Wednesday, 4 March 2015

#54. The Ignored – 21st Century Ox

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

Lyrics by Matt Neal.
Music by Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Brendan Hoffmann and Matt Neal.
Written 2000.
Recorded at Motherlode Studios, Warrnambool, 2000.
Produced and mixed by Tony Peel.
Released on the 21st Century Ox album What Am I Going To Do With All These Portaloos?.

Thanks to this song I can put on my resumé “prize-winning songwriter”. It also happens to be the first song I recorded in a proper studio, the first song my first real band 21st Century Ox properly demoed, and probably the first “proper” song I ever wrote (ie. that wasn’t totally shite). So I have much to thank this song for.

But I kind of have a love/hate relationship with this song. The love side is the above – it certainly set me on a path and gave me a certain sense of confidence in what I was doing. The hate side – actually hate’s a strong word, it’s more like a vague dislike – comes from the contrivance of it all.

You see, not long after 21st Century Ox got together in early 2000 (we played our first gig on April 2 on the back of a truck parked in the Lady Bay Hotel carpark) we heard about a local competition called Couch Surfing which was calling for bands to submit a song about homelessness to be used as part of an awareness campaign. The prize was recording time and $500.

Here's the photo The Standard took after we won. 
That's Warrnambool artist Macca in the middle, who won the artwork side of the competition, 
and left to right Dion Barker, Harry Fahey, Brendan Hoffmann and myself.

What the hell do I know about homelessness? Nothing. What the hell is writing a song about homelessness going to do to help people who are homeless? Nothing. But do I want to win $500 and recording time? Hells yeah.

I have an aversion to writing “issue” songs and perhaps it comes from my experience with writing The Ignored. I can’t help but be cynical – a song can’t save the world or solve a social problem. It’s usually just preaching, and more often than not it’s preaching to the converted. Ultimately, issue songs achieve little. Maybe there are some exceptions, but they usually never save the day, right all the wrongs, or convert the ignorant.

But that’s the 34-year-old me talking. The 19-year-old me was thinking, “Here’s a songwriting challenge – how can I write a song about a particular subject that I know nothing about in order to win my band money and studio time?”.

19-year-old me, thinking deep stuff.

Bassist Dion Barker agrees the lyrics are “a bit of a forced effort” but the judges liked it and I was satisfied that my words had done the job. I know they received at least two entries (including ours) but the only real feedback we got was that my vocals on the demo sounded a bit like “the guy from Jebediah”.

Musically, The Ignored stemmed from a little idea Dion, guitarist Brendan Hoffmann and myself had jammed on at Hoffa’s house in the early excited/excitable phase of the band when we were getting together every second day to try and write material or just make music/noise together. I took that initial musical idea and used it as the verse, which I crafted a chorus onto before taking it to the band. Together we knocked it into shape, adding the weird bridge section to ensure it wasn’t “too ‘simple’ to fit the Ox bill”, as Dion puts it.

Dion and Hoffa during a jam session at Hoffa's place.

“Yes, we set out to write a song to win a competition, but we did it well,” Dion said. “I believe it was more the promise of studio time than the money or glory that was driving us, and obviously that ultimately led to (us recording our first album).”

“The song was a bit of a forced effort, probably more lyrically than musically, but it still had all the Ox characteristics, in that it had the input and individualistic styling of all of us. It was another great example of the organic process that we went through with most of our songs.”

Dion and I in silly hat mode during the demo session for The Ignored.

Drummer Harry Fahey agrees.

“I really liked the way this song came together so organically - I think it really showed us all what we were capable of as a group, which gave us confidence and a spark that Ox could be something special - which it was,” Harry said.

“Also I got to use my 16th note patterns with the left hand on hats and right hand on snare - not traditionally a good idea but great for mollydookers on a right-handed kit.”

That last bit is so Harry. Hello to any drummers reading along who get what he’s on about.

Myself, Dion and Harry at work on the demo for The Ignored 
in the Warrnambool City Band Hall.

Here’s Hoffa:

“I was so excited about this song, even before it won the Couch Surfing competition, because it had the potential to win and get us some professional recording time,” Hoffa said.

“Which it did, and that was probably the most exciting time in my career as a musician. The birth of something great. I really liked how the song was put together too. It definitely captured the mood of the competition.”

We demoed the song on June 10, 2000, at the Warrnambool City Band Hall, which was home to TAFE’s Music Industry Skills (MIS) course at the time. We borrowed the MIS’s digital four-track recorder and got stuck into it.

Here are some of my rather quaint (and slightly giddy) notes from that demoing day, which I found in one of my old writing notebooks. It’s proudly titled “A Journal Of A Recording Session – 10/6/00”.

June 10, 2000.

“Hoffa and Dion and I met at Cleves to buy strings and leads and stuff and frankly I was excited. The guy in the shop asked us what we (were) up to and we very keenly told him. We arrived at the Band Hall a little after 11 and began setting up.

“It’s kind of surreal in here. There are amps and leads and instruments everywhere and I feel like a rock star in here.

“It’s 3.15 and we’re halfway through The Ignored. It sounds good so far; heavier than we’ve ever done it.

“The vocals went down well and the finished product was really good with perhaps three faults; 1) there’s one bit where one of Harry’s drum fills goes about half a beat too long, 2) the vocals are perhaps awkward, and 3) at the end there is a semi-audible telephone ring (but it’s a nice little quirk).”

Recording the vocals for the demo of The Ignored.

The demo was printed on a CD with a hastily made cover featuring me and Hoffa wearing beanies in the Coles supermarket late at night, looking like a couple of fools, and sent in to the competition. Some months after we won, I saw that demo CD for sale at Kulcha Shift for $10. I have no idea what happened to the CD after that. Maybe I should have bought it.

The demo is long lost (a shame given it was our first) so the only recording I have of The Ignored is the one we did at Tony Peel’s Motherlode Studios later that year as part of our prize. It came up a treat and formed the backbone of 21st Century Ox’s admittedly bizarre first album What Am I Going To Do With All These Portaloos?. I don’t remember anything about the session itself, but we were all immensely proud of the results.

Definitely bizarre.


I will be here when it rains
Bet you hope I’m washed away
When the deluge buckets down
‘Cos I’m a blight on your perfect town

But I’m still here
I won’t just disappear
And make your conscience clear
Get me out of here

Do you think I had some say
And that I chose to live this way
You just turn your perfect face
Oh, how did I become so ignored?

I will be here when it’s night
When you tuck your kids in tight
Think of me when you look into their eyes
I too am someone’s child

But I’m still here
I won’t just disappear
And make your conscience clear
Get me out of here

Do you think I had some say
And that I chose to live this way?
Do you think this is my dream;
To be living on the street?
You just turn your perfect face
Oh, how did I become so ignored?

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