Sunday, 21 April 2013

#7. Attack Of The Killer Butterflies – The 80 Aces

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

Lyrics by Jade McLaren & Matt Neal.
Music by Jarrod Hawker, Jade McLaren, Kyle McLaren & Matt Neal.
Written on August 25, 2012 .
Recorded at Narrapumelap, December 3, 2012.
Produced and mixed by Chris Hedges.

Ok, this is getting kind of embarrassing – this is only the seventh song on the blog and already it’s the third one that owes a huge debt to English band XTC. Obviously they’re a big influence but admittedly this is getting a little ridiculous….

Anyway, this one’s about stage fright, which is something I still get after 15 years of performing. Mostly it’s a fear of failure, whether it be my guitar and amp and pedals not working (my worst nightmare… which has come true once before) or a fear of completely forgetting a song or how to play something. I tend to try and block it out these days by completely focusing on something other than playing before I play.

Like when we played at this vegan festival, 
I went and looked at all the weird vegan stalls, 
like the ones selling vegan pet food. That's weird.

This track was written during a songwriting weekend in Port Fairy last August with my usual songwriting partner-in-crime, 80 Aces singer Jade McLaren. My folks have a nice little unit in Port Fairy right near where the folk festival is held, and it’s my favourite place to write and demo new material. The 80 Aces have had a few songwriting weekends over there, with varying degrees of success, ie. we often got too drunk and didn’t write anything useable.

This one began with a riff recorded in my phone. At the start of the session, Jade and I shared some ideas we had. He sifted through the riffs I’d recorded in my iPhone and picked out ones he liked, which we started developing. It was Jade’s idea to write about stage fright, though I’m not sure why – maybe because of our shared love of XTC’s Andy Partridge, who is famously (and somewhat erroneously) linked to stage fright.

The story often gets boiled down to “Andy Partridge got stage fright and stopped playing live”, which is the version we kind of appropriated for Attack Of The Killer Butterflies. A much better and fuller explanation can be found in this rather excellent article 2006 by Patrick Shabe.

At some point it was decided to kind of direct the song at Andy Partridge in a vague sense, hence the chorus “Andy, come out to play”, rather than making it a personal account, even though I know I definitely identify with the lyrics. I don’t think we’d ever put a name in a song before.

Here's Jade:

"When I suggested to Doc that we write it about Andy Partridge he wasn't keen on the idea. I think maybe he didn't want to put somebody's name into a song which I can understand but when the name fit so well into the chorus melody I think he changed his mind."

As usual, Jade and I did our list-making thing to come up with the lyrics. Here’s my list (Jade’s got lost):

It reads, from top to bottom: paralysed by nervous energy, stage fright, nerves/nervous energy, system failure, come out to play/don’t be afraid, sweat, killer butterflies (attack of the), debilitated, shakes + chills, something out of a bad dream, awaken to the adoration, calm your nerves, the spotlight in your eyes, an insecure sweat, nervously you’re shuffling your shoes, if you don’t play you can never lose, last night had the baddest dream (too dark), + now you must awaken to the screams (too dark), high anxiety.

As you can see, a lot of those made it into the song, along with Jade’s idea of slipping in an XTC reference - “senses working overtime” - to increase the homage. I'm pretty proud of the title line, because that's what stage fright feels like - like the butterflies in your stomach are attacking you. I also like the incongruousness  of "killer butterflies".

Musically though, it’s nothing like XTC. The verse melody that Jade came up with had me worried at first because I thought it was too much like the verse melody of John Lennon’s Crippled Inside.

As for the chorus, I borrowed a chord change from Radiohead’s Airbag (moving the major third to the flat fifth while playing an A) and we plucked the chorus melody from the ascending notes that I was playing on the G string.

When we first jammed on the song, our drummer Jarrod Hawker said he thought it sounded like nu-metal, which surprised me. I don’t know what it sounds like though. Originally the song started with the outro, before Hawk convinced me to change the intro, suggesting I play some variation of the verse notes with the delay pedal on.

Recently Hawk has been giving me shit about the song because he reckons I stole bits from some track by the much-hated emo band 30 Seconds To Mars. He didn’t know which one but said it was at the start of a song he saw them play on some live concert they did for MTV. I trawled through a video of the concert just for this blog (ouch), and I reckon it’s the U2-sounding bit around the 34:15-onwards mark in this clip. But who knows? And who cares – I’d never heard the fucking thing before in my life ‘til Hawk mentioned it. I’m only posting it here for a sense of completeness. Don't watch it.

As for this recording, it was made during a demoing/songwriting session The 80 Aces did at a mansion called Narrapumelap near Glenthompson in December last year. This was the first of six tracks we did a rough recording of over a couple of days there, but I’ll talk more about that session in future blogs.


Nervously you're shifting in your shoes
If you don't play you can never lose
I can see the spotlight in your eyes
and the attack of the killer butterflies

Andy, come out to play
Oh Andy, come out to play

Take a swig of nervous energy
to help you deal with the high anxiety
Senses are working overtime -
it's the attack of the killer butterflies

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