Stories Behind the Songs

Every song has a story. Here’s a little background on the writing and recording of each of the songs on Oil, Love & Oxygen. It is sometimes geeky, sometimes political and usually personal, though I reserve the right to be coy when I choose!

  1. Close Your Mouth is a funny one to start with, because it’s the most vague in terms of meaning – I think there were ideas floating around in my head about over-thinking in relationships, but it is not about anything specific. The “bed” of this track was a live take with drums and semi-electric guitar using just a pair of ribbon microphones – very minimalist! There is some beautiful crazy saxophone from Professor Merle in the background of the mix at the 1:02 minute mark.
  2. Good Together is one of my oldest songs, and the recording of it started eight years ago! It features catchy accordion from Cat Kohn (now Melbourne based) and a dreamy electric guitar solo from Ken Williford (now works for NASA). The lyrics are fairly direct storytelling, so I don’t feel the need to elaborate.
  3. Oil, Love & Oxygen. I’ve been banging on about the climate crisis for more than twenty years, and this is the song where I most directly address the emotional side of it. For the lyric writing nerds: I used a triplet syllable stress pattern in the verses. The choir part was an impromptu gathering of friends at the end of a house concert. I first played this song as a duo with Marie O’Dwyer who plays the piano part on this version. The almost subliminal organ part is Rachel playing a 1960s electric organ she found on the side of the road.
  4. The Relation Ship I wrote this on the ferry to Rotto. The “pain body” concept in the chorus comes from Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth, and is similar to the sankhara concept in Vipassana. For the A capella intro I experimented with double tracking the band singing together around a mid (omni) / side (ribbon) microphone setup, without using headphones.
  5. Perfect as Cats. As I kid I was fascinated by the big cats, especially snow leopards. This song is not about snow leopards. The drums and bass here were the only parts of the album recorded in a purpose built studio (the old Shanghai Twang). Ben Franz plays the double bass and Rob Binelli the drums (one of the six drummers on the album!).
  6. Dull Ache. Sometimes I wished I lived in Greece, Italy, The Philippines, Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador, Nigeria or Spain. The common theme here is the siesta! I’m not at my best in the mid arvo, partly because my sensitive eyes get weary in our harsh sun. Around 4 or 5pm the world becomes a softer place to me, and my mojo returns. This song is also more generally about existential angst and depression. Always reach out for support when you need it – it is not easy dealing with these crazy grey soft things behind our eyes. I love Rob’s crazy guitars on the second half of this song – they are two full takes panned either side without edits.
  7. Kissing and Comedy was inspired by a quote from Tom Robbins’s novel Even Cowgirls Get The Blues: “Maybe the human animal has contributed really nothing to the universe but kissing and comedy–but by God that’s plenty.” I wrote it on the Overland Train. The drums are a single playful take by Angus Diggs, recorded in Dave Johnson’s bedroom with my trusty pair of ribbon mics, and the song was built up from there.
  8. Now That We’ve Kissed was co-written with Ivy Penny and is about being kissed by famous people (which I haven’t) and the implications of kisses in general. The things that “come from a kiss” were literally phoned in by friends.
  9. Rogue State was written in 2007, just prior to the Australian federal election and the Bali Climate Change Conference. It reflects on Australia’s sabotage of progress on climate change at the Kyoto conference in 1997, as documented in books such as Guy Pearse’s “High & Dry: John Howard, Climate Change and the Selling of Australia’s Future” and Clive Hamilton’s “Scorcher”. I had no intention of putting this old song on the album, until the last minute when I decided it was still sadly relevant given so many politicians still show a lack of respect and understanding of science and the planet that supports us. The recording of the song was also an excuse to feature a bit of Peter Grayling cello magic.
  10. Montreal was the first song I wrote on ukulele, though I ended up recording it with guitar. Sian Brown, who helped greatly with recording my vocals for the album, makes a harmony cameo at the end of the song. As for the lyrics, it’s a fairly obvious bittersweet love song.
  11. I Stood You Up is my account of attending a fantastic music camp called Rhythm Song, and kicking myself for not following through with a potential jam with songwriting legend Kristina Olsen. One of her pieces of advice to performers is to make their audience laugh to balance out the sadder songs in a set. The song was written in a mad rush two hours before a Song Club when I thought “What music can I write quickly?… Well I don’t have a blues song yet!”. This version was largely recorded prior to The Kiss List taking shape, so it features multiple guest musicians who are listed in the liner notes.
  12. Measuring the Clouds I wrote for my Dad’s birthday a few years ago. He used to be a Weather Observer in the 60s, sending up the big balloons etc. from many locations around WA such as Cocos Island. He had a beautiful eccentric sense of humour and would answer the phone with “Charlie’s Chook House and Chicken Factory, Chief Chook speaking”. The musical challenge I set myself with this song was to use a five bar pattern in the verse. A cello part was recorded, but was dropped in the mixing when I decided it made the song feel too heavy and I wanted it to feel light and airy.

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