Sunday, 24 June 2012

All Of The Strands

Well, a huge thanks to all of the people who read the last blog post about the Turning Heads project. This week has been pretty amazing actually.

The week itself has been an amazing story which could be classed as coincidence or destiny, but I'm breaking this into two sections for those who have asked me about the process of recording and songwriting, and those who want to hear the amazing story of this week's meetings with some extraordinary women from the Alopecia Foundation and beyond. Sorry if it's a bit long as a result.

It's rough but it gives a good idea of where the song will eventually go. Real, organic drums are always livelier and give a lot more energy to a song, and I am looking forward to doing the actual recording in July-ish. In the meantime, the song can be played by clicking the player below, if the embed code works:

We really hope you enjoy and are encouraged by the demo.

Recording on Saturday
All Of The Strands was written to try to achieve two goals. The first was to try to capture, in the chorus, the joy I saw in Lina's photos; to write something affirming to these women to make them see the beauty I saw. The second goal was to reflect upon how we measure things as humans, as I thought about my own kids and the various judgements they will no doubt face at some point.

So, I was hoping Marty or Micky might have been available to record the demo version of the song, but Micky's tyre was flat and Marty had open houses to get to and Pat was in Korea. Often when I write a new song, I'll record a demo in Garage Band using loops and playing a bunch of the instruments to get some ideas, so this wasn't unusual. Marty, Micky and Pat are exceptional musicians and much better on their instruments then I am, but demos often create a good springboard for when the band actually plays through a song together later and if you have the facility to do it, it's a process I highly recommend. So Ted came over and we got to work.

I hadn't slept much the night before and was a bit sloppy. My piano playing was all over the shop. We finally managed to get a passable piano take but the instrumental part was a bit sloppy. I thought I'd come back to it later, and moved on.

Recording in my garage gym, which also feels like a Chinese laundry due to the recent weather.

Next we did some electric guitar lines. My plan had been to take piano out of the choruses to try to create a more significant distinction in the lyrics, which are affirming, compared to the verses which are more reflective/contemplative. I had been listening to Switchfoot's Dare You To Move and really liked the long single hard guitar strums, so tried that in the chorus, but it sounded messy and ugly. Tristan decided to try running an acoustic guitar keeping simple, quick rhythm and it sounded really nice. I resolved to use high guitar lines with a delay on them, because the acoustic guitar would fill out the sound of the chords and I wouldn't need to play the chords strongly on the electric, but rather let the notes themselves ring and try to bring a sense of the joy that the original photos captured.

Working on strumming in Drop D. Wasn't a winner, and went with a new line you can now hear.

Ted's genius idea to use Mr. Maton and fill out the chorus chords. If you write, try to write with someone who gets you musically, which is a lot harder than it sounds.

With Micky away, I pulled out my bass to get a placeholder down. This is probably my second-weakest instrument and the bass itself has been playing up but I haven't had time to get it fixed. This led to some very frustrating takes and in the end I decided to keep the bass line simple so Micky could work his magic on it when we begin rehearsing it. I opted for long sustained notes in the verse and a steadier rhythm with some long slides in the chorus, although I find myself thinking that I should have played the chorus notes an octave lower at the end of the choruses.

It's actually a nice bass, but having some... issues. Given it hasn't been serviced in 5 years, that would explain it.

Finally, it was time to get Ted up to the vocal booth. Which is actually a squat machine. We found, when working on Hoping For Jupiter, that we could get almost vocal-booth quality with a decent condensor surrounded by a heavy doona to help absorb the sound and avoid the reverb that the garage lends itself to. Often we'll spend time balancing the sound out first, but in this case due to time and the demo nature of the song, we whacked it all together and just went with what we had.

Now to the tale of the last week:

The Amazing Tale of Providence

First off, last Saturday Tristan and I recorded All Of The Stands on iPhone between the piano and me. I sent this to Lina, who in her usual amazing way sent it on to a bunch of people. First was Helen, who then found me on Facebook and added me as a friend.
If you weren't aware, Helen Beasley is the amazing artist who conceived the project. Helen used to be a bread scientist (I asked her if it was because she kneaded the dough; for some reason, she didn't laugh), who worked with a lovely lady I used to go to church with back when I was in Five Dock, Jill Chambers. So all of a sudden there was a multiple connection thing.

