Friday, 29 May 2015

#57. I Will – The Extreme Sprinklers


Demo version

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

Lyrics by Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Music by 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.
Additional mixing by Brendan Hoffmann.



Shed version

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

Recorded at The Shed, Warrnambool in April, 2006.
Produced, engineered and mixed by Harry Fahey.



Way back in early 2005 when I was about to get married for the first time, my songwriting buddy Jade McLaren and I – unsurprisingly – decided to write a song about weddings. Given these things tend to be all-consuming, it’s entirely possible we couldn’t think of anything else to write about, but I do recall thinking at the time that despite there being an inordinate amount of songs about love, there didn't seem to be a hell of a lot of songs about getting married.

One wedding-themed song we could think of and liked, and which served as something of an inspiration, was Big Day by XTC (there’s that band again). Our matrimonial ode shares very little in common except that it’s guitar-based and kind of alt-poppy, but we were aiming to do something similar. We wanted to write a vaguely alternative, all-purpose wedding song that would hopefully encapsulate the feelings most people have about their big day (but that was a damned-sight less ominous than Big Day).


Jade and I had been writing songs together for about a year and a half by this stage and had developed something we called The Wankometer (as Jackson McLaren will attest to). This imaginary device was basically our way of saying whether something was too cheesy or sappy or, well, wanky. Any lyric that seemed too saccharine was described as “scoring high on The Wankometer” or "registering an 8.5 on The Wankometer" and thus thrown on the scrapheap (or “into the Hellmouth” as we called it).

For this song, however, The Wankometer was turned off. I don’t recall if that was a decision made prior to starting writing or part-way through the process when we realised it was an impossible task to write a song about getting married with The Wankometer turned on, but either way, it was switched off.

"With The Wankometer off, I can finally write that song 
I've always wanted to write about bunnies." PIC: Kellie Johns.

Hence, I Will is the wankiest set of lyrics Jade and I have written together, although to be honest I think we did a good job of keeping the cheese to a minimum (“I will push your swing as high as you want to go” is probably the worst offender). Ultimately though it was very sincere and the sentiments were genuine for how I was feeling at the time (and Jade was using his imagination or perhaps channeling something related to his girlfriend at the time). We were still keen to keep the song generic though and only two words belie that ambition – “bodyguard” and “doctor”. That was our in-joke – Jade was working as a security guard at the time, and my nickname is The Doctor.

Speaking of lyrics, there are two things of note in here. The first, which Jade pointed out to me recently, is the line “let’s get this ceremony over”. He reckoned that related to my own dread of the actual ceremony bit of getting married, noting that it was a fairly un-romantic line in an otherwise romantic song. He’s probably right. I certainly managed to largely dodge the whole ceremony thing second time around – I highly recommend eloping.

The second thing is the line “some kind of plant will grow”. That was another cop-out lyric, as previously seen in Disco In Borneo. It was a placeholder that was meant to be replaced by the name of an actual type of romantic-sounding plant, except we couldn’t think of one so we instead stuck with the lyric that effectively means “insert plant name here”. It still makes me laugh.

"Rose? Tulip? Rhododendron? Hydrangea?"
"Stop saying plant names or I'll judo chop you in the throat."
PIC: Dannii Hale.

Musically I was really pleased with this song. Jade came up with a wonderful melody to go with the strange chords I had put together. I have no idea what the chord names are, but most of them are built around using just three strings at a time. It’s likely that the ascending chorus and the use of these strange chord voicings is something influenced by Jeff Buckley’s song Grace, which I learnt to play in my teenage years and was blown away by some of the strange chord shapes. The way the pre-chorus ascends in Grace is something I’m no doubt mirroring in the chorus of I Will.


Rather bizarrely, the other obvious musical influence here, believe it or not, is System Of A Down. There’s a bit in the outro that I ripped holus bolus from their song Aerials. I’m pretty sure I knew I was stealing it, but that one bit was so cool I had to do it. As to why this otherwise lovely little ditty suddenly turns into a wailing guitarfest at the end, I have no idea. I just couldn’t control myself and decided for some reason that the end bit needed four simultaneous guitar parts.


Final notes: I really wanted this song to be called I Will rather than "Yes I Will" or "Yes I Do" or whatever because I wanted it to share a title with both a Beatles song and a Radiohead song.


Lastly, the two different recordings above were made roughly a year apart. The first one is the original demo Jade and I made with the assistance of my old band mate Brendan Hoffmann (same weekend we demoed Ignorance Is Bliss). It came up pretty good I reckon. The second one is a rehearsal recording of The Extreme Sprinklers as a live band (viva Harry Fahey and Matt Hewson!) working through the song (and largely nailing it except for my piss-poor playing in the outro).

