Wednesday, 28 August 2013

#22. Demoniac - The 80 Aces

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

Lyrics by Jade McLaren & Matt Neal.
Music by Jarrod Hawker, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren & Matt Neal.
Written August, 2008.
Recorded at Motherlode Studios, Warrnambool, May 28, 2011.
Produced and mixed by Tony Peel.

Sorry about the delay between blogs, but The 80 Aces have been up to their ear-holes in recording an album, so that's been taking up my spare time over the last few weeks.

It’s fitting then that the next song in Doc’s Anthology is Demoniac. It came so close to making the recording list for this album (and our previous release, the Dollars EP for that matter). In fact, when we found ourselves ditching a song from recording this album on day three, Demoniac very nearly stepped up and took the last spot on the record. We even ran through it once with the tape rolling, just to see where it was at.

But for some reason, Demoniac just never quite worked. Sometimes a song won’t work, and you’re not sure why, or you can see what’s wrong with the song, but you don’t know how to fix it. One of those things (I'm not sure which) is the case with Demoniac. This recording isn’t the best, but the basic ideas are there. And those basic ideas don’t quite gel. Or something. That guitar line in the second verse is part of the problem – my bad. But there was something beyond that which irked some of the members. To be honest, I’m still not sure what that was.

(left to right) Jarrod Hawker, producer Gus Franklin, and Kyle McLaren,
at Motherlode Studios, probably trying to figure out what's wrong with Demoniac 
during the sessions for the upcoming album.

Here’s Aces bassist Kyle McLaren:

“I don’t know whether it was the tuning or the playing of the guitar along with the vocal melody in the second verse but it sounded soooo wrong. So wrong in fact that a running joke has been made of the song which consists of hitting random notes whilst trying to sing the melody over the top.

“However the chorus is one of our best with the three-part harmony; the notes in there are very generous … and I never sing the same thing twice yet it somehow sounds right. Even when we tried and tried to do something different to this song it clung on to all the things wrong about it which I think was unfortunate because out of all our 'b-side songs' this had the most potential.”

Here's Kyle during the 2011 demo session that yielded this recording of Demoniac.
PIC: Dannii Hale.

Here’s 80 Aces drummer Jarrod Hawker’s summation of the song:

“Great chorus, shit verse. That is all.”

Thanks for that, Hawk.

Trying to pin down what made the verse "shit" proved difficult. At some point, we attempted to play it like this instead, which improved the verses but made the chorus "shit", so it got us nowhere (apologies for the recording quality):

I had the bare bones of this song together – all the chords and the chorus melody – when 80 Aces singer Jade McLaren came around one day to do some songwriting. His first key contribution was to change the rhythm in the verse. Originally I was playing a pretty straight arpeggio that made it sound like a direct Muse rip-off (think the intros to New Born or Sunburn) – Jade suggested giving it that lazy groove. It sounded a million times better and less derivative. I’m not sure that we ever really nailed that groove (although we got closer when I stopped that stupid guitar line in the second verse).

Jade’s second contribution was the idea of using songwriting as a metaphor for communication in a relationship, which was a nice idea, but I worried it would just end up sounding like a song about songwriting (which is very very hard to do well and in most cases something to be left alone). I’m not sure if the metaphor got through – I’m pretty sure most people would just think it’s about songwriting.

His third excellent contribution was the catch in the middle eight. Love that.

Here’s Jade’s opinion:

“I'm not really a fan of this song anymore. The chorus is all right but the rest of it just sucks.”

Jade and I singing at Motherlode. PIC: Dannii Hale.

I always felt like this song would work, but I don’t know why it didn’t. The chords are cool, the melodies are good, and there are a couple of lines I’m particularly proud of, such as the opening line – “Count me in, I’ll start this song”. I thought that was the cleverest intro I’d ever come up with.

I also like the line “melodies for mellow days” and the obligatory XTC reference in the middle eight: “Are you receiving me?” (yep, yet another XTC reference). I suggested Are You Receiving Me? as a title, but Jade was adverse to using the name of a pre-existing (awesome) XTC song. We argued for a while about a possible title but got nowhere, so instead we opened up a dictionary and randomly pointed to a word. That word was Demoniac, which has nothing to do with the song, and the title stuck.

Here’s Jade with the final word:

“I always thought it was funny that the song is about writing music and paying attention to life around you but the title of the song was a random word from out of the dictionary.”

