New Dream Conspiracy

President Gas is a band exploring the limits of "three chords and the truth" - on the elusive search for the perfect song, that’s been our tagline for the last twenty or so years since we formed the band in about 1997 (we’re not quite sure of the exact birth date). The band came together initially as a covers band to blow off steam but quickly became an originals band because it turned out none of us were really that interested in playing covers, indulgent interpretations maybe but not note perfect renditions of the hits of yesterday and today.

Twenty-two years. Not the Rolling Stones by any means but still a pretty good stretch. Sadly, we also haven’t sold as many albums as The Stones, nor sold out as many stadium tours but we have managed to play and record and hangout as musicians. There’s another whole story on our live performances which range from ecstasy filled, intimate rock and roll gigs to dire corporate engagements where the punters clearly weren’t expecting a band like us. That’s for another time.

As of writing in 2019 we’ve just released our fourth album and these notes are an attempt to document the writing and recording process, and generally dive deep into the stories behind the songs. Part of the magic of buying a new LP used to be perusing the record sleeve and, hopefully, liner notes. Eagerly devouring the contents – who played on it, what instruments they used, who wrote the songs – and of course the lyrics themselves often rendered in their entirety. This provided a whole other layer of enjoyment in addition to the actual listening experience. This is perhaps an extended version of those old school liner notes.

Many people might envision a recording session as a bunch of musicians in a recording studio, playing songs together with an engineer or producer on the other side of a glass window moving faders and tweaking knobs to capture the sound and performance. That was exactly the case when I recorded with my first real band Shadow Fax back in the early eighties. We recorded and mixed our eponymous album in a couple of days at the now defunct EMI studio in Lower Hutt, guided by seasoned professionals who might have been recording an orchestra in the morning and a novice rock band like ourselves in the afternoon.

The advantage of this style of performance capture was access to the best equipment and technicians, but the trade-off was the lack of flexibility and cost. A couple of takes per song plus a few overdubs followed by a quick mix was all a band could typically afford. We were lucky that our label Jayrem was picking up the bill (and to be fair our second album Life Underground was recorded in much more relaxed style over a few weeks at Marmalade studios with producer Ian Morris behind the desk) — but it was still fast and furious with most bands leaving the studio, cassette in hand, wondering why their album didn’t sound as good as the stuff they heard on the radio.

The digital revolution of the last twenty years has changed everything: recording, mastering distribution, marketing, purchasing, listening and of course artist remuneration (Bruce Springsteen reportedly made something like $100,000 from the streaming of his entire catalogue in 2016—compare that to artist royalties on twenty million or so records back in the day!). With Spotify and other streaming services paying fractions of a cent per play even the biggest artists these days earn the majority of their income from touring, licensing and merchandising rather than record sales.

But the very same digital revolution has created enormous opportunities for musicians to be able to record and release their material to the world without the need for an intermediary like a record label to bankroll the eye watering costs involved with recording and distributing physical CD’s or records. So, the playing field is far more level than it has ever been and the old excuses no longer hold. In the meritocracy of the digital music era there’s no blaming the tin ears of the record company, or that radio refuses to play “music like ours”, or the lack of access to a global audience. Of course, with every musician on the planet releasing their own records it’s now way harder to break through the noise (i.e. noise being everyone else’s band).

Before releasing an album, you need to record it (the “product”). This is where things have improved immeasurably for musos. Growing up in a small town in the seventies I remember going to the local electrical appliance store and asking about multitrack tape recorders. I should have known better seeing as they largely sold whiteware and bicycles with the occasional three-in-one stereo on offer. Faced with blank stares I went off instead to the local library and managed to find a book on reel to reel tape recorders and the wonders of four (and, only in professional situations, eight or even sixteen) track recording. As a school kid earning about twenty dollars a week the question was not so much how to afford such a thing, as where one could find one of these mythical machines?

Fast forward (see what I did there?) to today when most musicians have access to not four, not eight, not twenty-four, but virtually an unlimited number of tracks on their laptop, iPad or device of choice. They can dial a Marshall amp simulator up to eleven in the silent privacy of their own headphones, download a digital version of a classic analog synth for an authentic eighties sound, or cut and paste sound files and collaborate with other people via the web – it is so easy! But with theoretically unlimited technical restrictions, the limitation becomes you, your imagination–your talent.

