FROM "LONERISM" TO 4-HEADED DEMOCRATIC BEAST - the road to Who Are We Turning Into?
In the often-silly world of serious music journalism there's this thing called "A Classic Band's Folly In An Otherwise Largely Unimpeachable Back Catalogue". Think "Trans" (actually, Neil's had a few), "Never Let Me Down" (ditto Bowie), "Goodbye Cruel World", "Outside The Gate", "Sefronia", "Walls & Bridges"... you know, the one that tests the hardcore fan's patience. The more my own insecurities about playing music strip away the less I subscribe to any such notion, but I'm as guilty as many of towing the music snob line in the not-too-distant past.
The 1980's effect on music has been (arguably) largely forgiven, but at the dawn of the '90's a lot of my records started to be hidden from sight for fear of embarrassment as I started to build my new twenty-something personality in the pre-social media sense.
And so it was with Roxy Music's maligned "Flesh & Blood" album. Rhythm section sacked (the Great Paul Thompson - I later learned- fer chrissakes!) & replaced by session cats, half a batch of Ferry-selected covers & produced to a sheen apparently not as likeable as the even more slick final album "Avalon", journos love to trot it out as some kind of musical mistake.
But on Christmas 1980, the year of it's release and not long after I'd hit double-digits, it became a ground zero for me. Having spent my final few single-digit years coming to terms with my love for drums as I struggled in vain to learn violin (via the Suzuki method) I finally took matters into my own hands and went to the kitchen cutlery drawer to find chopsticks. The Roxy album was sitting at the front of my aunt and uncle's collection and looked good to me (beautiful javelin-wielding models - I guess things were beginning to stir). I set up an imaginary makeshift kit and based the positioning of the cushions on what I'd learned from watching Countdown. I didn't stop until the holidays ended and I knew every beat on that record back-to-front, which extended to every other instrument and vocal part as well.
Music had now gripped me completely after always being there from the beginning. My obsession with how songs worked kept me busy until my teens.
I gave the cushions a rest for six months and, using my new knowledge of timing on the pause button of a tape machine patched to a turntable, I spent a few school holidays making my own rearranged versions of my favourite songs. C-90's were crammed with 10, 15, 20 (!) minute versions sourced from different mixes of tracks on albums, singles and 12"s. I'd make the edits as seamless as possible and wouldn't rest until they were perfected.
In hindsight I think this hobby served my subsequent understanding of song arrangement to some degree, but I'd actually forgotten about this chapter after the tapes were lost only a few years later. My cousin reminded me of this time only recently and I had to laugh at how crazy that would sound to some...and how little I've changed since then!
When I hit my teens a very generous friend of my mothers (R.I.P. Cathy) bought me my first drum kit as my family were unable to at that time. We found a '60's Ludwig in the Trading Post going for a song and kept it set up in my grandparents home - my first bedroom - in the Sydney suburb of Revesby. School holidays up until high school were what I looked forward to more than anything. I'd strap headphones on and play along to massive '80's drumfests like "10 - 1", "The Pleasure Of Your Company", "Cupid & Psyche", "Sons & Fascination", "Nighttime", "Flowers Of Romance"... feeling so close to the music for the first time really fuelled my ambition to one day play and make original material with like-minds.
All of which came later, but sleeping in the same room as my drums in the holidays helped me to reconnect after spending so much wasted time at school!
FAST FWD - FEBRUARY 2015.
My new band Imperial Broads are delicately making our way along a dirt rubble-strewn road leading to a farm house in Oberon. Our cars are packed full of delicate instruments and recording equipment that could be just one giant pothole away from total annihilation.
We set up and prepare to record our first record. Our producer Liam has recorded here before so already knows which room he'd like me to set up in : it's the room that will be my sleeping quarters for the 3 or 4 days it takes us to track.
We are just coming to terms with the musical chemistry the four of us share but we don't understand it yet. We are at the very beautiful "naive" phase but to me it seems we collectively understand this and revel in it. This is the sound of what the record became, at least to my ears.
We record all day and into the night. We cook for each other, discuss what we think the record will be like and I get to reconnect to my pre-teen spirit. One of the finest musical experiences I've had in a life full of them.
Subsequent recordings we do will no doubt be "better", more "refined" and "mature".
I can't wait to make our own "folly" someday.
But "Who Are We Turning Into?" will be a special one in the catalogue.