On a weird, slightly unrelated sidenote, I once found this book in a second-hand store. 
It had a chapter on "Involuntary Demoniacs" which featured this lovely image of a 
demon flashing his butthole at a woman. I have no idea what this means 
or how it relates to the song, but I had to share it.


Count me in, I’ll start this song
Tell me where I’m coming from
Compose a line, converse with you
Keeping tabs on what we do
Flats and sharps along the way
Melodies for mellow days
Rhyme and reason come to me
A cacophony

And it takes all this, all this time
To make all this, all this rhyme

Conversations out of tune
Note perfect but on the moon
A commotion over din
Try to take it in

Are you receiving me?

Thursday, 8 August 2013

#21. Dannii Come On (Xmas #4)

Matt Neal: guitar, vocals, bass, programming.

Lyrics & music by Matt Neal.
Written December 22, 2011.
Recorded at the Hai Bin, Warrnambool, December 22, 2011.
Produced by Matt Neal.
Mixed by Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.

By some weird alphabetical coincidence, here’s another of the Xmas songs I wrote for my fiancĂ©e Dannii, this one being the fourth of five so far (you can hear #5 here).

As you can see by the dates of writing and recording, it may have been a bit of a last-minute rush job. But I think this one came out all right, shonky falsetto backing vocals aside. The music came to me at 1am on December 22 and I hastily recorded it into my phone, complete with some variation on the “Hey, Dannii come on!” chorus. I woke up the next morning, went to work, then raced to The 80 Aces’ rehearsal space to record it.

Our rehearsal space happens to be an old Chinese restaurant and for a short while there was an old computer in there which I turned into an ad hoc recording studio. Recording there meant I actually had access to a bass guitar and a bass amp for once, which meant I didn't have to fake it by using an octave pedal/effect or bass samples.

Me and The 80 Aces drummer Jarrod Hawker in the Hai Bin 
between takes for the I Am Trying To Read Your Mind film clip.

Unlike Dancing In The Station, which was a song I happened to write and give to Dannii, this one was written expressly with the purpose of giving it to her for an Xmas present. This is where the challenge begins.

When I write these Xmas presents, I’m trying to tap into songs that Dannii likes, and then create something similar that isn’t a blatant rip-off. So I take note throughout the year of what music Dannii is digging, file that away, blend it with bands I know she likes, and then mould all those influences into a new song, just for her.

So this features a riff like the one in Mutemath’s Blood Pressure (the one at 0:08)…

…and blend it sonically with the one in Muse’s Supermassive Black Hole, layering it in different octaves to get a similar effect (0:15)…

…with a bassline that tips its cap to Foster The People’s Pumped Up Kicks

…but with a bit of a White Stripes groove that sits somewhere near Hardest Button To Button

…and sticks in a chorus similar to Kaiser Chief’s Ruby (admittedly a little too similar).

Those are all really cool film clips by the way.

Everything fit together neatly and nicely and the "middle eight" was mostly made up on the spot when I was putting down the bassline, and within about three or four hours the song was done. I should have spent more time on the vocals – originally I was going for a loose, school group singalong vibe, but I probably should have aimed higher. I guess they do the job.

Lyrically, it’s all a bit of in-joke, as befitting a song meant for one person to hear. Dannii loves to pull off amazing surprises, like the time she organised a trip to Vanuatu for us without me knowing (but that’s a story for another blog), but she hates to be surprised herself. She likes to know where we’re going and what we’re doing and what she’s getting for Xmas etc…. This makes it very hard to be spontaneous, because she has to know what’s going on.

So I usually goad her, telling her we’re going on an adventure and saying “Dannii… Dannii… come on, Dannii… come on” repeatedly in an increasingly stupid voice until she relents. She does it to me too, so it’s our little joke. Admittedly, they’re not some of my best lyrics, but they're perfect for what I was aiming to do.

Next week’s blog won’t be a Xmas song, I promise.


Do you like adventures?
I don’t think you do.
Do you like surprises?
Only if they don’t happen to you.
I want to excite you.
I want to intrigue.
I want to surprise you.
Come and have adventures with me.

Hey, Dannii, come on,
Dannii, Dannii, Dannii,
Dannii, come on.

I want to show you something
and now is the time.
It’s the spur of the moment
so let’s go for a ride.