubled teenage years we now get along brilliantly and often catch up for a drink. He's a top lad. He's my mate and I love him.

Me and my dad.

Secondly, this song is going to appear on my new EP, which is coming out soon. The version above is just a demo I did myself - the proper version was recorded by the excellent Joe Gardner at his Old Elk Studios in Koroit backed by my new band The Apologies (top-notch drummer Jarrod Hawker and kick-arse bassist Brady Jones). Joe refused to listen to any demos before we recorded - instead he insisted on hearing the songs for the first time played drunkenly around a campfire. That's how he rolls, and it's kind of cool. 

Joe Gardner and Brady Jones wondering how they got themselves into this mess.

When the EP comes out, I'll probably have to explain to Dad that the song's not about him. Might be awkward but it's the truth. It's actually inspired by the awesome people I've known and still know who have shit dads and who have proven that you can be more than the sum of half your genes and patriarchal influence.

Having said that, there was no one person or incident that triggered writing the song - it was more that the title line popped in my head and I thought 'holy shit, that's a great idea for a song!'. I sketched out most of the lyrics one hungover afternoon while The 80 Aces were on the road playing a string of gigs in Melbourne, Geelong and Hamilton. I'd asked my band mates if they were up for writing a song, they said 'no, fuck off', and so I decided to finish off this bad boy.

This happened on that road trip. 
It was the most notable bit that didn't involve vomit.

Musically the inspiration is very much from Graveyard Train, who I've seen live a bunch of times and who  made me think differently about country music - I'd never really heard the genre subverted in such a dark and ominous way before and it occurred to me that style was the perfect sonic backing for a song about someone who's dad is the Devil (metaphorically speaking of course).

Another influence is Nick Cave, which a few people picked, especially when Doctor & The Apologies played it live (at our one and only live gig to date) and people came up to me afterwards and said "that song was very Nick Cave". I guess it's my singing style on this song that made people think that. In this demo I pushed my voice to its limits to do three vocal tracks. I suck at doing harmonies, so it's just three octaves worth of singing - the main deep part, my 'normal' voice and a falsetto. That's about the full extent of my range and it's not great but I think it adds to the alt-country roughness and singalong quality of the song.

There's also a big debt to Tom Waits in there, both in the guitar melody line that I may have inadvertently ripped from Goin' Out West and the found percussion I used to build the drumbeat. On this demo, the beat is made up of a half-full slab box, a floor tom, a Venetian blind, a cutlery drawer and my house/car keys. To replicate that in Joe's studio, we used an aluminium ladder, a toolbox, a heater and a garage door. Anything can be a drum. I can't wait for y'all to hear it.

Debut EP from Doctor & The Apologies - The Party No One Can Recall - out soon!


When I was born my mother cried 'cos I was the devil's son
She met him in a bar and he told her pretty things and who could resist such devilish words
Now I tell my mother not to cry 'cos I can't help who my Daddy was
I can't help who my Daddy was

Well the Devil was dressed in a red tuxedo
And he asked my mama if she knew how to tango
And nine months later I arrived
And that was the day that my mother cried

Now every day of my 18 years
My mother has struggled with maternal fears
"Will he be good or will he be bad
Or will he turn out just like his dad?"

Two scientists arguin' 'bout nature versus nurture
Couldn't accurately predict my future
My mama said "Son, now you better be good"
And I swear I did everything I could

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

#48. I Am Trying To Read Your Mind – The 80 Aces

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

Lyrics by Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren & Matt Neal.
Music by Jarrod Hawker, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren & Matt Neal.
Written some time between mid-2005 and early 2007.
Recorded at Noise Studios in mid-2007.
Produced and mixed by Marcus Jennings.
Released on The 80 Aces EP.

I guess this is the closest thing The 80 Aces had to a “hit”. Magic Shoes may have been played at the end of an AFL game on Channel 7, but this got played on Triple J. Twice. Thank you, Dom Alessio.

None of us heard it the first time it got played on Triple J but the second time was one of the coolest moments of my musical life. My fellow Aces Jade McLaren, Jarrod Hawker and I had just finished our week of recording the Dollars EP with Steven Schram and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. We were enjoying a beer, listening to Triple J on my porch, when out of nowhere I Am Trying To Read Your Mind came on. It took a while for us to realise it was our song – at first I was thinking ‘holy shit, someone’s ripped us off!’. Then I realised it was us.

On the "set" of the film clip for I Am Trying To Read Your Mind
with director James McAnulty.

“It was this song that ticked off the most significant box on the bucket list - randomly being played on radio without our prior knowledge,” Hawk recalled.

“That moment was made even more special by the fact that it happened during recording of the Dollars EP.”

Unfortunately our bass player Kyle McLaren wasn’t there to enjoy the moment, but hell, Kyle’s not even playing on this track, so fuck him. That’s former Ace Matt Hewson busting out the tasty bass on this track.

PIC: Dylan Buzolich.

“I liked everything about this song – from the time we had it up for live performance it was my favourite to play,” Hewy recalled.

Hewy helped Jade and I write the words on this one, which came up a treat, I reckon. Hewy agreed.

