Friday, 14 June 2013

#14. The Canadian Song – 21st Century Ox


Dion Barker: bass.
Harry Fahey: drums, keyboards.
Matt Hewson: sax.
Brendan Hoffmann: guitar, backing vocals.
Matt Neal: guitar, vocals.

Lyrics by Matt Neal, Dion Barker, Brendan Hoffmann.
Music by Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Written 2000/2001?
Recorded at Motherlode Studios, Warrnambool, 2002?
Produced and mixed by Harry Fahey and Tony Peel.




There have been a couple of awesome spin-offs from this blog so far, including people saying lovely things to me in the street about it. Which sure beats the abuse I usually cop.

But the greatest flow-on from Doc’s Anthology happened last week when the four original members of 21st Century Ox – myself, drummer Harry Fahey, bassist Dion Barker and guitarist/vocalist Brendan Hoffmann – caught up to have a few beers, listen to some old tunes, and reminisce. It was probably the first time we've been together in a room since 2003 when we played our last gig. Ten years is a long time.

It was a spur of the moment decision to catch up, but it was fantastic. What started with discussing old songs and past gigs via Facebook led to Hoffa, Dion and Harry digging through old boxes and uncovering old tapes, mini-discs and CDs. Lost songs, entire gigs and rehearsals, and even unseen video footage emerged.

Discovering a lost treasure trove of music was great, but what was better was hanging out with the guys again. We were all older and wiser (and somewhat balder, fatter and more sober), and I think it made us realise how much fun we had back in the 21st Century Ox days. And also how much we can’t remember….

In particular, I don't remember my head being so enormous.
From left: me, Harry, Dion and Hoffa.

But the other thing I realised – and have been realising since beginning this blog project – is how good some of Ox's music is. Yes, it’s juvenile and slightly silly, but some of the tracks stand out and I really love them. It didn’t really matter who wrote the songs or how unsophisticated they were, but the modus operandi and creative environment of the band meant we could try anything and the results were often surprisingly cool.

A case in point is this week’s track, The Canadian Song. It’s an utterly, utterly silly piece of nonsense, but to me it seems like a quintessential example of what 21st Century Ox did really well – it’s rocking and kinda poppy, but it’s weird and bent. It never takes itself seriously, but still explores interesting timings, cool production tricks and great band dynamics.

So who came up with this pile of Canuck-loving rubbish? That would be mostly me, with a little help from my friends.



The story goes that one day I was feeling a little under the weather after a day of overindulging in The Love Shed, which was the garage of the house that Hoffa and I shared and which had become a communal hangout place for many of our friends.

It was still early in the afternoon (we used to start early in The Love Shed) so I took my leave, headed to the loungeroom, and flopped into a bean bag with a guitar and a glass of water in an effort to collect my thoughts and recover my senses.

Over the next 15-30 minutes, I wrote two songs. The Canadian Song was one of them (we won’t go into the other one at this stage). Despite its peculiar 7/4 verse/chorus and 6/4 bridges (or is that actually the verse?), it just came out – it was one of those songs that required little-to-no effort to write (which probably shows).

“I remember Nealy coming to me (on more than just this occasion) to ask ‘what timing is this?’,” Harry recalled.

It’s true. I was a self-taught musician who knew nothing, so I tended to look to
Harry and Hoffa, who’d had a proper musical education, to teach me stuff.
The Ox years were a great time of learning for me.

I took The Canadian Song back out to The Love Shed once I was feeling better, showed the assembled crew, and it seemed to go down all right. Next thing we knew, it was in the Ox setlist and was well on its way to becoming a fan favourite (and perhaps a band favourite).

Dion recalls Hoffa and he helping out with the lyrics, with the band working on the arrangement for some time.

“I'm fairly sure you brought the music to us, and perhaps the shell of the lyrics, but I still remember jamming on it and thrashing out some further lyrics for the verses,” Dion said to me recently.

This is as good a time as any to use one of my favourite photos of Dion.

This is likely. The words seem to change in certain some live versions, such as a reference to Degrassi High that’s not in the studio recording.

But why Canada? I have no idea. I’ve always liked Canada (doesn’t everyone?) and I remember we had a Canadian exchange student staying with my grandparents when I was a kid, but other than that, there was no special reason for writing about Canada. I think it was just a syllabic thing – lyrically it just fit together with the weird rhythms.



The studio recording of this was pretty cool and was intended to go on the unfinished second album. Harry’s drumming is great – it keeps the track moving and grooving despite the kink in the time signature – and the distortion effect on his kit in the verse/bridge bit sound cool. Some of that got put on my vocals too, which I thought worked well, and although there was probably a bit of mixing to go on the song before it would have ended up on a record, it seemed to come up all right from my point of view.

Here’s Harry again:
“An amazingly obscure piece of information: The heavily distorted drums at 0:44 were directly influenced by the song Resurrection Day Soundtrack: Hot Pursuit in Eagles' Nest by the band Secret Chiefs 3 from the album First Grand Constitution & Bylaws!”

And Dion:
“I knew Harry and Peely were pretty proud of that sound! Peely did say he went on to use the same effect on someone else's recording.”


While digging through some live recordings of the song, I found what I believe to be the first time we ever played The Canadian Song. I’m pretty sure it was recorded in The Cellar below the old Criterion Hotel, most likely in 2000 or 2001. I think the performance was at one of the old TAFE Music Industry Skill (MIS) course open mic nights, which we often played as a house band. I’ve no idea who recorded it, but it was most likely Harry or some fellow MIS students. The recording doesn’t have the groove that the song would eventually achieve, but the drunken banter at the start seems to indicate that they were, indeed, fun times.
Here's a clip Hoffa threw together with added Canadian imagery!

Before I post the lyrics, I'd like to point out one of my favourite Ox mondegreens. I can't remember who told me this, but someone said they thought the line "Ice hockey rocks" was actually "I'm sucking rocks". Gold.

Lyrics:

I'm a Canadian, yes I am
I'm a Canadian, yes I am
I have a maple leaf on my flag
I'm a Canadian, yes I am

Michael J Fox
He says "aboot"
and ice hockey rocks
Michael J Fox

Celine Dion
'cept she's from Quebec
and they all speak French
but they say "aboot" (probably)



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