The Impartial Age project
The year 2016 was a punch to the gut. I was in Tremolo Studio recording 'Here Comes The Brim' while both Brexit and Trump's political campaigns were fouling the streets, and it was during one recording session that I discovered Jo Cox MP had been murdered by a Britain First fanatic. (Nigel Farage would later, distastefully, claim in the press that Leave had won "without a single shot fired"...)
After June came to pass, and as Trump's election defeat began to look less and less likely, my mind was so taken up with confusion, fury, and outrage, that I simply could not write. I would sit in front of my lyric book and nothing would happen. It was this way for months, until finally, some songs trickled out.
Arranging the sessions was another matter. We had a bit of a lineup shake-up throughout the first half of the following year, and Jack & I agreed to make the EP a DROMA Records project, bringing in SBT to the drums & backing vox. Matt Tyrer was also interested in bringing synths to the party. This was a promising start. After much diary-wrangling, Duncan, Jack, SBT & myself met up at DROMA HQ in Stafford, and spent a weekend nailing down drums, bass, guitars, and vocals for six songs (we also recorded Sierra Bravo for this session).
Lead guitar takes would appear throughout Feb & March '18, along with SBT's backing vocals in April, whereupon Duncan & I visited UTC Studio in May to tidy up what we had, and then Matt came to the studio in July to lay down synths.
Here's some info about the songs and the recording of them:
This is probably the first song I wrote post-EU Ref. I needed something stompy, aggressive, that would also be somehow scathing. There were so many people duped, who came away from the EU Ref feeling that they had been misled by the 'Battle Bus', among other things, and it's scary to me how much more has been revealed since the immediate aftermath in 2016.
People were dissatisfied with the state of the country after six years of austerity, and people like Gove, Johnson, and Farage, told them that leaving the EU would make it better. In a world where it's hard to see the Wood of Shit for the lying trees, the people believed them.
Even now, for all the people still clamoring for Brexit as news emerges of corruption, illegality, and stockpiling food and medicine for the army to guard, I cannot believe where we are. I can't believe people would look at the situation as it is and fight for it.
I managed to slightly foul up the recording of this song whilst at The Oval, DROMA's HQ, and entirely neglected to play the single-note rest section that triggers the outro to this song, which prompted Duncan & I to pop into UTC Studios and make sure it was there. At this point, Duncan had amassed quite a collection of bass pedals (almost every phone call begins with a warning of a new one), among them is a pedal that gives his bass some serious squelch. I never tire of hearing that present in this song.
It Kills You In The End
I was a bit worried that this song wouldn't fit with the tone of everything else that was being planned for the EP, but I needed its angry energy, and breakneck pace.
The song is about the anxiety of ageing, watching it happen in the mirror, and being aware of it. How do you go through life, knowing it's creeping up on you? I've always been anxious about hair loss, and I think I was fretting about it when I wrote this, but I was also becoming aware of a band called Cardiacs (more on them later) and their frontman Tim Smith, who was rendered immobile by a series of strokes, and I think this was on my mind, too.
This was a relatively straight forward song to record, and was the second song we busted through (Forty Eight being the first) at the Oval session.
Not This Again
I probably wrote this in around 2015, as the initial catalyst for this song was Iain Duncan Smith. Not least the account of him visiting Auschwitz and being somewhat taken with the slogan wrought in iron at its gates, and later paraphrasing it during an interview. In fact much of this song was aggravated into existence by the persistent cruelty of the DWP as it cut Disability Living Allowance, introduced the bedroom tax, and oversaw ATOS' horrendous practice of declaring terminally ill people as "fit for work".
The outrage continues in the wake of the Grenfell Tower Fire, and the Windrush scandal, amongst all sorts of other nightmares, and if you'd told me that this song would be more relevant now, I'd be horrified. I am horrified.
As for the recording, what can I say about this song, other than I really tested SBT and Matt with it! As mentioned earlier, I was listening to Cardiacs at a similar time to writing these songs, and their penchant for crazy time signature changes, rhythm changes, and doubling-up & slowing-down, really got into my head.
At the Oval session, I replayed my home demo to SBT a couple of times, after which she simply said "Are you fucking kidding me?!" After an hour piecing all the sections together, followed by a couple of runs through, she recorded the whole song in one take. What you hear on the EP was all done by her in one go. As the cymbals died out, and as we all looked at each other, realising she'd only gone and bloody done it, it took every ounce of effort we had not to cheer, which would have ruined the take. I can still see Jack pumping his fist and also warning us to stay quiet.
When Matt came to do his synths, he managed to nail down a brilliant sound that kinda evokes the way claiming income support has been gamified by the government, with a very videogamey sound. Also, as he remarked after finishing recording the parts for this song, "This is not viable for a live show."
Two Hearts Are Better Than One <Sometimes>
A break in the chaos. A change of pace. That's the best way to describe this song. I kinda caught hold of myself in 2017, as I realised I was getting obsessed with Doctor Who. I do this often, getting fixated with a particular fictional universe, and holding it in my head, just as a means of escape when things are getting exceptionally shit. This time around it was Doctor Who, because Season 10 was airing, and I was loving Peter Capaldi's Doctor even more this time around.
I wasn't coping with the world very well, and wanted to hide from it more & more, burying myself in all things Time Lord, which I daresay a fair few friends noticed. I had a moment where I snapped-to, took a step outside myself, acknowledged it, and ended up writing this. It was the last song I wrote before the Oval session, and a very late addition to proceedings, replacing an almost-ran song called 'A Difficult Place' (maybe it'll see the light of day at some point, but evidently not yet). While I was recording the vocals for this at DROMA HQ, after about the second take, Jack said over my headphones, "Yep, sounding good... (pause) ...is this song about Doctor Who?!"
Another late-stage entry for the project, this song is one of those that you write after having named the EP. I came up with 'The Impartial Age' as the title for this before I knew which songs were going to be in it. I can't remember which song this might have usurped from the original tracklisting, but the first line I wrote for this was 'This ain't the Impartial Age that we thought we grew up in'. (The second line I wrote was 'You keep your friends close and your enemy's toaster...')
One of the reasons I wrote this was because of the way users of social media seem to have drowned out expertise, knowledge, and lived experience, in favour of 'What-I-reckons' and ill-thought opinion. Again there's an element of gamifying present in the theme here, and Matt once again went 8-bit on our asses, providing some amazing dual-note Streets Of Rage-style brilliance.
This song also features some of my favourite Jack Tasker guitars, with subtle melody lines lacing the quieter moments in the song, followed by full-on howling guitar fury when it's at its most frenetic.