Sunday, 17 November 2013

#28. Doin’ Whatever – The Extreme Sprinklers

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

Lyrics by Jade McLaren and Matt Neal
Music by Harry Fahey, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren and Matt Neal.
Written late February, 2006.
Recorded at The Shed, Warrnambool in April, 2006.
Produced, engineered and mixed by Harry Fahey.

Remember the War on Terror? That went well, didn’t it? We won and Terror was sent crying and pissing its pants all the way back to its mother, right?

Doin’ Whatever was our War on Terror song. I’m not sure whether Extreme Sprinklers singer Jade McLaren and I specifically set out to write a Ween-esque anthem about the invasions of privacy and threats on free speech that seemed to go hand-in-hand with George W Bush and John Howard’s battle, but that’s what we ended up with.

Jade (left) and me discussing the War on Terror over a quiet ale or two.

We were writing a lot at this time and trying out a lot of different ideas, exploring different styles, and attempting to write about different themes. Why not merge a here-and-now message with a singalong ballad and a funny-cos-they-swore chorus? Why not indeed. This track, I seem to recall, was a very fast, spur of the moment kind of thing that mashed those ideas together, most likely built from the chorus up, and it was one of the fastest songs we’ve ever written.

It shows.

But goddamn Doin’ Whatever was fun was to play, as the above recording hopefully demonstrates. The harmonies from me and bassist Matt Hewson are bung, Jade’s vocals start muffled and end up peaking out, and I hit more than a few “jazz” notes in the solo, but the over-riding thing that strikes me about this recording is we’re having fun, goshdarnit, George Bush and John Howard be damned! The chorus line of the song became something of an ethos for how to play it.

Stencil by Jade McLaren.

Musically, the verses owe a debt to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, the stop-start solo section is a rip-off of a similar stop-start solo section in Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love, and the chorus is going for a We Are The World/Heal The World, lighters-in-the-air vibe. And the whole thing smells like Ween. I’m happy to admit that I was inspired by those songs/bands – the trick is putting some of their cool elements together in different and refreshing ways.

Here's what it sounds like when you mix Pink Floyd and Ween together, but in a much more awesome way (songs starts about 1.13, but play it all the way through for the full trip):

This is probably as good a point as any in this blog to partially explain my ethos of writing music. It goes like this:

  • Every chord progression has been done.
  • Every rhythm has been played.
  • Every melody is just combinations of other melodies that have gone before.
  • If you think some progression/melody/rhythm you’ve written sounds original, you haven’t listened to enough music.
  • As a result of these four previous points, all that’s left to do is to rearrange the pieces of the past in new and exciting combinations.
  • The trick is trying to make all the old pieces sound new and original – classic like it’s familiar, but different enough that it’s exciting and fresh.
This last "trick" is a hard thing to do. And overall, the approach may sound too clinical or negative but it’s a way of thinking that's helped me get out of many a writer’s block where I thought everything I was doing sounded like everything else.

But back to the song. Most bands (aside from Ween) probably wouldn’t try to get away with a chorus that repeats “I’m doin’ whatever the fuck I want” and rather than dousing it in punk attitude, tries to make it a singalong pop ballad. The Extreme Sprinklers did though. We were rebels without a clue, but at least most other bands weren’t trying what we were trying. It felt like we were being different and therefore interesting. It probably put some people off, but whatever. Better to get any reaction than no reaction, as they say in the classics.

Although we did still take lame promo photos like every other band.

As mentioned, this recording – made in our unimaginatively named, cavernous rehearsal space The Shed – sounds like we’re enjoying ourselves. Drummer Harry Fahey pulls out some cool fills and tricks towards the end, the way he works with Hewy is freakily good, Jade lets it rip for all it’s worth (and so does Hewy at the end), and I’m giving that solo everything I’ve got, jazz notes and all.

Here's Harry: 

"I don't remember being part of writing this tune - I'm pretty sure I just lay my shit over the top like meatballs over spaghetti. (But I) loved playing this track and just playing whatever the fill I wanted."

Harry, playing whatever the fill he wanted, in The Shed.

Nice gag, Harry. Here's Jade:

"It was always fun to play. My fondest memory of this song was of it being the one at the end of the gig or the encore and I'd be drunk as by then and basically doing whatever I wanted. Which sometimes included climbing on the speakers and singing the chorus."

And last but not least - Hewy:

"It was definitely a chance to indulge in some straight-up rock anthem fun. I didn't sing those chorus harmonies perfectly all the time, but the subject matter allowed for that. It was one of the most fun Extremes/Aces tunes to play."

The Extreme Sprinklers drinking and smoking inside The Criterion Hotel.
Does this photo make anyone else feel old?

The recording is from a series of three rehearsals we recorded between March and May, 2006, that were planned to be cherry-picked to make an EP or two (one came out with a wolf on the cover that we only printed about 30 or 40 of). We were really hitting our stride at this point – we had so many songs, across so many genres, and Jade and I were coming up with new ones almost weekly. Good times.

However, within a matter of months of those recordings, Harry parted ways with the band, ending an era – Harry and I had been playing in bands for six years together at that point. I was sad to see him quit the band because I felt we’d developed that cool sixth sense you sometimes get with other players where occasionally you just know what they’re going to do next and you can lock in with them on the spur of a semi-quaver. It’s a wonderful thing to experience and Harry is one of the few players I’ve shared it with.

So Harry left, and it was a downer, but on the upside, Jarrod Hawker joined the band, we re-branded ourselves as The 80 Aces, and carried on, onwards and upwards. One door closes, you climb out a window.

But back to the song: Doin’ Whatever has one of my favourite lines out of any of the thousands of lines Jade and I have written together: “If I want I’ll burn the flag … just because it’s Christmas”. It seemed like the most hilariously rebellious way of doing whatever the fuck you wanted.


Keep your hands out of my bag
Keep your nose out of my business
‘Cos if I want I’ll burn the flag
Just because it’s Christmas

I’m doin’ whatever the fuck I want

I can see them coming up the drive
Even though I didn’t hurt anyone
Would you rather we were a hive
To avoid you dropping megatons?

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