In June 2020, I recorded these songs.
In July 2020, I welcomed my daughter into the world.
In May 2023, I wrote these liner notes, that no one asked for, for songs that a few people may listen to.
The previous adiosFamous album I made was 2014’s “Raw Panic”. For my next set of songs, rather than ripping off the emotional bandages of my past, I wanted to rip off Hollywood. I had planned a concept album where each song would be written from the perspective of one of the classic Universal Studio monsters. A rough set list included:
- Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: Maybe a song that starts beautifully and ends ugly. ThE dUaLiTy Of MaN, mAn!
- Aliens: Maybe a song about unknown creeps in clubs. UnKnOwN tHrEaTs!
- Zombies: Maybe a song about bRaIn DeAd SoCiEtY!
- Werewolves: I dOn’T KnOw MaYbE SoMeThInG AbOuT PeOpLe WhO ChAnGe At NiGhT?!
- Vampires: PoEpLe WhO dOn’T CoOk WiTh GaRliC?
Sounds awful, right? Well, at the time it was an interesting idea. I’d never done a concept album and I wanted to write songs in a third-person perspective like Randy Newman.
So, much like the Dark Cinematic Universe, all concept plans were cancelled before it got going.
Meet the Heavy
My next idea was to go heavy. I mainly record songs with acoustic or clean electric guitars, using distortion sparingly for embellishments. There’s a good reason for this: I find recording heavy music on my own to be hard work. For one thing, I don’t have a drum kit. Better still, I’m not a drummer. Apart from laying down basic beats and syncopating along my guitar parts, my brain doesn’t really think in terms of drum parts. A lot of adiosFamous songs use drum synthesisers and programming them is a pig. Hence, the minimalist approach to “Raw Panic” using a simple dance kick drum, dance snare and dance hi-hats. This went well with my
dance melancholic acoustic guitar playing.
This time, I felt motivated to put the time into better using my drum synthesisers and sequencing complicated drum parts.
The Theme Song from Friends
My friend Barry should have a co-credit on some of these tracks. In particular, “Tiger Tiger”, “MRDR”, and “Showtime”. Back in 2008, we briefly jammed in his bedroom as a two-piece band inspired by White Stripes and Blood Red Shoes. Barry wrote out drum parts in a guitar tablature software which meant I could, years later, apply a realistic drum sound patch to export out decent sounding drum tracks. He also wrote killer guitar parts that, over the years, I’ve added to and re-arranged a bit (“Tiger Tiger” and the heavy parts of “MRDR”).
Years later in 2014, I started recording these songs. These were to be the basis of my Universal Monsters concept album.
Mash the fast-forward button some more and I finally finished those jams in 2020 when, a month before becoming a dad, I took advantage of working from home during a lockdown.
Let’s start, shall we?
Actually, before we get to the songs, let me explain the album art. My old album covers were a mixed bag – some downright awful, a few okay. The best-cribbed elements of movie posters from the 1920-1970s from the public domain. I’ve recently remade all my previous album covers to fit in with this vintage movie poster style (originals are on the left, revised on the right).
I had started recording the track “Sleep Routine” when I thought perhaps the cover art could help me find a new direction for the album. After searching around online, I spotted my muse:
I’m only now checking out the Wikipedia page for the movie: “A Degree of Murder is a 1967 West German film, starring Anita Pallenbergand directed by Volker Schlöndorff. Two strangers help a young German hide the body when she accidentally shoots her lover.”
No. None of that applies.
The title “Trigger” came from the poster but led me to the concept: heavy songs about things that trigger me.
That was the idea. Here’s what it led to.
Track 1: “Intro”
- I’m a digital preservationist in my own way. I’ve managed to hold on to two sound files from my parent’s early PC (circa Windows 95/98 era).
- I used the shorter sound file as the intro to “Art in the City”.
- The second longer sound file is a transfer from a vinyl recording of what appears to be a music education lesson for children. I’ve previously used a snippet of this two-minute track as the intro to “Live With It”.
- I use another snipper here because I got a kick out of this album being “just the opposite of soft music“.
Track 2: “Showtime”
- A song about me writing this song to show myself and remind others that I write songs. Look, it’d been a while. I feel like a kid standing in front of an uninterested class showing them my things.
- “What have I got in this red wooden box that I’ll show to the class today?” is a reference to my red, Epiphone SG electric guitar which was the sole guitar on this album.
- This is the most patch-worked song on the album, stitched together as it is from:
- odds and ends of guitar parts from the 2010s;
- drums cannibalised from Barry’s drum parts from “Tiger Tiger” and “MRDR”, with a little extra by me;
- the main chorus lyric “Oh, still you call my name / I’m always wanted, I’m never needed” came to me when I first wrote the guitar part all those years ago. I kept it true and wrote out the rest of the lyrics from there.
