Track By Track: To the Dollhouse by Melodie Nelson

Cherry Cherry
I went into this album with a clearer set of ideas of stories that I wanted to tell and themes for songs. In my notebook, above the title ‘Cherry Cherry’ I wrote a little note to myself that this song is “about an irresistible girl” and that’s what it is about pretty much.

I was listening to Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality a lot and I wanted to write a heavy song. By no means do I think this sounds like Sabbath, but there’s something in the sounds of the instruments on Master of Reality that I really love: a heavy, phaser-y and crunchy ’70s sound in the guitars and bass.

Spin The Bottle
This song is about a really wealthy 16-year-old girl playing spin the bottle in her decrepit old mansion with some pals. There’s a painting of her mother in the scene so we don’t know if her mother is alive or dead, but her overwhelming presence is always felt. It reminds me of that Hitchcock movie Rebecca, about a woman who marries a newly widowed man, but the essence of his dead wife is all around (also see ‘Martha’ below).

Sometimes you write a song and really like it and then when you go through the recording process with it, it doesn’t end up being your favourite anymore. I sort of went through this with ‘Spin The Bottle’. When I demoed it I couldn’t stop thinking about it, but when we recorded it something got lost. That’s not to say I’m not happy with how it turned out – it’s just not my favourite anymore.

Six Six Six
I co-wrote this song with Kell [Derrig-Hall], my boyfriend, one Sunday morning sitting in bed. I just started singing it and we finished writing it in about an hour. I guess it’s about breaking up but not really wanting to and longing for something in a relationship that may never be able to be rectified.

I always knew I wanted Geoff [O’Connor] to sing on this album, because I was recording it in Melbourne and I’ve known him for about 10 years so I was pretty thrilled when he said yes. He was sick when I picked him up to record the vocals, but it was perfect. There’s something really ’70s about Geoff’s vocals, especially when they’re double-tracked, and that was what I wanted to capture in this song.

Martha was probably one of the most challenging songs to write for this album. I had the tune sort of ready for it in my head for weeks, but the vocal melody I was working with was super wordy. I’m not very good with writing long poetic lines and I wasn’t even sure what the song was going to be about. It actually was going to be called ‘To The Dollhouse’, because those lyrics fit into the original rhythm.

Anyway, one morning I woke up in a daze and just tried to play what I’d been hearing in my head using the organ tone on my Nord and then started doing an arpeggio of the chords and thought to myself that it sort of sounded like Goblin. Well, actually what I thought Goblin sounded like in my head. Then Kell woke up and picked up the bass and started playing a real suspenseful, sharp bass line and the song was born.

When we were recording it, I asked [drummer] Hugh [Boyce] to experiment with a disco beat just to see how it would go, and he smashed it! I’m pretty sure that was the moment when the song completely came to life. I don’t feel like I need to explain what this song is about because the whole story is told in the song.

Carry Me
‘Carry Me’ was one of the first songs I had in my head for this album. It reminds me in parts of [the first album’s] ‘My Johnny’, but it’s really different in other ways. It’s about being a bit blue when the seasons change.

I was listening to a lot of the Vivian Girls’ third album [Share the Joy] and jogging at the same time last year. So this song reminds me of that time, like June/July jogging in circles on a cold, muddy football field. (I don’t jog anymore.)

The lead guitar bit was all jangly and fun to do. We actually recorded it in Sydney at my guitarist, Travis [Baird]’s, house. The guitar solo was a Frankenstein mix of both me and Travis playing it, and we welded parts of it together. So neither of us can properly reproduce it now live, but that’s the magic of recording!

To The Dollhouse’
I wanted to write a folk song for this album and this is what came out. It’s partly inspired by Marianne Faithfull and slow Nancy Sinatra songs. It’s about dreams but more specifically based around this Sylvia Plath short story called ‘Johnny Panic and The Bible of Dreams’.

