Wednesday, 29 May 2013

#12. Bling Bling – The Extreme Sprinklers

Dion Barker: backing vocals.
Brendan Hoffmann: bass, programming, vocals.
Jade McLaren: vocals.
Matt Neal: programming, guitar, vocals.

Lyrics and music by Brendan Hoffmann, Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Written in 2003.
Recorded at Hoffa’s House, August 24, 2003.
Produced and mixed by Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.

When Jade McLaren and I started The Extreme Sprinklers, we wanted to be the next Ween, which is admittedly a strange ambition for any band. We had bonded over The Pod, laughed our arses off to God Ween Satan, and been blown away by Quebec. This explains why our early co-writes are a weird pile of genre-hopping weirdness that attempted to blend humour with musical chops. It also explains why we tried to write a few rap songs.

Bling Bling was written and recorded over a day-long stint at former 21st Century Ox bandmate Brendan Hoffmann’s house. I don’t think we had any idea what we were going to do when we got there, but maybe there was the thought that hip-hop was a genre we hadn’t tried yet.

Another former Ox bandmate Dion Barker came along for the ride, although he was evidently less keen to do any actual rapping. Instead that fell to Hoffa, Jade and myself. We took it in turns to write a line each for the first verse, passing the pen and paper back and forth and then each rapping the lines we'd written.

Jade’s line was first, so that set the lyrical tone – some kind of braggadocio teen spouting about his rad “bling bling” (as I believe it was called back in the day) while his mum tells him to “clean (his) bedroom and… do the dishes”. In that sense, and taking into account the “three MCs and one DJ” delivery, is obviously The Beastie Boys was an influence - it particularly reminds me of the verses in Fight For Your Right To Party.

The other musical touchstone was probably Rage Against The Machine – both those riffs were bad attempts at doing something like that, I think. It’s probably telling that our only real knowledge or understanding of modern/current rap at that time was RATM and the Beasties….

As for the recording itself, it turns out this track was actually take two. I found a really bad first take that just features slow/lame versions of the bass, guitar and drums, which I can only assume were recorded earlier in the day, then wisely ditched in favour of the final version, which has a lot more attitude and swagger in its music.

I think Hoffa played bass, although it may have been me. And I guess we both did the programming, though I can’t be sure – it may have been just me. But that’s definitely Hoffa’s huge guitar tone and definitely my sloppy-as-hell guitar playing. That I know for sure. And in case you were wondering, that mad “Russian chorus”-sounding loop at the start is the chorus reversed. Not sure why we did that – probably because it sounded crazy and awesome.

In the theme of becoming bitchin’ hip-hop producers, we also recorded a couple of “skits” on the same day, probably while smashed. They’re like Cheech & Chong but without the funny bits and don’t deserve to see the light of day.

Overall, I kinda dig Bling Bling, partly because I remember it being a really fun and silly yet productive recording session. The song is basic-as-fuck and pretty whack, but I think it has a certain loose charm to it.

When I asked Jade for his input on this song, he said, "That’s the second-most embarrassing song we’ve ever done" and left it at that. The most embarrassing song will be up in a couple of months.

If he thinks the “studio” version of Bling Bling is embarrassing, the live recording posted below beats it for embarrassment levels. When The Extreme Sprinklers became a proper band, Bling Bling was briefly in the setlist, and by that I mean we played it live at least once, maybe twice. For the sake of posterity, I’m going to include it below. The mix ain’t great, nor is the performance (in fact the performance is terrible – I hadn’t learnt to solo by this stage, and I call out bassist Matt Hewson for a solo right after he’d already called out drummer Harry Fahey for one), but we were all smashed by this stage in the gig (including the incredible and wonderful sound guy Dave Wilson, who was having a ball with the delay settings on the vocals). It was the second last song of the night and we were playing at a 40-somethingth birthday party in Melbourne.

Here's Jade's lyrics sheet from the night, which includes the bizarre RATM-ripoff introduction: 
"Fuck you, I won't do what ya tell me, or Extremes will donkey punch me".

You can hear Hewy yell out “Told ya!” during the intro, as he had just given a language warning before we started. For the record, Jade says the word “fuck” approximately 49 times in this version. Our level of drunkenness is evident (Hewy says he's gonna fall over at the end of the song) but thankfully a smattering of applause can be heard softly in the background.

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

Recorded live at Rosco’s House in Melbourne, 2004-2005?
Recorded and mixed by Dave Wilson.