- The vocals in the chorus were meant to have the vibe of one of my favourite songs, “Enjoy the Silence” by Depeche Mode. This did not translate to the recording. My lyric of “I’m always wanted, I’m never needed” is rather too close to Depeche’s “All I ever wanted / All I ever needed“, so I must have had that in my head at the time. I hope I don’t get sued.
- I tried to do more “talky” singing this album to mixed results (translation: I don’t like it). I want to redo them and sing them properly but, well, this is a record of what I did at the time, so who am I to muck around with history? A bad singer, that’s who.
- The slightly dancey outro bit is now the third appearance of an ‘Em – F#/D – G – Am’ progression across my albums. So, that’s either one of my signature moves or a rather telling move that I don’t have that many ideas.
- #1: “So Low” (jump to 02:50ish):
- #2: “Take Back” (jump to 02:06ish, “We’ve been here before, do you remember?” has meaning in the song and doubles as a tacit admission I’m reusing the chord progression from “So Low”):
Track 3: “Black & Blue”
- The working title was “Kings” because the opening riff felt like Queens of the Stone Age to me. I like choppy riffs.
- This was the first totally new song I wrote for this album. I start recording an album with a handful of songs in a 60% complete state in my head. Once I get a few songs recorded, it’s easier to come up with fresh music. “Sleep Routine”, “In The Garden”, and “Good Times, Again” are the fresh ones here and are more cohesive as a result.
- The lyrics are about getting into arguments with people and how, regardless of being on the receiving end of the initial blows, it feels like a no-win situation when “fighting” back e.g. “if I cuff you, I’m guilty too”.
- The walking bass line in the pre-chorus (01:05ish) would sound so much stronger if I had a real bass guitar. In the absence of one, I use my electric guitar to play one octave lower using a DigiTech Whammy pedal. Hence, the bass lacks any attack/bite and feels soft. I may not redo vocals but whenever I buy a bass guitar, I will redo the bass lines in my songs for sure.
- The chorus has a Strokes-y feel to it with the type of chords I’m playing.
- I tried the talky singing style thinking that Julian Casablanca did it a bit in some heavy Strokes songs but clearly, I miss the target here.
- The drums are all programmed by me and I wanted them to be gleeful in how fake they are. Ergo, lots of fake dance claps.
- The guitar solo is the most distortion I could muster: Electric guitar played hard through a Russian Big Muff fuzz pedal going into my Behringer amp with full gain with the most overdriven digital effect turned on. Close to white noise; it’s like a shouty mess of a fight where the words don’t matter.
- I generally never write solos and just leave space for them in the structure of the song. When I record the solo, I play along to what’s mostly a completed track and try to limit it to a few takes and leave whatever happens there. The problem with multitrack recording for me is everything can be so prepared in advance, like carefully laying out bricks and building up a wee building. The not-so-planned guitar solo is a chance to grab a brush and freely splash some colour on it.
- My singing is especially lifeless in this one. I cranked this album out in two weeks before my daughter was born so I did enough takes for “good enough” only and then moved on.
Track 4: “Tiger Tiger”
- An oldie. The guitar is definitely something that Barry first wrote under the name “Half a Chance” according to my detailed historical records. Over the years, I’ve changed bits but it is largely as it was all those years ago.
- This was going to be one of the awful Universal Monster concept songs about aliens / unknown creeps in clubs. I kept an aspect of that and wrote about the bad times I had going to the club Tiger Tiger when I lived in Portsmouth in 2013/14.
- The ‘aliens’ idea is why the guitars have the sweeping flanger effects applied i.e. like a UFO beam sweeping the room.
- “So give me half a chance / these buildings were not built up for romance”, is what I remember Barry singing but I might be wrong. I wrote my lyrics out from that line.
- I remember one time in Tiger Tiger when I sobered up while dancing to the realisation I was dancing on broken glass. I’d rather dance on broken glass than go to Tiger Tiger is a sentient I had and so I distinctly recall ending my night out there and going home to pick out shards of glass from my shoes.
Track 5: “MRDR”
- Another piece of brilliant guitar and drum music from Barry. I hope I don’t get sued.
- I added a lot more to this one than in “Tiger Tiger”: Lots of additional guitar parts, doubling up and down octave sections.
- The abysmal Universal Monster concept for this one was going to be a riff on Dr Jekyll / Mr Hyde. Hence the name, MRDR = MR & DR. I don’t know how I’d pronounce “MRDR”. It would be either “murder” or “mister doctor”. Your choice.
- I really let the song down with my lyrics. I had scraps of lines I liked and tried to tie it together with a theme about how I tend to ruin my free time and hobbies by turning them into jobs. I wrote about this in Issue #3 of Five out of Ten magazine. The lyrics are pretty bland and don’t match the music.
- The end section is my creation. I like to write songs that start in one place and end somewhere completely different. This ending sounds really demented but also a little sweet. It fit with the Jekyll/Hyde idea of a transformation in the song. This multi-track layering of guitar parts I find effortlessly easy to make. This is like the minor key variation to the major key ending to “Not A Career” from “Live With It”, another great piece of music ruined by half-baked lyrics.