PIC: Glen Watson

Lyrics:

I won’t weigh you down
like sand
pouring through the hourglass
I will be around
on hand
like I always was in the past
I will push your swing
as high
as you want to go
Will you wear my ring?
Be mine?
Some kind of plant will grow

Yes I will
Yes I do
Let’s get this ceremony over
So we can start anew

I won’t break your stride
as you
walk into another day
Everything you try
to do
I’ll help you up to try again
I will be your fort
your home
bodyguard and doctor too
‘Cos time is far too short
alone
it’s better when it’s shared by two



Friday, 22 May 2015

#56. I Want Everything – 21st Century Ox


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

Lyrics by Dion Barker, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Music by Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Written late 1999-early 2000.
Recorded at Motherlode Studios, Warrnambool, 2000.
Produced and mixed by Tony Peel.



When bands are starting out, the first couple of songs they write usually set the tone for what their sound will be. This track was among the initial batch of tunes 21st Century Ox played at the very first gig we did and it certainly set the tone for us – I think our credo went something along the lines of “rock is good, but weird is also good”.

That first gig was on April 2, 2000 on the back of a truck in the car park outside the Lady Bay Hotel, and it was the first of about 50 gigs we did over the course of the next 12 months. Check it out – I’ve still got our first setlist:


There’s I Want Everything, sitting plum in the middle of the set next to the even weirder March Of The Albatross, ready to freak out the norms. The plan was to win them back with a Britney Spears cover at the end.


In the year leading up to this gig, Brendan Hoffmann, Dion Barker and I had been hanging out a lot and making a lot of music. We were 18, fresh out of high school, and had heaps of spare time to jam, write songs and make weird impromptu recordings. Hoffa and I taught Dion how to play bass, and by February 2000 we had put together 21st Century Ox with drummer Harry Fahey.

I have fond memories of writing this song. Hoffa, Dion and I were hanging out at McDonald’s, probably drunk. While we sat their drinking our cokes we started writing these nonsense juvenile lyrics. It was just fun and silly – it was a song written with no regard for any rules of songwriting or common sense. We probably never even intended for it to be a song, or that anyone would hear it. We were just goofing around. Hoffa came up with the staccato title chant and we later crafted some riffs onto it in the rehearsal room with the rest of the band.

Dion, Harry and the back of my head in the rehearsal room. PIC: Brendan Hoffmann.

Here’s Hoffa:

“I remember we wrote the lyrics to some or all of it eating in McDonald's. I think we had a sugar rush and were hyperactive! As for the music, I think I came up with the first bit and Nealy came up with the main verse riff - not sure about the bridge. Was such a fun song to play and I remember the crowd used to like it too and sing along! Was a good team effort (and) was aesthetically a good sounding song - lots of interesting changes.”

Hoffa penning another potential classic. PIC: Janelle Mentha.

Here’s Dion:

“I remember that trip to McDonalds. Back in the days when McFlurries were just a sparkle in Ronald's eyes and 30 cent cones had an entirely different meaning... but I digress. Actually, I'm not sure if you can digress before actually mentioning something about the topic at hand, can you? Someone Google that. Google. That was something else that hadn't been invented either when we wrote this song. I suddenly feel very old!

“So, I too remember this being a favourite with the young’uns... I do recall thinking on several occasions as to its appropriateness for a bunch of impressionable young teens.  In fact I think it dawned on Hoffa on one occasion and he refused to play it! Suddenly had an attack of conscience, maybe?

Ox live on the Civic Green. PIC: Kellie Johns.

“It definitely was a tone setter for many of our earlier songs, and is typical of our younger Ox material. Very reminiscent of that first summer as a band and the fun times we had.  That's not to say there weren't more fun times in the latter days of Ox, but I Want Everything had that youthful playfulness about it, when we probably weren't thinking too much about its intended audience.  Fun times.”

Fun times indeed, Dion.

That weird sound at the end of the track is a loop of me screaming, which was part of all the strange little intricacies we hid all over our first (and so far only) album What Am I Going To Do With All These Portaloos?. That album, and this song, were recorded by Tony Peel, who opened our eyes to the world of studio recording.

Me being suave as fuck. PIC: Brendan Hoffmann.

Lyrics:

I want everything!

I don’t wanna be your sunshine
I don’t even like you much
I just wanna steal your French fries
and fondle with your crotch

I just wanna take your beauty
I just wanna take your tongue
and stick it in your earhole
while fingering your bum

Oh

Everyone’s trying to kill me
and shave my pubic hair
and eat it down with gravy
like a pouting Fred Astaire

Yum mum mum mummin yuppa
Myum mum muppy da ba
Duppy duppy duppy duppy yuppa
Myum mum muppy da ba

I want everything!


Wednesday, 13 May 2015

#55. Invest In This Mess – The Extreme Sprinklers


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

Lyrics by Jade McLaren and Matt Neal
Music by Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Written December 25, 2005.
Recorded at The Shed, Warrnambool in April, 2006.
Produced, engineered and mixed by Harry Fahey.



