Monday, 29 April 2013

#8. The Axolotl – 21st Century Ox

Dion Barker: bass.
Harry Fahey: drums.
Matt Hewson: saxophone.
Brendan Hoffmann: saxophone.
Matt Neal: guitar.

Lyrics by Matt Neal.
Music by Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Written 2002-2003?
Recorded at The Barker Residence, October 2003.
Produced and mixed by Harry Fahey and Dave Wilson.

21st Century Ox burst into life in 1999, burned brightly for a couple of years, and had fizzled out into nothingness by early 2004.

During that period we recorded an album (2000’s What Am I Going To Do With All These Portaloos), and almost made another one – there were studio sessions in 2002 that yielded about 15 tracks, but for reasons lost to the mists of time, we never put together a final mix, nor sent it off to the manufacturers.

Instead, sometime in early 2004, we set up a bunch of recording equipment at the house of bass player Dion Barker’s parents. His folks were gone for a week or more, so we all basically moved in there and set about recording more songs, ostensibly to go on the new record with the best cuts from the ’02 studio sessions.

This rad graphic was made by talented Warrnambool artist Nathan Wilkinson.

The week of recording was mostly a shambles due to the excessive drinking and partying that went on. The session was more productive for me and Jade McLaren, as we managed to write and record a few early Extreme Sprinklers compositions in between the sporadic 21st Century Ox bursts of creativity.

But it wasn't a total waste. On the first night of that recording week, our trusty sound guy Dave Wilson and drummer Harry Fahey set up the loungeroom and recorded us running through a few tracks live, just to check everything was working and to kick out the cobwebs.

This track – The Axolotl – is from that first night. It was written to make the most of the fact we now had two sax players in the band. Matt Hewson joined the band as a sax player in 2001 or 2002 upon his return to Warrnambool from Melbourne, and founding member Brendan Hoffmann was also a talented sax player, so The Axolotl was written as way to showcase the both of them.

I recall it being written at Dave Wilson’s shed, which was our usual jam space. Dave was so good to us. He dug the band and our tunes unlike anyone else and let us go to his house weekly to rehearse, as well as doing sound for most of our gigs.

At one of those rehearsals, we put The Axolotl together, with me and Dion throwing out basic riffs and progressions for the verse and wordless chorus sections, and Hewy suggesting what chord to move to for the bridge.

According to Dion, it was inspired in part by bands such as Dig, who we would put on as the in-between music in our set breaks sometimes. Occasionally, we'd come back on stage and start jamming along to the house music, which probably led us to making this kind of tune. Another inspiration was probably Supergroove, who were another band favourite, particularly Hoffa, Hewy and Harry. Towards the end of our career, I think we kinda wanted to get a bit funky.

In the early stages, The Axolotl was instrumental, and I think Hoffa dubbed it The Axolotl in lieu of calling it anything sensible. With that as inspiration, I made up a little rap to fill in the verses. It occurred to me that I only knew two things about axolotls – that they were also called Mexican walking fish and that we used to have some in a tank in our science room at high school. So I sang about an axolotl, whisked away from his home and family in Mexico and dumped into a classroom aquarium. Poor guy.

The song is one of a handful written towards the end of the band’s life that hinted at a new direction and what might have been – it was still grungy in a way, but definitely jazzy and funky at the same time.


Long ago as I recall I was kickin' by the Bay of Mexico, just chillin' out, uhuh.
Along comes a man with a fishin' pole, puts a hook through my head and sticks me in a hole in a science room, uhuh.

And all these freaks are just starin' at me, they're starin' at me like I'm some kinda freak, but they're the freaks, uhuh.
And all I do, I just wanna go home, get out of this hole and back to my place in Mexico, uhuh.

Bonus track:

Pretty much every gig 21st Century Ox played featured our cover of Britney Spears' Baby... One More Time on the setlist. In the '02 studio sessions, we decided to put a recording of it onto tape because our punk rock version seemed to always go down well at gigs and got a good response. It was often the closer of the set.

This recording was recorded and mixed by Tony Peel and Harry Fahey.

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