Our album New Dream Conspiracy was recorded in just this manner. Over a number of years, in different countries, and very rarely with the whole band in the same room at the same time. We use all kinds of technology to build a sound picture that represents the songs in our heads. But ultimately it comes down to the same raw ingredients it always has–good songs, good performances and good recording.

Scott Wylie May 2019

1. New Dream Conspiracy

The kernel of a song comes in many different forms. Sometimes a snatch of a melody or a chord pattern might catch the imagination, you hear something interesting or different that ignites something deep in the brain’s cortex and there begins the process of teasing that flash of inspiration into something that exists and moves air to create soundwaves that just might move someone emotionally. That’s pretty much all music is – an aesthetically pleasing disruption of air!

Sometimes the inspiration comes from an existing work or song. All songwriters stand of the shoulders of those who have come before and it is almost impossible to create something new and unique. The are only so many chords and melodies out there but each of us combines them into a sound that hopefully has its own character and qualities. The music industry is littered with famous cases of plagiarism (My Sweet Lord, Stairway to heaven, Ice Ice Baby, Creep and Lana Del Ray just to name a small few) but I tend to think that most songwriters are just being “inspired by”, and perhaps subconsciously, rather than actively copying.

Other times a song idea come from a phrase or idea which is the case with New Dream Conspiracy. I have a notebook where I jot down titles and ideas for songs and New Dream Conspiracy has been there for some time. It just sounded like a cool concept. This was the last song to be written for the album because, frankly, I wanted to use it as the album title. I guess we could have called the album that without a song of the same name but it seemed more complete to have it represented.

The song itself is lyrically very explicit rather than analogous or abstract. The ascension of Donald Trump and right-wing politics, the rise of a narcissistic and self-absorbed society, the hard-line partisanship between left and right and our seeming inability to debate and discuss constructively across those lines, scepticism of science, logic and evidence based research – all combine to ask the question that after a few thousand years of civilisation where are we? Are we living the promise of all those before us who dreamt of a fairer, more tolerant, free and just way of life? Or are we just fooling ourselves that we are progressing and improving?

New Dream Conspiracy

Puppet in the Whitehouse
Terror in the town
Everything is going to hell
With a walk on cast of clowns

Self-esteem and the selfie stick
Bonfire of the vanities
Fifteen minutes should do the trick
Going out in a blaze of obscurity

Can you feel it in the air?
The sound is on the streets
Are we living the dream yet
Or just a new dream conspiracy
Can you see it in the face
Behind the silent scream
Are we living the new dream
Or just a new dream conspiracy

Living on the edge of a knife
Or at the end of a gun
The space between left and right
Will see this union undone

Are we winning yet?
I wanna know ‘cos I don’t wanna play this game

Climate doubters and religious nutters
Argue who’s right or wrong
Neo Nazi’s and the Grand Old Party
The tired, the poor, the huddled masses don’t belong

2. Days

This song proves there’s still a bit of rock mongrel left in the band. We are, essentially, a rock band though perhaps more Radiohead than Led Zeppelin. A perusal of our last three albums shows a predominantly straightforward rock/pop sensibility with the occasional art rock, country, and even punk influence surfacing here and there.

A band is like a marriage, in this case a three-way marriage – and so will always reflect the diverse perspectives that three people will bring to any endeavour. The song writer may wield the most influence by default but everyone brings something through their playing and general contribution. President Gas has always been a fairly basic rock band, that’s our default DNA.

I’ve always loved big distorted guitar sounds but all the more so when they’re used sparingly. Quite a few songs on this album started out as more direct rock songs but morphed into something else during the production process. We’re trying to create a sonic picture which has colour and variation, and something that is interesting to listen to many times.

Whereas Days is just a straight-ahead rock song with a heavy-ish verse that leads to a sweetly melodic chorus. Heavy guitars and piano don’t often mix but this song combines them both in a sonic partnership that just works for some reason. The piano sound is what I imagine an old upright in a rehearsal space sound like. Just banging it out over the band, underscoring the lines within the melody.

The song is in two parts with the melody from the verse being recycled, over a different set of chords, at the end. I love this sort of juxtaposition, developing a theme and reseating it within a different context. I spent years studying classical music and I guess it’s still there underneath my writing. The appreciation for harmonic subtleties, dynamics, chordal inversions…maybe it’s just prog rock.

