Mini Moke is a break up song, and a memory song, and a song that celebrates the possibility of healing after the hurt has started to fade.I’ve never emerged from a break-up – with a girlfriend, with a work place, with a country, with an idea, and come away unscathed. There have been times I mistakenly thought I would – that I would walk through, that I would maintain my equilibrium, only to suddenly be undone by a snatch of melody, a familiar scent, a status update.

I guess the hope of Mini Moke is that the remembering doesn’t undo us as much as it somehow helps to make us whole.

 

Oct 26 2017

History lessons

Monday August 28 2017

I’ve always leaned hard on concepts for building and making an album. With Waiting room (1997) I worked closely with a musical director (Spike Mason) and band to re-harmonise simple pop songs into a hybrid blues / jazz setting; with SUPERHYDRATED (2000)I was working with a three piece band (Didi Mudigdo, Reza Achman), incorporating traditional song structures with different time signatures and textures drawn from jazz, hip hop and soul. By the time I made it to illumineon (2003), I was cutting up – recording a rhythm section and then asking my bass player to find different grooves over the top, switching back and playing the grooves back to the drummer to find something new… in short I was cutting up stuff. I took those pods, re-arranged and re-formatted and pushed and pulled and layered lyrics / tone poems until it became songs. It was a long process – ably guided and assisted by the remarkable Tom Kazas.

On When you get down to it (2008) – I starting with an Akai MPC and samples, using D’Angelo and Nusoul as a template, imposing lyrics on semi-finished grooves and polishing it upwards by bringing in key collaborators (Barney Wakeford, Rory Toomey, Campbell McGuninness, Reza Achman). It took five years of playing late night in my basement studio at the former Cafe church in Glebe – falling asleep guitar in hand and driving back to Bondi at 5am in the morning after doing one last guitar take. I had a full time job at the time, so it took a while. Relatively shortly after (in my terms at least) I made a mostly live studio album shortly before leaving Australia West & Lime – with Tom Kazas on bass and keys and Rory Toomey on drums – mostly with Shane Fahey at the wonderful at Megaphon studio. I re-worked some of the the songs I had, principally from illumineon with Tom (who has been a mentor and co-conspirator to me since 2002).

This might feel like home (2013) was the start of what will at least be a trilogy of works made while I’ve been living away from Sydney and away from Australia – caught up in my ‘Berlin years’ and influenced by the electronica and the darkness of that city – a lot of it started with samples and grooves and bounced off little drum machines – in particular my little Korg. Black & Amber (2016) was a brighter return to guitar and songwriting, thematically revolving around the fact I managed to get out of Berlin, and very much influenced by the shadow of those years, and the glimpses of light in my first couple of years of living in Osaka and Kyoto in Japan.

Why all this talk about what I’ve made? I guess because it’s good to remind me that it’s not helpful, in some ways, and it is in others. It’s always been difficult for me, so only natural know to feel hesitant about embarking on what will be a long and often discouraging journey – I can’t think of any collection of songs I’ve made that have come together easily, and forecasting at this point is simply exhausting (do I really want to spend all those hours crafting mixes that fail? Do I really want to admit, at the end of countless revisions, that I don’t like a lyric and probably never did? Do I really want to be honest with myself and acknowledge that my idea for a song simply wasn’t strong enough… after all this time?).

And the past is the past. If I wanted to make those albums again, perhaps the exact process that led to them would be helpful. But it’s time for something new. Of course. Even the old stuff is new, but right now I want surprise and inspiration and to answer the questions that are haunting and knocking and running from me at this point in my life… An album has always been exactly that – answers to a particular set of idiosyncratic questions, answers that have illuminated my decisions, earmarked my eras and offered condolence and advice to my future selves.

And so to discovering those answers, or better yet, discovering the questions.

Oct 20 2017

To the bone

6th September 2017
Steven Wilson: To the Bone

I’ve never really been a Steven Wilson fan, but I’m listening to the new Steven Wilson album today. There’s so much to like here. From the harmonica opening and smattering of spoken word / sampling, to the wiry cutting guitar sounds and backing vocals. Solo guitars are beautifully recorded -and the synths of course are great.

