Smokey's Blog

we gonna do the damn thing or what

Peace and Love and Dr. G. Yunupingu

The surrendering power of music is best felt through the lens of loved ones. We go to gigs together; we tag each other in posts about shows; music is often the anchor for us to to gather somewhere.

If Sade’s By Your Side comes on the stereo it takes a little air from the lungs of my wife and I – the song we walked down that community hall in Bundeena to. But it’s my daughter and my mum that kinda bookend so much for me and their separate experiences with Dr. G Yunupingu’s music have made me stop and reflect this week.

Whenever we play his songs, my daughter sparks up, excited by the familiarity of his voice and – I’m guessing – the bridging of her worlds. At her daycare they play his soothing, spiritual songs when it’s sleeptime. The poignancy of his music being employed to relax these city kids speaks to something deeper about modern Australian life.

I was born blind, and I don’t know why God knows why, because he love me so

That lyric always haunted me, but one night at the Opera House, I attended his show with my mum. Tears fell down my face as I stared at her as she looked up at him singing this on stage at the Studio. I share glimpses of her experience – what it must be like being blind – but she’s the one who lives with it. I don’t know anything really. I forget what it must be like, then I remember. We listened to the way his melody and vocal tone transformed the lyric into something otherworldly, a message that retells mum’s experience, transcending the limitations of language and words and explanations. It’s devastating for its sadness, and I have no hope of doing justice to its beauty. But it helped me understand my mum a bit more.

His music impacted my family deeply. He will be missed.

What it takes to get to the Bardo State

I haven’t updated this blog in forever and I’ve had a lot of things worth writing about. So it says something that I’m putting some thoughts down about the long awaited 4th album from HorrorshowBardo State. There’s always a 1000 little stories behind an album and they get lost once it’s all finished, when over-arching themes take over and press release points direct conversation. 

I’ve been working with Solo and Adit for 10 years and their dynamic has never ceased to fascinate me. Adit is the numbers guy: intelligent; proactive; easy-going; prolific; ambitious; supremely talented. Nothing seems to faze him. On the other side is Solo: wordsmith; intelligent; deep thinker; compassionate; gifted singer and MC. No one in Australia can touch him.

Pic by Cole Bennetts

Pic by Cole Bennetts

Together they have a chemistry that has seen their songs woven into the lives of listeners across the world. I say woven because there’s a depth to their music, which goes someway to explaining why the audience is so loyal to them. It’s trust. The expectation that Horrorshow will help make sense of it all; without just second guessing what you want to hear.

When the dust settled on One Day‘s achievements with their Mainline album, Solo and Adit were excited about returning to the relative calm of a creative process that only involved two people. They also wanted to be spontaneous and take a more open-minded approach to songwriting. One of the first songs written was How We Get Down, a completely different sound to anything they’d previously released. That seemed to be part of the vision, to break their own mould while sticking to the core principles that had built that trust with their fans.

Pic by Cole Bennetts

Pic by Cole Bennetts

From the outside, I felt the positive energy and could hear how refreshed and focused their sessions were. Complication had always been a necessary dynamic in their music, but this was… uncomplicated. The drive and inspiration seemed uncluttered and free. It was fucking awesome seeing the two of them in flight. They came to me with an idea to incorporate photography into the album making progress, not just to document it, but to visually communicate the music. There was only ever one person to do that job: Cole Bennetts. They’ve always been ahead of the curve with how prominently they’ve embraced photography – this was just stepping up a few gears and going deeper. It made perfect sense.

Pic by Cole Bennetts feat. Cole Bennetts

Pic by Cole Bennetts feat. Cole Bennetts

 

To that end, a decision was made to partner with friends and production team Entropico to do all the videos for the album, from official clips through to online content.

They flew to New Zealand with Cole to support Yelawolf and came back with skeletons, one of which became Astray. Songs were developing quicker than anything since Inside Story, their second album that came a year after their debut. Adit unexpectedly suggested working with an external producer, in the conventional rock and roll definition of the word. The person who came on board was Nic Martin, a young gun of a producer, whose influence was vital as they collectively pushed the Horrorshow sound forward.