Days

Happily ever after
Or am I asking too much
Over the next horizon
Just out of reach and out of touch

These are the days of your life
Wasting away in the blink of an eye
The minutes, the hours unwind
These are the days of your life

Sailor the sea is calling
Your name whispered on the wind
Breaking the lonely silence
Calling you out and home again

These are the days of wonder
These are the days of your desire
These are the days of hunger
These are the days of your true life
These are the days of colour
These are the days of silence
These are the days of lovers
These are the days of sacrifice
These are the days of wonder
These are the days of your life

3. Looking for Sunshine

The verse for this song has been waiting to be hooked up to a chorus for about eight years. Paul and I recorded a couple of demo versions years ago but it never quite gelled somehow so it went back in the hopper for another day. That day turned out to be just a little while ago when it seemed to fit nicely with a new chorus idea. And that folks, is how you write songs (sometimes).

It’s a pretty straightforward affair with sparse instrumentation and, hopefully, a sing along chorus. It was originally in the key of Am but when it came time to do the vocals it was too high for me so I changed the key to Em but kept the keyboard pad sounds and slide guitar lines in the old key which gives it a little something mysterious.

Looking for Sunshine

Looking for truth, looking for sunshine
Alone in the dark is no place to live
Give thanks for all that you have and all those around you
Then pull up the shades and let the light in

Don’t wait for something to cut right through
To make a better man out of you
The day is dawning it’s just begun
Don’t waste your moment in the sun

Battered and bruised done over so good
Ripped and torn got nothing to lose
Retract, try to get back from a bad dream
Black fading to grey, slipping away

From a sky of deepest blue
The sun is shining just for you
Hide the thought in the back of your mind
When the counting is done what will you leave behind?

4. Heathen Prayer

What to say about this one other than it’s a paean to the carnal pleasures – a heathen prayer in fact and probably much needed after all the heavy lyrical material. Another international song Barry recorded his bass part on a trip to Seattle, Paul added his guitar parts in NZ on what is a super simple song that hopefully might make you want to stand on your chair and belt out the chorus.

Heathen Prayer

Show me your body and open your mind
A place full of promise and hidden desire
Show me your body
And I’ll show you mine

Take me to heaven yeah lift me up high
Go on forever and drink the well dry
Tell me your secrets alone in the dark
Fill me with wonder then light up the spark

So give me one good reason and I’ll stay all night
Make your body mine, set our skin alight
Leave care behind and keep the world away
You and I become one again
Like a sacred form, like a heathen prayer
Let’s free our minds and vanish in the haze

A mystic connection we don’t have to speak
Temperature rising yeah turn up the heat
Tell me your secrets alone in the dark
Fill me with wonder then light up the spark

5. Every Little Thing

They say life is lived forwards and understood backwards. It takes the passage of time to contextualise and create a coherent narrative stream from what is the random collections of events and experiences that form our lives. Creating an album of songs is a perfect way to inject meaning and purpose into life, albeit retrospectively – but that’s the only way it works.

They say life is lived forwards and understood backwards. It takes the passage of time to contextualise and create a coherent narrative stream from what is the random collections of events and experiences that form our lives. Creating an album of songs is a perfect way to inject meaning and purpose into life, albeit retrospectively – but that’s the only way it works.

One of my sons faced some health challenges while we were living in the US. Don’t worry I’m not going to go into any gory detail on that, but rather present the lyrics that I wrote at the time, or on later reflection, and how they become something positive and life affirming from a place of great adversity. Not surprisingly this topic pops up in a number of places and we end up with a brace of songs on this album that explore this dark theme.

The first one is Every Little Thing which began life years ago as quirky pop song with throwaway lyrics, every little thing in a boy/girl love song sense. The chordal structure always interested me and it’s in F Major (that’s not a rock and roll key signature believe me). I wrote a song years ago called Blue Sky which has a faintly familiar feel (see Strange Idols’ Live Forever album) but this time it has a piano based main motif based on suspended fourth chords over a moving bassline.

We recorded a lot of the Sound on Sound album in a friend’s garden shed/studio in Petone and Every Little Thing was from that period, only the vocals have been redone. The sound you hear when the guitars come in is Paul on the floor holding his guitar up to a tiny 10w Marshall practice amp squeezing every ounce of feedback he could out of it. The song didn’t fit the sound of that album and so it rusted in the can for a while longer. Or maybe matured in the barrel?

