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UNDELETE – behind the songs

Everything you might (or might not) want to know about the songs on Anecdata album, Undelete.

198x

The opening track from Undelete has an incredibly long history – I recorded the first demo of it in 2000, then titled ‘Synthesis’. While a primitive recording – done on a Tascam four-track borrowed from a friend – the core of the song was already present. The discordant verse riff, the poppy chorus melody, even the bassline – it’s all there. It was a droning guitar thing, based around the kind of evil notes you usually hear in Black Sabbath songs but turned into indie rock.

An electronic version recorded using the same four-track machine and a PlayStation ‘DAW’ (lol) called Music2000 was produced in 2001, and released as the opening track on the very first CD (really showing my age now…) I let others hear. Its name had changed by then, to ‘Ideal Standard’ – a phrase I thought sounded suitably Joy Division-esque, but it actually came from the back of a friend’s toilet… It sounded pretty awful, using cheesy distorted beats and terrible samples.

Fast-forward nearly 20 years, and I decided the track would be the perfect way to start off the ’80s-inspired set of tunes that would become Undelete. While the basic chords remained the same, the arrangement is clearly very, very different – and the song now had a melody and lyrics. The title – ‘198x’ – was actually the working title of the album, but canned at the last-minute after I realised some indie game developers had beat me to it.

In the recording I used a trick I once heard Sonic Youth use – mixed in some of the 2001 version into this one, heavily reverbed/echoed, to fill space in some of the quieter moments. It adds a layer of murk that can be hard to achieve when you’re recording alone at home on a computer. It’s a trick that appears a few times on this album, but most notably on this track.

Lyrically? I guess it’s basically a resignation that most of our lives are completely out of our control. Total downer of a way to start a record, but I guess the euphoric music offsets that somewhat…

Agenda 21

I wrote this tune in February 2020, aware there was a mystery virus starting to do the rounds, but kind of oblivious to it all – I was in ‘the zone’, a feeling any creative person knows. Rest of the world can fuck right off when you’re in the zone, right?

Wrote a bunch of tunes that month, almost exclusively about conspiracy theories… the version on Undelete is basically the same as the demo I recorded then, but with the main vocal an octave higher. I’ve worked on my deeper register since then, but it sounded pretty bad, so won’t be uploading that demo. As I said, it’s basically the same, just not as well recorded.

There aren’t enough songs in the world that combine ’80s-style new wave synths with roughly-played acoustic guitars, but this is one of them. It’s a combination I really like.

I won’t go into what the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory is – you can google it – except to say while the song dabbles in its ideas, it’s clearly a denunciation. Well, maybe not clear. But it is.

The Effing News

My day job, as longtime fans (ie. friends and family) would know, is being a digital news producer. This song is essentially a half-satirical, half deadly serious look at the industry, in particular the torrents of bullshit we have to deal with from the public. Really relatable stuff, I know.

I wrote this tune in the same batch as ‘Agenda 21’ in February 2020, almost completely unaware of what was brewing overseas. The recording on the album is almost identical to the demo – I redid the vocals, remixed the drums and guitar, and that was about it. Was in the zone that night.

As for the video, yes, I remade all the graphics for the different news stations myself… the bizarre chyrons are a mix of lyrics from the song, my sense of humour and real-life tweets from a neural net-powered Twitter bot I made, @nznewsbyabot. There’s not room to go into how it works here, except to say it’s a collaboration between human and robot that creates absurd New Zealand-themed fake news headlines. I downloaded the user interaction data and used the top 100 in the video.

Though it doesn’t really sound like anything else on the album, I decided to use it as the first ‘single’… probably the catchiest tune. Got a bit worried when my boss said he’d listened to it, considering the second verse… but he’s cool, I think he got it?

Across the Sea

Sometimes I’m playing around with softsynths (essentially digital recreations of old analogue hardware) and come up with bits of stuff that can’t really fit into a wider song. This is one of those.

Written in February 2021, this one made it onto the album almost unchanged from the day I wrote it. It wasn’t supposed to be on Undelete, which was originally just meant to be 10 or 11 songs. But when I got all the tunes together, I realised I had 18 that I was happy with – so rather than cut six, I decided to add two! Dug up the demo of Across the Sea, I still had the session file, so just gave it a bit of spit and polish and boom, done.

In the past I’ve put out these weird little instrumentals under the name Planet Claire. This probably would have ended up there if I hadn’t picked it up for Undelete.

Timezones

I really like Depeche Mode, alright? Now that we’ve got that out of the way… this is another very new tune, written in February 2021. There was a recent review of Undelete which noted the lack of ‘personal’ themes in Anecdata lyrics – totally fair and true observation – but they’re there, you know… I just like to hide them.

