This contest was fixed from the start…
My taste in music crystallised in 2004. Since then few bands have elbowed their way into my
record iTunes collection in any permanent fashion. I couldn’t name you any new music that came out in 2014. On a recent podcast I joked with Alan about having a Neil Young shrine in my living room. I wasn’t lying. But that’s a story for another article.
Creativity is turning nothing into something. Different from the joy of Five out of Ten magazine or any of the lovely nonsense on Split Screen, when I make music it’s like conjuring magic from thin air.
This summer I took a week off work, rearranged my living room and sat down to explicitly write and record some music. These are my diary pages and I’d like to take you through them.
One of my big music idols is my best friend Kyle Wood a.k.a. Lovers Turn To Monsters. His creative output is frankly staggering and, much like Neil Young, is a topic for another day. He made the Raw Panic album cover for me at least seven years ago and the title now made sense. I’d told everyone I’d taken a holiday to record music in my living room.
I had a deadline to hit. Seven songs in seven days
Track 1 – Happy Song
This first song of the EP was the final song I recorded. Despite 2014 being a great year for me Raw Panic is a collection of fairly sad songs (spoiler alert).
This song was to prove that I can in fact be happy and was meant to be a joke opener. Then I realised I could twist the final line and make it another sad song. Boom.
Happy Song encapsulates the sound of the EP: down-tuned acoustic guitar, dance-like “heart-beat” bass drums and synths for colour.
Standard tuning of the six guitar stings is EADGbe. I had tuned it down two whole tones to CFA#D#gc (and in a few cases further to A#FA#D#ga#). I’ve probably lost you but the point is my guitar was now in the same range as most bass guitars. This lowered the keys I sing in dramatically which made everything even sadder.
But I called it Happy Song so it’s ok. (I’m genuinely ok).
Track 2 – Excalibur
Turns out I wrote this song about the Sword in the Stone and not Excalibur. But that’s ok because the song is in fact about a girl. We’d been dating for a while, I liked her but ultimately she didn’t feel the same way. Nothing I tried seemed to work with her.
The first lyric that came with the music was “my touch doesn’t move you at all” which lead to the sword in the stone analogy. The opening line “Hello, hello, it’s been a while I know” was meant to open the EP and address my sporadic recording output.
The percussion in the breaks of this song is straight-up goofy. Combination of hand claps, finger snaps, me beating on a John Lewis duvet box and programmed drum machines. I’m still conflicted if it works or not.
The guitar solos over them makes me love it though (at 00:42 and 02:12). I had recorded an iPhone voice memo of the “bassy” guitar riff from about three years ago and every now and then I’d solo/jam over the top of it and found it to be infinitely interesting. The second improvised solo is total Tenacious D material and birthed a riff that I reuse in the outro section.
The second time the riff is played the chords behind are different (at 03:02). The first time it plays the backing chord is an Aminor (sounds sad). The outro is transposed up to its relative major C (sounds happy). This is meant to vibe with how ultimately I moved on and stopped feeling torn/depressed about ultimately not charming the girl in the slightest. It’s like looking back at the same events but from a different viewpoint.
The phrasing of the guitar and tight pairing to the vocal lines in the verses is something I do often. This is me trying to be like Randy Newman, another music idol.
Track 3 – Chrome Heart
This song is a cheat. I’d recorded it two years ago but it never had a proper home. Also I was never happy with some of the guitar lines. I stripped it back and removed some tracks for this EP.
Originally I wanted to write a narrative song like Loudon Wainwright’s The Man Who Couldn’t Cry. I’d had this idea about a robot that had a nuclear bomb for a heart that would explode if it fell in love.
When I’d finished the song I realised I’d just written about myself (again). It’s sort of about how I had only started dated seriously in my twenties and spent too long worrying about such things in my head.
The “blippy” guitar effects in the bridge and videogame synths are meant to be the robot talking (most prominent at 01:18). It’s an effect I found on my Zoom H4n microphone and it makes me laugh.
I’d had the music kicking around my head for years and the 3/4 time signature and folk plucking always felt like a waltz in a castle in front of a king. In my head the robot is sat on a throne, resting on his arm in an empty grand hall.
Lyrically I tried to make the rhymes sit in the middle of the sentences and not on the very end of each line. I didn’t write these lyrics down on paper but rather wrote them by singing the lines over and over across multiple takes. In the end it feels like a nursery rhyme to me:
Chrome Heart, made of metal he sits alone in a throne that he built for himself /
He built himself out of parts and his heart is an old atom bomb from the war /
He wore it so rarely, and every so gently he felt if disturbed it would blow and he’d kill everyone that he knows /
Chrome Heart, now he’s out there he shares his heart with so many with vices so clear /
His nuclear device overloading and now it counts down to what he can’t possible know /
Until he lets it explode.
The multitracked vocals at the end happened by accident. I’d sung two takes and they lined up accidentally.
Track 4 – & I Know
Technically-, legally-, lyrically-speaking this a happy song. A song about visiting family/friends who live far away and about the times when I lived further away from them. Tonally, melodically, musically however this is the saddest of the sad songs.
Despite owning a violin (which I’ve only ever once seriously played) the mournful harmonies in the chorus are from my electric guitar. The electric guitar is pitch shifted up two octaves and plays major/minor third harmonies while I rock back and forth on a volume pedal (a technique called “violining”).
The echo/repeater effect on the verse vocals is to really emphasise that I am not a singer.
I am not a good singer. I cannot sing.
Track 5 – (Oh No)
This song is a sequel in many ways. The original is called (Oh Yes) and I wrote it upon realising that I was in a doomed relationship. That particular one ended a week later.
(Oh No) started with the new verse music which basically adds root (bass) notes to the original verse melody from (Oh Yes). I loved this new version completely and it’s so fun to play. I needed to do something with it. I don’t gig so I decided to rip myself off.
When I started thinking about that old doomed relationship I saw it for what it was: a fun, summer fling. I don’t hold anywhere near the gloom I did during its demise. The song is ultimately about moving on. That’s a theme in most of these songs really.
By the end of the song I repeat whole sections of (Oh Yes) because I didn’t really think about how it should end until I was mid-take recording. I like the idea of literally backtracking over the previous song.
My old flatmate told me the intro/chorus guitar sounds like Newton Faulkner, which is a comparison I’ve had before. I couldn’t tell you if it’s true because I’m scared to listen to Newton Faulkner in case he’s right.
Track 6 – Stoop Kid
Urgh. There’s always one. Always one song that starts with good intentions that ends up sounding blah. This is that song.
Still, got a Hey Arnold reference in there so that’s something, right? Right?
(This song is about the unanswerable question: what am I doing with my life?)
Track 7 – 598.0-598.6nm
Classic rock n roll cliché here. I end the EP with a song named after the Sodium Doublet split emission lines of sodium’s atomic spectra. Put your lighters/smart phones down and let me explain.
This is the reason why streetlights in the UK are yellow. That specific shade of streetlight yellow is home to me. This is a song about going home. It’s a multi-tracked piece of nonsense with too many guitar lines. Very easy to make and chills me out like nothing else.
Good, good vibes.
Well that was self-indulgent, wasn’t it?