Thursday, 12 February 2015

#53. Ignorance Is Bliss – The Extreme Sprinklers


Original demo version:

Jade McLaren: vocals
Matt Neal: guitar, bass, keyboard, drum programming

Lyrics by Jade McLaren.
Music by Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Written early 2005.
Recorded April 22 & 23, 2005 at Hoffa’s House, Warrnambool.
Produced and engineered by Jade McLaren, Matt Neal and Brendan Hoffmann.
Mixed by Matt Neal.



TAFE version:

Lyn Eales: backing vocals
Harry Fahey: drums, keyboard
Matt Hewson: bass
Jade McLaren: vocals
Matt Neal: guitar

Lyrics by Jade McLaren.
Music by Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Recorded 2005 at Motherlode Studios, Warrnambool
Produced, mixed and engineered by Tony Peel
Released on the South West TAFE 2005 MIS compilation Mixed Nuts



Welcome to another edition of Doc’s Anthology – the boring and repetitive blog where Matt “Doc” Neal craps on about the songs he recorded ages ago that no one cares about!

This week’s special guest is lead singer from The Extreme Sprinklers and The 80 Aces ... Jade McLaren!

**APPLAUSE**

DOC: Hi Jade, thanks for joining us.

JADE: Where am I? Why am I tied to this chair?

"And what's the deal with sticky tape?"

DOC: Well, I’ve been trying to get you to contribute to this blog for ages but you haven’t been replying to my messages or emails.

JADE: That’s because I’ve been busy. Also: your blog sucks.

DOC: Yes, well, you’re here now, unable to escape and slowly losing circulation in your extremities, so you may as well tell me all about this week’s song.

JADE: Will you let me go if I play along?

DOC: Possibly.

JADE: Fine. What’s the song?

DOC: It’s called Ignorance Is Bliss. You wrote it and we demoed it together prior to getting The Extreme Sprinklers to record it as part of your studies at TAFE’s Music Industry Skills course. So what’s it all about, Jade?

JADE: And if I play along you’ll let me go?

DOC: Like I said: “possibly”.

"Mwuhahahahaha!"

JADE: Okay, well I wrote this after I’d been out on date with this girl and we went to the Hotel Warrnambool, had a few drinks, went back to my place, blah blah blah… anyway, the following day we exchanged numbers and she left and I thought, that was cool, maybe it will turn into something, and I was all happy and shit. I spent the morning pottering around the house and then decided to go for a walk down the beach. As I walked over the dune at the main beach, I spotted this girl I’d slept with the night before sitting on some shirtless guy, kissing and playing around and stuff. We caught each other’s eye, had this “oh fuck” moment and then I put my head down and kept walking. I was pretty disappointed and a little bit cut so I got home and went to write a song about the situation, but as I was sitting there trying to piece together some lyrics I was thinking about how it wasn’t the girl’s fault I felt down about it - she wasn’t a bad person, she didn’t owe me anything, and we weren’t in a relationship. Then I started thinking about that phrase “ignorance is bliss” - that not knowing what this girl was like or what was going on had me blissfully going “oh this could be good thing, this could be really cool”. I broadened that thought and starting thinking about how when you see an acquaintance and say “how ya goin’?” no one ever really gives you an honest answer. They just give a superficial response, and you think “everything’s good”. They could have broken up with their partner but they just say “yeah good” and you think “it’s all cool”. It’s blissful ignorance again. So I pulled out this old little Casio keyboard and started playing around and came up with the song.

DOC: You’d never written a song chords and all before had you?

JADE: No. I’d picked up guitars and played stuff and come to you and said “hey what’s this?” but at this time I was learning about how to play chords through the MIS course. A lot of it was by ear or just guessing. I was writing to what I could play. I don’t have any ability on the keyboard, but I figured I could tell what was right and wrong.

"What chord's this, Doc?"

DOC: Knowing you and what we were listening to at the time, it definitely reminded me of a couple of things. In particular XTC, because we’re both huge XTC fans, but in particular the song This World Over, if not melodically but that line “oh well that’s this world over”, which becomes in your song “it’s the same the whole world over”.

JADE: That’s probably a subconscious thing but I was definitely listening to XTC’s The Big Express a lot at the time because I got that on record and was playing it heaps.


DOC: We demoed this song over a weekend we spent at Hoffa’s place. What do you remember about that weekend?

JADE: Not much really – I do remember that weekend but no specifics. We did that song and then branched off and had two separate studios running, right? I don’t remember a great deal of recording that particular demo though.

