Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The battle against perpetual self doubt (Side Effect)

 I am part of an international gang. There are millions of us. Perhaps everybody in the world is in this gang.

The only membership criteria is that you are locked in a perpetual battle with self doubt.

It goes like this for me:

My internal monologue seems to repeat itself.

It is cyclic.

At its high point I feel confident, comfortable and unstoppable. As a song writer I tend  to see the potential in the music I am making rather than looking for perfection. I am accepting of my limitations and even celebrate them. I feel tolerant and balanced. To use one of my wife's sayings, I hold things with an open palm rather than a closed fist. I accept compliments and feel validated by the praise and encouragement of others, trusting them to be honest and true.

Then I begin the descent. I question myself. Begin to doubt that those around me are telling the truth - sometimes perceiving their generosity as deceptive. Almost like they are just placating me. As a song writer I feel absolutely useless. Like I am just a cacophony of mediocre ideas and boring melodies. That my lyrics are over indulgent and insular...offering the audience no way in. I rail against my limitations and dwell on the weaknesses of the set up. I feel spent and isolated in my self flagellation. Holding things with a closed fist, rather than an open palm.

In these times my heart races. I feel a panic that is constant. I feel like I must create something, make something, write something, change something...

And then it dissipates and I start the steady climb to the top.

I realise how ridiculous I am being. I see through the mythology I have created. It is like I push through the cobwebs, clean the windows and begin to laugh at my own expense.

And start the cycle again.

To be honest, it can be a pretty exhausting way to live...(see black dog).

This song is called Side Effect. I wrote it last Friday. I tried to make it into a rock song. It failed. So I recorded an acoustic version on Tuesday in 40 minutes. It is rough, but I feel it.

The song story is about the cycle of my internal monologue. It is my Smeagol vs. Golem song. It is the glass half empty singing to the glass half full.

Bob Mould

I am reading Bob Mould's autobiography 'See a Little Light' at the moment and really enjoying it. He writes with honesty and integrity - and he throws in a big dollop of self critique and analysis. He also writes a lot about catharsis. I relate to that.

I'll admit here that at times my songs definitely are an attempt to purge myself. Wearing it on my sleeve. Selling my pound of flesh.

Then when I perform, I feel like I am a waterfall. I sing and play with a sense of disregard - I often shut my eyes. Am I singing to myself or to the audience? I don't know sometimes. But, there I am. I share the yoke with you. Shake it off with you. I give it all over with an open palm.

...having just read back over what I have written, I feel suddenly hesitant to post it. But what the hell...this is meant to be a song confessional...

So bear with me, friends. It's only me after all...

Side Effect - rough demo
(Words & music by Andrew Savage)

Lose my bones I'm a jumping jack
I can't tell where the line is at
I'm talking but it echoes back
If you want I'll be your heart attack

It's hard for me to say
Look the other way
I have a secret you won't expect
I'm just a side effect

Drink it down
Throw your money back
Check my pulse
See if I react
Standing out 
Like a needle track
If you want I'll be your heart attack

It's hard for me to say
Don't look the other way
I have a secret you won't expect
I'm just a side effect

I'm talking but it echoes back
If you want I'll be your heart attack
If you want I'll be your side effect

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The best kind of envy - (Here in your Heartland)

Liam McLurg & me

Meghan Glue & Liam McLurg

Rupert Hunter

Finnbar Halley Castree Johansson

On Thursday night I was fortunate enough to share a bill with Coney Island Swamp Monster & Meghan Glue. Both performances were brilliant and I was honoured to share the stage with them. Not one of the members of those two acts is over 20 years old, yet they graced the stage with a poise and maturity that belied the fact that for many of them, they had only just recently had their 18th birthday. Liam and Meghan's songs were pitched and performed with subtlety and honesty that could be disarming. Rupert and Finbar's instrumental work was clever without being knowing.

It made me strangely nostalgic. And envious in the best of ways.

This post is for them.

A few years ago I bought a new acoustic guitar. When I got it home I was desperate to try writing a song on it. But it didn't feel right. I wanted to go back to my old guitar. There is something comforting in an instrument you have played for years as opposed to hours. It is like an old pair of shoes...

In the end I persevered with the new guitar. It felt awkward and challenging. My fingers didn't go to the right place at the right time. My hand hurt like it never did when I played the old guitar, but I finished a song in spite of it all.

