CLEAN TOILETS

Listening again to this song, my first interpretation was of the protagonist undergoing some sort of hellish muddled hallucinations. A whirlwind of pristine porcelain. A glistening white prison.

The question I was asking myself was: Why is cleanliness causing such anguish here?

And then it struck me.

The voice is not that of a prisoner, but a prison guard. This is the anguish of the obsessive compulsive totalitarian. A man so consumed by his need for order and hygiene that his world is a crashing mess of pain and dissonance.

And, whether it be the completely distorted opening, the chromatic melodies and out of tune harmonies or the stuttering, tight drumming, there is dissonance everywhere.

I don’t know whether it was deliberate or not, but the prolonged groans of ‘clean’ towards the end of the song can really only be described as ‘constipated’. It is also impossible to know now whether or not I genuinely believed ‘infestates’ was a word.

My personal memories of this song are vague. I know that I very much liked the bass line and used to play it a lot. I know that at the time I was relatively proud of the song. I thought it had intrigue. I remember telling a friend that those sliding harmonies on the ‘yeah yeah yeah’s were cool. I don’t remember whether or not he agreed.

I’m fairly certain that this song did not reflect some sort of digestive or hygienic anxiety I had.

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Pain

I absolutely hate this song.

It’s not the worst of my compositions with ‘Pain’ in the title (that will come later), but it is nonetheless incredibly irritating

We like authenticity in music. We prefer songs about heartbreak to be sung by the heartbroken. We like punk to be performed by rebels, and hip hop by people from the ghetto. Those who don’t conform to these criteria are routinely condemned as fakers.

Is it good that we judge music in this way? Not necessarily, although in many cases the expectations come from an understanding of the socio-historical foundations of a certain movement. Music is often a reaction against society. In the case of hip hop, poor black Americans began expressing themselves in a new way that was distinctly their own- by them and for them, against the backdrop of a  predominantly white society that, in the way it labelled and disadvantaged them, was institutionally racist.

So when people like Iggy Azalea imitate the rapping styles of hip hop, many people don’t just dislike it, they are actively offended by it. It demonstrates a lack of sensitivity to the social tensions at the root of hip hop culture.

And, on a less extreme level here, a song with bland lyrics about addiction and general midlife ennui sung by a whinging fresh-faced teenager isn’t that appealing. There is something about being a teenager that makes you feel the need to assert your worldly knowhow and ego to everyone. Or at least you’d think that, reading my early lyrics. My attitude and lack of self-consciousness was gradually crushed though, don’t worry.

The lyrics, in order of how annoying they sound, starting with the least annoying:

Something, and if I take it away
I don’t think you can stay
Get this thing out of your mind
What do you do when it’s taken away?
The only thing that kept you alive is ripped away
You’re bored of your car/job/house/money/wife/kids/country/world
Something to ease the pain
The pain is stronger today

This last line wins the prize of most annoying moment of the song because of its prime position at the end. The final unconvincing croak, immediately followed by a huge timing error between the guitar and drums, leaving your average listener cringing in the ears.

Good points about the song:

There are a couple of alright triplet drum fills.

Small Animals

For my next song, an atmospheric instrumental that spirals slowly out of time. The spiralling not deliberate, of course.

For a bit, as the piano chord builds up, I actually like it. But then as it goes on, you ask, why hasn’t he changed it? Is it going to just keep going like this? Has he realised that he’s slowly going out of time?

Well: I don’t know, yes, and I guess not. Not until right at the end, where the ‘I’m fed up’ drum fill signals the end.

This was my first use of piano in a song, which I played by hammering various white keys with my two first fingers, moving them quickly from note to note as if I was playing the drums. It is a percussion instrument after all. I taught myself to play piano and guitar, which is why my technique has always been so bad (although technique has never been my strong point, even in drums and bass guitar where I had a good few years of lessons). I have always been more interested in writing a new song than actually practising certain aspects of my playing.

This song is significant because, I know now, piano would very gradually overtake guitar as my main instrument when writing songs. Small Animals, though, was essentially just a Garageband song- a few instrument parts building up and repeating, except this time I played them myself, quite badly.

Here’s something better with arpeggios

Dark Dude

Featuring a bass line I still play when absent-minded, a bass solo that is simple yet tuneful, and lyrics so catchy they have never left my consciousness, Dude can only be considered a classic in the very-early-post-post-punk-pre-sophistication-joke-songs-by-me tradition.

‘Yeah, yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.
yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah,
I’ve got a sausage in my pocket,
and it’s very very hard.
This is not referring to an erect penis,
But I really like them,
I really really do.
I… like… them… yeah….
yeah… yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah’

[BASS SOLO]

Many academics have suggested that this is the first song I ever wrote, citing as evidence the complete lack of acoustic guitar, an instrument that admittedly did come after bass guitar and drums for me.

They also propose hazy memories I may or may not have of playing the song live to friends in summer living rooms, long before I’d ever recorded anything.

And yet I resist the idea. My gut tells me it was indeed an extremely early song. But my head implores me to find any song, any sincere attempt at music at all that could predate Dude. If not, the foundation of all my efforts, the rock on which my future career rests, would be a dick joke.

And so, the history books will continue to list Hyper, Ever Come Near Me, and I Don’t Know as all coming first.

Dark, a slightly later instrumental version of the same song, clearly designed to render it more ‘classy’, is of absolutely no interest.

I Don’t Know

When I made this song, I thought it was significantly better than the first two. It is, sort of. It definitely starts much better. In fact, I suspect there might be a couple of lost songs in between. Maybe I did it over a weekend instead of one evening, and bothered to fix some of the mistakes. Which is not to say there aren’t mistakes, god no. One of which being the fact that the sound is peaking the entire way through the song. Sorry about that. 

