Sunday, 20 March 2016

#71. The Mad Hatter's Tea Party - The Doctor & The Nurse

Dannii Hale: programming, guitar 
Matt Neal: programming, guitar 

Written by Dannii Hale and Matt Neal 
Written and recorded on May 24, 2013 at Mandeville Court, Port Fairy 
Produced and mixed by Matt Neal

Up until we made a baby, this song was the coolest thing my wife and I had created together.

Insert gratuitous baby photo here.

It was a drunken spur-of-the-moment thing (the song, not the baby) thrown together one night in Port Fairy. I’d spent the better part of a week over there recording and writing, which I find is the best way for me to work on music these days - removed from all the distractions and set up to create for a prolonged burst at my parent’s unit in Port Fairy. For some reason making music takes more concentration than it used to.

Anyway, Dannii had come over to Port to hang out for the last night of my “prolonged burst”. I had all my recording gear set up and we thought it might be fun to get drunk and record a song together. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is the result. Listening to it recently for the first time in almost two years, Dannii admitted the finished product “sounded a lot better after a six-pack and half a bottle of wine”.

This photo was taken during recording, so you can trust me on 
the "six-pack and half a bottle of wine".

Dannii is a wonderfully creative person, but she’d be the first to admit she’s not musical (at least in an overt way). For a little while she could handle a couple of chords on the guitar, but that vanished as quickly as it was learnt. So making this song together, from scratch, was really just an exercise in trying to make it as fun as possible. I didn’t want to “write” a song but rather “make” a song - no overthinking, just creating. It was a bit like making an abstract painting together, but using sound instead of paint.

A bit like this cool abstract painting Dannii did which hangs over my writing desk.

“What do we do first?” she asked.

I told her the first step would be to create a beat. I think we initially tried sampling some found sounds around the house (because I’d been doing that earlier in the week to record the demo for I Can’t Help Who My Daddy Was), but it was sounding shit, so I suggested we give Fruity Loops a try. At first she thought it was a cop-out until I showed her how the program worked. We picked a bunch of random percussion samples and Dannii messed around for about five minutes to come up with the beat you hear in the first half of the song. What I love about it is the fact that it was something I would never have thought to come up with. It’s unconventional, quirky and interesting.

Using a guitar and an octave pedal, I whipped up a quick bassline, basically playing the first thing that came to mind that suited Dannii’s beat. I then handed the guitar to Dannii and told her to solo over the bass. She looked at me like I was mental. “Just play whatever,” I said. So she did. And that’s her soloing over the first half of the song. It’s messy and ridiculous and abstract - more noise than notes - but who cares?

Here's the recording set-up.

To ensure there were some dynamics to the song, I made up a quick “normal” beat for the breakdown in the middle of the song and gave it a little funky groove, before heading back into Dannii’s beat and playing the most random rapid-fire solo I could. Again, it’s just a bunch of noise, but whatever.

As opposed to the rest of my solos? Picture: Dannii Hale

Upon listening to the completed song, which featured a few additional atmospheric guitars here and there, Dannii commented that it sounded like the musical equivalent of the Mad Hatter’s tea party from Alice In Wonderland. She asked if we could add in some voice samples from the Tim Burton version of Alice as a cherry on top. “It makes the shit song a bit less shit,” she later said.

Johnny Depp: Making things a bit less shit since 1984.

So there you have it. Not a great song by any stretch, but it was fun to make and I like the fact it’s unlike anything I would have made or anything I’ve heard before. And that I made it with my awesome wife.