DOC: Yeah that’s right. I think it came out ok - as far as the demos we did went, this one’s all right. The other influence I can hear in it is Tears For Fears.

JADE: It captures what we were trying to do with the song I think. I always had the intention of re-recording it and putting in something straight from Tears For Fears - that echoing snare hit which is in the TAFE version. That’s one of the things I loved about Tears For Fears - the drum sounds.


DOC: Yeah - apparently they used to spend weeks in the studio just perfecting a snare sound. Mental. But there are certain things that bother me about that demo - mostly that we couldn’t get the drums to shuffle. The beat is too straight, and I couldn’t make it swing. I think that’s why we programmed the drums to be really simple at the start - to hide the fact we couldn’t shuffle them. It’s only in the middle section and the outro you can really notice it. It’s got this weird push-pull between being straight and shuffled. But what I do love about the outro is that it’s in 7/8 or something - that’s really cool. That’s one part that really shined in the TAFE version.

JADE: I remember sitting in my loungeroom playing that song over and over again and messing around with that weird timing at the end of the song but never thought it was a major part. I do know Harry suggested we should really mess with that when we recorded it as a band.

DOC: I remember being excited about the outro simply because it was in 7/8 when you first showed me the song. Not that you said “it’s in 7/8”...

JADE: Ha! No, I’d just go “ok, it goes like this”....

DOC: Speaking of the TAFE version – what do you like about it?

JADE: Harry.

The Extreme Sprinklers drummer Harry Fahey and I rocking out
at Wunta in 2005. PIC: Glen Watson.

DOC: Absolutely. Harry’s so much better than a drum machine, ha!

JADE: Ha, yeah. But the keys sound great. The guitar sounds great. The bass is just awesome.

DOC: Yeah, there are some basslines in there that are very cool.

JADE: The first half of the song is fucking amazing. When Lyn Eales comes in it just takes off; it launches. But then me being stubborn, and having played the song multiple times in my loungeroom and doing it in a particular way, I didn’t want to move from having that weird falsetto melody at the end….

DOC: I think you were singing a major scale over a minor chord or vice versa.

JADE: Whatever it was, clearly I was completely wrong, ha ha! But you do the MIS course to learn things and you make mistakes and that was a mistake I made. But I still like the song. It gets across the idea. That section where it says “I’ve got my problems and so do all of you/and it’s against the program for you to have a clue” - that summed up the idea of the song. Not knowing about someone’s problems makes you feel more positively about them. The part about “I’m not trying to blame that on you” was me talking to that girl - things weren’t going to work out but it’s not your fault.

(left to right) Me, Matt Hewson and Jade at an Extreme Sprinklers
gig on the Civic Green in 2005. PIC: Damian White.

DOC: I always took the line “I’m not trying to blame that on you” to mean that you remain ignorant if you don’t ask the right questions, as in “I can’t blame it on you because I’m not asking the right questions”. So if I meet you down the street and say “how ya going?” and you say “fine” and I accept that and remain ignorant and blissful then that’s my fault because I’m not asking the right questions and getting the right answers. But you’re right about Lyn’s part - that is a great section in the song. And the overall sound is pretty cool. Hewy’s basslines are great. Harry’s drumming is great.

JADE: It’s not messy because it’s in time, but I just love how "messy" those fills of Harry’s sound at the end.

DOC: I remember giving you a heap of notes on this song in the studio on how you could improve the mix. And I remember showing them to you and you going, “no, no, this is my recording for TAFE, I don’t want your notes, I want to do it how I’m going to do it”. And I think I want to Harry to complain that I had all these great ideas but you weren’t listening to me and Harry said “Yeah, but this is not your recording, dude. We’re playing on it, but it’s not your recording”. And I thought, yeah you’re right - it’s Jade’s thing, let him do it the way he wants to do it to get the sound he wants.

JADE: Yeah, it wasn’t that I didn’t think you could make the song better - it was because I wanted to do it myself.

DOC: And listening to it now, I was probably right about some of the stuff, but you had to go and learn for yourself, ha ha.

JADE: Yeah. I wanted to be able to go “I did this” because up until that point I’d never done anything completely by myself. It was an experiment. You do the MIS course and you make mistakes and you learn from them and you develop as an artist. I was probably rebelling against you a bit there too.

South West TAFE's 2005 MIS course compilation Mixed Nuts
featuring Ignorance Is Bliss.