Track 6: “Sleep Routine”
- I think I wrote the guitar intro first which is wild because the whole song is unpacked from there: the chorus vocal melody, the chord progression, the bass line. It’s like starting with a little origami crane that unfolded into a larger map. Of a larger crane? Maybe?
- Really good guitar parts often come with a lyric with me, a free bonus. “I hear you’re sleeping through the night / I don’t think you should, but that’s fine”. I like the casualness of this line. A play on “How do they sleep at night?”.
- Simple idea but convoluted lyrics. A song about wondering how other people do bad things and sleep presumable well, while I lie awake aghast at their actions and unable to switch off. The first verse is about world leaders. The second verse is closer to home about a friend who did a thing to a friend, that I disagree with.
- The chorus came easy.
- The verses not so. Somehow, I decided to use seven words from a famous Penn & Teller magic trick “The Seven Principles of Magic”. Thematically, the song deals with untrustworthy people so I wrote lyrics through the seven principles: palm, ditch, steal, load, simulation, misdirection, switch.
- A convoluted idea, but it holds together well enough.
- I love the escalation of the chorus into an admission of “I hope you die” while pseudo-Daft Punk “Get Lucky” funky choppy guitars keep things light.
- I think of the guitar solo here as being a 1980s solo. Not sure why.
- The verses had a John Frusciante feel to them originally, but my sloppy bass playing put an end to that.
- This is one of my favourite songs I’ve ever written.
Track 7: “Bad Love”
- The other multitrack songs don’t constrain themselves with realism. By that I mean, I add whatever I want regardless of how many musicians it would take to play it live.
- This song is different: imagine a three-piece band playing in a jazz club along the banks of the Thames in London.
- This song is about a bad date I went on in a jazz club along the banks of the Thames in London.
- The main guitar parts are things I’ve had for donkeys years. The working title was “Empty ‘40s”.
- This is one of the strongest songs on the album: Lyrics are good, the music is solid, the theme ties it together, it’s not too long.
- I used FL Studio to record these songs and to create the drum parts. I found a bank of template parts and I stitched them together and tweaked them to get what are my favourite drum parts. Again, mainly templates, but they sound more realistic than my raw abilities can muster.
- I like how the chorus is one line: “Love isn’t good when it feels like this”.
Track 8: “Frank”
- The oddball track. One Christmas, I was back home visiting my parents in Scotland when I lived and worked in England. I didn’t have my guitar amps down south with me, so I set it up in my old room and was mucking around. I set my iPhone on the amp and recorded this music.
- Apart from one edit, to snip out a boring twenty-second section, this is a pure improvisation by myself. You can hear when I falter a bit here and there.
- Named “Frank” because of Frankenstein because I thought the moment when the distortion kicks in at 00:55ish sounded like the thunder and lightning striking the electrodes that bring the monster alive, echoing amongst the clouds. That’s all nonsense I’ve built up after the fact, but it sounds cool to me.
- This is the only Universal Monster song to survive in its original version. Well done, Frank.
Track 9: “In The Garden”
- The verses are Neil Young-inspired vamps between a few chords.
- This is to contrast the chorus where the vocal line sits right on top of the guitar melody. I needed the verses to be looser on all accounts.
- This is a very adiosFamous song if I do say so myself.
- The delayed guitars (which range between 4 and 6 throughout the song) panned to the sides and were fun to mix. They all start clean and then verse by verse, chorus by chorus, and they ramp up in distortion until they end up fully distorted by the end of the song. I like the “wall of sound” effect it gives an otherwise simple song.
- The song is about me being in love with my wife and tells that in three short stories of previous dates and the day I wrote this song. It also tells the story of how, for a good six months, I would get this short panic before falling asleep that I might die in my sleep. So the song knits those two very different emotions together.
Track 10: “Good Times, Again”
- This is probably the song I listen to the most. The final song I wrote and recorded.
- It’s about being happy in my life and anticipating the arrival of my first child.
- It’s a whole bunch of guitars (about eight at one point) which is a lot. I wanted a wall of fuzzy sound to go with the warm, fuzzy happiness I felt.
- It’s a direct telling of what I was doing when I wrote the song; the sun setting outside the window while I worked on this song.
- A lot of this album was recorded with my guitar detuned by two whole steps which is why the riffs are way deep and heavy.
- The title and main lyric is a call back to “Good Times, Like” from “Live With It”. Not sure how I made this connection. “Good Times, Like” is about hanging out in my flat with friends. This was about hanging out in my house with my family.
- This features a cameo from my daughter. The whooshing sound at 01:40ish is a recording of the ultrasound of my daughter’s heartbeat when in my wife’s womb. A song about waiting for her, featuring her before she arrived.
- Good times.