Monday, 8 April 2013

#5. Anniversary - Jackson McLaren & The Doctor

Jackson McLaren: guitar, vocals, percussion.
Matt Neal: guitar, backing vocals, accordion, keyboard, percussion.

Lyrics & music by Jackson McLaren & Matt Neal.
Written and recorded August 1, 2008.
Recorded at the Princess Street Party House, Warrnambool
Produced and mixed by Matt Neal.

Jackson McLaren is a talented motherfucker. I first saw him playing with The Roaring 40s, who were a fantastic band with talent way beyond their years – all three of them (Jackson, future 80 Aces bassist Kyle McLaren, and their mercurial drummer Marcus Hall) were about 14 or 15 when they formed the group. Each of them was a talented motherfucker, but I was particularly drawn to Jackson because he was about eight years younger than me and writing songs that were better than anything I’d ever done. Bastard.

Look at these cheeky young buggers (l-r): Jackson McLaren, Kyle McLaren, and Marcus Hall. 
PIC: Warrnambool Standard

The 80 Aces played a bunch of gigs with The Roaring 40s and hung out a lot. In late 2007, Jackson and I caught up a few times to write together, penning about three or four songs that we never recorded but which reflected our shared love of Tom Waits and Nick Cave. We also teamed up with a few other friends for a one-off writing/recording project, but that song will feature later in the Anthology.

We’ve only written together twice since those early forays. The relevant one here is Anniversary, which we wrote and recorded in a single late-night session at the place I was living in at the time. The house was close to the Warrnambool CBD, so by default it became the party house for drinking before a night on the town or after the pubs closed. It even inspired Jackson to write a great song called Oh My God I Know, which was about my housewarming party and a few other random nights of madness at the house that shall be henceforth known as the Princess Street Party House.

This very strange clip contains some footage and audio of Jackson playing Oh My God I Know:

Surprisingly, there was just Jackson and I at the house on this chilly August night when we picked up our guitars and put pen to paper (usually the place was full of people looking for a place to party). Jackson recalls us using a few of the techniques my 80 Aces bandmate Jade McLaren (so many McLarens!) and I had been using for songwriting.

The first technique of these is the brainstorming lists. After settling on an idea of what the song is about, each of the writers goes off by themselves for 15-20 minutes and writes a long list of stuff to go in the song. It can be words or phrases, or even whole lines or sections of the song. Then we come together and try to smash the best of the lists into some kind of verse/chorus/bridge dealy-thing incorporating both writers' ideas.

The second "technique" is the Wank-O-Meter, which was what we used to measure if a line or idea was too corny or clichéd or just plain crap. It works like this:

Person 1: What do you think of this line: “I’m drowning in a sea of darkness”.
Person 2: I dunno… that’s registering pretty high on the Wank-O-Meter.
Person 1: Well, what have you got?
Person 2: I’ve got this line: “My soul is infected, you are my disease.”
Person 1: Dude, you just blew up the Wank-O-Meter.

Anyway, here’s Jackson's recollections of the night we wrote and recorded Anniversary:

“I remember sitting around with a few acoustic guitars in the lounge room (and) I believe we got the title/idea for the song by opening a dictionary and randomly putting a finger on a word. I think from memory we went about writing a few verses separately and then riffing off different lines/lyrics together. 'The Wank-O-Meter' (a term coined by Doc or Jade) was often implemented to fend off any ugly clichés creeping into the song.”

who recently supported Counting Crows on their Australian tour.

As I recall, from the word “anniversary” came the idea of writing the lyrics like a speech or a toast for a special occasion, but without specifying what the occasion was. Hence the lyrics come off as a very generic speech for any occasion, while also becoming a rumination on the passage of time, tinged with regret and reflection. This probably makes it unsuitable to use as a toast at your next wedding/buck’s party/bar mitzvah, but feel free to give it a go.

Having written the song (I reckon it took about an hour or so), we started recording it straight away, probably so we didn't forgot how it went the next day. The only problem was I didn’t have a microphone with which to record the strange selection of instruments in my lounge room - a couple of acoustic guitars, a couple of small drums, a few keyboards and a toy accordion that came from my Grandma's toy box.

To get around the lack of a microphone, we recorded the song using the built-in mic on my laptop. That’s why the sound is so lo-fi. Or no-fi. I distinctly remember Jackson sitting on the couch, leaning over my computer, seemingly singing sweetly into the spacebar.

For some strange reason, this is the only photo of Jackson and I in existence
(and that's my beautiful fiancee Dannii in the middle there). 
This pic was taken in the Princess Street Party House, 
in the very room and on the very couch where Anniversary was recorded.

After laying down some keyboard to a click track, we added our guitars, but without a bass, we had to use a little cheat I’ve often relied on – record the bass line on the acoustic guitar and use an effect in the recording program (CoolEdit Pro) to drop it down an octave. It comes out all wobbly and weird, but it works all right if you bury it in the mix.

A guitar case was called in for a "kick drum", and a bongo served as a "snare". At some point we thought it would be cool to add some accordion and I’m pretty proud of the accordion work in this, mostly because I have no fucking idea how to play the damned thing. Two days later I went back and filled in the gap we'd left for the guitar solo, and bang, there you have it - the only song Jackson and I recorded as a duo.


On this anniversary I'd like to welcome you,
ladies and gentlemen, to this auspicious day.
We've had our ups and downs, our sicknesses and healths,
and everything between as days became the years.

Raise your glasses to this night,
everything can start again,
like clockwork it's been reset,
will we make the same mistakes?

This occasion means a lot. We all know the reasons why.
It's something different to us all but we share it all the same.
To our families and friends, to our enemies and foes,
everyone has played their part and made us who we are.

Raise your glasses to this night,
everything can start again,
like clockwork it's been reset,
will we make the same mistakes?

This is one more memory we'll recall in one years time,
through the good times and the bad...
and I salute you all.

Raise your glasses to this night,
everything can start again,
now the clock has been reset,
will we make the same mistakes?

Because there are no photos of just me and Jackson, 
Jade McLaren helpfully whipped up this photoshopped image. 
Umm... thanks, Jade.

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