I like meta things. But sometimes I worry that artists go for meta when they have nothing else to say. When you’re sat there, ‘pen in hand’ (to this day I think I’ve written a grand total of five songs worth of lyrics by pen), and you can’t think of any words, your first thought is that you can’t think of anything. Which is why, when I’m writing a new song, and I’m improvising lyrics over a chord sequence to work out a melody, I often automatically sing the words ‘I don’t know’. In this instance, the words made it to the title.

Before I’m too disparaging of this song however, it has to be said that ‘Why do you think I’m not cool, have you seen my ipod?’ is one of my sassiest early lines. ipod as trendy consumer symbol- ipod as modern representative of the sum of a person’s music taste- music taste as signifier of cool. Sung with a nice knowing sarcasm- the emphasis on the ‘t’ of not and the ‘d’ of ipod.

Unfortunately that line is surrounded by quite a few renditions of ‘don’t ask me why I don’t go with the flow’, which is as bland as you like, and if it was also meant to be tinged with knowing sarcasm, I no longer hear it.

I remember receiving a comment from a girl I didn’t know on my Myspace music page at the time, which said something like: ‘Nice song, cool effect on your voice!’ This made me feel attractive, which I liked a lot. But it also made me doubt myself- was she aware that the effect was there partly to conceal the mediocrity of my voice? And more importantly, did she actually fancy me or not?

Ever Come Near Me

Hilariously, this song uses the same chords as Hyper for the verse. If it ain’t broke… A phrase that doesn’t really apply here. 

Just to get the elephant out of the room- yes I am saying ‘with your hate with your hate with your hate’ in the chorus. Again, blame Muse. Basically, as a young teenage musician, I had a bit of sass. A bit of attitude. It’s almost punk-y in places, I like to tell myself.

This one was slightly more rhythmically interesting than Hyper. Ever so slightly. There’s some offbeat strumming there, for crying out loud. And some fast out of time strumming too.

For the music people out there, it’s great that the chords for the verse are:

A major e minor

and the chorus:

a minor E major.

So rogue, so cheeky. I mean where is the key? Where is it??

I attempt to sing the first verse again more softly, more vulnerably, at the end, before building to a massive crash cymbal climax. I don’t know if you noticed. My first strength as a songwriter/producer, and maybe still my greatest strength, was an understanding of textures. This was born from my ability to play many instruments, all not very well (except for maybe drums- although at this point even the drum playing was basic and inaccurate). Rather than coming up with one complex hook on a guitar, for example, I would weave together various sounds to make a thicker, more interesting sound. Or, as in this early tune, I would have quiet bits, and I would have loud bits.

Another elephant: Those with finely tuned ears might have noticed that my voice isn’t very good. This will be quite a consistent feature actually. You know when people announce: ‘No, no I can’t sing’, as if it’s something they just don’t understand, like rolling your tongue? I think that basically I was born to be one of those people, but then proceeded to sing in (casual) choirs regularly from the age of about 7, gradually forcing my ears to hear whether something is out of tune, and moulding my voice into something that occasionally can sing. During these early songs though, it sort of straddles the quality ranks: ‘Embarrassing’ and ‘Bad’.

Oh, and I say ‘hello’ right at the end in a funny voice.

I used to really like this Muse song. Amusing lyrics on screen.

Hyper

So here it is, my first song, written and performed by me. What do you think?

I don’t remember the moment I showed this to mum and dad, but I imagine that my 14 year old self sat there, legs twitching (legs always twitching unless specified otherwise), seriously proud. And to my parents’ credit, I’m pretty sure their reactions were appropriately proud as well. If they hadn’t been- if the wool had been pulled out from under my eyes and I had really understood that the song wasn’t particularrlllly good, I might not have written the close to 200 songs which followed it. So thanks to my parents for listening with rose-tinted ears.

The distorted octave bass playing along to a metronome which introduces the song was not an auspicious start to my music career. Although the (perhaps frivolous) layering up of parts has been a component of much of my music ever since.

I’ve always felt strongly that electric feeling of adrenaline when creating anything quickly. And it explains in part why so many of these early songs have such obvious mistakes in them. The timing errors going out of the chorus for example. I just couldn’t wait to show everyone what I had made. Couldn’t wait until I’d unblocked my nose, or stopped messing up the drum fills, or maybe learned a few more chords before writing a song.

Connected to this is a KEY feature of my early music- the mouse click as I finish recording. All these early songs were recorded on an Apple computer, using only the internal microphone. Very little post-performance editing of the audio tracks occurred, and the deleting of untoward extra-musical sounds I found to be an unnecessary indulgence. So, we have many mouse clicks.

Harmonically, the chords change at one point from e minor to e major, which is actually slightly advanced, if it had been done with any sort of awareness. I think at this time I used to just play one chord, then another chord, and attempt to fashion melodies around the change, no matter what it sounded like.

 And finally, the lyrics. The inspiration for this song I remember was the scene on Kingsland Road as I got off the bus in winter at night, the scary boys who hung out on the corner (who never once threatened me at all). ‘Walking through the streets at night’- a fair line, although maybe one you shouldn’t repeat for so much of the song, without having Lou Reed’s voice. However: ‘sitting watching running starting starting looking starting running getting nowhere ’til we’ is alright, and similar to the style of lyrics from much later songs, much better songs. 

The thematic content here, and many others from the early period, is quite clearly influenced by the melodrama of Muse. Blame them. And the lyrics get a lot worse than this song, for example in my next work^