MAKING OF 'THE BEAR'
- CHRIS T-T -
- 10.10.13 -
I went into The Bear with less of an agenda than previous albums. It’s ended up with a bit of a theme (resilience through hard times) but my aim was just to record with the Hoodrats lineup, because we’ve played together since 2008, feels like a family, yet never recorded. So although it’s my material, the songs that ended up on the album are a collaboration – for example the band rejected two of my favourites (including a song I imagined opening the record) because they didn’t think they were ready. I was gutted but they were right. That kind of thing is why Hoodrats’ name is on the record.
TRACK01 - 1994
A song about embracing the party, not getting trapped in the Post Office queue. 1994 is rooted in Prince’s 1999, the wisdom of Andrew WK and Boo Radleys’ Wake Up Boo, though musically I wanted to rock like 60s garage (The Faces) or maybe Hold Steady (with half-shouted singing). For several years I had an early version of the first verse scribbled in notebooks – but it was the other way around, with the girl getting up early instead of me:
My lover explodes into life in the morning
She never has dust in her eyes...
Once this verse got connected to lines stolen off Prince (There’s a lion in my pocket – beautiful, wtf does it even mean?) I knew I needed to be more cocky, so it’s me up early and having a brilliant time, encouraging the other person not to be boring and miserable. From there, 1994 wrote itself fast. There’s something merciless about telling people to cheer up.
I want the album to have age integrity. I constantly meet 20somethings who moan about how old they’re getting – because they’re brainwashed to believe life is about teenagers having fun, then dull adult life. Bleurgh!
TRACK02 - The Bear
The Bear is influenced by Grinderman and Future Of The Left. The cut’n’paste, reference-heavy lyrics came from two things: the scene in comic Louis CK’s fantastic TV series Louie (which I put into the verse) where he meets Joan Rivers backstage, plus an episode of Chicago radio show This American Life, where they were discussing teachers who work in tough schools, going back day-after-day and someone said “You need some gumption to fight that bear.”
Originally I tried to write The Bear entirely out of infamous quotes from other songs – but I didn’t have the discipline to make that work. I’ll try it again another day. Hat-tip to Franz Nicolay who got me into both CK and podcasting when we toured, so influenced me a lot through that, as well as his own brilliant storytelling.
TRACK03 - A Beaten Drum
Rescued from an awful demo arrangement (chirpy shit, almost electro-pop). I’d given up on it, only played A Beaten Drum to the band out of a sense I should share every idea. They immediately slowed it down and jammed it stretched out loose, guitar and drums, and it sounded lush. Fresh ears! To me we’re aiming between Yo La Tengo and I Am Kloot. Jen Macro has a ton of ownership over this – her lead guitar part is bang on, plus she’s playing bass as well I think. And later Jen gave us the final order of the album, totally different from the orders we’d been tweaking. For ages I’d thought this would close the album, then suddenly it’s track 3, perfect positioning.
I think it’s one of the pure bleakest songs I’ve ever written. I used the opposite lyrical tactic to 1994 and The Bear; minimalising and distilling down to simple lines. Some dick online just slagged off the Ebay reference as if it’s a quirky joke – but I know in my heart: connect vivid menace with language rooted in the modern, real world and you increases the effectiveness, rather than diminishing it.
TRACK04 - Paperback Kama Sutra
This is me trying to write the kind of lovesong I hate: keeping it universal, like mainstream observational comedy, so anyone can sing it, fantasizing about it turning up on X Factor.
I know, I fail completely, nowhere near that kind of thing if you’ve got people falling down escalators in the second verse. But at least I vaguely tried. I originally wrote a version of Paperback Kama Sutra over a decade ago, played it live a few times, forgot about it and never recorded it until now. This recording is the second or third take, during the same session where the band learnt the song, played live except for a guitar overdub and my singing. For the passionate cry-out at the end, I’m singing the word “Bono”.
TRACK05 Idris Lung
‘Idris’ is a brand of fizzy drink, so an Idris lung is a homemade device for inhaling gulp-loads of pot smoke, built (nowadays they’d say ‘hacked’) from one of those plastic two-litre lemonade bottles, a polythene bag, gaffer tape and an empty biro casing to suck through. Idris Lung is about getting so stoned you reach a place of fundamental ür-clarity where you perceive yourself and everything around you far more accurately and dispassionately than when you’re just sober. Which is obviously terrible.
Musically inspired by Sebadoh’s classic Flame, or even Holy Fuck’s amazing keys-and-drums blend and other more beat-heavy stuff than I get associated with (but love). It takes the keyboard riff framework from a long-lost early T-T song from the late 90s. Was specifically inspired by an adventure a few years ago in the desert, eating cookies. Even before we’d got high we saw a moonbow, so it was an intense evening.
