The record opens with the first song I wrote for this project. It was written as a sign of solidarity for close friend Heinz Riegler. He requested I perform along side him in Brisbane upon his re-entry into live performance after an extended hiatus. Apart from a liberal smattering of Nation songs inaccurately performed at half speed, I worked on a couple of new pieces to show that some degree of effort had been attempted. The show in February 2009, held in the cool room of Jamie’s Café in The Valley, was the first time I performed solo and the first time ‘Painted Blue’ was performed in its entirety, albeit inaccurately and at half speed.
A wretched experience whereby the support structure usually relied upon in the performance of song was absent and therefore I had no one to blame but myself. I remember looking down at the guitar and at my hands that formed weird crustacean shapes, reluctant to shed their shells. Every time I tried to sing I could feel myself looking down at the whole scene from the roof burning eye holes in my bald spot, screaming obscenities. Against my better judgment I stuck it out. With little in the way of cardio and combined with the god forsaken humidity, I wouldn’t have gotten far anyway. Heinz completely lucked out with a total power failure and he got to perform his set acoustically and in the dark.
Riegler made two further trips to Melbourne following this first show and both times I was forced to perform solo at Heinz’s request. The horrors of solo performance conditioned me enough to entertain starting another project: one without the tiresome sight of blood pouring from my fat face. And thus Harmony was born.
This is a piece of officially sanctioned madness that I was told in primary school by a teacher. A threat lauded over young children that if you misbehaved, Black Bob would come down from the hills and kill you. There are many variations on this story. It is a disturbing piece of Tasmanian folklore: at the turn of the century, a boy dragged his recently deceased mother into the nearest town from their home at Black Bobs in the hills of the Derwent Valley after disemboweling her to lighten the load. The horrified townsfolk sent the local constabulary to the home and they found a deformed child chained to a pole in a cage barking like a dog. The child, in one version of events had a snout and large incisors. The accuracy of these reports vary but most Tasmanian children have been traumatised by the tale of Black Bobs.
‘Fourteen’ is about a number of friends who have passed away over the years and details more so the impact of their absence on loved ones. It is dedicated to those people. It features the first performance of the Harmony vocal ensemble and you can almost hear that initial burst of inspiration electrifying the room. The three heads I had envisioned for the band [Amanda Roff, Quinn Veldhuis and Maria Kastaniotis] all agreed and met for the first time and performed this, while I sat in front of the machine and tried my hardest to remember to breathe. This is my favourite song on the record and the watershed moment in the band’s short existence.
‘Grand Designs’ explores the inadequacies of humans in water and their deep-set paranoias, conditioned by years of coastal horror stories. It celebrates the shark’s position at the apex of the food chain, which even in absence reduces intelligent people to irrational breakdown. ‘Grand Designs’ explores the relationship of the shark and swimmer with an extended outro that depicts an encounter. This outro was performed by plugging in every pedal I own and literally kicking them around the room, while mauling the guitar to within an inch of breaking. It’s a one-take wonder, unedited and perhaps the only point in the record where everything finally completely falls apart.
‘No Hope’ is our attempt to really hit that sombre note of ’50s and ’60s girl group ballads. Old instrumentation and haunting melody. It features a pretty wailing bridge as performed by Maria Kastaniotis. Once again this was a first take that was intended to be a demo but remained throughout recording and mixing. As with much of the vocals, things that were intended as guide tracks survived for the duration as removing or correcting them seemed like putting the kids on ritalin.
‘Ghosts On Mainstreet’
This song is about European impact on indigenous Australians, in particular the forced removal of children from their families. For me this is one of the most difficult songs to sing. In even broaching the subject as a non-indigenous Australian, it kinda smacks of the same imperialism that it’s meant to condemn but it’s on my mind daily.
Extinction debt is the lag effect of loss of habitat. With the destruction of habitat, dependent species can continue living but are unable to reproduce and die out. Not that that would have any implications for the human race.
The first song recorded by Alex [Kastaniotis] and myself after 10 years together. We’d never composed together and I had no idea if we would even be compatible musically. ‘Cacophonous Vibes’ is a chord progression I have employed countless times in other songs but our chemistry took it to a new place. This is how I wanted the whole album to sound; clipped, fucked, ragged and worn, but there were numerous, dubious techniques I employed to achieve the sound that weren’t sustainable for other songs. Marc Ribot asked if he could play on this one too but I thought it was perfect the way it was. Brave. You can actually hear my vocal chords shredding.
‘Heartache’ is another sad song ramped up a little more for dramatic impact. It speaks of my tendency towards the negative safe ground. It’s hard to write happy, uplifting songs. Give it a go sometime. It features the guitar playing of my favourite guitarist Marc Ribot. Marc was to contribute a couple of short solos to the song but supplied us with four takes of the entire song. The first is Ribot setting up and tinkering and progresses through to the madness of the final take, which we used. Any of the four would have sufficed. Much in the same fashion as his playing on Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs, we simply selected one complete take and faded Marc in and out where required. His playing is astounding and has effectively ruined the song’s live performance in his absence. Probably the high watermark of my musical life having my favourite musician contribute to a record.
‘Miss The Sting’
A fictional tale of the difficulties of overcoming addiction and the void that remains for some who find the re-entry back into the daily grind uninspiring compared to the lofty heights produced by the substance. The outro of this song hurts to sing. Not like ‘Ghosts on Mainstreet’, more like eating glass and rusty razors. In high school they forced us to compete at cross country running so the teachers could have a break from all of the prison yard hi-jinx. That feeling is as close as I can describe performing the end of this song. Things gets tunnel-y and multi-coloured and sometimes a little black. I am going to start performing this on my knees live so that when my brain finally explodes I will be half way down. OH&S.
‘On Love In Your Absence’
A bookend to the scenario depicted on ‘Painted Blue’. Obsession and menace dealt with in reciprocal measures. When I write fictitious ramblings or narratives, they always end up inadvertently stalky. These two songs seemed like appropriate bookends for the record, and ‘On Love In Your Absence’ employs my favourite lyrical technique of trying to deliver horrible lyrics in a beautiful way. Obviously it helps if you have a voice like Gareth Edwards (Sandro, Holy Rose), who is probably the most magnificent exponent of this practice. But then again, not being able to sing has never stopped me from perpetrating this madness.
Yet another one first published in July 2011 on the now long dead website Mess + Noise where singer-songwriter-guitarist Tom Lyngcoln (The Nation Blue) talks the debut self-titled album for Harmony, his then new project featuring his wife Alex Kastaniotis on drums, Jon Chapple on bass and a three-part vocal ensemble provided by Amanda Roff, Quinn Veldhuis and Maria Kastaniotis. Yet another re-post on my blog because I totally love this album and is yet another under-rated Aussie gem which maybe someone might have listen if I post it up here? Or not!