Robert Fisher

It is called "Here in your Heartland". It was performed a few times by North Island Towns (featuring Nikki Maetzig on vocals). I think I wrote it after seeing Robert Fisher from Willard Grant Conspiracy at a concert in Wellington. It definitely sounds like it to me.

It was inspired by listening to old records. It is funny how albums can become time capsules waiting to unleash a memories long forgotten, or are able to encapsulate the experiences of entire phases of your life.

For me, there are a number of records that stand as absolute reminders of a particular time. A few that come to mind are...

Twilight as played by The Twilight Singers - The Twilight Singers
To Bring You My Love - PJ Harvey
Stoned & Dethroned - Jesus & the Mary Chain
Horse Stories - Dirty 3
Bleeding Star - JPSE
Wish - The Cure
Hatful of Hollow - The Smiths
Hallowed Ground - The Violent Femmes
The Boatman's Call - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Achtung Baby - U2
Beaster - Sugar
New Day Rising - Husker Du
Heartbreaker - Ryan Adams
Translate Slowly - Zeitgeist (The Reivers)
Third Sister Lovers - Big Star
Murmer - R.E.M.

I could go on...

So this one is for the young ones who absolutely blew me away on Thusday night. I will look foward to seeing what makes it into your record diary over the next few years.

Here in your Heartland
(Words and music: Andrew Savage)

Listening to records
Like reading a diary
Think of the days in between
You with your weakness
Me sitting speechless
I know you were left wondering

We didn’t finish
All that we started
So we made a peace offering
We didn’t deny it
We even tried it
But we’re still left with nothing

Here in your heartland
Here in your heart I’ll stay

Lighting a candle
for all come before us
for those who are still yet to come
I need redemption
I need your salvation
I need a kingdom to come

Leaving for Paris
We made a promise
We made a real saving
And I need a vision?
Like you need religion?
Is this the best of me?

Here in your heartland
Here in your heart I’ll stay

For tonight, I’m coming home to you
I’m coming home to you
I am coming home to you

Here in your heartland
Here in your heart I’ll stay

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Def Leppard and me (Compu Global)

Before I could even play a single chord on the guitar, my oldest friend Craig Ireson and I came up with a band name, a list of songs and a breakdown of who would play what in the perfect lineup.

We were going to be called Cloak n' Dagger, I would learn guitar, he would sing and my friend (soon to be step brother) Michael would play keyboard. We figured that he could also be the drummer as the keyboard had built in beats. We were going to cover songs by Poison (Fallen Angel), Skid Row ('18 & Life'), Cinderella ('Bad Seamstress Blues') get the idea.

In my defence, I was twelve or thirteen years old, had a poster of Chuck Norris on my bedroom wall and lived in Rotorua.

We had few original song ideas as well, but the real ace up our sleeve was going to be Def Leppard's Hysteria. I absolutely loved that record.

CIAO performing in my basement 1993 or 1994

Cloak n' Dagger never actually did anything other than talk about being in a band. We drew album cover art and wrote detailed setlists for concerts we never performed. Craig and I went on to form CIAO (Craig Ireson's Alternative Orchestra) - a band that recorded well over 20 hours of improvised stuff & nonsense. Some of it was genius, most of it was just sheer obnoxious frivolity. But it set me off on learning how to play the guitar.

Def Leppard was a constant though. In those early days we ripped our jeans, put patches on denim jackets, lip-synched at the intermediate school talent quests (or was that GnR?). I remember in the late 1990s being at my old friend Nick Franich's house in Abel Tasman Street. We were both in our early 20s and had left Def Leppard behind for Radiohead and the usual 'alternative rock' fare. I was looking through his cassette tape collection and found Hysteria hidden underneath a pile of the more credible additions. After a moment of hesitation we self-consciously put it into the player. Just over an hour later we had finished listening to the entire album from start to finish - an air guitar sing-a-long - and a reminder again of how deeply embedded the guitar line from the title song was buried into my subconscious.

Without shame, I can say that that album and the song 'Hysteria' has never been far from my mind. The little repeating guitar line has creeped into my original compositions on so many occasions, I have decided to stop resisting it and celebrate it instead.

The song below is called 'Compu Global'. It was named by Nick Franich as I didn't know what to call it. We were playing together in Chopper at the time. If I recall correctly, I believe he got the inspiration for the song title from Homer Simpson. Anyway, there is no doubt in my mind on listening to this track that Def Leppard has their fingerprints all over it. Check out my derivative guitar line during the verse...