I wanted first to be as minimal as possible, except where the song explodes into psychedelic nonsense (like my old song Tomorrow Morning), secondly to have everyone sing the whole song, in collective voice, not just me.
TRACK06 - The Music Is Alive With The Sound Of Ills
Music Is Alive started out as an attempt to turn upside-down the Julie Andrews Sound Of Music classic – but ended up being a complicated story about a stabbing on a bus, skipping back and forward in time.
Musically it’s the most “Xtra Mile” song on The Bear I reckon, by which I mean it’s trying to put across a slightly Turner or Gaslight or Larry punk/folk rock’n’roll sound (deliberately upbeat to counterweight the blood in the story). You’re meant to feel as if you relax into it like a big fart, both with the music and the quirkiness of the lyric, to make wading through the darkness seem easier. Lyrical dicking around to make the noir bits harder to spot, so maybe some people only unpack the real song a few listens in, if that makes sense. But I think Music Is Alive falls down because the plot is too convoluted, so people miss that the narrator lost a girl friend, with whom he had a complex, difficult relationship and instead focus on the references and laughs (which is my fault, not theirs).
A lot of people comment on the Warren Ellis quote (telling Laurie Penny to “Go fuck a panda”) – but it’s not me, it’s a real quote, I saw it online (I think she tweeted he said it) and it was a perfect way into my line about “a future so black and white”, which is the cleverer gag that fewer people laugh at. By the way, I did listen relentlessly to Frightened Rabbit’s Midnight Organ Fight in Tooting General hospital over a few days, years ago, which has drastically complicated my relationship with that album, even though it’s masterpiece.
TRACK07 - Gulls
The story of the dolphin is completely true. I’m proud of this song, I’ve performed it more than the other album tracks because I’ve basically played it at every show since I wrote it. Nothing else to say about it really!
TRACK08 - Bury Me With A Scarab
My friend Anthony is part of the Bloody Cuts team who make amazing short British horror films. I wrote this song by imagining how a song might work if it was coming out of his brain. There’s quite a lot of blood on this album but I like how so much of it is offscreen, so it’s not overtly described graphic stuff. Like the hint of Game Of Thrones in the old-school funeral ideas.
Also, Bury Me has got bongos on that I played and nobody thought would work – but they totally do, they’re the fucking business.
TRACK09 Jesus Christ
I had this demoed as a rave track, I swear. The riff that’s now horns was originally a huge Ibiza boomy synth pattern over four-to-the-floor.
Lyrically Jesus Christ sticks out on The Bear as an overt ‘issue’ song and it’s mainly on the record because I love Johny Lamb’s horns (which he did at home in Cornwall) and the thumping indiepop vibe. Just today I saw a video online where the comedian Milton Jones was defending Christianity from people by pointing out the swathes of it that are progresssive. Probably the reason ‘faith’ in a ‘god’ comes under such attacking scrutiny is that the most extreme ends of the major religions get the biggest amount of attention. I like the idea of scrutiny from within, rather than just taking an atheist line (which I’ve done on other songs). Especially right-wing Christians follow such a massively corrupted version of what The Bible really says, it’s not much more than a joke, compared to Jesus preaching “Love your enemy” and “turn the other cheek”.
There are a few more ‘religion’ songs that didn’t make this album, so I wonder if I’ll end up doing an album or EP in the future specifically about the theft of (control over) individuals’ faith by huge religions.
Tunguska is a real place, where a meteor exploded over deep Siberian forest early in the 20th century, destroying 80 million trees and leaving them roughly in the shape of an enormous butterfly, over a 70km area. The perfect brutal relationship metaphor! It’s worth looking up,nobody even reached the site until 10 years later.
I’m prouder of Tunguska’s first verse – how it ushers in the song’s emotional harshness – than anything I’ve written in years. Again, it risks getting misunderstood as quirky or trying to be funny but I don’t give a shit, I’m not writing for idiots anymore.
If we’re a church and a state
I’m an anti-disestablishmentarian
But if that’s our fate
One influence was challenging myself to write as good an opening to a broken lovesong as Nick Cave on Into Your Arms (his visionary line about an interventionist God). I’m not remotely saying I got there – but I massively love the result. It also offers a red herring for shallow listeners, so if people hear the word ‘anti-disestablishmentarian’ as simply a word, without thinking about what it means, they miss the preciousness of it, which is fine by me.
The keyboard part was taped in Leeds, during some studio down-time, in one take reading chords off a notebook, then brought it back to London to sing over. Jon wouldn’t let me do a ‘better’ vocal take either, we caught an early-ish one and stuck with it for atmosphere over perfection. One thing I love about such a downbeat ending is, if your album repeats and 1994 kicks in again, it sounds fantastic after the Tunguska fade, ideally encouraging people to listen again.
The album 'The Bear' is now available through our store HERE!