“The lyrics had been really written collectively, unlike many of our tunes, and while some of them were very clever it was more about how they all fit together – although the fact that we got the line 'It matters not if I was [sic] Sherl...lock Holmes with Jedi mind tricks' in there pleases me greatly,” he recalled.

I agree. I fucking love that line, although I can’t tell if it’s incredibly smart or so-dumb-it’s-awesome. Or maybe just dumb. Whatever.

Before taking the song to Hewy and Jade, I already had the chorus written (the title line is inspired by Wilco’s excellent tune I Am Trying To Break Your Heart). In fact the chorus kicked around for a year or more because I couldn’t figure out what the hell to do for the rest of the song. I knew I’d written the chorus, but it was probably going to be fairly quiet and mellow, which seemed a bit weird for a rock band.

Eventually I had an epiphany. After constantly trying to find different ways to approach songwriting and to come up with unique song ideas, one had just landed in my lap – instead of doing the traditional quiet verse/loud chorus dynamic (as seen in most Nirvana or Pixies songs), I was gonna flip it. Loud verse, quiet chorus. Fucking simple and blindingly obvious, but a very underused trick.

“It was fun having a tune where the verse is rocking, but the chorus is comparatively light – a deliberate turn-about that I know Doc was also quite happy with,” Hewy said.

“The harmonies were a lot of fun to sing, too. The form was straightforward with a few quirks – the 14-bar chorus, which includes a six-bar phrase along with an eight-bar phrase, is echoed in the cyclical six-bar outro. The chorus and outro chords themselves sound simple (and they are), but they move in ways not typical to pop rock, nor to our usual writing. The riff is a bit of a corker too.”

I showed Jade and Hewy the punkish verse riff I had to go with the pretty descending chorus and they seemed enthused about the idea of reversing the usual dynamics. Bouncing off the chorus I’d already written, we quickly came up with a list of ideas for verse lines relating to psychics and mind reading and general communication breakdown shenanigans (the type that happen in probably every relationship) and whipped the song into shape in no time at all. At some point I convinced them both that I should sing the verse and Jade sing the chorus, thus accentuating the dynamic different between the rough and raucous verse and the smooth and gentle chorus (ie. Jade’s voice is far prettier than mine).

Pictured: A pretty voice and a not-so-pretty voice.
PIC: Dannii Hale.

Hewy also praised Hawk’s drumming, and if I was still unsure about whether the song was going to work or not, my fears were quickly allayed when Hawk started fitting his beats to it with his typical skill and style.

“I … love the drumming throughout, as Hawk uses excellent space in the chorus, then drives hard with a double snare through the verses and a straight rock beat through the outro,” Hewy said.

Another shot from the filming of the clip.

“The tune isn’t rocket science, but I always felt it had that blend of ballsy energy and intelligent songwriting that, if I may say, we often strived to reach without quite getting there, or at least not in such a natural-sounding way. And the result was that it was effortless to play live, and the whole band would lock in and nail it every time through sheer enjoyment.”

Hawk reckons I Am Trying To Read Your Mind is the best song The 80 Aces ever wrote  He might be right. It certainly captures perfectly that blend Hewy was talking about, as well as the two elements that were always fighting for oxygen when we wrote a song – the grungey rock and the singalong pop.

If nothing else, the song is something of a marker. Buoyed by the Triple J airplay (it also got played a fair bit on Coast FM, which is a rarity for a local band), it made us aim higher, as if the next level was just within our grasp.

The film clip even got played on Rage, which buoyed us even further. It was filmed very simply and quickly one night at the old Hai Bin Restaurant where we jammed, and put together by the very talented James McAnulty. Our only feedback to him in the editing phase was to crank up that shaky camera effect. He did a great job.


A body language that I can’t speak
Subconscious hide and seek
A mind game with no rules
Divination, try to scry
The crystal ball of your eye
And I’ll consult the oracles

‘Cos I am trying to read your mind
So that I don’t break your heart
Into pieces hard to find
So that I don’t break your heart

You, you’re speaking in ESP
You thinking in prophecy
I’ll telephone all the psychics
Your implying and I’ll infer
It matters not if was
Sherlock Holmes with Jedi mind tricks

Monday, 3 November 2014

#47. IAmAI – The Extreme Sprinklers

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

Lyrics by Jade McLaren and Matt Neal
Music by Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Written late 2004.
Recorded at The Shed, Warrnambool in April, 2006.
Produced, engineered and mixed by Harry Fahey.

Sorry for the hiatus. The reasons are irrelevant, but suffice to say I’ve been super busy, super lazy, and I started drinking beer again.

But on with the show. Let’s try something different with this one - let’s get all Buzzfeed/Cracked on it and do this blog as a ‘listicle’. Those things are hot right now, right? So here are five things you didn’t know about IAmAI (a song you’ve probably never even heard and therefore didn’t know anything about anyway).

1. IAmAI is a missed opportunity

The only recordings I have of this song are two so-so recordings made during two different rehearsals while we were still kinda figuring out how to play it. We never got around to doing it in a studio and didn’t play it live for long, which is a bit of a shame, ‘cos I really dig the song (more on that later).