DOC: Oh yeah, definitely. I’m sure that’s what you were doing. And for good reason - whenever we demoed stuff, I was the one who knew the program and knew how to vaguely produce and mix but you didn’t, so obviously you were going to rebel at some point and take control of a song. And when Harry pointed that out - that this was your song for your TAFE course - I got that. I was being pushy. I was only trying to serve the song, but eventually I realised you had to do your own thing.

JADE: At some point early in your writing career you probably had the same moment where you felt you had to do it your way, whether it was right or wrong, where it was about doing something your own way. I couldn’t communicate properly with you guys because I wasn’t a musician and couldn’t play an instrument so it was a big thing for me to go “I want to do it this way”. In hindsight I was wrong, ha, but I had to make that step.

DOC: Ha. I don’t think I ever had that moment because I was always the pushy one in bands! I always have been. I’ve always had the courage of my conviction on an idea and will try and get it across the line unless someone can convince they’ve got a better way to do it.

JADE: Yeah, it was different for me because I was surrounded by you, who had been in multiple bands and done multiple recordings, Hewy, who is an outstanding musician, and Harry, who’s outstanding as well.

DOC: Yeah, they’re both fucking geniuses.

JADE: Absolutely. So this song was me trying to take what I’d learnt from all three of you guys and the TAFE course and trying to do that myself. And I fell over, ha ha, but parts of the song are still good. If we went and recorded that same song again with the same four guys in the same studio it would be stellar.

DOC: It is a really good song and I always felt it was a shame that you never brought in another song that you’d written the chords for. That was the only song for The Extreme Sprinklers or The 80 Aces where you went “here are the chords”. It’s like you wrote that one song and put the keyboard away and went “Done!”.

JADE: It’s because you were so down on me about it. This is probably more about me than you but I remember you changing the lyrics in the chorus and singing it….

DOC: “It’s the same the whole song over!” Yeah. That was hilarious.

JADE: I took it to heart and thought maybe I don’t have that ability - that maybe I need to write with other people and not solo - because the song is kind of monotonal… and I overthink things.

Here's Jade overthinking things during one of our songwriting sessions.

DOC: I didn’t mean to be mean. In our bands we’ve always ribbed each other about stuff but it’s always lighthearted. How many times did you guys bag me out about my guitar skills or lack thereof, or my singing ability or lack thereof? It’s never serious, and I never took it serious, but if you took it seriously, I’m sorry.

JADE: It’s water under the bridge now. But I did take it seriously at the time and thought maybe I’d overextended myself.

DOC: It was just a joke, probably because the song isn’t concise and it’s a slow song. I did notice that the TAFE version is a good minute-and-a-bit longer than the demo version, and I reckon the demo version probably could have been cut down. You said monotonal, but I’d say it’s maybe a bit long and not as dynamic as it could have been.

JADE: Having the song last that long made time for Harry to do his thing and I’m glad for that!

DOC: Yeah but I think it needed something in that end bit to make it soar… like if that vocal melody had been more precise or in the right scale, ha, it could have soared, but you could have done that with anything. It was like we’ve got this great 7/8 outro but we should have had Hewy play a wailing sax solo over it or the guitar solo that’s buried in the mix couldn’t have been brought up more and really sold that bit.

JADE: Given the skills we have now, we could totally nail it in the studio and come up with something really fucking cool.

DOC: And that’s because the song itself is fundamentally good, which is why I was bummed that you didn’t bring in other songs with chords and all. When we were playing with Harry and Hewy, we’d always bring them songs - “these are the chords and the melodies” - and then let them put their own thing on it. This song was great for me because I got to do that for a change. I didn’t write it so I could do little bits and pieces and play on it at a step removed from the songwriting process. I always wish you’d written more songs from a chordal point of view because it made things more interesting for me.

JADE: You know in a lot of ways, the demo of Ignorance Is Bliss is better than the TAFE version.

DOC: I wish we’d taken it to the studio in an EP or album sense and done a third version, where the whole band could have had input, instead of it just being me (in the demo version) or you (in the TAFE version).

JADE: Agreed. Can you untie me now?

***

So there you have it folks. But because I couldn’t leave it alone, here’s a third version – a new mix of the original demo that a) corrects the weird straight-vs-shuffle battle that was going on between the programmed drums and everything else in the demo, b) cranks up the bass, and c) basically utilises 10 more years of mixing and production experience to hopefully make it all sound better. I find it kind of funny that this remix was done in the same house it was originally recorded in, almost exactly 10 years on.

2015 mix

Mixed on February 12, 2015, at Hoffa’s House, Warrnambool.
Drum programming and mixing by Matt Neal.
Additional programming, mixing and assistance by Brendan Hoffmann.




