Sunday, 31 March 2013

#4. All Aboard For Ecstasyland

Written and produced by Matt Neal.
Recorded at my Mum and Dad’s house, Ballangeich.
Year: 1997-1999?

I’m not sure what to say about this song that differs from everything I said about Abstract Interference in blog #1. It’s from the same era, made the same way, and pretty much cut from the same cloth.

As previously mentioned, The Chemical Brothers was practically my sole electro influence at the time. I was infatuated with Dig Your OwnHole in a way no electronic album has ever been able to infatuate me since.

Listening back to that album, it’s obvious now that the beat at the start of this track is copied from the song It Doesn’t Matter. Sure, it’s a pretty common beat, but I reckon that’s what I was trying to replicate at the time. Coincidentally, that beat (the simple disco beat) is one of The 80 Aces' Jade McLaren’s two favourite beats, although I didn’t know that then as we weren’t friends (his other favourite beat will pop up in a future song, I’m sure).

The title tells me I was trying to make some kind of block-rockin’ rave tune. It may be totally obvious from the sound of the song that I’d a) never been to a rave before and b) never taken ecstasy before. This is just what I imagined it was like.

For some reason, it appears that at the time I also imagined raves often featured the organ bit commonly associated with baseball games… I’m pretty sure I put that bit in as a joke – it certainly cracks me up these days, hearing it more than a decade on.

As for the little fade-out at the end that comes blaring back in at full volume at the last second, I probably thought that was original at the time, but it’s also likely I subconsciously picked it up from the Paul McCartney & Wings track Let ‘Em In. Listen to the last 30 seconds and you’ll see what I mean.

(PS. I did eventually go to my first “rave” when I saw The Chemical Brothers at the Big Day Out in 2000 in the Boiler Room. Surprisingly it wasn’t that packed – everyone was off watching Red Hot Chili Peppers on the main stage. But I’m so glad I chose The Chemical Brothers over RHCP. It remains one of the coolest live music experiences I’ve ever had)

(PPS. Thinking a bit more about these electro tracks, there's a slim chance some of them were made in 2000 after having seen The Chemical Brothers live at 2000 Big Day Out. I don't know this for certain, and ultimately it's inconsequential, but, anyway, just saying....)

(PPPS. That photo attached to the Soundcloud file is the most "rave-like" pic of me I could find.)

Or this is my half-brother Chad from Chapel Street 
who doesn't get invited to family gatherings on account of him being a douchebag.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

#3. Adam's Family - The Extreme Sprinklers

Performed by The Extreme Sprinklers.

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

Lyrics by Jade McLaren & Matt Neal.
Music by Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren & Matt Neal.
Written late 2005.
Recorded at The Shed, Warrnambool, May 29, 2006.
Produced and mixed by Harry Fahey.
Released on The Extreme Sprinklers’ “Wolf” demo disc.

OK, firstly, yeah, those are some pretty bung harmonies on my part in the verses – that’s me doing that out-of-tune falsetto next to Hewy’s much nicer vocal line. Sorry.

(Note: To differentiate things slightly, I’m calling the “Harry Fahey on drums”-era The Extreme Sprinklers, and the “Jarrod Hawker on drums”-era The 80 Aces, even though they’re the same continuum and the band name didn’t change exactly when Hawk joined. But it’ll do. There’s also some stuff Jade and I did together that will be classed under The Extreme Sprinklers, to make things more confusing. Whatever.)

Anyway, Jade and I wrote this, like quite a few songs at the time, in his little unit above Mack's Snacks in Liebig Street, Warrnambool. Going back through my songbooks, it seems like we were writing a song or two a week at that stage. We’d been writing and recording stuff for about a year, and our band The Extreme Sprinkers had been happening for six months or so (I think).

A key influence on the band initially was Ween – in particular their propensity for taking on any musical style or genre. So we genre-hopped like crazy in those early days, writing reggae, hip hop, country, blues and anything else we could think of.  Adam’s Family was intended as a punk/grunge number, directly influenced by the likes of Talking Heads, XTC (there they are again!) and The Pixies.

Here’s what Jade has to say about writing this punky little number:

“I remember listening to a lot of early XTC at the time - White Music was on repeat. I was really interested in the rhythmic and stuttered delivery of their vocal melodies and wanted to replicate it. It’s since become a big part of my singing style.”

Lyrically, the song is sung from the point of view of Earth, and the title was kind of intended as being an off-hand way Earth might regard humans – “oh, that’s just Adam’s family”, you know, in a biblical sense.

“At the time, I couldn't think of a song that was sung from the point of view of Earth,” Jade says.

“To me it seemed humourous that planet Earth might be upset that humans thought of the history of the planet to be their history and story when it was actually the Earth’s story and we just lived on its 'outer crust'.”

