Tuesday, 29 November 2005

script notes for lengthy, self-absorbed Parkinson interview/Arena Christmas special on Silver Bullet.

my attorney - silver bullet - notes.

.aibrubus

my attorney was borne out of musical frustration, three summers ago. At the time Andy and I were in a band that had been playing locally for almost five years. Despite the act’s popularity and extensive catalogue of originals, we both felt the music had become stale and the band was clearly limping toward its final gig. It was with horror that I slowly realised that the music I was performing with Pond bore no relationship to the music that I was inspired by or enjoyed listening to. The compositions were so finely detailed that as a singer, it was hard to find a melody to fit over the guitar. I still think some of the last (unheard) songs we wrote sounded best as instrumentals.

Andy called over to Colerabbey one afternoon, and we discussed the current musical state of affairs. An acoustic guitar with a capo attached was lying around, and while Andy talked of not having been inspired to “write anything in years”, he strummed idly on the guitar with the capo sitting at an unuaually high fret. Hearing that a song was about to form, I quickly grabbed some lyrics and a high powered microphone from upstairs, and we went outside into the sunshine to thrash out a structure.

.aibrubus (suburbia) is a reversed clip of what we played that afternoon, sitting out by the pond (how ironic etc.) in my back garden, with the sounds of a dog barking in the distance. It remains the first song composed, and recording made, of the fledgling my attorney experiment – almost three years to the day. It therefore seemed a fitting extract to open the album with.


cohen.

Upon my return from university a year on from that afternoon spent in my garden, I was in a particularly grim mood. Sitting in the kitchen eating cornflakes at 3am, while watching an Open University programme about tables, I started scribbling in my notebook. I had a very clear vision of all my angst being personnified as an actual person – a scheming, vindictive little bitch, intent on destroying my entire life.

The rant was written using a red pen and ran to about four pages. When Andy brought the cohen riff to the table, the verses lasted five minutes apiece because I had all these embittered couplets I simply had to fit in. Very frantic. Very teenage. Very 2003.

Despite making an appearance during several live performances and a couple of vague recording sessions, it has taken us until now to finally nail the song into shape. What really helped us was imagining we were stuck in some Polish ghetto during the Second World War. My name was Johan Bradovski, and Andy was Dimitri Pavalov. It was my job to dress up in a red coat and wander around the place getting shot at, while Andy had to shout at his big ring saying “I could’ve saved one more!!”. Once this had been established, the piano and trumpet parts came easily.

We were both filled with a Red vision, of Gorbechev having a mental breakdown and throwing Glasnost out the window, and replacing it with a massive army on a steady endless march from Moscow to Krakow. During this song I can see the tenaments, the great oppressed masses, the oil drums set on fire at the roadside, Marx fucking with God, the clock in Red Square striking thirteen. Y'know... normal stuff.

the moon & the sea.

Eventually I found work as an underpaid manager/overpaid binman, entrusted with hundreds of thousands of pounds of the taxpayers’ money. Written under my desk on a sleepy Wednesday afternoon, the first couple of verses are about that smug feeling of being in a rubbish job with people who will never leave their post, except to grace their own funeral – and secretly saying to yourself “I’ll be gone soon, you drones”.

Naturally this kind of topic can’t sustain a whole song, especially if your guitarist has just written a 50’s Buddy Holly slow-dance riff. Cue crooning, declarations of twisted love and reverb… lots of reverb.

Moon and the sea shares with cohen a rather rash lack of lyrical self consciousness. At time of writing I had been listening to a lot of Radio One in my car during my drive to work each morning. The songs they played made me so fed up with tidy rhymes, well honed stansas about Something Important and love songs that were either so banal to be unlistenable, or too clever by half. So these words went in totally raw, with a conscious decision not to tidy them up or make them less embarrassing.

Now that I’ve got this out of my system, my next lyrical enterprise will revolve around the Exxon Valdez clean up operations in 1983. I have three verses.

throwing stones at Mexico.

This is about disposing of your emotions as cleanly and responsibly as possible. It was written after a particularly wistful viewing of 80’s teen wish-fulfillment classic Untamed Heart, starring Marisa Tomei and Christian Slater.

Andy and I had been doing a lot of work with other musicians during the past few months, most notably with Flood in the Attic and The Somewhat Unsuccessful Gangsters. Somehow we had neglected to add similar arrangements to our own compositions, and Mexico marked a new approach to our recording technique.

We had originally planned on simply getting the tracks down onto tape in their live, or next-to-live format. In other words, there would be guitar, a vocal, and maybe a little piano added in at some point. It was simply to be a document of the songs. After hearing the TSUG album We Are The Strings of Knocklynn, one of the most intimidating home recordings I'd ever heard, and having spent long hours producing Up The Anchor for Flood in the Attic, our outlook was changed radically.

William Asken, that Flem(m)ing one and the Radio Shack studio staff had raised the bar higher than ever before in the d.i.y. recording stakes. Knocklynn was a tour de force of well recorded guitar, clever arrangements and songs with no fat on the bone. With these ideals in mind we set to work on Mexico, paying special attention to the middle section in which the bottom falls out of the song completely. It’s definitely one of my favourite moments of the album.

frost bitten.