Pic by Cole Bennetts

Pic by Cole Bennetts

During this writing period, One Day Sundays was screaming along, expanding nation-wide and becoming a huge success story. Elsewhere, Solo and Adit took it upon themselves to organise a public screening of Chasing Asylum, a documentary that exposes the real impact of Australia’s offshore detention policies. The screening was co-ordinated with the One Day team, and they soldout the Factory Theatre, then followed it up with a social media campaign using Cole Bennett’s photos on the night. Adit, alongside Nick Lupi, represented OD in the annual CEO Sleepout. Solo got into scuffles with police, protesting the heavy-handed way NSW gov’t were implementing the West Connex road project. Elefant Traks has always been a community-minded label but we have no influence in how active Horrorshow are in the community – that’s all them. It goes to the heart of how they see the world and why those themes materialise in their music.

Pic by Cole Bennetts

Pic by Cole Bennetts

Despite everything, Bardo State went through all the inevitable stages as they edged closer to deadline. Reality has to set in at some point and shortcuts are rare when crafting something as big as an album. The 2016 HS Album folder on dropbox bulged with 20 or 30 files in various stages of completion. The challenge of how to make the photography concept work was discussed and brainstormed. Collaborations started to come together and sessions with Hayley Mary, Turquoise Prince, Kai and Omar Musa were recorded and engineered by the ever patient Simon Cohen. Friend and collaborator Jono Graham played a big role in co-writing a few songs. Freddy Crabs popped up here and there. My bandmate Meklit Kibret‘s beautiful vocals can be heard throughout the entire album. Many of those 1000 stories I mentioned at the top are a continually refreshing list of problems that need solving, one after another until the release date.

Simon Cohen and Horrorshow. Pic by Cole Bennetts.

Simon Cohen and Horrorshow. Pic by Cole Bennetts.

Deadlines demand final takes; song and album titles; final mixes; signing off on artwork; videos; online content; social media plans; the pressure builds. Finished versions were uploaded: songs like Cherry Blossom, which is as close to a bullseye as any love song I’ve heard, lays waiting for an endless passage of lovers to swear by. I’d love to have written it – that’s the best compliment a songwriter can give. 15 songs made the cut; My Time and Our TimeCeiling Fan and After Dark amongst others; the album was taking shape and as much as I’d heard countless demos, it was only now that I had a feel for the overall sonic vibe. It was dreamy; at turns vulnerable and open, at others, full of authority and control. There’s depth in every song, but it’s really fucking fun too.

Pic by Cole Bennetts

Pic by Cole Bennetts

The unmistakeable character of this Inner West Sydney duo is on full display but it’s different to everything else they’ve done. It was worth every single one of the 1000 stories to come up with this record. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Buy it through Elefant Traks and iTunes

Sick.

I got sick this week. Properly bedridden, eyelid drooping, life sapping sick.

Alongside countless others returning from Splendour in the Grass, I contracted some strand of the flu.

I previously thought the flu was like a cold, just a bad one. I was so wrong. Tuesday night was sweats, fevers, short of breath, sleeplessness. With Wednesday came the body aches and a feeling that my energy had blacked out like a reverse snare drum. That night the headaches started up the drums and stuck around til Thursday evening. I spent more time waking up than sleeping.

I hadn’t had an illness like this for a long time. I wrote to my colleagues and apologised for missing work and assured them I’d be in the following day, or at worst work from home. Surely. Then the stomach started playing up, like it’d been hollowed out and the vital organs were in crisis talks with each other. I lay in bed listening to the back and forth of these weird deep sea creatures singing out from my belly. Girgle girgle, zoooooooooom, eeeeeeeeyyyoooooo, rummbble, szzzweeeng. I turned over again and again, wedged into the side of my bed as our three year old daughter sprawled her legs over my back.