Helen's story of how she started face/head/any body part painting full time is quite amazing but since I haven't checked with her, I won't share it here at this point in time. However, I will say that her original plan with the head art was to do it with the cancer council or something similar, but they were uncertain about the idea. She met Chel from the Australia Alopecia Aerata Foundation, who was totally super keen on the idea, then asked at a photography store, who referred her on to Lina.

So Helen sent the terrible recording to Chel, and gave Chel my contact details. I had an idea that it'd be mad to get a female alopecia lady singing on the track, although not entirely sure where/how. I first asked Stacy, who was the woman in the photo with the flower on her head (and the first person in the project), whether or not she could sing but she said that no, she was restricted to singing in showers and it's not a good idea to put good condensor microphones into showers, even in the name of art.

Anyway, Helen asked Chel if she knew anyone, and Chel was all, "I know this lady called Lisa who has a big, big voice."

So then I wound up SMS-ing Lisa and she was keen, though unavailable this weekend (springing recording on someone 16 hours before actually recording was always going to be a tall order), and so now at some point we'll get a huge duet thing happening.


Chel was amazingly encouraging, given that all she had was a sub-par iPhone track that is hard to get distinct vocals out of. There was a video they were working on raising awareness for alopecia sufferers and she asked if we'd be OK if the final track was possibly used in the video. Flabbergasted, we said of course we would be; it may or may not happen, depending on the music's vibe compared to the video's intent, but it was mind-blowing to get such a positive response from someone doing such impressive work as Chel. 

Moreover, I guess, what amazed me was that somehow the song's message had actually touched some people, hopefully in the same was I was touched by the Turning Heads project and photos. Any artist in any field aims for connection between the inspiring subject matter and the recipient, and to know this made any difference at all to these incredible women who were either dealing with the challenges of the disease or supporting and advocating for those same people was humbling beyond measure. I spent a couple of days just grinning, to be honest. Tristan and I had a lot of moments calling each other saying "DUDE! Did you see that post that this lady put up? I know, right?" and things of similar ilk.

I'd like to finish this post by thanking Lina Hayes, Helen Beasley, Stacy Richardson, Chel (I'm sorry, I forgot your surname) and Lisa for their amazingness this week and for being willing to accept a poor offering from an obscure Western Sydney band inspired by the fantastic work of your projects and organisations. It drove me to understand more deeply what God says in 1 Samuel 16:7- "For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
It's from this part that I derived the chorus chords "for we are judged by our hearts, not the sum of our parts."

I hope that somehow this song makes some of these sufferers understand this in some way shape or form: they are uniquely beautiful and valuable beyond measure, far beyond what we see on the outside. Thank you for your very existence, because without it, I fear I would not have gotten a glimpse of the truth of those verses. Your life, love and vibrance have had a profound impact on me, and I can only hope that in some small way this helps to do the same to others. 


  1. Love this, love the demo, love the way it is making me feel right now. Thanks guys.

    1. Thank YOU, Stacka! This coming weekend we do a final test recording live as a band with Lisa, then we start recording officially! So pleased the song is connecting with people, and thanks for taking the time to post!

  2. The demo is amazing and I thought you really captured for me the essence of someone with alopecia. I could relate to so much of the song, having a daughter with alopecia who has such "strength of character", can "let the world sing with her smile & dance with her laugh", and yes, she has the biggest heart. You have done a wonderful thing with this song and I appreciate all the hard work that has gone into it! Ps: I think Stacy has a fine singing voice. :)

  3. Thank you Denise! I suggested Stacey try singing but she was adamant! But she is indeed amazing, and I suspect the quality of character is probably largely due to having such a supportive and proud mum- and indeed, the photos radiated the joy and vibrancy she has, it's a great gift!