Sunday, 17 July 2016

#75. Medicine Cabinets

Brendan Hoffmann - backing vocals
Matt Neal - guitar, bass, programming, vocals

Written by Matt Neal
Recorded at Kellie’s Swamp, November 22, 2004, and Hoffa’s Place, December 30, 2004.
Produced and mixed by Matt Neal
Additional engineering by Brendan Hoffmann

Parties are great fodder for songwriting. This only occurred to me recently when I realised I’d written at least four songs about parties, including I Don't Know When To Leave The Party, the title track off my last EP,

another yet to be released track, and the song that is the focus of this week’s blog - Medicine Cabinets.

They're great to write about because they have so many potentially interesting ingredients. They can have drama, a multitude of different types of interactions, weirdness, and people saying interesting things. They can have sexual chemistry (which is the subject matter of probably 80 per cent of songs), they can be a memorable moment in time, or they can be a prism through which to view certain aspects of the human condition.

Take for example Jackson McLaren’s great tune Oh My God I Know. I’m slightly biased about how great this song is because it was inspired by a party that happened at my house, but I like the way Jackson took the goings-on of that party and used them to look at ageing and responsibility.

I’m also a fan of this Franz Ferdinand song, which is reportedly comprised almost entirely of comments overheard at a party. That’s a cool idea for lyrics, and it’s a cool song.

And while we’re going I may as well throw in this gem, which covers the “memorable moment in time” angle.

As for Medicine Cabinets, it sprang from a party I attended back in 2004. The central figure was a friend who decided to take a couple of pingas before the party (at which no one else was on pingas) and proceeded to be obnoxious in a “hey, look at me” kind of way for the entire evening. It annoyed the piss out of everyone and took the shine out of the night. People were actively moving from room to room in the house in an effort to keep away from him. At some point during the party, he started raiding the host’s medicine cabinet (all the while telling everyone about it), most likely in search of Valium or Xanax or something, and began popping random pills, including what was believed to be a morning after pill. At 4am when he called his then-girlfriend to come pick him up, he was a complete mess. I don’t think anyone saw him for a couple of days. When he finally emerged from hiding, he was fairly sheepish about the whole thing.

It seemed like as good a thing as any to write a song about, but there’s definitely a hint of concern in the lyrics (especially the middle eight) and I suspect (vaguely from memory) the friend’s antics on the night in question were the low-point of a steady drug-fuelled decline. He got his shit together in the end, but I seem to recall this party being a wake-up call for him.

Let's face it; we've all had those moments.

At the time of writing this song, I’d just started The Extreme Sprinklers with Jade McLaren, Harry Fahey and Matt Hewson, and we were playing a weird mix of material, but for some reason I never pitched this song to the rest of the band. I’m not sure why. The Sprinklers had an “anything goes” approach to our original material at the time, but for some reason I decided this wasn’t up to scratch and kept it to myself. I was possibly embarrassed by the flat singing.

I recorded the demo over two days. The first was in my home studio laying down the basic guitar and bass tracks in a one-hour burst before finishing the beat and vocals at Brendan Hoffmann’s place a week or so later during a recording weekend that yielded, among other things, the demo for Ignorance Is Bliss.

As far as I can remember, only two other people have ever heard this track. It sat in the proverbial shoebox for 11 years or so until I pulled it out the other day and gave it a quick remix using every trick in the book that I’ve learned over the past decade in an effort to erase the flatness of it all and breath some life into the song.

A couple of final notes: I distinctly remember the musical inspiration for this song being the band Interpol. Jade had been playing the Antics album a heap and I had been intrigued by the band’s vocal approach and guitar rhythms and interplay, which I tried to replicate somewhat here. As with a lot of songs of mine that begin with a particular musical inspiration, the end result is a long way from what I was gunning for, which is probably a good thing.

The last thing I want to point out is the fact I managed to half-rhyme “medicine cabinets” with “non-descript sedatives”. Pretty proud of that one.


And if his girlfirend doesn’t get him
then I don’t think anyone will
and if his own friends do not kill him
then it will probably be the pills

He went raiding medicine cabinets
He went eating non-descript sedatives

And he calls her up at 4am
probably having difficulties
and when she finally came to get him
he was a mess of many shades of green

I hope he pulls together and starts behaving better, yeah
I hope he pulls together and starts behaving better, yeah
I hope he pulls together and no longer in the centre of
I hope he pulls together and starts behaving better and no longer in the centre of everything

And he needs a morning after pill
cos I think that’s what he ate last night
and if the three pills do not kill him
then he’ll probably be all right

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