SHARKS OF THE ATOMIC ATOLL

I think Sharks of the Atomic Atoll was the name of a documentary I watched ages ago. It’s a great collection of words. Quite evocative. It was a completely different, and shit, song I wrote many moons ago but I always liked the title. I pinched it for this as it represented what was going on in the weird little story behind the album. In a nutshell the story is thus:

- boy meets girl, boy marries girl, boy goes mad, boy gets locked up, boy has visions of world ending, boy gets taunted by people, world actually starts ending, boy escapes, boy kills taunty people, girl and self, no-one lives happily ever after -

It’s no Notting Hill but it’s slightly less bleak than The Road.

The male/femal dual vocal stuff I talked about before was used to good effect here and I also like the little choral thang at the end. Even if we did nick it from Everything Everything. What’s the saying about ‘genius steals…?’ – we steal a lot of stuff it seems….

Some more recording tomfoolery below (and another demo that didn’t make the cut in ‘Since I Came Down’…)

And the usual live shenanigans…

Published in: on September 19, 2014 at 10:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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THE FOREST (THE DEVIL IS IN THE DIRT)

‘The Forest (The Devil is in the Dirt)’ is definitely one of the songs that is most fun to play live. What with me ripping off Survivors ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and Destiny’s Child’s ‘Bootylicious’ it certainly was an off kilter direction for TBOTB to head in. Like I said before though, if something made us chuckle in practice, it went in. Really piling on the Carlos Santana guitar too. Ridiculous.

It got some play on the ace Amazing Radio which was cool and an email from Rob Da Bank said it reminded him of Nick Cave which I was over the moon with. Funny that we got asked to play Bestival this year on the same day we announced splitting up. Life is strange.

The song itself doesn’t really mean anything at all – I think I was just trying to outdo ‘Alaska’ on least-words-in-song. But it fitted in with the story running through the album which I try badly to explain below. Me and Elliott were both working in the studio at that point. We clearly didn’t have much else on. It does include us playing a song that didn’t make the final cut called ‘All Our Days Are Wasted’ though. Chirpy.

And here’s a bit more of that recording lark which contains some live ‘Forest’ action…

Plus 3 other live renditions…

Also, hats off to Jake the Snake once again as he made this song sound tons better than it did originally…as this little titbit showed…

CHEMIKALS

The actual process of recording album 2 ended up taking far longer than we thought….around 18 months in total. It all gets a bit blurry as to what actually happened when and where but I’ll try and sum it up swiftly in the following format. Read it as quick as you can:

“…TBOTB start recording 2nd album….function band forms with some members to try and make some money….Wit sings ‘Love Shack’ and feels he’s let himself down so quits function band before a gig is even played…other original bands form with various Bang members – Zegema Beach (Ox & Rox), Analogue Manilow (Wit & Dave) and The Retrospective Soundtrack Players (Ox & Elliott)…TBOTB continue recording 2nd album…..the inbred Southsea misery-folk Jelly Maid/TBOTB/Dawn Chorus non-scene gets stretched to breaking point….Ox leaves…..The Dawn Chorus split up…Sexy Keef (from DC) joins….Rox leaves…..Emily joins….Ox rejoins on guitar…..Rox rejoins….Jack still exists in limbo (Sherfield on Loddon)….some of the newly formed bands split….TBOTB continue recording 2nd album…Emily leaves…Wit has existential crisis/breakdown….TBOTB finish recording 2nd album…”

And we all drank lemonade. The End.

Except it wasn’t. As we were finishing the final notes two things occurred.

One was that my good friend from Uni, Mr Jake Gordon offered to mix the album and he had worked with some ace folks that year like Wild Beasts and Everything Everything. He also has golden ears and access to some incredible studios (and equipment) in London at his place of work so we knew it would sound far better than if it had just been left to me. We’d tracked a couple of early bits with Neil of 1st album infamy but he was so busy with the last DC album and The RSP we ended up doing a lot of it ourselves. The only issue was that Jake had to do it in his downtime which meant it was on a ‘as and when’ basis. Fair play to him though as it was a massive favour to us…just took a little longer than expected. All this drama also meant we binned off a lot of the songs that I had earmarked for the 3 act thing and honed it down what we thought were the best tunes. Thank God.

Two was that Jelly Maid Music, our label run from Old Blacksmiths by Rich Tamblyn, imploded as he sold the studio (to another good pal Whyntie – I told you Southsea was incestuos…) – we were now essentially homeless. Our fresh and spangly album finally ready in our hands and no way to release it. Balls. We hawked it around a few places to no avail and I was getting more and more down – so much hard work on something I was really proud of that no-one seemed to want. Sometimes you just need a helping hand and that came from a new and wondrous shop that had recently opened nearby. Pie & Vinyl. Exactly. What a place. They were lovely guys and we quickly became firm friends and occasional lovers. Steve from P&V told me that he wanted to start a label and so a plan was hatched for us to be the first release. It was an honour and exciting to be part of something up and coming, new and inspiring.