Well, I brought my bling bling to your apartment,
you said I looked stupid and you didn’t want me.
With a bompa ding-ding sitting on your carpet,
you screamed louder than a Cuban trumpet.
I said, “No, I’m the king of the bitches”,
so I blink my chain and say hello to my britches.
Well I’m the only dog that’s treatin’ the hos right,
I like ‘em brown and yellow and I like ‘em black or white.

When I got my bling bling well I’m gonna fuck ya

My momma said, “Son, you ain’t no king of the bitches,
now go and clean your bedroom and you do the dishes.
Your bling bling ain’t nothin’ but scrap
I buy you new clothes and you still wear the same crap.”
“But Mom,” I cried, “I love this shit
that’s hangin’ from my neck, it makes me hip.”
Got to floss my bling bling sparkle shiny
I like my britches hangin’ down past my hiney.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

#11. Bin Night

Written and produced by Matt Neal.
Recorded at Holly Court, Warrnambool on May 14, 2007

Gonna be a pretty short blog this week cos I can’t really tell you much about this track. I know it’s called Bin Night because it was written on whatever night the bins were picked up. I do remember looking out the window of my studio at the time and seeing the rubbish truck going past as I was working on the track.

The memory of seeing the rubbish truck from my studio means it was most likely recorded in a studio I once had called Kellie’s Swamp, partly so-named because literally across the road was a huge swamp called Kellie’s Swamp, which runs from Warrnambool to Killarney. The Extreme Sprinklers’ first EP was partially recorded there, as well as quite a few radio play episodes from my days on 3WAY FM.

Here's myself and Jade McLaren (centre) with some fellow treasure-hunters, 
searching for buried treasure at Kellie's Swamp. PIC: Leanne Pickett.

Bin Night is part of a small collection of songs in which I tried to relive my electro days of the past. Unfortunately none of these tunes live up to my “former glories”, partly because I was using Fruity Loops instead of FastTracker II and I just couldn’t recapture the same “magic” for some reason.

Nothing against Fruity Loops – if you keep following this blog you’re going to hear it used heaps, predominantly for drum programming on recordings when I didn’t have access to a proper drum kit. It’s a really handy program, and easy to use.

Speaking of drumming, I’m guessing Bin Night was pretty much just an experiment in drum programming. It sounds like I was just testing out how to program drum rolls and fills and such (including one deliberately random fill around 1m07s intended as a little musical joke) and messing around with a 6/4 time signature (that is 6/4 right?).

Me, drumming badly. PIC: Glen Watson.

Interesting side fact: it was through drum programming that I taught myself how to play drums. I'm a terrible drummer, but I did play a few live gigs as one half of SS Radio, which was the nom de plume of talented singer-songwriter Dan Kirk

I promise I’ll be back next week with a proper song….

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

#10. Big Fat Texta – 21st Century Ox

Dion Barker – bass.
Harry Fahey – drums.
Brendan Hoffmann – vocals, guitar.
Matt Neal – guitar, backing vocals.

Lyrics and music written by Brendan Hoffman.
Written in 2002-2003?
Recorded at The Barker Residence, 2002-2003?
Produced and mixed by Harry Fahey & Dave Wilson.

In late 2002-early 2003, as 21st Century Ox was fizzling out, guitarist/vocalist Brendan Hoffmann was writing some of the best songs he’d ever written. I was blown away by the stuff he was coming up with, notably this song and another sadly unrecorded number called World Of Cats. They were lyrically surreal and slightly bent musically, but had great vocals lines and pop hooks.

But the band was starting to fracture by that point. Some members were starting to lose interest and some time in 2002, Hoffa and bassist Dion Barker had told me they thought I was controlling the band too much, and I almost quit. Instead, I stepped back, trying to strike more of a balance between Hoffa’s material and my own, even encouraging sax player Matt Hewson to bring in songs.

Hoffa (left) and Dion jamming in The Love Shed, which was the garage
 of the place where Hoffa and I lived for a while.

Here's Hewy:
"I was a latecomer to Ox, and so I was blissfully ignorant of whatever was going on with tensions etc... Well, that's not entirely true, but I certainly tried to affect a complete lack of awareness of everything but making music and having a good time (not necessarily in that order)."

Around the time things were fading, Hoffa roped in Hewy and drummer Harry Fahey to start a side project called HHH (pronounced Triple H). It was more acoustic and jazzy than what Ox was doing and I loved the material they were recording. One of the songs was Big Fat Texta, a skewed pop song with timing kinks but beautiful melodies. I adored the track and asked Hoffa if we could play it in Ox. He agreed.

