Skipping Girl Vinegar Keep Calm, Carry The Monkey LP
Track by Track with Mark Lang
Written by Mark Lang (Songwriter, Singer and Guitarist) for Triple J
Got a compulsive need to twist and turn your thoughts into lyrical phrase? Can live on low Cash Money, guerrilla-style? Want to live large in a shanty town of intellectual real-estate with melodies hunting you down across your day? ‘Keep Calm, Carry the Monkey’- become a songwriter and join an indie band! The new album came like a compulsion that hit harder than my nightly need to look under the bed and unravelled in layers over a 14th-month period of recording.
Chase The Sun
Chase The Sun was one of the last songs written for the album with lyrics only being finalized as I rambled them to tape. From the weight of touring the release of our debut album came the peaceful moments of travelling down the Princess Highway away from the smog of the city, across the Westgate Bridge to the coastal town of Point Lonsdale. We recorded much of the new album in beach houses with our friends Nick Huggins and Caleb James whenever we could grab some time away from touring and hard rubbish trawls. The outside bird-life and creaks of the house with its distinctive character brought a sense of place and feeling to the recording.
There is something about winding the window down in the heat of summer, cranking your favourite album, and leaving the city and its past behind. This song is about all these things and the feeling as you drift wide round the bend and finally see the ocean come into sight. A calm always falls over my shoulders at that first sight, even when my head is full. Slipping beneath the waves, and swimming in the rock pools at dusk always brings perspective to the chaos. The hook for this song rambled into my brain like a team of demented Muppets that never left. We used this as the foundation to build the song around.
We were invited to play Splendour in the Grass last year, which has been one of our favourite festival experiences- from the show we played to all the great bands we got to see and meet. It was a manic experience with so much great music that caused my brain to literally implode and my feet to break down from hoofing it around the site. We went into town to clear our heads and grab some lunch that had not been fried or served on a stick.
I wandered off from the herd looking through the local junk shop which is a bit of a love of mine. I found an amazing, old, wooden harmonium previously owned by a retired Navy Captain. As you can image it was in mint condish! Thanks Captain.
I walked back to the band van to see if anyone had any cash and was met with a tirade of “Where the F**** were you? We are going to miss “Frightened Rabbit!” (Note to self- don’t get between sleep deprived women and a band they want to see). Waving my hands in the air, I pleaded if anyone had some spare coin. A bank card was flicked at me and the tour van door slammed shut. Before I knew what had happened, I was standing on the side of the road in a cloud of dust that had been whipped up from their hasty departure. I walked into the shop and began the haggle. I’m not always confident in the haggle, however on this day I was in good form and got it for a song. I sat on the side of the road waiting (hoping) for them to return and began to get an idea for a melody and the entry lyric. Chris our SGV drummer and my long-time childhood friend returned within the hour and we sat in the van together fleshing out what would end up becoming the core of the song. Thanks Splendour, thanks Woodfordia Junk Shop, thanks Navy Captain, thanks grumpy girls with your cashola! We got a song out it.
Hand To Hold
We had pretty much finished the album at this stage and were not really looking for any new songs when Chris had the seed of an idea for this track. The two of us got together to have a look at it and the song came out faster than a Twitter feed during Q & A. We were due to rehearse with the girls and were planning on doing some live recording on the weekend at Atlantis with Dave McCluney for B-sides. It was Friday afternoon. We played through it a few times all together and two days later recorded it live. The version on the album is the 2nd take we did. On an album that has been so thoroughly layered with sonic details and revisited time and again, it was a gift to have a moment when we just rambled something out with the band just doing it live. It features a crazed violin line from our new member Kelly Lane and a PHAT-ASS bass line from Sare Lang.
Central Station is a song Amanthi and I wrote together. Inspired by separate trips to Sydney and our experiences winding through the streets of Surry Hills to Central Station in the early hours of the morning. Caleb James who brought so much to this album helped bring this track to life with a beautiful string arrangement.
Hell Out Of Town came out of a song-writing trip through Canada and the US. I spent three weeks writing for this album under an oak tree, over-looking a sweeping lake in the Okanagan. The landscape of Canada is like a storybook with woodlands rolling right to the water’s edge and snow-capped mountains framing the view in the heat of summer. Wild deer would wander up the pass towards me and stay for a while, watching to see what I was up to. The Cover-Art for our new album was inspired by one of these moments. Mmmm venison!