The coolest bit in the song is that kink in the chorus, where the beat shifts. I found a live recording of the song done not long after it was written, and that kink isn't in there, so it must have been something thought up after we'd been playing the song for a little while. According to Jade, he and Harry got the idea for that bit from the We Are Scientists song Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt, which has a similarly off-kilter section in part of its chorus.


 Over to you, Harry:

“The four-bar chorus groove uses the same kick/snare pattern in the first two bars (but) in bars three and four it’s nudged 1/8th note later - messes it all up in a funky way. It totally messes with your head when you’re playing it!

“I remember I was really into studying backbeats (at the time) and so the first verse has the exact same kick/hats rhythm as the other verse but (in) the second verse there is a snare backbeat added in. It changes the whole groove.”

This particular recording was done in The Shed, which was a massive shed (funnily enough) we shared with some of the guys from The Chosen Few. Harry set up his Mac in there so we could record rehearsals, which we only did a couple of times. This is from one of those sessions. The recording ended up on a demo disc we gave to a few people in lieu of doing a “proper” recording.

This photo was taken in The Shed about three weeks before this recording. PIC: Glen Watson.

Finally, I want to mention the guitar solo. Jade once called it “the ultimate Doc solo”, meaning it was the epitome of my love of noise. He’s probably right.


Your bodies sink into the continents
and some day you will rise again
and from you things will grow high (goddamn!)
Your lives go on as my time goes by

Pleased to meet you
What was your name again?
This is my story
It’s not your story
It is my story

You crawl around me like little ants
tickling my outer crust
We’re all mortals here on planet Earth (goddamn!)
Always death with follow birth

So nice to meet you
What was your name again?
This is my story
It’s not your story
This is my story

Sunday, 17 March 2013

#2. Acting Like A Child – The 80 Aces

Performed by The 80 Aces 

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

Lyrics by Matt Hewson & Matt Neal.
Music by Jarrod Hawker, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren & Matt Neal.
Written late 2006-early 2007.
Recorded at Noise Studios in mid-2007.
Produced and mixed by Marcus Jennings.
Released on The 80 Aces EP.

LIKE a lot of songs, this started with a couple of chords. The first one is a D7; the second one, I still don’t know the name of it. Am11?

Anyway, I brought those two chords into an 80 Aces rehearsal one night, along with a couple of other chords, and played it for the rest of the band. At the time, the chords were played nice and slow, about the tempo and rhythm of Neil Finn’s Turn & Run (which also starts with a D-to-A motif). That was a song I was loving at the time, probably thanks to The 80 Aces’ then-bassist Matt “Hewy” Hewson turning me on to it.

I distinctly remember everyone seeming unimpressed by these nice, slow chords I was playing, so in order to save the progression and have something to work with, I said, “Or I can play it like this….”
I played the chords again, this time shamelessly using a rough approximation of the rhythm from the start of one of my favourite XTC songs, Respectable Street. Suddenly the rest of the band was a bit more interested.

So I borrowed a rhythm from XTC in order to stop the song sounding too much like Neil Finn.

Hewy reckons he came up with the chorus chords, but this photo below from my songbook shows I had the right chords, just in the wrong order. The bit I love about this song was Hewy’s suggestion though – that the chorus should be the three chords (G, D, E7) going around in a circle. The way they’re played and the way Jade sings over them makes it sound like a regular old four-chord progression but it's actually only three. It’s a neat trick. Hewy's bassline in the verses is also pretty cool - it's angular but funky at the same time.

Here's my original chords, with the chorus as it was before Hewy fixed it.

During that first rehearsal, Jade la-di-da’ed his way through the chords, coming up with a cool melody and one phrase at one key point: “but it’s not the same”. I’m not sure what he was thinking at the time (probably just that those words had a nice rhythm and fit well), but Hewy and I decided to use that as a springboard for the words. What’s not the same? Eventually we went with the idea of how the small pleasures of childhood are far more fun than the small pleasures of adulthood.

I don’t know if you can zoom in on these lyrics below, but Hewy and I wrote four different choruses and four verses. Jade picked one of the choruses and three of the verses to use. All that work for nothing!

So many words unused....

At the top of the page are two small lists: one for ADULT and one for KIDS. Next to ADULT is says “bill paid, car washed, no rain on washing, a good meal” – things that bring small delight to grown-ups. Next to KIDS it says “swinging from a tree, playing war, riding bikes, fast food good, pillow fights, building forts, cricket after dark, sibling rivalry”. That was the initial brainstorm list, which is a process Jade and I use a lot for song-writing and that Hewy and I appear to have put in action here, but I’ll talk about that more in future blogs (scroll down further for the actual lyrics of the song).

Acting Like A Child is one of the few times Hewy and I have written lyrics together. I think we collaborated on a lost Aces song called The Prince, which I believe was about Machiavelli. We never ended up recording that one. I think it sounded like The Police.

The 80 Aces line-up at the time (l-r): me, Hawk, Hewy, and Jade.

