New album Tales of Woah is here
S'up y'all, it's been ages since I posted - time is limited, and both you and I would prefer if I spent that time making new music, so for now, my deeply held but largely unsubstantiated views on music will be confined to an audience of friends in the yard and/or the pub, where there is at least an opportunity for those views to be challenged.
Continuing the at-least-one-album-per-year trend, here's "Tales of Woah": our fourth, and our best.
All proceeds from the previous "You're Not an Empath" album (probably not much, but whatevs) are going towards the push for a royal commission into supervillain Rupert Murdoch's media empire.
Recorded at home, Lauren played drums as always, and this time lent her voice to vocal harmonies. It turned out great. I did the other parts. There's a lot more acoustic guitar on this, too - I was trying to bring some folkish spontaneity to my vocal/guitar takes, and getting as much done live as possible was the aim. Otherwise, it's just a Farewell Horizontal album. You know more or less what you're getting going in.
Read on for liner notes. Thanks for reading, listening, and/or giving a shit.
Brighton’s Full Of Arseholes
Brighton: a swanky, wanky bayside suburb, home to the cavernous mansions of the richer kids in my school who had those big pool/tennis/DJ parties like in movies.
Not that those particular kids were arseholes. Arseholes are a vocal minority there, making a point of acting nice, until they hear “no”, and then unmasking the diabolical “off with their heads” wanker within. For example…
My high school band would practice in Brighton in a small room at the drummer’s house (not an arsehole, nor was his family - mind you, they rented). We knew that very little sound traveled outside. Nevertheless a complete stranger showed herself in the front door, through the house to its furthest room and burst in yelling about her sleeping baby. The drummer said “who the hell are you?”and the rest of us just looked at the floor like awkward boys.
Later on I was a postal employee there, eaten alive daily by a gym gear clad gaggle of angry middle aged women blaming me for their lapsed redirection, misaddressed parcel, or whatever. Be nicer to your postal services officers, folks. Perhaps someday we'll live in a world where songs like this aren't necessary.
Summer of Disease
This song was inspired by having a cold during the hottest stretch of a Melbourne summer (those 40 degree, undies-in-the-dark days), and thinking “what the hell is this is bullshit? It’s not even cold!” If this has ever happened to you, then this song’s for you.
My mum is from rural Ireland. Long story short, I have an accordion. I can’t play it, but I’ve used it in recordings, sometimes dividing the job between two players - the squeezer and the keyboardist. This time I was alone so I sampled it and turned it into a MIDI instrument. It ended up sounding more like a melodica, which is fine.
It may seem odd but I used to avoid swung time signatures, thinking they were too daggily sixties. But some songs just have to. I leaned into the Kinksishness hard with this one (who are one of my biggest songwriting influences, in case that wasn’t obvious).
Came together fast, sounded good straight away. Even the lyrics came fast and were good straight away, which is very odd. I must have been in the right frame of mind because those key changes linking each section are fluid and uncontrived, like Nirvana’s: a bit off the wall, but effortless for the ear.
The lyrics are self explanatory… so I won’t explain them.
I wrote two verse’s worth before I babysat my cousin’s kids and wasn’t sure how to end it. The music looped in my head that night, and that outro riff just appeared in my mind’s ear. It’s one of those overly simple riffs I could never sit down to write. Doing/thinking about something else can be a great way to figure out a solution for a song, sometimes without any conscious effort whatsoever.
The Answer Is No
A really old song that I love more than most of my songs. It’s earnest, and there’s no irony to hide behind… so it feels scary to show it to people. Interestingly, sticking my neck out seems to be well received: my theory is that people can spot when art is being straight with them or bullshitting them. Lord knows I’ve tried to bluff my way past before, without success. The only line I would say is “lying” is the title. It should probably say “The answer is that there is no answer”. Deep shiznit.
For this album, I wanted to try a few song where I recorded my voice and acoustic guitar at the same time. I was going for a vibe like late Replacements, the Silver Jews, or the Red House Painters. You lose some clarity and control in the mix but it always feels better. Each album has a song that to me is the ‘heart’ of it, and this one is it.
Sometimes you get a sudden jolt of inspiration and say “holy shit, I have to go write a song!”. This was NOT such a song. I only wrote it because I was bored. Perspiration, not inspiration: just pushing out the constipated turd. This happens to me a lot (metaphorically): just get a few ideas down and then see which ones grow on you. Point being, inspiration is overrated. It’s nice to have, but it doesn’t correlate with a better result, not for me anyway.