Lyrics:

We’re all living for ourselves
We’re all dying for someone else
I see you in the street how are you
I walk past before you can answer

And it’s the same whole world over, yeah
It’s the same the whole world over
It’s the same the whole world over
but I’m not trying to blame that on you

I’ve got my problems, so do all of you,
and it’s against the program for you to have a clue
so if you ask me, “how are you going?”
I’ll nod rather than give you a truthful answer

Ignorance is bliss





Friday, 6 February 2015

#52. I Don't Know When To Leave The Party


Matt Neal – vocals, guitars, bass, drum programming.
Brendan Hoffmann – backing vocals.

Music and lyrics by Matt Neal.
Written August 2012.
Recorded May 23, 2013 at the Port Fairy House and January 21, 2015 at Hoffa’s House.
Produced and mixed by Matt Neal and Brendan Hoffmann.


80 Aces singer Jade McLaren and I have written dozens of songs together and each song has had varying degrees of input from both of us. However I’m pretty sure this song, despite being written in a joint songwriting session, was entirely my work. Not that Jade would want to claim it - it's not great, hell, it's not even good - and it was never going to end up being played live or recorded by The 80 Aces. It just kind of came out the way it did and that was that – another song all dressed up with no place to go.

This was one of a couple of songs we nutted out during a few days spent at my parents' "weekend house" in Port Fairy, which has been the scene of many songwriting sessions for the pair of us as well as for the whole band. It's also one my preferred places to go and demo/write stuff on my own.

Which invariably results in me re-decorating thusly.

When it came time to write this one, I believe I presented Jade with all the chords and the chorus as they appear in the recording above. I wanted help with the verses. I explained that the title/chorus was a line that occurred to me after a few too many nights when I should have gone home earlier and regretted not doing so the following morning, and that we should use that as the jumping off point lyrically.

We went into our respective corners to work on our tried and true list method, whereby each of us goes off and writes a list of words, phrase and lines that can then get shaped into lyrics. But as I sat back to begin writing, I had a brainwave - what if the verse lyrics were spoken word, told from the point of view that annoying guy at the party who has worn out his welcome?

Having lived for more than 12 months in a house that's proximity to the pubs meant it was the “after party house” come closing time, I had more than enough material for a list of after-party annoyances: people who pinch grog, who wreck things, who corner you and crap on forever, who never bring cigarettes. Within five minutes, I'd written all the words. Jade hadn't come up with much so we went with what I had. We recorded a quick version into my phone and moved on to the next song.

These kind of parties. Not pictured: people who don't know when to leave.

Next time I was in Port Fairy, I recorded the guts of the song - the acoustic guitar, the lead vocals and some drum loops, but left it unfinished. I was convinced at the time (as I still am now) that the song didn’t have much promise.

I dug it out earlier this year while going through some folders of unfinished songs. I’d started doing bits and pieces of recording with Brendan Hoffmann, the guitarist/singer from my erstwhile band 21st Century Ox. I Don’t Know When To Leave The Party seemed like it could be a fun little song to finish off, so I took what I’d recorded so far to his place and within a couple of hours we had a rough mix in the bag.

Pictured: me not knowing when to leave the party.

The final mix is the result of me trying to turn this into something worth listening to – at least the guitars are rocking (and loud - crank it up!), there’s a drunken-crowd-singalong-quality to the chorus to suit the theme of the song, and there’s a cool riff at the end (which I kind of see as a reward for making it that far).

Musically, I think I was trying to mess with the chord progression out of the awesome Muse b-side The Groove (although in hindsight it's not very close):


As for the vocals in this, I’d just like to say that I hate the sound of my own voice talking almost as much as I hate the sound of my own voice singing. I contemplated getting other people to speak the verses or trying it in an American accent but in the end I thought, ‘fuck it – the song’s not that great anyway’.

Lyrics:

You kinda just walked away there in the middle of our conversation. I see you were distracted by the girl who tried to slap me earlier. This drink was full, I swear, just a minute ago… and why are my shoes so wet? It’s ok – I came with that guy. Can I pinch another cigarette?

I dunno when to leave the party

I just found this beer in the fridge. And that glass coffee table was like that when I got here. You’re a great friend and I like you a lot – now help me look for my phone. I didn’t mean to corner but I really needed to get that off my chest for the last one and half hours. God, I must have been boring you to death.

I dunno when to leave the party

I don’t care if the sun’s coming up – let’s keep going to the next house. No, I don’t like to have people over to my place – I prefer to leave a mess elsewhere.