A few months after we made this recording of the song, drummer Harry Fahey quit the band, and when new drummer Jarrod Hawker came on board (and we renamed ourselves The 80 Aces) this song fell by the wayside for some reason.

This photo was taken a matter of months before Harry quit.
See how pained he looks? PIC: Glen Watson.

Aside from it dying a quiet death, one of the main reasons I feel it was a missed opportunity is because it’s the kind of song that would have benefitted from a lot more playing and rehearsing. When I listen back to the above recording, I can hear Harry, bassist Matt Hewson and myself slowly gelling together in the jammy bits, occasionally locking in, but not quite getting there. A bit of gigging and more rehearsing could have turned the song into an epic monster.

It also would have benefitted from me being better at improvising and jamming. If only I’d known then what I know now.

Is this how you improvise? PIC: Glen Watson

2. IAmAI is about a robot

The idea for the song came from an intriguing notion vocalist Jade McLaren (at least, I think it was Jade) had about writing a song likening being a boyfriend to being a robot. There may have been some discussion about women eventually replacing men with robots or something, I don’t know – I don’t remember. What I do remember is we were trying to get some vague symbolism in there connecting boyfriends and robots. I’m not sure it really worked but reading back over the lyrics, I realised there’s a sad little story in there about a robot devoted to an owner who ultimately rejects him. I think it’s an interesting story. Probably an accident, but still kinda cool.

3. The title changed for nerdy reasons

This song was originally called AI and I’m now going to tell a really crap story about renaming it to IAmAI. You see, I didn’t know this recording existed until last year when Harry unearthed it while trying to find lost songs for my blog. All I had was a really shitty, one-mic recording of us learning the song. It sounds like shit.

Anyway, when Harry let me know he’d found this hitherto unknown recording of IAmAI, I told Harry I was doing the blog alphabetically (in case you hadn’t noticed) and joked that I’d have to rename the song to fit it in because I’d already finished doing songs starting with ‘A’. Harry jokingly suggested IAmAI as a new title because he thought it was cool to have a song title that was a palindrome. I thought that was cool, and Hewy agreed, saying it “tickles my wordy wicket”. Whatever that means.

Cool story, bro.

This film probably had something to do with the original title, 
as opposed to calling it, say, Bicentennial Man.

4. I really like this song

Jade pointed out recently that song sounds “sooooo ‘90s” which is maybe part of why I like it. It reminds me of The Smashing Pumpkins and some of their massive jammy epics, which build around a cool riff and are super-dynamic, ie. the loud bits are really loud and rocking and the quiet bits are really quiet and restrained.

I also like that it’s got weird chords, a slightly strange structure, and room to jam. It’s exactly the type of song I’ve been trying to write lately – songs that have definite parts to them but leave room for massive jams (mostly because I feel more confident in my jamming skills now). But it seems I accidentally wrote it about 10 years ago when I didn’t have the chops to pull it off.

The structure is something I’m particularly proud of because it’s different to everything else we were doing (which was usually double verse-chorus-verse-chorus-middle eight-chorus). I always thought of IAmAI having two sections – there’s the riff, which forms the verse, and then the B section, which doubles every time you play it. First time around, the B section is two chords over four bars, then it’s four chords over eight bars, then it’s eight chords over 16 bars. You’re probably thinking “Whatevs!”, but I always think that kind of shit is cool.

5. When you don’t play is just as important as when you do play

I’d like to preface this last bit by saying Jade is a great singer. It was part of the reason I wanted to be in a band with him – being able to write for a voice like his was (and is) a wonderful opportunity. He’s got probably twice the range that I have, so it opened up so many songwriting doors.

Including this awesome-looking door, which led to 
our rehearsal room from '05-'07. PIC: Glen Watson.

This recording isn’t one of Jade’s finest moments. He probably doesn’t want me to post it, but sorry – the Anthology is nothing if not complete. When he’s wailing over the band jamming… it’s not good. He doesn’t need to be even singing there – he should just let the band do its thing and get out of the way. Jade will agree. Having said that, it’s a bit unfair to pick on this recording though, because it was made during a rehearsal where we were obviously still learning the song and figuring out what we could and couldn’t do with it.

But it does bring about an opportune moment to talk about one of the most important music lessons I was ever taught, which is this: when you don’t play is just as important as when you do play. It probably seems like a blatantly obvious idea but it wasn’t until someone actually put it into words for me (probably Harry) that I realised the importance of dynamics and working as a band and not a group of individual musicians. Where Hewy, Harry and Jade don’t play in this is just as important as when they do play.

Meanwhile, I just play all the fucking time in this one. Make of that what you will.

All the fucking time.
PIC: Glen Watson.


I’ll clean up after you and check your doors are locked
You can push me around and reprogram me

Accept me, even though I’m only wires

Customize me until I’m connected
I’m starting to feel like I’m at home

Accept me, even though I’m only doing what I was made to do

My circuits are user-friendly
You have been saved into my memory banks

Accept me even though I’m only thinking in numbers

My time has run out, the new model has arrived
There’s no farewell for me, I’m on the scrapheap

Reject me after all I’m only wires
I’m only wires