I programmed a beat and put it through an old guitar amp with a nice reverb spring. Amping stuff makes it beefy. The synths are manual/outboard, breaking away from my usual in-computer approach, inspired by 00s electro-indie - The Faint, Liars, Holy Fuck.
Like so many of my songs, it’s a cynical rant about money/status/selling your soul/faking it. I keep going back to that subject. Maybe I have a chip on my shoulder or something.
Leisure Suit Larry II
A harmonic power-pop track with chords that weave all over. Probably written during a binge on the Raspberries, Big Star, Badfinger - those bands where every song is an audition to be the new Beatles.
The main thing on my mind the day I wrote this was the 80s video game I had been playing, Leisure Suit Larry II (good game). Accordingly, the lyrics are a direct summary of the game’s plot.
Contains some of my diciest lyrics, such as “I’m like canned fish reduced to clear, no charisma, just drear”. I thought hard about changing that line, but it felt too baked-on to wash it off. I just figured I’d let the song be its natural stupid self and people would either like it or they wouldn’t.
The System Works
I wrote this in a brief phase when I was a little TOO into SoCal pop punk, which is mostly not great stuff from a songwriting POV (NB exceptions exist). I was interested in the challenge of combining socal’s insane pace with my baroque pop influences: you tend to lose nuance as you increase the tempo, and I wrote a few songs testing if I could keep both. (Conclusion: yeah pretty much, it just usually sounds like fast wacky Pixies.)
The lyrics describe people’s cynicism and complacency about fixing a broken system, their wilful blindness and cognitive dissonance. It’s like a less clever version of Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows”.
For me, political songs can’t just be a musical how-to-vote card; they need to illustrate some personal truth lurking beneath our politics - tell us to think, not what to think. For example I find it interesting how some people complain about tax free, cash-in-hand, minimum wage workers, but for some reason King Rupert/the Catholic Church/the Libs’ oligarch pals get a free pass to rob us blind.
The sound collage in the middle was an afterthought, and it became a stupid homage to Judas Priest’s “Breaking The Law”. Later I put the mix on in my car, having forgotten about the middle bit. The glass-smashing noise came in on the left WAY too loud and made me swerve to survive the car crash I THOUGHT I was in. Nearly had a god damned heart attack! (I’ve since turned it down, so you shouldn’t have that problem.)
I Don’t Understand Anything Anymore
This song was an experiment in underwriting and repetition: how much could I get away with? Many times I’ve trimmed a song down to a one verse wonder, but in this case, I like how much it repeats.
There comes a time in every music fan’s life when they realise they’ve never heard the first ~5 Beatles albums. Getting deep into Please Please Me and A Hard Day’s Night was seriously a joy, thinking into how stark the arrangements were yet how strongly the songs stood up. The writing and the mix on this track is early Beatles inspired, panned in “stupid stereo”: each instrument is either dead centre, or all the way left or right, with no in between -due to the early stereo controls being switches rather than knobs.
(PSA: the Beatles always sounds better in mono. Not just a nerd thing, it’s true. Do yourself a favour.)
Never Give Up Unless You’re Shit
It’s about the daily battle raging in the struggling artist’s thoughts. Don’t give up, persevere, it’ll pay off… even though all the rejections/ghosts/snubs that come with knocking a million doors felt like the world telling me to stop.
I could probably write an entire book about how to succeed in the music business, having learned so much from failing to. Making follow-up calls to labels, going on a student TV show, and (in a deleted verse) pasting posters in an underpass were typical activities in my early 20s life. The key takeaways from this book I’ll never write are: 1) make friends with literally every musician in the world; 2) purport to like absolutely everything, 3) play unambitious music that is far within your capabilities; and 4) that’s it.
No Place To Go But Down
I rewrote these lyrics four times. The third time was at an airport with hours to kill, and I thought I’d nailed it, but when I went to record it I wasn’t feeling it at all, so I rewrote it on the spot. Spontaneous rewrites can go either way.
It’s about the gross, consequence-free misdeeds of the rich and powerful. The guy in this song, however, finds that he can only bounce back so many times. For example, powerful men thought to be infallible who got their #MeToo comeuppance.
I had no idea where this song would go in the track listing, but when I figured out that it was the final song, everything else fell into order so it's kind of the linchpin. It's a good one to go out on.