This first version is recorded live at the James Cabaret in 1999. Chopper was just starting to really gel as a band. This was the opening song of the set.


Compu Global (Performed by Chopper Live 1999)
(Words: Andrew Savage Music: Savage, Schulz, Franich & Wise)

This version of the song was recorded with Richard Wise and Jared Schulz in 2009. We never mixed it, but had fun reminiscing. Jared stepped in for Leon and I tried to play Nick's bits on the guitar. I couldn't...

The images are from a Chopper show at the Wellington Town Hall. 


Compu Global 
(Performed by Savage, J. Schulz and Wise in a practice room 2009)
(Words: Andrew Savage Music: Savage, Schulz, Franich & Wise)
If I had some time
I'd spend it on you
But I don't have the time
If I had the money
I'd spend it on you
But I don't have the money
No I don't
If I was afraid 
I'd be afraid of you
But I'm not afraid
If I had a voice
I'd sing only of you
But I don't have a voice
No I don't

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Still Thirsty

As mentioned before, all of the songs I post here are true demo recordings. Most have been recorded in just over an hour - not only is it difficult to find the time I would like, but also the space needed to leave things set up and ready to go.

I live in a small two bedroom house, so when I get the urge to try and make some music I am faced with a list of decisions...

  • What time is it? 
  • Will the children be asleep yet? 
  • Can I be bothered getting everything out from under the bed and setting it up? 
  • Even if the children are asleep, it is still going to have be a quiet affair. Can I be bothered to be restrained? 
  • Is taking over the dining room/lounge for this fair? 
  • What will that mean for Helen? 
  • Will she be banished into the bedroom or damned to watch a DVD with headphones on? Or maybe unable to sew/listen to music/talk on the phone/use the internet because any noise will be picked up by the condensor microphone? 
  • Am I prepared to be ultimately disappointed by the quality of the recording - the ultra compressed, no dynamics master with a rather lame drum machine?

The list could go on.

Then there is the panic and impatience...

  • What if I don't get the idea down now? Will I forget it? 
  • If I make a mistake, should I do it again? (I justify this laziness by telling myself, "it is only a demo after all, one day I will record it properly." That day is still to come).

And the other considerations...

  • How much space in the song do I leave? If I make too many guitar lines or vocal and rhythm ideas, I may be suffocating opportunity for somebody else to do something better.
  • How much time should I spend on the drum machine? It is going to suck anyway...

In the end, it is the compulsion that wins...the overwhelming feeling that creativity is like a shark. If it stops moving, it dies.

This song is called 'Still Thirsty'. It is relatively new and recorded in just over an hour from start to finish. It is part two of a set of songs I have written inspired by what is probably my all time favourite novel - Cormac McCarthy's book 'The Road' (Tim O'Brien's The Things we Carry is a close second).

While Still Thirsty is a pop song, to me, it aches like the oldest of unanswered questions, and the lyric is relentless, like a disappointed child. The narrator is whipping the song into a frenzy, refusing to take a breath, fearful that if he pauses, there will be no answer, which is sometimes the worst answer of all.

While this demo has made the cut in the band practice room, there have been some important changes. The triage has been kind though, leaving the song with a new key, fewer bridges and more dynamics. We are planning on performing it live for the first time on June 16th at Happy, so if you live in Wellington, come on down.

Also, forgive the terrible keyboard is meant to be a violin idea...


Still Thirsty (Original 8-track demo)
(Words and music by Andrew Savage)

I do my best to understand
Follow you to a promised land
I couldn't see to take your hand
Do you understand?
Don't you understand?

When I walk
Then I fall
And we talk
To the walls

Don't you know I'm a God-fearing man?
I never wanted this underhand
I stood on rocks
I built from stones
Do you understand?
Don't you understand?

When I walk
Then I fall
And we talk
To the walls

It's in the way you love
It's in the way you touch
You bury us in words
Do you understand?
Don't you understand?

 It fell around me like dust and sand
And I looked for my fellow man
But they were all just buried or mad
Do you understand?
Don't you understand?

These tears could fill a well
So drink deeply because you can't tell
If the fire will gutter 
And die after all
Do you understand?
Don't you understand?

When I walk
Then I fall
And we talk
To the walls

It's in the way you love
It's in the way you touch
You bury us in words
Do you understand?
Don't you understand?

Quench your thirst
It's not too late