Money makes the world go round, it's the root of all evil, and it's a good songwriting subject.


It's certainly the subject of a few songs 80 Aces singer Jade McLaren and I have written over the years, though none quite as obvious or as heavy as this one (and by “heavy” I mean “grunge-metal”, whatever that may be).

Jade reckons this song was written at the house he was living at in Kerr St, Warrnambool, but I’m not sure, mostly because he thought the song was written the day Steve Irwin died. He was absolutely certain of this for some reason. It’s not the case though – according to my songbook it was written on Christmas Day, 2005. The reasons why we wrote such a song on Christmas Day are lost to the mists of time, and this track certainly won't be appearing on any Christmas albums in the foreseeable future. Maybe we were broke from buying presents. 

Anyway, the main riff of Invest In This Mess is pretty generic in a grungy metallic way - it's the bastard child of Pink Floyd's Have A Cigar (especially the Foo Fighters' version which heavies it up some) ...


... Jane's Addiction's Mountain Song ...


... and Tool's cover of the Peach song You Lied (the bit at the 1:40 mark).


Jade said it sounded "Grinspoony" and “pretty derivative”. The rest of the song is kind of Muse-like, particularly this song with its arpeggios and guitar effects and shit:


But what I liked about it was how fun it was to play and how heavy it sounded, especially that opening riff – for me, it’s the epitome of the big, dumb, fun riff. I think I had the riff up my sleeve for a few years before it finally found its way into Invest In This Mess.

The Extreme Sprinklers original modus operandii had been "play all the genres" - we'd written blues, reggae, country, disco, funk, pop, punk, rap and just about everything else we could think of, but nothing heavy, so I guess this made sense. Also it was around this time - early 2006 - that we started to ditch the genre-hopping in favour of being a rock band, so it made sense in that sense as well. So much sense (or cents as it were, considering the lyrics of this song).

Despite this rational for its existence, Invest In This Mess didn't last long in the set list. I think it was mostly Jade who felt it was too heavy. Plus this was in the last batch of songs written before drummer Harry Fahey quit the band, leading to the arrival of Jarrod Hawker (and a name change to The 80 Aces) and a general move toward new songs and a different sound (although Hawk probably would have enjoyed playing this one – I’m not sure why that didn't happen).

The Extreme Sprinklers: (l-r) Jade McLaren, Matt Hewson, me, and Harry Fahey.
PIC: Glen Watson.

Lyrically it's about “being fucking broke and trying to find a girlfriend”, as Jade puts it.

“It’s just playing on all those money metaphors,” he recalled. “I don’t know whose idea originally it was – it may have been a ‘play me what you’ve been playing, Doc’ kind of thing. It sounds like a Doc riff and then we moulded it into a song.

“Quite often we were both writing a song and working on them from completely different points of view. That happens a lot. (From my perspective) I was about to date someone and I was just a complete fucking mess as I usually am when I’m single and I was like ‘love me - I’ve got nothing, but love me!’.

“It was probably me that was backing away from (playing) the heavier stuff. (But I) used to love performing that song because it just felt so rock ‘n’ roll. So I enjoyed playing the song, but I never thought it was what our band should have been like.”

Jade, being rock 'n' roll. PIC: Glen Watson.

As Jade pointed out, the lyrics are a mess of money metaphors. I like that “no dough to make the bread" and "I’ve never brought home the bacon” go together (mmm, bacon sandwiches), and I’m pretty sure I had the bridge line about one’s wallet being as bare as one’s fridge sitting around in my notepad for some time. Also “no sense (cents) to make the dollars" is a good lyric, no matter how obvious it may be.

This particular version of the song was recorded in The Shed (located behind Reunion, previously CRB, previously La Porcetta). Harry used to ingeniously hook up a handful of mics and record our rehearsals (I’ve no idea how he did it to be honest) and this is from one of those jam sessions. The slightly overblown mix is due to the fact Harry used to have to “set and forget” the mixing desk because he was busy drumming while it was all being recorded in another room.

Here's Harry "setting and forgetting", ably assisted by Hewy.
PIC: Glen Watson.

Final note: because this was as “metal” as we got, Jade and I decided we should do our best metal screams at the end of the song, so that’s me and him trading screams at the end of the song. Personally, I think it’s kind of hilarious.

Lyrics:

Got no mint to make the money
My state has no capital
The cash flow's stopped running
The rapids are non-negotiable

But I’ll do everything I’m able
To put food on the table
Though my wallet’s as bare as the fridge

No sense to make the dollars
This bank has lost its balance
I’m losing interest in what follows
And withdrawing from this madness

Invest in this mess

No dough to make the bread
I’ve never brought home the bacon
My stocks are in the red
There’s no coins in this pudding