This song is literally about living in a different timezone to those you care about. Not literally, as in another country or anything – but shiftwork.

As for the vocals, well, I’d been listening to a lot of late-70s Bowie and just getting into really early Simple Minds, and thought I’d do something different for a laugh. It ended up sticking…

The drums are mostly some sample loops I picked up somewhere along the way.

2022

Another extremely new tune, also written this recent February. It started out as a little riff I’d recorded on my phone labelled ‘Devo’, but that’s far from where it ended up.

It’s about the pandemic, obviously. Features one of my trademark ‘how the hell did I do that?’ guitar solos which get laid down in the demo phase then end up on the final album because I’m a pretty crap musician and can’t recreate it…

Rest Home at the End of the Universe

This one dates back to 2012. I’d just read a New Scientist article about some crazy shit called ‘time crystals’ that could possibly survive the heat death of the universe…? It was pretty insane, and I decided a song had to be written. It ended up being quite a trippy thing, weird chords with a beat that from memory I’d labelled as sounding like Abba.

I couldn’t reproduce some of the keyboard sounds, but luckily still had some of the original multitracks from the demo, so they ended up in the final recording – they’re the first sounds you hear, in fact.

Douglas Adams fans will know where the title came from. It was nine years ago now, but I guess I was pretty tired when I wrote it?

ABQ (You’re On Your Own)

This tune was written in 2014, and I put out a version of it in 2018 powered by the LM-1 drum machine. Parts of that recording made it into this much-improved mix, mostly the guitar.

The lyrics are mostly gibberish, words that sounded good at the time. But halfway through it clearly starts to get a leftfield Breaking Bad vibe… I was watching the final season around the time the song was written, haha. And that’s where the original version’s name came from.

For the Undelete version, I fixed my inability to spell the town’s name by shortening it to ‘ABQ’ and doing the hella pretentious (subtitle in brackets) thing.

Billionaires

Another new tune! Written in February 2021. But with a very old origin. The spooky chords and bassline came from a decade-old FruityLoops file I had lying around, but for some reason hadn’t turned into a song.

Added some grunge guitars, a shitload of reverb and lyrics about, well, billionaires… and voila. Eat the rich.

The Bilderbergers I first read about in Jon Ronson’s great book Them: Adventures with Extremists, and the Hermetic Order were unknown to me until they appeared in a recent update to computer game Civilization VI. I have no idea if they were billionaires, so I’m sorry if I’ve defamed them I guess? But the name fit the tune…

Generative Adversarial Network

An instrumental tune that upgraded from oddball February 2021 demo to the album, closing out side one, when I decided to make it a double.

This song originated when I was in the car and Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’ came on, and I thought shit, I should make a ‘Kashmir’ beat and see what happens. This is what happened. It’s not ‘Kashmir’…

The Best Move’s Not to Play

Kicking off side 2 with almost a literal bang. ‘The Best Move’s Not to Play’ wears its influences on its sleeve (my sleeve too, I guess?). As its title would suggest, it’s about the folly of nuclear warfare, which you know, until now no one had figured out – least of all, Hollywood film directors.

The song was originally written with a much slower beat, as the 2019 demo shows. But most of the rest of it was there – the melody, lyrics and glassy keyboards. This was how the album version began, but it just wasn’t working – so I found some loop samples to play with, then was scrolling through some synth presets when that glorious white noise hit. Chucked in a few Prince-style LM-1 knocking sounds, and it was done.

Nell

The recent review of Undelete above which noted the lack of ‘personal’ themes did single out this song… which aside from the instrumentals, is probably the most vague lyric on the record, even if it includes ridiculously specific details.

It was written literally in minutes in February 2021 as part of a songwriting website I’m signed up to. Can’t remember what the theme was, but the idea is you’re given a prompt and expected to write and record something in the next hour – and this is what I came up with. Touched up a bit for the album, but it’s largely the demo recording here.

Long story short, nearly 20 years ago I became close with a girl/woman whose name was annoyingly close to mine, so I called her Nell for short. No one else did. For a short time we were inseparable, but not technically a couple – then one day she told me she was going away. I literally escorted her to the train and said goodbye, like it was the 1800s. Never, ever heard from her again, and this being pre-social media, I’ll probably never know what became of her.

As the song states, I didn’t know her last name. At the time I refused to use her full first name, so I’m not even entirely sure how it’s spelt. Anyway. I’ve now spent more words explaining the song that are actually IN the song, so…

Hide the Decline (We’re No Better Than You)

This tune was actually the title track to an album I released a long, long time ago under a different name, in a galaxy… blah blah. Always liked the tune, never the recording/mix I gave it.

