HIDE THE DECLINE – BEHIND THE MUSIC
Here you’ll find stories behind each of the songs from the Radio Over Moscow album Hide the Decline.
I’ve always found it interesting to find out about other bands’ writing/recording processes, so here are some thoughts about the writing, composing, and recording of Hide the Decline.
So – after finishing Battletech, I had moved the computer-stereo-industrial complex from the lounge to the bedroom, as my then six-month-old boy had a habit of falling asleep in his bassinet in the lounge, as kids his age like to do. I planned to a more electronic-sounding album, for a few reasons – it’s easier to just turn off a computer when the kid needs attention than it is to tidy up a whole lot of gear; my wrists were kind of fucked, so the less guitar, the better; and I wanted material that I’d be better able to present live in a one-man-band-with-a-laptop situation.
I still wanted to keep it the realms of rock music though, so adopted a heavy, ‘live’ sample drum set, beefed it up with some old-school drum sounds, tweaked it all to sound a bit mechanised, and layered on the synthesizers.
The title track began as an instrumental piece I had floating around called ‘The Voynich Manuscript’, after this weird medieval document that later went on to feature on William Shatner’s show Weird or What? (but I got there first!). It didn’t have any lyrics ’cause ‘The Voynich Manuscript’ rhymes with nothing.
I knew it was going to be on the album, and at the time there was all this controversy about climate scientists allegedly covering up the “fact” there had been no warming in global temperatures since the late 1980s – they had conspired, as the meme went, to “hide the decline”.
So I wrote a song about it, and realised it would be good SEO (search engine optimisation) to name the album after the phrase everyone was googling. At least that was the plan. Did you come across this website by googling “hide the decline”? If so, YAY! It finally worked.
The bass is a CS-80 (emulated of course – unless otherwise noted, everything is done in the computer…), which I heard Ultravox used, which is good enough for me. The scratchy, deep distorted synth noise is the Oddity, an emulation of an ARP Odyssey, I believe.
The arpeggiated, sliding synth in the choruses is a sound I first chanced upon about a decade ago, fiddling with one of the generic, built-in FL Studio generators (back in the FruityLoops days). It’s like Muse, but really polite-sounding.
So that’s pretty much the story behind the world’s only indie-dance, ’80s-influenced song about climate change written from the points of view of climate change deniers and their learned opponents.
This song began as pretty its opposite, sonically – a guitar-heavy indie drone. I don’t think I ever got around to recording a proper demo of it, though.
The basic melody and chords were written in late 2004, early 2005 when I was living in a small unit in central Hamilton, just across the bridge from the city. I know that’s not very interesting, but it’s about the only thing I can remember about its genesis!
There’s more of the arpeggiated synth I mentioned above, the bass comes from the Minimogue plug in – there’s some more Oddity, and I can’t actually remember what the other synths are. Nor what the lyrics are really about – probably nothing!
LINK: DOWNLOAD ‘NOT A LOT’
If the title and some of the lyrics sound familiar, you might be a fan of Lost…
Lyrically, I wrote this song before anything from Dharma Police, honest! You could say this is where Dharma Police began though, even if it ended up a Radio Over Moscow song :)
Anyway. The music was written way back in 1998. I was flatting with R William Murphy, and as such had access to his four-track mixer.
I’d been asked by a classmate at uni to provide a song for some video she was making about drink driving – she obviously wasn’t aware of just how amateur my abilities were at the time… Anyway, I had a couple of backing tracks without any lyrics/melodies recorded, and decided one of them – an upbeat, driving dance/rock hybrid – would be perfect.
So I left a note for Rob at home asking him to have a go at writing some words and laying down some vocals on the track. When I got home, much to our amusement, he’d found the wrong backing track, and had recorded vocals over a bizarre, off-kilter acoustic guitar-based experimental track I was working on… which is sadly lost to the mists of time. It probably wasn’t as bizarre as I remember it, but as it was completely the wrong song for the project, it was pretty funny.
The right song got done in the end, and that was that… until I unearthed it, re-wrote the words to be about the Lost smoke monster, threw in some synth leads, prettied up the melody and yeah. ‘Don’t Crash the Car’ became ‘Killer on the Island’.
It wasn’t until about year later I got the idea to base an entire person around Lost-inspired lyrics…
I still have many of the original scraps of A4 paper I wrote my very first songs on, and one of them has the first line from this song: “If God has power, then why don’t I?”
Typically arrogant line from a teenager, but years later I managed to write a decent second line: “In asking, innocents will die.”
This isn’t the first time I’ve recorded this song. It was first released on an album I did under a previous person back in 2003, and called ‘Clarity Has Never Been Divine’. Of course, I thought it was awesome at the time, but it wasn’t. My skills have come a long way…
Anyway. When I first demoed the song in 1998 or so, I recall entering it in some radio station competition to get a song on the radio. God, the judges must have laughed. Fifteen years later, I’d say it evolved enough for me say yeah, one of my better songs. That chorus!