Again, it defies a regular pop song structure with an off-kilter intro and middle eight to liven things up, and that’s what I like about the song. You might notice our favourite song form is the slow burner. Starting off small and growing bigger with a final thundering climax, from a whisper to a scream. A number of songs on this album follow this form and while I try to limit our proclivity for this particular style, I also think what the hell, we’re making this mostly for our own listening pleasure!

You might also recognise a penchant for drums entering with a big flourish a la Phil Collins. Yep, snapped but let he who has never air drummed to In the Air Tonight cast the first stone on this one.

The lyrics took a turn from silly love song to something more meaningful along the way, though not overtly – you can still listen to it as an innocent relationship song. The underlying context is the powerlessness one feels in the face of a loved one’s suffering - “There’s nothing I can do that’ll make you feel better”.

We come to believe the deceit that we exert some kind of control over our lives but the reality is we are all riding the cosmic waves together in a random and essentially disinterested universe, making our own way and our own luck – or misfortune.

The song and the lyric came together over a ten-year period and, once again, it was just the right pieces falling into place with each other as if they were preordained.

Every Little Thing

Every little thing that you do
Every little thing that you try
Every little twist that you turn
Every little thing you desire

Every little piece of my heart
Every little piece of my life
Every little thing that you do
It’s coming around again
And there’s nothing I can do that will make you feel better

Wanna feel the weight of your hand
Wanna see the light in your eyes
Wanna see you grow to a man
It’s coming around again
And there’s nothing I can do that will make you feel better

Every little piece of my heart
Is holding on for you

6. In a Heartbeat

Every now and then we are shocked out of the torpor of our daily routines and we truly realise how amazing life really is and how fortunate that we’re here on this planet – and how quickly that can change.

The fact that we’re alive and possess the sentient faculties to comprehend it is highly accidental. This happy collision of energy, chemicals, atoms, gases and particles has, quite fortuitously, enabled you this brief spell of consciousness in the midst of eternity. For billions of years you didn’t exist and, after a short period, will once again not exist but for now, well, this beautiful fabric has contorted and attracted mass to create the living, breathing you. This is something truly special.

In short, life is fragile and can be threatened in a million ways at any time. Accident and illness are the bedfellows of the same randomness that created us.

The lyrics reference a quote by Susan Sontag from an essay called “Illness as Metaphor”:


“Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”

We all hold a passport to the kingdom of the sick but while it’s still a theoretical notion we can safely ignore it. But once that innocence has been lost the distinction between being a person and a patient is devastatingly clear. Looking at family photos taken prior to my son’s diagnosis it’s almost painful to witness our naïve happiness, with no idea what’s to come, while we live happily, unknowingly, in the kingdom of the well.

So, the song is about the very moment things change from normal to whatever it is we fear in our worst dreams. And it can happen – in a heartbeat.

In a Heartbeat

In a heartbeat
On a dark street
Feel a cold wind
Everything is changing
Now I’m waking
From a deep sleep
In a cold sweat
On a wet sheet
And it all comes rushing back

Life is short
Every moment so sweet
It goes by so fast
In a heartbeat

Panic rising
With perfect timing
Don’t want to look back
To the horizon
To the kingdom of the well
Fate is calling
The sword has fallen
The veil is lifted
And can’t be put back
Now there’s nothing left at all

7. Losing You

Another song with a long genesis. The main riff and verse were written years ago in London and then Kieren Colville, my Australian song writing partner, and I finished it in Sydney a few years later with the addition of a very simplistic chorus. We recorded a demo at the time which I can’t locate and as I’d always liked the 80’s Australian rock feel of the song we recorded this version which is pretty true to the original.

This is a great example of Barry’s bass playing. If you want a no frills, powerful, pumping bottom end then Barry’s your man and this song just lends itself to a driving bassline overlaid with jangly guitars and a whole lot of atmosphere.

Losing you

I’m losing you
I know I’m losing you
The silent stares
The empty bed

I’m losing you
I can’t break through
I’m losing you
And the thought of it is breaking me in two

I’m losing you
I see you turn away
Piece by piece
A little more each day

I’m losing you
I know it’s true
I can’t pretend
It’s anything but the end

8. Breathe

Oh boy another downer song. Luckily, it’s wrapped in a fairly upbeat A Major key so the listener can choose to concentrate on that instead. “She loves you yeah yeah yeah” it isn’t!

This song took shape over quite a long period. We jammed it out in the rehearsal room a few times and it took shape dynamically as a slow burner, not many chord changes just a groove forming under the main riff. Paul and I laid down the basic track in 2012, then I worked on it in the US and we finished it off in NZ in 2017. It’s a well-travelled tune.

