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.