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Bird On a Chain

Bird On A Chain

It’s sentiment is pretty self explanatory, I wanted it to sound pretty desolate. The tune was written whilst walking, I think I initially probably had in mind some kind of Tom Waits piano ballad. I wanted the chorus to be very direct and honest, with the verses quite oblique, a scrapbook of feelings and experiences, things you notice when you’re feeling slightly delirious.

I like the harmonies at the end, it’s the only time on the record where all five of us are singing at the same time, it gives the album a gentle wave goodbye.

When the song was demoed Jim and I decided that it should have a fanfare at the end I think even then we knew it would probably end the album. The horn fanfare on the demo was done by Jim with a megaphone, it’s a shame that when we came to record it for the album we could never quite replicate the sound of that initial demo because it sounded amazing, the horns do a good job though of putting the album to bed.

Behind This Lonely Sun

Behind This Lonely Sun

2nd to last on the album Behind this Lonely Sun provides the first of two very different fanfares that end the record. The song is about the humiliating end to a stressful relationship. The lyrics deal with obsession, regret and self pity but the fanfare and is meant to evoke thoughts rebirth and the start of a new era in someone’s life.

Like Sad Sad Stage it was a track that I was slightly embarrassed to have on the record at first because of it’s sonic pompousness but I’d been listening to a lot of Scott Walker and I thought that we could maybe pull off that sort of orchestral sound with the right arrangement.

We had no experience putting these sort of things together so I asked Embrace’s Mickey Dale if he’d be interested in writing orchestral arrangements for a few of the tracks on the record and he’d agreed to get involved. So with that in mind I’d started writing some horn lines for the instrumental sections on Behind this Lonely Sun. When Mickey got in touch to say that he unexpectedly had to return to the studio with other projects we thought that we would have to abandon the idea of large orchestral arrangements altogether. Behind this Lonely Sun was a song that I thought would fall by the wayside without the Scott Walker-eque arrangements so as I’d already written the horn section I asked Jake and Nick to try to and write some string parts. They excelled in the task and consequently we were given a confidence boost enabling us to compose all of our own orchestral arrangements for the rest of the record.

Into Desperate Arms

Into Desperate Arms

I wrote this song during a sickness induced writing burst which saw a number of my contributions to the album conceived or competed over a space of 3 days. We’d just finished a long run of gigs and festivals which had completely wiped me out. Laying on my back in bed at my flat I had my most productive writing spell for many years and it all started when I tried to pick out the chords to Goin’ Out West by Tom Waits as I was curious to see if I could sing like him seeing as my throat felt like it was lined with glass paper. Needless to say I couldn’t but messing around with the chords I managed to write the entire melody to Into Desperate Arms. The lyrics followed almost intact immediately afterwards.

The original demo has the song pretty much fully formed apart from Nicky’s industrial percussion and John (let loose on lead guitar) making some if the most remarkable noises I’ve ever heard during the solo section. I’m not certain that the microphones were able to pick up all of the outrageous frequencies coming out of the guitar amp; lost only to memory.

The Idiot

The Idiot

It reflects on the break down of relationships, due to internal and external pressures. I think a lot of relationships can fail due to someone not being able to accept the situation they find themselves in and find it easier to be nihilistic and ruin things when they were probably worth saving. The Idiot.

The Idiot is musically the most straightforward thing on the record. I wanted it to have a cold dislocated feel to it with an incessant ‘Krautrock’ feel and glassy guitar sound, I think that got lost to a certain extent but it moves pretty well and some of the instrumentation in the middle 8, Kyle’s guitar for instance, is among my favourite on the record. Sometimes it’s not worth fighting where a song develops, and I think this one just had to end up like this. The middle 8 is notable for me, as it contains some lovely keyboard instrumentation from Jake and references the title of the album in the lyric. In a way I think this, and the sentiment that nothing has or can be achieved, leads into the final section of the album and it’s resultant moods of regret.

It’s not the greatest thing in the world but it does a decent role on the record in terms of picking up the pace in the second half.

Sad Sad Stage

Sad Sad Stage

The song that took around 8 years to write and record. It was the last song to be completed on the record largely because I was too terrified to mix it and finally finish it. In the end we had to get Dave Eringa to mix the song because it became evident to the band that I was intentionally holding back in order for the song not to be included on the record.

I wrote the first verse and bridge in around 2006 and had been chipping away at it ever since. I played the song to John on a piano in around 2008 and cringed as I sang it. John was writing very delicate, beautiful melodies and lyrics at the time in songs like So Long St Christopher and Anvil. In comparison this felt overblown and pompous. We never discussed the song again until after we returned from our first demo session in Luzern when I recorded a demo of the song at home. I was so excited by the basses on Linnaeus that at that point I thought we could layer up 4 or 5 bass melodies on every song. I demoed a full version of Sad Sad Stage at home with the basses providing the counter melodies (which later became clarinets and oboes) and inspired by Sea Talk by Zola Jesus I laid down a very similar Phil Spector sized electronic drum beat. Jake and Nick then wrote a beautiful score but for some reason after that I became embarrassed by the song again and held back from overdubbing very much on it during the main recording sessions in Luzern. We did lay down some overdubs on top of the demo, which were Nick’s acoustic drum beat (which he performed first time in one powerful take) and Kyle’s guitar, which I think is one of the highlights of the record. After we recorded the real strings and new vocals in London I started to think it could maybe go on the record but always managed to avoid the topic until Dave Eringa’s fantastic mix killed any hopes I had of chipping away at the song for the next 8 years.