In the end, Record Store Day 2013 was chosen as the day of release and we pulled out all the stops to get it cut on actual vinyl, fulfilling one of my life goals. It’s another long story but we were still hand pressing the A & B side labels the night before release after a cock-up at the pressing plant. DIY til we die. Nothing is ever easy in this band. It never has been.

So…anyway…Chemikals….with a k. Why not? Jauntier than anything we’d previously done and benefiting greatly from the inclusion of Pauly B our favourite trumpeter as well as another friend Ken on Sax. The lyrics tell of how the main protagonist of the story (again, more on which later…) is a man controlled by his urges. After all, we’re all just chemical signals at the end of the day. Love, lust, fear etc….all just electrical flashes in the synapses of our silly brains. This being a human stuff is complex.

(Un)fortunately we filmed some of our recording process which I’ll put up in segments so you can see in to the dark corners of the minds of genius’s (genii?). It’s not just a bunch of twats playing Sweet Child o’ Mine constantly.

And below are 3 live cuts of the song from the Wedgewood Rooms in Southsea (w/ Pauly B), The Bull & Gate in Kentish Town and The Wheelbarrow in Camden…

AIM HIGH

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh the difficult second album. Where to begin? Well…with ‘Aim High’ that’s where.

The ORIGINAL plan was to get in and record this new set of songs as quickly as possible, pretty much track everything live and get it done swiftly. How wrong we were. The band at this point I think had expanded to Myself, Dave on guitar, Ox on bass, Elliott on drums and Roxanne on keys. Jack had moved to the imaginary, made-up place of Sherfield-on-Loddon for work and, although he was still a member of the band, logistics prevented him on getting down much to Southsea to record anything.

Rox was a great addition – lending her ace vocals and silky piano skills to many a track. I’d always wanted dual male/female vocals (which is why 3 songs on our first album have ladies as guest singers) and I started writing accordingly. The mighty Ox had also stepped in to a full time role after we’d toured together as Dawn Chorus stand-ins. No-one slappa da bass like him.

So….what happened? Well, rather selfishly I went off traveling around Asia for 3 months (in order to…you know….like….totally find myself dahling…) and I got engaged. Upon returning, I’d had all these new ideas for songs and music. The main crux of which was a ridiculously overblown concept piece, more of which I’ll chat about later. I’d made recordings of foley and sound effects etc…while I was away and wanted to take the thread of ‘Beginning. Middle. End’ even further with a 3 act concept album. As you do. If you’re going to do something, you may as well go for it eh? Well thank God it didn’t actually happen like that as I think the slimmed-down, final group of tracks that became album 2 are much, much better for it.

‘Aim High’ was an early contender. I wanted to streamline my songwriting and condense my ideas a little. If there’s a major criticism (that I also sort of see as a positive to be honest…) with the first album it’s that it sounds like loads of different bands. Album 2 was a conceited effort to come up with a TBOTB definable ‘sound’. Still an eclectic one but more focused and direct.

Originally a gentle little acoustic number, I’d been inspired by some of the chanting monks (I’m not even lying…what a tool…) from Laos and Vietnam etc…so, wherever we could force a big, gang vocal harmony in, we did. Fittingly, we thought it should open the album and it ended up being our second single. I made the video using an iPhone app for nothing. It took forever. But it does sum up the whole period of recording quite nicely…

A live version from The Bull & Gate, Camden for Club Fandango…

…and from our album launch at The Wedgewood Rooms (nice intune vocals at the start there…few nerves I expect…)

…finally the song in it’s original guise shortly after writing…

PADRE, OH PADRE!

My personal favourite of the ART NOUVEAU tracks. Was going for a real Bon Iver-y kind of vibe I suppose. Sorry about using the word ‘vibe’ there. Too late.
Good ol’ Nelly played sublime trumpet and lap steel on this which I think really elevate the track. The ending in particular I was always really pleased with, the muted piano and layered vocals. Some artists say they hate listening to their own stuff. I’ve always tried to write music that I like and want to hear. Sometimes I mess it up completely and listen back with maximum cringe but other times I feel quite proud. Maybe that’s big headed. I do have to wear a large size of hat.
The lyrics are just a made up nonsense story of an elderly man looking back on his life and young love lost in old Mexico. Why? Why not? I went to Chichen Itza. It was amazing. So in it went. It doesn’t always have to be turmoil and despair you know…
So that’s the ART EP’s in a nutshell. We toured around the UK a couple of times in support…then we took stock, steadied ourselves and began what would really be the final journey. Album 2. Christ what a long time that took….more on that soon sports fans.
As I’ve posted up some shonky covers on the past few posts here’s the last one I’ve found. ‘House’ by Patrick Wolf. Sketchy as you like.