This was exhumed from the archives, where it had lain as a b-side that we used in our live set to ensure we played at least twenty minutes. At the last live performance there was an accident with the Kaoss pad (which I was playing with my big toe) which meant a distorted, impossibly loud sample of me singing AHHHHH deafened everyone for at least thirty painful seconds.

Even the words are throwaway – lots of repeated lines and a chorus composed of a single sentence Jo said about something completely unrelated to the sentiment of the song. But since the EAX Console has been thrown at the vocal, it all starts to hang together much better in reality than they do on paper.

The harmony at the end of the piece is a direct lift from a song by Transistor Radio Sound – another bastion of home-recorded brilliance that I was listening to a lot while this was recorded. Singing a note can say a lot more than any words can, er… man.

There are some ad-libs here, including one about televisions that I nicked from a Brian Eno interview. He was talking about not owning a TV, but that if he did have one, he would sit and watch it all day. The one at the start is about watching Mean Girls, and being bowled over by just how mad things get about two-thirds of the way through. All of a sudden it gets so intense. Like an Orwellian nightmare. I was very high on drugs at the time, though, so that might have had somethning to do with it.

face on the clock says now.

What a title – Andy came up with that. This song is a throwback to our old side project Post Apocalyptic Noise Core (or PANC for short, abbreviation fans). It never got very far, except for spawning that keyboard sound that was subsequently used here. Ryan Fleming also deserves a mention for his pioneering work with combining guitar pedals with Casio beats, which Nes Advantage got great mileage out of, and which I directly lifted and put in this song here.

In fact, Nes Advantage forms the cornerstone of a lot of the production techniques that I’ve developed over the last while, which shows that you can achieve a lot more with broken equipment and a pair of pliers than one would first imagine.

now my parents are dead.

This was rescued from the Tascam 4-track vaults after a trawl through all the old minidiscs of Pond and PANC that sit on my windowcill. The lyrics are very resigned, and again very 2003. Not much fresh air or exercise going on here: plenty of bodily gases being expelled into a double glazed room with the sun beating down into it.

The closing section was pieced together after a driving back from the airport listening to Lovely Rita by The Beatles. The whole song is unusually jaunty for Lennon, until the last twenty seconds when the wheels come off and the whole trifle falls off the table. There’s the sound of somebody coming, and this really paranoid piano riff drenched in reverb, and then very suddenly it’s all over. It’s a welcome moment of shade in an album otherwise drowned in the sound of Paul twatting about with his thirty piece orchestra. So we listened to Rita, went downstairs, put down the guitar (which was a really irregular line – first slow, then fast, then dropping out completely), and then it was a long slow trudge to the finish line adding the pliers-guitar, piano and Nicholson laughter.

It’s probably my favourite thing on the album – so I’m glad we dug it out of obscurity.

I’m so tired.

Our only cover to date; an old Fugazi demo originally played on the piano that appeared on the Instrument film soundtrack. I recently wrote to its authour, Ian McKaye, and he sent me a postcard. What a nice man.

I think if you’re going to do a cover, then you should do it completely differently from the original, and I think we’ve had a fair stab at that here, thanks largely to Andy’s haunting brass section at the end.

suburbia.

Three years on, it’s in the can with a structure that doesn’t need an expert from MIT to decipher. This is a live take, just as though we were playing it at a gig, which is great because we don’t want to turn into a studio-only band just yet. I wanted a lot of gain on the vocals, so you could feel the nostalgia creeping in through your faded 80’s photographs at maximum volume.

This is another lyric which many could be seen as being a bit embarrassing to put out into the public domain. But I really don’t mind – it’s one of the most complete things I think I’ve written. For me it sums up the essense of going over to your mate’s house to play his Super Nintendo, when all you had was a painfully outdated NES and an old battered copy of Duck Hunt.

Winchester ’75.

Titled (innaccurately - it should be "'73"but "'75" sounded better) after the western I watched the day, I put this piece together very quickly. It unexpectly turns from Aphex-esque noodling into Sigur Ros/Muse territory. I didn’t intend it to, but there you go. Thanks goes to Andy for not vetoing it…

in 5 years’ time.

At time of writing I’m still not happy with the mix. The song is too quiet and the drums are too loud. And the vocals. Ugh.

But the lyrics I’m happy with. They take in an old snippet about fucked-up love and pair it with my combined experiences of driving through Nowheresville, USA, and the film Badlands starring Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. Eerily the chorus, written before I saw the film, fits perfectly with the parts written later about imagining Jo and I driving through smalltown America, shooting random people when we pleased, and watching their heads explode like grapefruit.

The drum sound was concocted through using powerful microphones set at high gain close to household implements. A plastic basin served as a bass drum, and my metal wastepaper bin was the snare. Some of the kaoss samples from this song later ended up on Winchester.

I won’t rest until this song is mixed properly, and my voice doesn’t sound like an elastic band that’s about to break.

silver bullet.

Every song on this album has some sort of cathartic aspect to it, and even if the lyrics don’t serve to be a comfort – then the act of putting them into a song and making something good out of it achieves the same effect. Basically the lyrics on this album are each silver bullets to specific worries, feelings and fears that I’ve felt compelled to get out there. So now that this LP is finished, and the decks have been cleared, I don’t mind at all.

Apart from the mix on In 5 Years’ Time, that is….