Linnaeus

Linnaeus

It’s in part a tribute to pioneering scientists. I was thinking about early geologists coming across fossils buried under the soil with little idea how and when they got there. I think that era of scientific discovery went some way to shaping the modern world. The idea of how their work, in the future, went on to undermine a theological idea of the origin of life, and how much more humbling it is that we are all a product of a graceful natural process. 

Mostly the song is a device to set up the pay off of the song at the end with the reference to Linnaeus, the great early taxonomist. It’s kind of a joke that section, a lot of the songs on the album reflect a need to belong and feeling a bit out of place. I thought it was quite funny to portray that feeling of dislocation in terms of being an evolutionary misfit.

Sonically I wanted to create a wash of arpeggio guitars with new parts coming in throughout the song to build a cascading, waterfall-like sound. Jim’s three different bass parts are hugely important as well, I love the way they seem to play to each other throughout the song, they have a bubbling quality which allows more space for the guitars to do their bits. I think it might be the only song we’ve ever done that doesn’t have any keyboards on it, everyone has a go at a guitar part to try and create that a waterfall of guitars.

In terms of the record it ends a musical suite that starts with Harvest in the Snow where each song runs into each other, in our minds it’s marks the end of side 1.

Stephanie and the Ferris Wheel

Stephanie and the Ferris Wheel

Oddly Stephanie and the Ferris Wheel started out as an atmospheric synth track that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the Blade Runner sound-track. It was written on the same upright organ that provided the drum beat to a song on our first album called Reminder. After I’d played it to John he provided me with a new chorus and from there it morphed into a jangle-pop influenced upbeat pop track, which we demoed with Tobi playing drums.

Once Jake had laid down a wonderful Martha my Dear-esque piano over a key change section before the 3rd chorus I decided that I liked the piano so much that I didn’t want anything else left in. So we scrapped everything and started again, building up from the piano. To make the piano sound sweeter and to make the vocal higher I varisped the track effecting the key and the tempo of the song only to find that by a pure coincidence we had moved the key and tempo perfectly into the same key and tempo as Linnaeus. The result is the seamless transition between the two songs.

Transit

Transit

Structurally it moves through a sequence of three parts. I guess it’s thematic and each part relates to certain feelings.

The initial burst of ‘excitement’ in the song is followed by the ‘song’ itself. The lyric contains feeling of being unable to find any great joy in existence and wanting to be released, or reborn. It’s about the exhilaration of meeting someone who could save you from a point in your life where you seem to be faltering. The end reflects the realisation that this isn’t going to happen, and the failure of feelings of hope and expectation to come to fruition.

At its heart it’s a very poppy song, but it started to take on a laidback countryish vibe that I didn’t like. I think it was after talking to our old guitarist Dom and he suggested stripping a lot of the music away and having it quite keyboard dominated. The result is it’s quite a cold recording, more electronic than before, the acoustic guitar instead of dominating becomes a very percussive component and the cyclical moog motif played by Jake gives it a forward momentum akin to a lot of the German music that was on my mind at the time. I like the detached feel of the vocal, I think Jim did a good job on the vocal sound with that.

Harvest In The Snow

Harvest In The Snow

Harvest in the Snow was nearly the first song demoed for Long Distance Song Effects but we decided to work on one of John’s new tracks instead. The consequence of leaving the demo of this song until a later date was that when John asked Mira Heller, a harpist/school teacher from Luzern, to play on our recording session we happened to be working on the next track to be demoed which was Harvest in the Snow. I had no prior intentions of having a harp on that song but within minutes of hearing her inspired improvised part on top of the acoustic guitar and vocal we realised that the song was basically finished. As a result the vocal performance that made the album was not only a first time take but also the first time that I had ever sang the song above a mumble to myself. Most of the lyrics were written whilst on tour driving through Europe and the chords are an amalgamation of Bob Dylan’s It’s All Over Now Baby Blue and Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.

Billy In The Lowground

Billy In The Lowground

The song is in essence a complaint about the ‘Nu-folk’ genre that proliferated a couple of years back. It contains references to folk songs, Billy in the Lowground, Alan Bane (an extraordinary song concerning a hanging), and the Woody Guthrie song Belle Starr.

It’s not an anti-folk song it’s anti the recent folky movement and particularly how we were often and unfairly portrayed in that way, I think a lot of people missed some very obvious musical reference points for the opportunity to shovel us into some movement so they don’t have to think too hard about.

It’s not a very nice song, it’s driven by disdain towards certain bands, who in my opinion, cynically played on the genre and came out of it successful. It’s also a slightly bitter about our own non-achievement. Being slightly naïve as I suppose we all are when we start out, you can find yourself being filled up by the false promises and misplaced faith in people, you grow up quickly in the face of that.

It’s healthy to write cathartically like this, I wanted to go some way to setting the record straight about what kind of band we are.

I wanted the song to sound huge and chaotic but with a really tight incessant rhythm section running through it. The drum part, the basis of which was written by Jim while demoing, has that great scattergun snare that keeps the song moving. The string score by Jake is influenced by 60’s psychedelic pop and that with the distorted 12-string guitar in instrumental breaks in the middle and at the end I think it sounds pretty possessed.