An amusing thing happened in the recording. I was programming the lead synth line that comes in at about 2:08 – replacing the lead guitar in the earlier version – and thought I’d nailed it, so dropped it into the mix, played it back, and almost shit myself laughing… I’d programmed the entire thing without a reference track, assuming technology didn’t go out of tune like my guitars liked to do.
I was wrong – somehow I’d managed to drop the pitch of the lead by a semitone, leaving everything else in tact, without realising until I stuck it in the mix. It sounded like the worst YouTube ‘shreds’ video, but completely unintentional.
LINK: DOWNLOAD ‘CLARITY’
This one dates back to 2001 or 2002 – had a scratchy, cheesy-sounding demo with some nonsense lyrics. Can’t really recall anything about the writing of it, nor the recording of it.
I do remember one of the pulsing synths that comes in about half way through had some issues – once it was turned on, it wouldn’t turn off.
LINK: DOWNLOAD ‘HELL OF A WAY’
Now this is a song with a story!
It all begins back in late 2000. A couple of friends and I had an idea to start a new music magazine, but having no money or business experience between us, it was coming along slowly. By early 2001 we were about a week from putting a deposit down on a Mac to make it on after securing a pretty good deal through a local dealer.
A local radio station, UFM, had let me use their facilities while setting up the venture – computers, fax, phones, etc. One night I got home and realised I’d left an envelope with a couple of hundred dollars in it op my desk at UFM, so called the office to see if someone could put it somewhere safe.
Luckily – and fatefully – my friend Nic answered the phone, and she hid the envelope in my drawer. At least that’s what she said she did.
The next day, it was gone – and she had a sweet new pair of pants – but it never occurred to me she had stolen it. With the money gone there was no buying a Mac, so instead I took up the offer of a job doing data entry at the radio station.
A few weeks later, it emerged Nic had stolen a great deal of money and equipment from the station, and probably my money too. People I spoke to in the months afterwards who knew her – and flatted with her – had tales of money and belongings going missing, but like me, never suspected her at all, but once she was outed as a thief, it was screamingly obvious she was to blame.
The next day the owner of the station offered me her job, so in the strangest form of revenge I’ve perhaps ever taken, I took it.
As for the song, it’s almost completely just A and D. There’s an F somewhere I think, maybe even a C? That’s the problem with programmed music – you never really learn how to ‘play’ it.
It was performed live once or twice back in the day when I went under the name luna spark – this would have been around 2002 or 2003. There was a backing track that had some pretty sweet keys on it – programmed on a PlayStation, of all things – that has been unfortunately lost. In many ways it was better than what ended up on Hide the Decline, but ah well. Definitely cheesier, anyway.
LINK: DOWNLOAD ‘NIC’
I wrote this one in 2006 during my first go at February Album Writing Month. It’s from the the point of view of a fallen dictator. You can probably tell which one from the lyrics (the clue is the world ‘Kurd’). Briefly practised this song as a group when I was in Auckland band KittyHawk, which changed the minor shift in the riff to a major, but it never got out of the garage.
First thing I did when I decided to record it for this album was restore it back to a minor key. Can’t have a song about a fallen dictator in a major key!
LINK: DOWNLOAD ‘COUNTDOWN’
Another one written during February Album Writing Month in 2006. On the demo, the drum were all programmed before the song was written, in an attempt to force a strange, time-signature-shifting structure. The song’s pretty unremarkable I guess, though I have fond memories of trying to mix the demo and eliminate the sound of crickets from the vocal track. Recorded it in the middle of summer, and my crappy little flat was hardly soundproofed.
That, and the cat walked in and meowed at one point.
LINK: DOWNLOAD ‘UNTIL THE END’
Back in the ’80s when I was at primary school (okay, and 1990… I’m not quite that old) the Amiga 500 was the shit. At least, it was in the poor part of town I lived in. My school had two, and the most awesome game of the era – Faery Tale Adventure.
I spent many, many hours playing that game. So much in fact, I’m surprised I didn’t end up a complete blathering idiot from skipping classes.
After I finished primary school I only got to play the game again once or twice until 2001, when I bought a Sega Megadrive (Genesis) ’cause I saw the Faery Tale Adventure cartridge on sale in a second-hand store. Sat down for a week, and clocked in. Only took me 10 years!
Everything you hear in this song is from this game. There was indeed a dragon, a witch, a turtle, a guy named Kevin who wore yellow… everything.
The game itself had some awesome music too. Whenever the ‘bad guy’ music came on, it gave me the chills!
Wrote this song during February Album Writing Month in 2006 too, funnily enough.
LINK: DOWNLOAD ‘YELLOW KEVIN’