Here's Hewy again:
"I really can't remember how it came about, but somehow Hoffa, Harry and I ended up sitting at Hoffa's in front of an amateur recording setup. We were attempting to make music with a different spin: still with grungy, alternative roots, but with elements of strange beauty, a touch if the sublime, which I'm not ashamed to say was mostly provided by Hoffa. Harry and I offered ideas and certain performance and arrangement talents that aided the songs as final products, but apart from a tune called Plato, the basis of all the music was the enigmatic Hoffa."

This recording of Big Fat Texta is from the extended recording session/prolonged party we had at Dion’s parents’ house sometime in 2002 or 2003 (as previously described in this blog), which Dion referred to as “Dion’s Week Of Debauchery”.

Here's Hewy having too much fun during a recording session at Motherlode Studios.

I tend to view that week as the end of Ox among my fractured memories – we got a handful of tracks out of the session, but everyone was too busy getting fucked up and being disinterested, and it doesn’t seem like we really jammed or played much after that. We never recorded again. Certain members just didn’t seem interested in the band anymore.

I asked all the former Ox members what they recall about the break-up of the band and Dion sent me this:

"That stirs up some memories! I do remember being completely taken by surprise when it was suggested that Ox break up, though. Despite some mild but expected infighting, we were making some great and interesting music at the time!"

Harry said he couldn't remember much. And Hewy said this about his time in Ox:

"Those times were a lot of fun. I've always enjoyed the fusion of multiple genres in my music-making, and Ox and HHH, hot on the heels of the Piffen Yonnies, satisfied that desire nicely. We were all young, pretty dumb, and sometimes rather callous and childish in our treatment of each other, but given our ages that doesn't surprise me. Nor does any of it bother me - in fact, it rarely did back then! We were growing up, and screwing up, together, but I guess that's what being in a band when you're in your teens (or just out of them) is all about."

I'm reasonably sure this photo of (l-r) me, Hoffa and Dion
 had nothing to do with the break-up.

The album that we were working on – which I had tentatively titled The Last Sane Man On Earth, probably without regard for everyone else – was left unfinished, and Hewy, Harry and I eventually reconvened in early 2004 to begin The Extreme Sprinklers with Jade McLaren, which would eventually become The 80 Aces.

But despite the fallouts and the fights and the failures, I genuinely love the song Big Fat Texta, and Hewy agrees it was a favourite of his, too. It is the epitome of what was so great about Hoffa as a songwriter, particularly in the band’s latter days – the song is weird and beautiful at the same time, it feels effortless but is quite tricky, and it’s strangely uplifting. I still have no idea what it’s about, but I think it’s great.

Actually I think it might have something to do with me and Hoffa sniffing textas in high school but I'm not sure.

For the final word on the matter, here's Hoffa:
"I wrote this song with a big fat texta. Didn't get me high though! I feel I wrote some of my best ever songs during this period, mostly with the HHH project. We should've really tried some of those songs in the band, but I think the end was really nigh by then."


Don't write songs with a big fat texta,
Don't you slip as the fumes go past ya,
You could lose all of your brain.

Don't ride fast or the smell will catch ya,
Sign my cast with a big fat texta,
You could lose all of your brain.

So someone bring me over
A pot of beer and some Mexicans
So summer bring me over
Some tulips crossed with Mexicans

So someone bring me over
A pot of beer
So someone bring me over
Some Mexicans

Monday, 6 May 2013

#9. Bandwagon – The 80 Aces

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

Lyrics by Jade McLaren.
Music by Jarrod Hawker, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren, Kyle McLaren and Matt Neal.
Written 2008?
Recorded December ’11-January ’12 at Motherlode Studios, Warrnambool.
Produced, arranged and mixed by Steven Schram.
Engineered by Tony Peel.

Bandwagon is the song that would not die. Or more to the point, it was the song 80 Aces singer Jade McLaren refused to let die.

He’d written some really complex melodies that he thought were really catchy and paired them with some cynical lyrics about the music industry signing bands that are similar to what’s a hit with the kids - I think his reference point was the heavily accented rock acts that came in the wake of Arctic Monkeys, and perhaps the Franz Ferdinand-alikes that came even earlier.

I’ve got to admit I wasn’t a fan of the melody or the lyrics when Jade brought them to me to put chords to them. But also, I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on melodically, so I struggled to find some chords to fit. As a result, I gave up and sent him to our then-bass player Matt Hewson, who was more up to the challenge because he’s a freakin’ musical genius.

“They were a bit tricky,” Hewy acknowledged recently, probably just to make me feel better.