I would attempt to summarise the storyline, but you should read it because it’s a great story. I got really into heavy literature a while ago and I drew a lot of inspiration from writers like Plath and Virginia Woolf (especially To the Lighthouse and The Waves) and Carson McCullers. The title of this song and album is an amalgamation of To the Lighthouse and Valley of the Dolls.

Sunset of Your Life
What I like about Lee Hazlewood’s songs are that sometimes he doesn’t really write choruses and just has soaring singing or a musical line play the chorus for him. And he will repeat lines and make that the title of the song, but it’s never really a chorus. Anyway, I wanted to do that with this song. In this song, in my mind, I see that movie Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, about two elderly sisters living together, struggling with their age and each other. And again that scene of the decaying mansion from ‘Spin the Bottle’ comes back into view.

There was also a story a couple of years ago about the remains of a woman found in a terrace in Surry Hills. She’d been dead for over 10 years and no one really knew. I thought that was a deeply sad story and based a lot of this song on it.

I had a look back at my notebook for the lyrics of this song because, as a band, we’re rehearsing to play it live again and remembered I had rushed to finish writing it. I remember waking up early to finish the lyrics because I was going to Simon [Grounds]’ place to record the vocals that day at 1. A lot of this album was rushed and finished quickly at times, but I don’t really regret that because I don’t think it sounds rushed.

Take Me For A Ride
Sometimes you don’t have a lot to say about a song because you wrote it in about 20 minutes. This is one such song. I had this bass line in mind for months and was looking for a way to incorporate it into a song. It was in a different rhythm originally, but then I accidentally made it funky for this song and it sort of worked, so I went with it. I was also interested in writing a song with a “breakdown” in it and experimenting with time changes. One of my biggest challenges is rhythm because I write all my songs to a drum machine, so they can sounding very loop-based. So I was glad to have a go at slowing the tempo down and then bringing it back up again.

We re-recorded the vocals for this track when I was mixing it with Chris [Townend] in Tasmania. I was due to jump on a plane back to Sydney in two hours and it was a 40-degree day in the middle of the bush. That morning we were greeted with bits of ash floating around in the air and the smell of fire. Chris was really worried about the threat of a bushfire and I remember singing this song with lines like “I’m on fire” while he was refreshing the Tasmanian Fire Service’s website on his dialup internet to check that our area was in the clear.

This was the first song I wrote for this album. I was convinced about a year and a half ago that this second album was just going to sound like Isaac Hayes. And really this song is influenced by Isaac Hayes, particularly his album Black Moses, but I couldn’t justify writing a whole Isaac Hayes album.

‘Hello’ was also the last song I finished for this album. I was having a tough time with the string arrangements because they sounded exactly like another song, so I had to change them and I introduced different instruments like clarinet and flute. It was cool to play woodwind on this album because, like voice, I discovered that I could harmonise the shit out of a bunch of notes. So the flute parts are about four different harmonies, which was really great fun to work out. The flute parts sound like they come from a movie soundtrack and the clarinets sort of sound like busy traffic/horns beeping.

I feel like adding these elements to this song made it more cinematic, like you can see the woman stalking her ex-lover, walking across the street, watching him drinking his coffee through the cafe window, following his brake lights through a rainy windscreen. Or maybe that’s just my creepy mind.

Melodie Nelson with Geoffrey O’Connor (left) who sung on track three Six Six Six!

Her real name is Lia Tsamoglou and this was her second album as Melodie Nelson. This was first published in November 2012 by Doug Wallen on the long forgotten website Mess + Noise and I’m just re-posting it up here on my tiny blog. Unfortunately this was the very last album by her, so far or did I miss the follow-up album somehow? Hopefully she is still writing songs and maybe going to have something new sometime? I think of all these re-posts I’ve put up or got coming, she’s the least well-known artist but at the time I did think this was going to be huge. Unfortunately like a lot of Aussie artists she didn’t catch a big break or whatever you need but I still totally love this album to death! I hope I’m intro it to at least one new listener on my blog here and now, let us know if you do dig it please?

Cheers 🙂

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