The key of A Major seems to be a dominant key on this record. It’s a happy, confident, sometimes triumphant key generally, which is a little at odds with the lyrical themes explored. Beethoven’s seventh symphony is a great example of a work in A Major. From the very first chord it is proud and positive. He even extended the work to four movements instead of the usual three. Maybe it’s because most of these songs were written on the guitar and it’s just an easy key to play in. Guitarists hate odd key signatures like Bb, G#m and F major. They just don’t fit the pentatonic scale that blues and rock are based on and require lots of OOS-inducing barre chords and even then, the chords don’t ring.

Breathe

The river and the sea
The acorn and the tree
Footsteps in the sand
Boy becomes a man

You must walk the line
Walk it every time
No place to hide away
Your innocence betrayed

I can’t breathe
I can’t sleep
I can’t conceive of a world
Without you

Above the waterline
And through the wilderness
Across the great divide
We hold you here with us

I can’t breathe
I can’t sleep
I don’t believe in a world
Without you

9. London Sky

London Sky is the oldest song on the album and was written in the late eighties when I was living in, surprise, London. I was there to realise my dream of becoming a globally successful musician and was soon busy touting my songs around record companies.

A typical naive kiwi I just turned up at the reception desk and tried to talk my way inside. It turned out I wasn't very good at this kind of hustle - so I tried another approach of sending tapes off to every company and rock star I could think of. Incredibly for such a shotgun tactic I got a call from Sting's personal assistant saying he liked my stuff and would talk to A&M (Sting's then record company). There followed a few rounds of selection by committee within A&M and ultimately being told they weren't going to proceed - it was worth a try.

Paul was also living in London around that time and so we went down to Denmark street and bought ourselves a couple of cheap acoustic guitars and proceeded to play to thousands of Londoners in our weekends. Not at the Marquee or Wembley Arena but in the tunnels and corridors of the Tube. It was great fun and might just be the most money I’ve ever earned from music. Happily ignorant of the rules and hierarchy inherent in the Underground busking community we would just turn up at a good spot (life hack: if you’re ever intending to busk on the Tube the best places are where multiple lines meet with a reasonably open concourse where they merge – Green Park was particularly lucrative).

It turned out there was a strict but obscure system governing these great spots. When another musician turned up asking about the “post” – a kind of rostering system – we told him to get lost and kept on playing. Also, there were no permits required in those days, at least none that we knew of.

The thing about busking is you don’t need a lot of material. The travelling public is flowing past you in a constant stream so it’s like an arena gig where you play to everyone separately. Once you’ve done two or three songs you just play them again. There was one guy we saw who only had one song, a mournful rendition of U2’s Where the Streets Have No Name. It doesn’t really matter if the most any one listener hears is a line or two.

Paul and I adopted a rather novel approach by each standing on opposite sides of the concourse so offering a stereo image of guitars and voices. See, even then we were thinking about the audio/sonic experience.

This period was my first time living beyond New Zealand and one of the discoveries of moving beyond forty degrees latitude south was the stunning summer evenings that seemed to go on forever, not getting dark until ten or eleven at night. Unfortunately the reciprocal effect of this is wonderful phenomenon is the god-awful short days and long nights of winter where the sun (if it’s evident at all) starts sinking around three-thirty in the afternoon. This is the feeling I was trying to capture in London Sky, the oppressive winter coat that London wears informs the verses while the choruses attempt to contrast that with the amazing experience of being in a city that has been a magnet for a thousand years, drawing people from everywhere, being at the centre of an empire and a heart of civilisation.

My favourite couplet is “Battleship grey Thames in flood / The water’s green but it flows like blood”. Like all the best writing that phrase just arrived without me seemingly being involved, and for me it evokes a sense of place and the story behind that sense of place.

The song is also in the key of F Major and I think works because of the slightly strange, rhythmic guitar riff which drives it. I wrote the verses in London at the time but didn’t have a great chorus to go with it (the short interlude after the first verse was the original chorus). It wasn’t until a few years later and living in Sydney that Kieren and I joined the verse with a chorus idea we’d come up with. The chorus pattern is slightly strange too, it takes a few listens to hear the melody as a counterpoint to the chord pattern.

We had a discussion recently about changing the chorus melody but frankly I’ve lived with this song for so long you’re stuck with it how it is!