Published in: on September 12, 2014 at 10:05 am  Leave a Comment  
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COSINES

I don’t recall a lot about writing this song. It was one of the ‘written-in-twenty minutes’ ones. Sometimes, you’ll toil and toil over a song for years (literally) and you finally get to completing it only to realise it’s not as good as you’d hoped. Other times, you sit eating dinner or nonchalantly filing your nails, you pick up a guitar and inadvertently smash out a guaranteed pop number one in 5 mins.
In truth, my songwriting lies somewhere betwixt those two opposing nadirs. Oftentimes, I write a song really quickly, declare it the best thing ever, listen back to it a week later and realise that it’s utterly shit. Other times you have a little idea or riff and it can be months later that you write something else that makes you remember your earlier idea…pop the two together and you have something surprisingly nice. There the ones that I usually stick with. I don’t tend to write too much down or record any initial thoughts so, if I play something a few times and still like it/remember it a week or two later, then it’s probably worth pursuing. Always music first though. Lyrics come later. Generally about half an hour before we have to record it in the studio.

With ‘Cosines’, I think I probably loved it at the time but listening back now I actually don’t think it has much going for it. I like a few of the lyrics (about underachieving….again!) and the mention of good old Alfred (finished lighting his fires now…) but I don’t know…it’s not a classic Bang track by any means.
To make up for that, here is a classic track by one of my favourite artists ever. You’ll have to put up with  me covering it though I’m afraid. Sorry about that.

Published in: on September 11, 2014 at 2:15 pm  Comments (1)  
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PORT LA GALÉRE

Port La Galère, I’m led to believe, is a swanky area of the Côte d’Azur. Ive not been there myself. But JG Ballard told me so in his ace book Super-Cannes. This song is loosely based on ideas from said novel which, if you’ve read it, deals with a privileged, elite Utopian society of ex-pats living it up in the sun. On the face of it, everything looks swanky-dory but below the surface ugliness awaits. I should write the tag lines for books eh? The lyrics to this song kind of reflect that same feeling. Being somewhere where you feel a prisoner even though you are free and happy. Sinister. That imagery I find ever so appealing. Ballard’s book Cocaine Nights is on a similar bent and this ditty was indeed originally titled Heroine Chic. I then decided that was a bit of a toss title and rather than a light nod I went for a full on pinch. Again.

It’s an old song anyhow and has gone through a few different permutations in a couple of previous bands. For this take the accordion seemed to lead it so that’s the way we went. The percussion throughout is one of this clicky frog things you bring back from holiday (I think it was Kyle DC’s in this case…) and some little blocks of wood that we set up. I also remember doing a load of takes of that faux-flamenco guitar at the end as I constantly kept muffing it up. No Guitarist of the Year Awards heading my way anytime soon.

For no reason other than the holiday/coast/sun link, here’s me in a dodgy vest (I’d just woken up…) with a terrible barnet (no excuse…) covering Metronomy on banjo. Standard.

WOODEN BONES

And so we gallop onwards to the ART NOUVEAU EP. The idea behind it was to present a flip side to the electric, full band ART DECO EP. If you bought that you got a code that would give you a free download for these gentler, acoustic offerings. I don’t think I ever actually got round to sorting it out like that though – instead we just bunged it up on our soundcloud page for any folks to have if they wanted it.

The first track is ‘Wooden Bones’. I recorded most of these songs on my own or with Nelly at Old Blacksmiths during downtime from us working there. I think The Dawn Chorus were recording what would be their last album ‘Tremendous Magic’ around the same period so I asked Kyle if he was up for singing a duet with me and this was the result. It’s a song about being lazy. Of which I am. Lazyness is highly underrated you know. We’d talked about performing it live a couple of times but it never came about. In fact I don’t recall anything on this EP being played live by us. Lazy.

Whatever instruments were around on the day got chucked on – banjo, mandolin, shaker. We were going for a Neutral Milk Hotel/Bright Eyes spontaneous lo-fi(ish) sound I suppose. I was listening to a lot of Decemberists around then too. Hazards of Love. What an album.

ALABASTER STATUES

Alabaster Statues. AKA Alabastard Statues.

