Wednesday, 27 November 2013

#29. Drive By Feel – 21st Century Ox

6/8 version

Harry Fahey: drums.
Matt Hewson: sax.
Brendan Hoffmann: vocals.
Matt Neal: acoustic guitar, vocals.
Richard Tankard: keyboards.

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

4/4 version

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

Recorded at Dave Wilson’s place, 2003.
Produced and mixed by Dave Wilson.

Yep, two versions of the same song. The big difference is the time signatures. For those non-musicians among us, it means the first track is in 6/8 aka waltz time. So it goes 1-2-3, 1-2-3, step-and-turn, step-and-turn. The second version is in 4/4 - it's a four-on-the-floor, regular-time rocker, just like most other songs.

One of the many things I learnt playing in 21st Century Ox was time signatures. Playing in that band was a great learning experience. When Brendan Hoffmann, Dion Barker, Harry Fahey and I started the band in early 2000, I’d only been playing the guitar for about five years and all of that was self-taught. My knowledge of musical theory was non-existent (and still is pretty much), I had no idea how to solo, and I was writing songs with the gleefully reckless and idiotic abandon of someone who has no idea what the rules are or how to break them properly.

Just look at all that idiotic abandon. That's Hoffa on the left, Harry at the front, 
Dion on the right, and I'm the other guy.

Dion was in the same boat – Hoffa and I had taught him the basics of bass-playing, just so we could start a band together. But thankfully for Dion and myself, we had Hoffa and Harry, who taught us so much about music. Both Hoffa and Harry had a knowledge of musical theory, and while they never really set out to educate us, Dion and I gleaned a lot from them over the four years the band was together, and even more when Matt Hewson joined the band on sax in 2002.

One of the things I was keen to learn about was time signatures. I was blown away by any song that wasn’t in standard 4/4, such as Nine Inch Nails’ March Of The Pigs, Primus’ Duchess & The Proverbial Mind Spread, and anything by Tool. To be able to play in something other than 4/4 seemed like the epitome of technical musicianship to me at that stage.

I fucking love this song:

Eventually I’d start writing songs in irregular time signatures, such as The Canadian Song, but before that we had Drive By Feel, which we could pull out in 4/4 or 6/8 depending on the occasion. I was quite stoked at the time about our ability to do this one song in two different time signatures, even though it was a pretty simple thing to do.

The song began in 6/8 – Harry recalls playing the waltz version first, often acoustically at open mic nights at The Cellar (which was below The Criterion Hotel for you young’uns out there).

Is that a blurry photo of a blurry photo of 21st Century Ox playing an acoustic gig at The Cellar?
Wow, this blog is quality!

I recall writing the whole song and showing it to Hoffa, who suggested the verses I’d written were a bit emo, so we scrapped the verse lyric and melody and came up with new ones, keeping the rest of the song structure and words. Hoffa was mostly responsible for that gorgeous verse melody.

“I like the song,” Hoffa said recently. “It was one of our first collaborations when we were writing songs together at my house at Janlor Drive.”

Whereas a lot of Ox songs were written by either myself or Hoffa, this one is a mixture between the two, with Hoffa coming up with a wonderful wandering verse melody and the pair of us combining our five and half years of French classes in an attempt to be clever in the first verse (with vague translations for the second verse). Hoffa and I seem to remember taking the lyrics to either our former French teacher Mr Franzoni or to another French student to get them checked, but we may be wrong about that, and as a result, the French might be pretty bad.

This is the first pic that came up when I Google Image searched "bad French".

Either way, at some point we figured out a rockin’ 4/4 version, and on any given night we’d metaphorically flip a coin as to which version we’d play.

The 6/8 version on offer here was intended for the unfinished second album The Last Sane Man On Earth. The highlight is the wonderful keys from Richard Tankard (go and buy his album). We pretty much played the song for him once and then let him cut loose. It might have been better to organise things a bit, but what Tank plays is awesome, and I think the free-flowing, unarranged quality of it works.

Strangely, there is no bass on this recording, nor is Hoffa playing guitar on it.

Here they are, not recording their instruments in Motherlode Studios.

Dion explains:
“This was one of my favourites. If I do recall (and I do!), I was absent on the day that you recorded it and decided it didn't need bass. Ouch! Leaving the bass out wasn't intentional ... or at least that's what you guys told me! It was just that you'd started recording it without me and by the time you'd done all the other tracks, you'd all decided it didn't need bass.

“I do recall that our intention was to try to create a different sound for some of the tracks on the album, and this was the result for Drive By Feel. Although I prefer the rockier (4/4) version, I still think the (6/8) recording came out really well and again demonstrates our ability to rework the songs to suit a different feel or mood. Good work, team!”

So it was just Harry on the drums, me on the acoustic, and Tank doing whatever he wanted on the keys. As for the vocals, this is one of my favourite vocal performances from Hoffa – there’s something majestic, controlled and warm about his singing.

“I always liked opera,” Hoffa said about his vocals on Drive By Feel, agreeing that Jeff Buckley was also a likely influence. We were certainly all big Buckley fans – I’m wearing a Jeff Buckley t-shirt in the booklet for our first album What Am I Going To Do With All These Portaloos?.

Buckley's song Lover, You Should Have Come Over is a likely influence on this track, now that I think back on it, but the bigger influence was probably Coldplay’s Shiver. I loved that song when it first came out (and still do). If you metaphorically mashed up the two versions of Drive By Feel, it would sound a little bit like Shiver.

In a final note, I’d like to talk about the final notes. The 4/4 version features Hewy and I having a guitar/sax wrestle over the melody lines, but Hewy was strangely absent from the 6/8 studio version … until the last few seconds. That little sax bit right at the end started as a joke – Hewy played it one time and we laughed and loved it, referring to it as “The Neighbours Note” because the little melody sounded like the tag at the end of a TV soap theme song.

Lastly, the 4/4 version was recorded at Dave Wilson's rehearsal space, which we jammed at weekly. One week, probably not that long after Hewy joining the band, he let the tape run while we were practicing. The results ... err ... speak for themselves.


Je ne connais pas cette personne
Je rigole comme un garçon
Je pense que je suis près de la fin

And I get lost sometimes
And I need my head kicked in line
The road map is just ashes
And I'm having to drive by feel

I don't know this person
And I do laugh like a little boy
Sometimes I think I think that I'm close to the end

Drive by feel (oh my love)

1 comment:

  1. A friend sent me Drive By Feel years ago and it's been in rotation in my playlists ever since. Once every couple of years I'd search for info and the most I ever found was a YouTube video of the band but I wasn't quite sure if was the same band... but then again it's not exactly a common band name. Now stumbling on this has answered some old questions. It's a really great song!