Hallowe'en Again

What’s scary about the fact that it’s been five years since The Spooky EP? That we are brief flickers of cognisance shortly to be blown out in the gusts of deep time, and that each of our meaningless lives is over in the flicker of a cosmic eyelid. Well – it is meant to be a scary record.

I like The Spooky EP. It was my first collaboration with Dean McCarthy, and remains my only one with Sam Taplin – for that alone, it’ll always be special to me. But it’s also a record with a theme which makes me revisit it every year, and I really appreciate that. A lot of my other recordings I tend to forget or simply not listen to; this one sort of requires that I regularly come back to it. This year, I find it pleasingly unchanged: the solo in track 2 is still my favourite thing in the world; The Dapper Swindler’s vocals on track 5 continue to destroy me; and track 3 still has, despite its pared-down arrangements (two guitars and three vocals) the energy and power of a stadium rock band detonating a series of atom bombs in a massive can of Dr Pepper. I don’t know whether it’s because of anything innate in the record or simply because this is the only time of year when I listen to it, but it seems to suit the season. Falling leaves and crispiness outside, the turning back of the clocks, the distant smell of misty roasting vegetables or whatever – this record really does all that for me.

I think this is the lasting achievement – and the most surprising achievement – about this record: it actually does what we wanted it to do. We wanted a record that evoked Hallowe’en in a certain way (that found the fun, tossed the consumerism; kept the heart but lost the schmaltz) and so we went and wrote one and then recorded it. It almost never happens like that. I’m proud of my other records, but none of them so closely resemble the starting intention as this one does. The most vivid example of this is the last track, ‘Sentiments Expressed…’. I wrote that track because I thought that the record needed a pithy afterward, that the show couldn’t close at the Skeleton Express. And so I sat down and channelled some vibes, and the song just – happened. I talk to other songwriters who have this experience all the time, but it’s very rare for me. My songs turn up sideways, by accident. There’s one idea, and then there’s something in the composition process that changes it. Often, this change is for the better, but I’m glad that I’ve also written a song that does exactly what I first wanted it to. It makes me feel more of a craftsman and less of a conduit.

One of the reasons I was able to do that is because of the strength of the collaboration. TT&J was a curious and wonderful partnership: we did very little writing together (although I will always remember those frenetically exciting sessions very vividly), but there was something about knowing we were collaborating which made each of us, separately, write in a different way. When we put that separate stuff in a room together, it really caught fire. It’s still burning, for me at least, five years later. I hope you think so too.

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