The overriding memory of this is one that still makes me laugh. We played it at local legendary gig venue The Wedgewood Rooms (think it might even have been our first time there perhaps…?) and halfway through, for whatever reason, it just completely collapsed. Often when playing live each of us will mess something small up here and there – it’s part of the fun and the human element of performing. Generally though, it’s just a fluffed guitar line, an out of tune vocal or a missed snare. Something little that we notice on stage and grimace at but 9 times out of 10 an audience wouldn’t. However. This was not one of those times. I don’t think its ever happened before or since but, struggle as we might in the 10 or 20 seconds of chaos looking at each other with terrified faces, it became clear that none of us knew where the fuck we were in the song. Was it a chorus? Were the drums meant to be there? Have I just sung the wrong bit entirely? It took the ridiculously loud voice of Jack Malpas-Coker (who was playing bass on it) to shout ‘SHUUUUUUT UUUUUUUP!!!!’ which killed our damply-meandering feedback guitars and Elliott’s clutching-at-straws drums silent. He then began the bass line for the outro and we all joined in one by one and finished the song. There was a review of the gig that mentioned our something like our ‘unique ability to seamlessly intertwine the songs without knowing whether it was a new track’ that cracked us up after. In actual fact it was just that we’re all shit musicians.

As for the song itself, it’s an oldie. Even pre-Manifesto I think. The Bloc Partyish guitar makes me think I wrote it around their ‘Silent Alarm’ period as I loved that album. I don’t think the spiky post-punk thing was for us really, hence why it wasn’t a contender for ‘Beginnning. Middle. End.’. I do like it though. Especially the reverby intro (which came straight from the demo) and the electro/drum n bassy ending (which me and Nelly sat for ages auditioning kick and snare sounds for…)

Anything else? Usual dour lyrics of feeling separate from the world around you – heavily indebted to Smashing Pumpkins I expect at this point. I am sometimes a chirpy person honestly. Happy about mentioning Damocles sword too.

Also, the artwork for this EP took me bloody ages even though it looks like the most basic and simple thing in the world that a 4 year old with a book about art deco did on paint. We did some limited edition physical copies that we tied up with string n’all (and I think might have even had some form of glitter on them???). I remember us all frantically tying them up before playing at Brixton Windmill. Good banana cake from a cafe around the corner the band tell me.

Published in: on September 9, 2014 at 2:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

REYKJAVÍK 101

Little did I know when writing this silly little ditty what an impact it would – indirectly – actually have on my life. Myself and my wife now run a cafe-bar in our home town of Southsea called 101 Reykjavík…(it’s the postcode of the trendy downtown area of Iceland’s capital in case you were wondering…).

We went to Iceland for the first time in 2009 for the Airwaves festival – it was incredible. We fell in love with the place, the people, the music (which I had only really dabbled in previously and now listen to almost exclusively) – it felt like home immediately.

We went back the following year, and the year after, and the year after that. Each time we took more folks, most of TBOTB have been now and loved it too. When Bjork unveiled her Biophillia show there in 2011 on my 30th birthday words failed me. Simply stunning. I took a photo of the setlist. Ox simply asked the sound guy if he could have it (he’s got brains that lad). He then gave it to me as a birthday pressie which I was absolutely touched by. It’s one of my most prized possessions.

We vowed that we couldn’t justify spending so much again in 2012 (it’s really not too cheap there) and decided the only way we would go that year would be if Sigur Ros (probably my favourite band ever) were playing. Who did they then go and announce? Yes indeed. Flight were booked once more. Immense. And broke.

Anyway, it was after that first visit in ’09 that this song was written. Upon our arrival in Reykjavík we wandered down to a little bar to watch a load of local bands we’d never heard of, one of which were called Retro Stefson. They all looked as young as cress (because they were…around 15/16 I think at the time…) but, and I don’t say this lightly when it comes to music, I was absolutely blown away. The best live band I’ve ever seen. I don’t normally go for jaunty, upbeat stuff as I’m a miserable git but there was something about their enthusiasm and togetherness that had the crowd going mental. It was totally joyous to behold. The band are now a firm TBTOB fave and we’ve seen them a fair few times live. Highly recommended.

‘Reykjavik 101′ (I put the 101 for the title at the end for whatever reason…maybe so it sounded more like a lesson…) is an absolute rip off of the sort of thing that Retro Stefson do – only they do it much better. I’d say it was an homage again but it’s not…it’s an absolute steal. Crunk beat, dual harmony guitars, heavy metal chorus, synthesisers. Utter, utter thievery. It’s got a robotic Icelandic voice throughout translating a poem I wrote that I’ve now lost so couldn’t tell you what it was saying. The chord at the very end is the last chord of ‘Heartbeat’ by Buddy Holly who is one of my all time favourite guitarists. Another factette for you there.

We play it live at the end of ‘Film Noir’ as it kind of seamlessly mixes in. When we did our second album launch at The Wedge last year we did this in the encore and had a section where we introduced each member of the band Jools Holland style (because I actually hate it when bands do that…). Every member played the worst thing they could with Keef’s Jurassic Park solo being a personal highlight. Splendid.

Published in: on September 3, 2014 at 11:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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