London Sky

Underneath the London Sky
Crowds rushing as they pass me by
There’s a cold wind blowing from a desert sun tonight
And I wish that I could hold a candle up to the sky for light

Battleship grey Thames in flood
The water’s green but it flows like blood
There’s a red bus waiting on a crowded street tonight
And you won’t understand, if I could take this city into my hand I might

For a thousand years you shine so bright
A beacon in the night
May you live forever so full of life
Beneath the London sky

10. Love Was a Lie

This song started life as a two-minute punk song, fast and furious and in double time. We recorded a version with Greg on drums which was crazy fast and ended with him caught on tape at the end saying “what the hell was that?” – which was quite an appropriate response.

In 2016 Paul and I started doing some acoustic shows and this song was one that we reworked into something more understated and funkier. So, the version you hear on this album is the more mellow, refined take of the song. Pat added some nice, restrained drum work and Paul’s acoustic really takes it to a different place.

Love Was a Lie

Every time you come around baby
Don’t you know you put my head in a whirl
Now you know that you’re driving me crazy
I don’t know what’s real

Every time you come around girl
You know you move/rule/rock my world
Didn’t know what time is was ‘til you came
And it came as a big surprise
To see you with another guy
Didn’t know our love was just a lie

Every time you come around my place
Why can’t you tell me the truth
Now you friends all look at me sideways
Tell be baby what’s real

Completely
So sweetly
You tease me
You deceive me

11. Evergreen

I wasn’t sure exactly what Evergreen was about as I wrote it. A dreamy riff that meanders around like swirling mist perhaps, I wasn’t really sure. As with most of my song writing the music came first, F, Am to G with that little descending line connecting the chords. A tiny piece of the zeitgeist caught in a bottle.

I keep a folder of musical ideas on my computer. Fragments of chords and phrases I capture before they vanish into the ether. I tend to record these snippets then put them away and not listen to them until much later. One benefit of this method is I have this library of semi-formed ideas –like half-forgotten dreams - which I can call on when I’m feeling inspired and ready to dive into a new song. Another fortuitous by-product is that my sound files are timestamped so I know that I wrote this song just after lunch on the 12th of April 2014.

The demo had an acoustic guitar going through the same swirling, phasing effect used on the finished recording. If you heard that demo you would think it almost identical to the final product – except there’s no singing just the chord pattern and super LoFi. I try to give these shreds of songs a title to help me recall the mood or a snatch of lyric. This one was called, descriptively, “Lonely in F”.

It was written during a particularly difficult period when one of my sons was in the midst of battling a serious illness and there wasn’t a lot of happiness about, evoking perhaps this rather sad and quiet piece. But it’s not all doom and gloom, we were living in Seattle at the time and as the lyrics developed over a couple of years it became more about the beauty and mystery of the Pacific Northwest.

I have a confession – I sometimes recycle lyrics, just as I might repurpose a verse or a chorus years later in a different song. Sometimes ideas take a very long time to formulate and that couplet from 1986 just works perfectly with a chord pattern you’ve just come up with. And that’s what happened in this case. I wrote a song way back then which was about Wellington, the city I was living in, and some weird mix of social comment on the materialism of the eighties.

About half the lyric was worth keeping and reworking so never being one to waste words (and saving myself the sweat of writing a new set) they were appropriated into a new song about a different place altogether.

If you’ve visited that part of the United States or ever seen Twin Peaks (but not Grey’s Anatomy, that was filmed in Los Angeles), you’ll know that it is a very beautiful, beguiling and sometimes ominous part of the world. A land of forests, lakes, mountains and very, very green. Not unlike my home country New Zealand in many ways but also different. A Seattle sky in winter, like a London sky, is a thing of mystery and wonderment. Constant light rain with blue-tinged mists hang motionless over windless lakes, it is utterly beautiful.

The concept of evergreen, always growing, a place of renewal even in winter, became the one-word chorus for the song. I’m sure there’s a meta-message in there too about life especially as one gets older but let’s just go with capturing the essence of a place I loved while facing some of the most difficult challenges with someone close – “The beauty of it all / Rains down upon this place”.