Moose Took Me Deep
Skipping Girl Vinegar always walk onto stage to one of my soundscapes. We really wanted to integrate more layers of sonic textures to this new album and use connecting soundscape links to create a collective, overall thought to the album. Nick who is one of the producers on this record shares a love for experimental soundscape work and brought a great deal to this project, working with me on creating layer upon layer, to the underlining swamps across the album.
Castles Full Of Storms
Recording in houses where the outside elements often make it onto the mic can at times be troublesome. However, the stormy, outside wind that bled onto this track, brought a real cinematic feel to this song. It features a saw player- the hobo’s answer to the Theremin. The track looks at the weight of battling through depression. This was one of the first songs I wrote for ‘Keep Calm, Carry The Monkey’ and was written during the mixing of our debut album in Nashville.
One Long Week
Ever been continually short of cash to pay the rent? Know the feeling when days blur into weeks and weeks blur into months and before you know it, you have wandered into a shopping centre and are confronted by a 10 meter-high sequined Rudolf with tinsel and merriment as far as the eye can see? This happened to me a year or so ago when I freaked out that somehow months had slipped past and it was already Christmas. It all came back into focus when I realised it was only August and capitalism had officially lost the plot.
Inspired by a big night out at The Corner Hotel in Richmond- a Melbourne music institution that has been a right of passage for us. From seeing many of our favourite bands there, to supporting childhood heroes and then headlining our own Corner show. A single reviewer proclaimed that we had ‘grown some hefty balls’ when she reviewed this track. It’s a dirty swamp of a song, with layers of grot under the surface and “BIG BALLS” apparently! This track was a turning point for us- uncovering our hobo-pop aesthetic. We found an old marching drum in a dumpster that was dysfunctional in the greatest possible way and it had its own thumping character. We teamed that up with a bunch of old junk and trash and asked 30 of our friends around to smash the crap out of rusty metal garbage cans filled with percussion instruments, forks whatever we could get our hands on. The track count on this song got completely out of control. Nick informed us during a file transfer that the data size of the Pro Tools session for this song was larger than most full albums. It was a moment where more was more and then more added for good measure. It’s on the 30th listen that you’ll hear the sensational percussive fork work.
Slow Steady Hand
Written in Canada wandering down the pass late at night, this song slowly unravelled over a number of nights to the sounds of the night creatures and the rhythms of my steps on the gravel path. When we were tracking this song, my cat Polly (the myth of our early animation clips) wandered past the mic while I was recording a loop. Her collar bell made it into the loop which I did not realise at the time. When I went for a walk to check through the mixes on my headphones, I kept hearing her bell and thought she was following me down the street. Every time I turned around to look- she was nowhere to be seen. I was beginning to think she had serious ninja cat skills till I realised it was buried deep inside the track. Listen in close a few times and you to will think you have a ninja cat stalking you.
Here She Comes
This is a summery track written after a heavy winter. The tuba inspired feeling when summer finally comes and the afternoons blur into the afterglow of a warm summer’s evening in your local parkland. Its the warm hour when friends draw close 30 minutes before it gets messy and 80’s-induced hobo dancing ensues with the one you love. It features the great, hobo-piano stylings of Greg Arnold, and the birds of Point Lonsdale that kept singing during the tracking of this song. The birds have been unedited and appear as they were during the tracking.
Heart Does Ache
Written for the recent passing of my grandparents. The last thing my Grandmother said to my Grandfather before she passed was, “Thankyou for loving me”. I didn’t think this song was going to make the album but wanted to give it a chance when we arrived in Nashville to work with the brilliant engineer/ producer Brad Jones. After playing some fresh piano and a new vocal take, we had found the heart of the song. Over lunch, Brad mentioned that Ron Sexsmith was in town to do a show in a couple of days. We had met Ron at a festival a few years back and he had invited us to one of his shows in Melbourne for drinks afterwards.
That night on the studio couch I wondered what to do for a harmony and Ron crossed my mind. Then a random email from Ron’s manager hit my account about Ron’s recent UK charting success, so I attached an MP3 of the track and emailed back to see if Ron might be interested in lending his voice to the song.
By the next morning Ron was on board to come past and record that evening. Arriving around 9.30pm he listened to the song and slammed down the most soulful of harmonies. It was surreal to have Ron Sexsmith singing on our track and then to tell us how much he liked our songwriting. A very, humbling experience.
For the ‘Keep Calm, Carry the Monkey’ LP go to our SGV shop.