This recording was done for the first 80 Aces EP. I overdubbed about four guitars at the end to get that chaos thing. I remember being in Noise Studios with Marcus Jennings, the producer, and recording a few guitar bits and leaving things feeding back in a few places. When I went back into the control room, Marcus was already cleaning stuff up, cutting the ends of tracks.
“What are you doing?” I said.
“Getting rid of all this extra feedback.”
“Don’t do that. That’s all supposed to be in there.”
He looked at me a bit funny but left the feedback in. After that, he started asking if the feedback was deliberate or not on the other tracks before he’d started cleaning things up.

(PS. The only person who has ever pulled me up on nicking the rhythm from Respectable Street is the very talented Richard Tankard, who is a fellow XTC fan. He heard us play Acting Like A Child at a gig (at the Criterion Hotel I believe) and said he’d thought we were about to launch into a cover. I probably told him it’s “an homage”. To highlight the “homageness” of the song, Jade borrowed the “let’s begin!” bit from the start of XTC’s The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead. This is one of quite a few XTC references peppered throughout our songs... but more on that in future blogs.)

(PPS. I once asked XTC main brain Andy Partridge on Twitter what the first two chords of Respectable Street are, partly to check that Acting Like A Child was suitably different. He told me – they’re a B and a C7-ish type chord. I almost went on to tell him how I borrowed the rhythm of that song, but I didn’t have the guts. Please don’t sue me, Mr Partridge. It’s an homage.)


Let’s begin

A coffee in the sun, a cigarette, another job well done,
but it’s not the same,
it’s not the same.

Two sleep-ins in a row, a bill paid, the traffic isn’t slow,
but it’s not the same,
it’s not the same.

Give me endless play and breakfast every day,
give me running wild and acting like a child,
acting like a child.

Going for a drive to nowhere, another day survived,
but it’s not the same,
it’s not the same.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

#1. Abstract Interference

Written and produced by Matt Neal.
Recorded at my Mum and Dad’s house, Ballangeich.
Year: 1997-1999?

GROWING up on a farm is great. You have an abundance of things to climb on, places to build cubbies, and dangerous pieces of machinery to play with.

When it becomes not-so-great is between the ages of 16 and 18 – that time in your life when all you want to do is go to parties, hang out with your friends, and drink illegally.

Between 1997 and early 1999 (when I was between 16-18), I was stuck living on my parent’s farm 27 kilometres from Warrnambool. I had no car, and no friends living nearby, but in between school, work and being a farm boy, I had an abundance of time in which I was able to not go to parties and definitely not go out and have fun. Ah, the tyranny of distance.

Instead of indulging in a quest for underage booze-ups, I spent a lot of time with a computer program called FastTracker II. My high school buddy and future bandmate Brendan Hoffmann put me on to it, I think. It was amazing.

FastTracker II was a program that basically let you organise samples to make songs. Suddenly my musical creativity knew no bounds. I could make songs that were more than just playing guitar into a tape recorder - I could create a whole band or a whole orchestra.

See that? That's music.

I was inspired by the tapes that Hoffa was making. His stuff sounded edgy and dark and interesting - he incorporated the sounds of goats bleating in with these crazy industrial beats and heavy guitar samples. It sounded awesome. The stuff I was making sounded derivative, out of tune, directionless and total shite.

I made a CD of my own electro songs in late 1997 and showed my friends at school. The CD was total shite. But one of the “interludes” on the CD was a 30-second thing called Abstract Interference, which is basically the first 30 seconds or so of this song. 

For ages I couldn’t figure out how to turn into a full song because it was too slow. It took me about a year to figure out that it might sound cool if I sped the rest of the song up. Duh.

Usually with most of my old songs, I can figure out what I was listening to or trying to do at the time. This one is a bit of a mystery. About the only electronic music I was listening to back then was The Chemical Brothers’ Dig Your Own Hole, which my Ted Dancin’ bandmate Gus Franklin (now of Architecture In Helsinki) turned me on to, so I guess this is me trying to do something like The Chemical Brothers. Probably something like this (I can definitely hear similarities):

On a side note, of all the hundreds of songs I made on Fast Tracker II back in those days on my parents’ farm, only a handful survived. A hard drive crash meant I lost everything, and it was only by sheer luck I discovered years later that Hoffa had saved eight or nine of them on his computer. I’m eternally grateful for that. Admittedly most of them aren’t great but Abstract Interference I’m proud of, even if it is a bit long – a direct response to my realisation that most of my electro songs where clocking in under two minutes.

On a further side note, me and my fellow Extreme Sprinkler Jade McLaren tried recording a new version of this one night. We got a fair way into the song, then decided to go to the pub, then invited a bunch of people back to where we were recording for a jam. In the process, we accidentally deleted some of our efforts. Sounded rubbish anyway.

Damn I miss Fast Tracker II. I’m going to go and download it again….