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.

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

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?


  • 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

Will you still love me tomorrow?

August 29 2017

Be yourself?: a.k.a. Will you still love me tomorrow

I think the nonsense about ‘being yourself’ in most contemporary self-help literature is… nonsense. Or if not nonsense, then something I’ve personally struggled to make sense of in my personal experience. Every time I need to be ‘true to myself’ I’m asked the question ‘What would my real self do in this situation?’, and since the particular situation is a dilemma or difficulty or a decision, I’m always reminded that this situation is a new dilemma, a new situation, a new decision. So recursively, my true self has no idea what to do… unless I just do the same thing I’ve done before…

This has applications for production and writing. “Be true to yourself, self.” I say, and then re-produce the same thing I did last year, or more ‘essentially’ ten years ago, or I strip back in the name of ‘returning to my roots’. But maybe it is possible to find a kind of truth amongst it – to trace a line that connects, rather than roots me to my past. A narrative rather than a monolithic construction.

But my roots were seventies am pop radio in Syracuse New York – Glen Campbell’s Rhinestone cowboy; the theme from SWAT; ABBA’s Dancing Queen sent over by a kind aunt from Sydney; marching band songs played by my brother and sister on weekend parades…or more tellingly perhaps, church choirs and methodist hymns; the Brahms and Beethoven and Mozart played on the piano and organ by my mother; the corny soft seventies ballads (Neil Diamond, Olivia Newton John) played while my dad was working; the wildly diverse American Top 40 hits my brother brought home as soon as he had a job and cash to buy records (Bowie’s John I’m only dancing, Roxy Music’s Avalon). Tracing a single line through all of that would take a lifetime.

Which of course is the self that I want to be – the one that traces the trajectory of that unique hodgepodge of early influences and marries them to what I’ve learned since. This isn’t about being a beautiful snowflake. No sir. It’s more fundamental than that. It’s my life… Trying to craft songs I’m proud of and I love is a task that necessitates digging deep into the past and making decisions now – but also allowing some other stuff which I can’t remember and don’t know I know – into the process.

So what does all this mean in terms of making an album now? I guess the sense that guides me is (as Brian Eno via my friend Barney would remind me) to pay mind to the self I want to be – what do I most suspect I will be proud of tomorrow, next year, in ten years? That’s as difficult a question as I can imagine answering, but one worth pursuing – and one of the reasons it takes me a while to make a record.

When I was young I told a high school counsellor that I wanted to rebel – that I wanted to throw away many of the things I’d been taught growing up that didn’t ring true. The advice she gave me has stuck to this day. She said “Do it. Just remember to hold onto the things that are really important to you.” Crazy advice, but it’s helped me when I’ve made big life changes. I think it feels (today at least) like there is something in that in terms of how and why I produce music.


  • List five songs I remember being important to me as a kid (say before I was ten)
  • Listen to them again
  • What do I still like about them?
  • Try and incorporate that into my current work.