"It was certainly a tricky melody, both in the anthem bit and the verse, to put chords to. Perhaps the reason it never really worked was the chords I put to it - they fit the melody perfectly, but I wasn't really coming from a pop perspective. It was at a point for me where I had a lot of jazz composition knowledge but hadn't actually gotten into writing much jazz, so perhaps my internal, frustrated jazz composer sabotaged what could have been a more straightforward progression.

"In any case, it was all Jade's fault for coming up with that melody. I certainly thought the band had beaten it into it's most presentable form just prior to changing it during those recording sessions with Schramy.

"In all honesty, I rarely enjoyed playing it. It certainly had potential, but for one reason or another we struggled to realise it," Hewy said.

Hewy, struggling with his internal, frustrated jazz composer.

When we first started rehearsing the song as a band  I don’t think anyone was sold on it. Also, we could never figure out a satisfying middle eight but stuffed one in there anyway, which Hewy reckons was a group effort.

No one – except Jade – was very enamoured with the song but we got it gig-ready, played it a couple of times, then quietly left it off the setlist after that.

But Jade wouldn’t give up on it. He pictured a whole stadium singing along to that chorus melody - completely oblivious to the fact it was way too complex - and was desperate for it to be on the next EP. Somewhere along the way, he convinced Hawk, new bass player Kyle McLaren and myself to rework the song, which basically just meant playing it live again but with a new middle eight and getting Kyle to sing a harmony to Jade’s ‘soccer chant’ chorus.

Jade got his wish and the recording made the shortlist when it came time to make the Dollars EP with Melbourne producer Steven Schram (Little Red, Ground Components, The Vasco Era).

This is as good a place as any to insert the demo that we did prior to going into the studio with Schramy:

Recorded at Motherlode Studios, May 28, 2011.

Produced and mixed by Tony Peel.

Here’s Hawk:
“I was never settled on the song until we listened to the demo we did at (Motherlode Studio with Tony Peel) for Schramy. I liked that version and that version only. I thought we had an almost Silverchair thing going on and, of course, Schramy changed it again to something that I feel struggles along. Also I don’t think he ever captured the stadium chant thing that we were after for the chorus melody.”

To be fair, I don’t think that stadium chant thing was ever gonna work, but it was worth a crack.

Here’s Kyle:
“I’m not sure why the song never stuck for me but it never stuck for me. I think it was something we tried to be really clever with, a catchy song that’s not simple and has a complicated melody, but it just was never quite there. And I think the song sunk its own ship as the melody was too complicated to be catchy for listeners. The best part was the new bridge that was written in the studio.”

Kyle hard at work while recording the Dollars EP.

I tend to agree about the new bridge, which Schramy made us create right then and there mid-recording, rejecting certain progressions, getting us to add chords, cut chords, change chords until he got us playing exactly what he wanted in the middle eight. It's my favourite bit in the song, especially the feedback-soaked guitars we spent over-dubbed on it.

I don’t know what Schramy thought of the song because he never really told us what he thought of any of our stuff, but he helped us knock it into shape by discarding the intro and making us come up with a new middle eight. The big ‘soccer chant’ was achieved by triple-tracking Hewy, Hawk, Kyle and myself.

Here we are recording the "soccer chant" in the studio. Eventually....

Before and after the EP launch, Bandwagon made its way back into the setlist… and then slowly began disappearing again. It’s now the only song on the EP we don’t play regularly anymore.

The final word should really go to Jade:

"Ok, so Bandwagon was written at Fishtales. I'd had this strange melody just pop in to my head from nowhere and as I sung it to myself I began to think it could make a pretty sweet chorus melody.

"I wrote the lyrics about a made up A&R person - someone whose job it is to keep their finger on the pulse of what's happening in music. Too often a band comes out and does really well and is the hip thing then all these other bands that sort of have a similar sound to the original band start getting more airplay. I'm not sure it happens as much these days but I thought it has to be someone's job out there to find these new bands. I think the lyrics work well and I've always enjoyed singing them.

"Despite the fact the song was never as strong as what I'd envisioned it to be, there were times when it almost sounded like a single. And then there were other times when it sounded like a mess. I'm sure the other guys are blaming me for having the song on the last EP but the truth is we voted for it as a band.

"I'm still proud of the song and it certainly breaks the mould on the EP that it appeared on."


He saw the scene and he gleaned what he had to
Plundered a dream and he deemed it plausible
He aims to please and he's pleased to be aiming at

Cos he saw the scene and he seized the sound from them
They signed on the line and they ride on the bandwagon
cos they believe the hype and he's hoping to hock it to

He's hoping to hock it to you

Jump on it