Evergreen

The city lies under dark grey sky
Clouds in motion as they pass you by
Shadows play like a wild man’s dream
Water fall likes a mountain stream
Stone silence can’t break the ground
The mist lies all around

Mountains brood to east and west
Cold river someday comes to rest
Green lakes as cold as ice
A frozen paradise
The trees are greener than the earth
Ancient forest is undisturbed

Evergreen,
Evergreen

I’ve been thinking about the world
Been searching for some grace
The beauty of it all
Rains down upon this place

12. The City

Another song about travel. The album has turned out to be something of a travelogue of journeys in life, some real and some imagined. This one also started off life as a rock song but it seemed at odds with the subject matter so we reworked it to into a semi-acoustic treatment. The original demo referenced cities and places but it wasn’t until wandering through a department store one day that I spotted an advertising poster with a phrase something like:

“My heart belongs to places I've never been and I’m in love with people I’ve never met”.

I’m not sure if this line belongs to someone or whether it is just a slightly mawkish advertising slogan but it seemed to be eminently adaptable to this song. With just a little tweaking it captured perfectly the sense of always looking elsewhere, beyond home for a greater sense of place. Maybe it’s just a FOMO (fear of missing out) thing.

The City

There’s a place out in the distance
Far beyond the madding crowd
Where the sunlight fills the valleys
And the voices are lifted up so loud

My heart belongs to cities
And far off places I’ve never been
My head belongs to no one
And people that I’ve never met
And faces that I’ve never seen

I’d spend my whole life travelling
If I had another life at home
Spend it all with only one girl
If I had another life to roam

There’s a place out in the distance
Oh you know I see it there
Coming right around the corner
Some mirage that’s never drawing near

13. World Inside a Day

This song also started off as a simple riff, the Am, F, G D pattern heard as the bass enters. It is an extremely nice line to play up high on the neck of the bass. The bass doesn’t get a lot of attention normally, think about the times you’ve noticed a bassline or the fact that there is even a bass player in a band. Maybe “Another one bites the dust” by Queen or that bit in Paul Simon’s “Call me Al”, or if you’re of a certain age like me you might recall the theme song to the sitcom “Barney Miller” as a natty piece of bass playing.

The riff reminded me a little of The Cure so the working title of this song was “Forester” for most of its life. You see that’s how song writing works, you’re trying to be original and innovative but you are the sum of your experiences and that includes everything you’ve ever listened to. Sometimes you might deliberately set out to invoke a sound or feel in homage to an artist or song – and certainly I used to do that when I was honing my craft in the early days with some very embarrassing pastiches to show for it (or rather hide away forever).

But it’s impossible to conceal ourselves and our influences, so out they come. I’ve found the best way to curb this is, basically, don’t listen to other people’s music. Sounds counterintuitive for a musician maybe but there you go. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant made an artform of appropriating others music and lyrics into new, “inspired by”, creations – and made a fortune and a place in rock and roll history for their efforts. Let’s just say, kindly, that they were musicological curators of the ether, taking little known music to a broader audience than it would otherwise have found.

In fact, the inspiration for the mood and sound of this song is not The Cure at all, but more Bowie’s Blackstar album. I know I just said I only listen to my own music but there are honourable exceptions. The Blackstar album has been covered in great detail, the ground breaking, death as art nature of it – and that’s a great story. But for me, what I love about it is the fuck you attitude towards the accepted pop/rock sensibility. He was doing exactly as he pleased without any concern for you and me. It’s this depth of intent that I love about the album and how it sounds.

It was with this kind of general objective that I approached both Evergreen and World Inside a Day. They weren’t pop songs, didn’t have a regular or traditional structure and were, well, a little strange to say the least. But they had a purity of intent, there was no arch-cleverness in their creation.

Paul adds an amazing, wild lead break over the end section. It’s buried in the mix intentionally but another great example of Paul’s guitar work. As usual I think this was his first take. With Paul, you just press record and let him go. Do a couple takes and most times you will have gold. He will absolutely never play the same thing twice so it’s up to the recording engineer (moi) to capture everything and edit later. For other great guitar jewels see any of our previous albums.

Also a part of the broader travelogue arc of the record, this song is about returning home – and knowing this is the last time that I will have lived somewhere else, and returned. Written in early 2017 the sparse lyrics are pretty self-explanatory, there’s no metaphor at play here. It’s good to be back and won’t be leaving again (he said…).

World Inside a Day

I don’t want to leave here again
I don’t want to go from this place
The people, the places I love
I don’t want to move anymore

I’m back to stay for good this time
Won’t go away this time

I don’t want to leave here again
(Home is in this place)
I don’t want to go from this place
(My world inside a day)
The people, the places I love