So here it is in a new version! Sounding way more like prime-era Ultravox, a very good thing, with an all-new coda added.

It began life more than a decade ago as a demo called ‘The Voynich Manuscript’, before morphing into ‘Hide the Decline’. Lyrically it’s somewhat of a prototype of ‘The Effing News’, looking at the different sides of the news/fake news conflict but specific to climate change.

Cindy’s Kindy

Wrote this one after a big-time political operator described New Zealand’s world-hailed and successful approach at eliminating COVID-19 as locking everyone up in “Cindy’s Kindy”. There’s a bit to unwrap here…

So, NZ locked down hard and fast in March last year after epidemiologists realised uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in NZ would quickly overwhelm the health system, which was set up to handle an influenza outbreak, but not something like this. Less than two months later, the virus was gone, and aside from a couple of small outbreaks since – also knocked on the head with a short, sharp lockdown – we’ve been living life largely as normal.

But some thought there should never have been much of a lockdown at all, despite the all the evidence. One of them was a high-ranking official (not an MP) in the largest opposition party here, who blamed her side’s struggle in the polls on the constant media attention Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was getting. She went on TV and complained about being “locked up in Cindy’s Kindy”, using a nickname usually associated with the sexist idiots that inhabit talkback radio here.

Anyway it was one of those moments a song just had to be written about… the woman who made the comment ended up resigning not long afterwards after admitting leaking private COVID-19 patient details.

Drift

Not a whole lot to say on this one. It was an instrumental I recorded in 2017 and kind of forgot about, and resurrected it for this album – just polished the mix, and it was done.

Landlords

New Zealand has some of the most ridiculously overpriced and unaffordable housing in the world – I think the drafty wooden shack I rent at present is currently valued at over $1 million, it’s absurd. A big part of my day job recently has been writing about the worsening situation, which only accelerated after COVID. People love to click on stories about landlords being, well, landlords – so it wasn’t hard to write these lyrics! (Even though our own property manager/landlord is actually a good dude and we’ve got no complaints!)

When I started recording this album, I expected it to have more of this kind of guitar – heavily-effected jangly kind of stuff. Didn’t turn out that way, but it really drove this song. Everything you hear here except for the vocals was laid down at the demo stage in February 2021. I remember struggling to get the dark feel right until stumbling on that bizarre panning effect on the second guitar, and suddenly it all clicked.

The lyric video features real headlines from NZ news sites about the housing situation – not sure how many of them I wrote myself, probably a decent chunk!

Band T-shirt

Odd tune, with a rather strange path to existence. I had this great guitar riff which I thought could make a good epic rock song, but on the day I decided to use it, felt like doing some kinda like Prince… Laid down the drums, added some guitar and bass, but it was just sounding lame – like, I’m not Prince. Not even close.

So I stripped all the guitar, and just used the chords as synths – then came up with that ’99 Luftballoons’ bassline. Somehow the ‘epic rock’ tune had gone into ridiculous ’80s territory.

I wrote this one near the end of February, after writing about two dozen other tunes, so was running a bit low on lyrical ideas… so sung about all the bands whose T-shirts I’ve worn over the years. Yes, every group mentioned in the song. There is one little fib though – my Crowded House T-shirt wasn’t black, it was white.

Petrov’s False Alarm

There should be more songs about Stanislav Petrov, a Soviet soldier who literally saved the world in 1983 and instead of being hailed, got reprimanded for not following protocol.

I wrote the song in early 2020, but reworked it considerably for the album – including spicing up the melody a bit and adding a blazing guitar solo…

Evacuate

By far the oldest song on the album – the bones of the song were written and demoed in 1998. Not kidding. Here’s the demo to prove it! (Warning: Literally everything is out of tune.) Thought it would be perfect for Undelete, with a reworking of the melody in the verses. It perhaps came out a bit too polished? It’s not exactly a punk banger, and it’s been so bloody long now I have no idea how I wrote something like this when I was just a kid. Very uncool.

The lyrics were originally a bit of a whine about typical teenage anxiety. Now they’re a bit of a whine about typical adult anxieties, I guess? Didn’t take much to update them, to be honest…

The Everything

Quite a pretentious title to end the album on, but the song is anything but. I wrote it in February as part of a challenge to write and record a new tune using just a single synthesizer. In this case, I chose the CZ, an emulation of an old Casio keyboard. Turns out it can make a decent beat!

It’s a pretty simple song, musically and lyrically. Some people just think they have to be the titular ‘everything’ and really, they don’t. That’s pretty much the song.

Guess I cheated a bit by adding a fuzzed-up guitar part…

 

 

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Kosh Records 2021