The song structures appeal to me too – opening up into large scale epic solos and esoteric rhythms but still driving and funky. Lots of empty bars not dominated by vocals and the drive of the song.

I was watching That Pedal show earlier – where they were reviewing his new rig for the tour. He was talking about falling in love with the sound of his telecaster and 5w tube amp. It’s a great production strategy – to lean heavily into a single sound / amp / pedal / configuration to see what can be found.

It was great to see him fretting different chord voicings, and many were slash chords – simple chords on the 6th / 5th / 4th fret, with a shifting bass line, or a pivoting finger on the fourth. He uses chords in a totally different way. I’m not sure I love everything he does, but it’s far enough away for me to explore and see what it brings. I don’t really know the songs or melodies, so looking at the chords is interesting and pushes me to different places.
I’ve decided to learn some of these chords.

But the immediate takeaways are a sense of epic opening up; a joyful pushing of chords and boundaries; a stretching out and allowing space for music around the voice; and a tension between verse melody and sing-a-long choruses… A good example of this is ‘The same asylum as before’ – makes sense of his talk about old school ‘pop’. It’s no mistake that he names Peter Gabriel, Tears for fears and Rush… I can hear those Eighties iconic pop bands nodding toward art rock.

Strategy
Write out at least ten new chords notated from Steven Wilson’s live playing
Write down five chord progressions from SW songs you don’t know
Build bass / drum grooves based around these progressions
Try some different very specific guitar sounds that might spark songs and a ‘sound’moving forward

Oct 9 2017

The long game

September 1 2017

The long game

Too much expectation, don’t know where to start, don’t know what would do any good, and the impatience, cause you wanna play much better by yesterday…

I’m impatient. Impatience is great when it adds urgency, not so great when you want to learn something. The frustration can fuel productivity, but it also invites a longer term sense of disempowerment. Some things simply take time.

How do I commit to the long game?

Strategy

  • Be prepared to work slowly and work on things that have no immediate return
  • Look for two or three old ideas that have been discarded and see if there is something to be gleaned
  • Try to be patient – worry less about deadlines and product – more about process and learning
Oct 6 2017

Think fast patience

September 05 2017

On thinking, on fasting, on patience

This week I’ve been thinking again about things I’ve read in Timothy Ferries books, and I decided to buy his latest book ‘Tools of the Titans’. For me he walks a fine line between aspirational / annoying / helpful, but it is what it is. One story tipped me over the edge — a conversation relayed about Siddhartha by a number of his guests on the podcast.

Merchant: . . . If you are without possessions, how can you give?
Siddhartha: Everyone gives what he has. The soldier gives strength, the merchant goods, the teacher instruction, the farmer rice, the fisherman fish.
Merchant: Very well, and what can you give? What have you learned that you can give?
Siddhartha: I can think, I can wait, I can fast.
Merchant: Is that all?
Siddhartha: I think that is all.
Merchant: And of what use are they? For example, fasting, what good is that?
Siddhartha: It is of great value, sir. If a man has nothing to eat, fasting is the most intelligent thing he can do. If, for instance, Siddhartha had not learned to fast, he would have had to seek some kind of work today, either with you, or elsewhere, for hunger would have driven him. But, as it is, Siddhartha can wait calmly. He is not impatient, he is not in need, he can ward off hunger for a long time and laugh at it.

I think of Siddhartha’s answers often and in the following terms:
I can think → Having good rules for decision-making, and having good questions you can ask yourself and others.
I can wait → Being able to plan long-term, play the long game, and not misallocate your resources.
I can fast → Being able to withstand difficulties and disaster. Training yourself to be uncommonly resilient and have a high pain tolerance

Strategies for the day?

  • Work on rules for good musical decision making
  • Be prepared to play the long game
  • Withstand the difficulties and disasters when things don’t work straight away