The stomach thing hung around all Friday and I wasn’t going to work. I was about 70 hours in and while the symptoms changed, I was still as crook as ever. How long now?!

That night it just disappeared. All the cold symptoms (razor blade throat, congestion, sniffling, other gross stuff etc) were still kicking and screaming – but the virus that wrestled me to the ground had left. Suddenly all those cold symptoms seem quaint by comparison.

It made me think about people who have to deal with long term illness, or chronic pain. The strength of character that is required when the expectation of an illness ending doesn’t exist anymore. You go to sleep with it. You wake up with it. You enter into a contest with it. You do your job with it. You raise your kids with it. It’s life and it’s unfair. I got the tiniest of tiny window openings into that world and I was like a crying baby trying to close it.

I have a deeper level of respect for people who have no choice but to learn to live with it.

 

 

The Afterglow (of a great tour)

A short video recap of the Second Heartbeat Tour and some context underneath.

I’m writing in the afterglow of one of the best tours I’ve ever had the fortune of participating in. The tour poster had my name on it but there were a lot of people who made it a success, and you were one of them, so thank you. I can staple words together but I don’t find it easy summing up exactly how profound it was to me. This time last year I genuinely doubted whether I would/could do another proper tour! Even with mid-level success the financial rewards in music make a low but steady income seem like big pimpin’. This new album was difficult, it took a lot of soul-searching, the indicators weren’t good – the kinda shit that spooks you. I couldn’t mentally envisage what shape my live show would take even if things went well – all I knew was that Jane wouldn’t be part of it.

IMG_9665(Pic by Yaya Stempler)

A couple of years earlier I had a heart to heart with Jane Tyrrell where she let me know that she could no longer perform in my show; she needed to focus on her solo music career and other professional work. It was a bittersweet conversation, made slightly better by the fact we both felt it was the right thing to do. Years before that, I’d had a similar conversation with Elgusto, and we parted ways on great terms after an awesome decade playing live together. Each of their departures brought its fair share of anxiety and uncertainty: I can easily perform my songs but how fun could it be without such important ‘family’ by my side? Touring is not just about being on stage: it’s the ins and outs of building relationships, often from scratch, in a transient lifestyle characterised by endless “dead time”. It works when there’s a sense of camaraderie and love and respect but that takes a while to establish.

IMG_9962
Pic by Yaya Stempler

That uncertainty and the decisions that had to be made are the context for my current elation. Over the course of the last 6 weeks alongside Jayteehazard on turntables, Ev Jones, Meklit Kibret and Claire Nakazawa on vocals, and Todd Dixon doing the tour managing and sound, I felt like we were flying. The crowd response was, at worst, appreciative and loudly respectful; at best, the wildest crowds I’ve ever played to. I spent a lot of time at the merch desk taking a gazillion photos but ended each night wide-eyed about how much we were selling. The music I’d agonised over during the last few years was making people cough up at the merch desk in numbers I hadn’t seen for a while (we had great designs thanks Dale Harrison, Sarah McCloskey and Allara Uota). Physically and mentally it was a healthy tour and I took a lot of heart from the connections and relationships that developed between the tour party over the duration. It’s early days but I’ve loved playing live with this team.

1D4A9479
(Pic by Cole Bennetts)

It was at the second Sydney show that I looked around on stage and saw myself and 4 guys, outnumbered by 8 uniquely talented women. I think this is the first time in my career where the ratio of women to men on stage was like that. It wasn’t a statement, it was merely the album’s guests doing cameos, but it underlined that there was something really special taking place. We had Kira Puru, Bertie Blackman, Jane Tyrrell, Montaigne and B Wise all stealing the show sharing the spotlight. With L-FRESH The LION, Mirrah, DJ MK-1 and OKENYO, we also had a tour that reflected the changing face of local hip hop in as good a way as I’ve seen. Night after night, the atmosphere was electric and people sung and yelled and danced and went home joyous. We (mostly) woke up without hangovers.

1D4A7866
(Pic by Cole Bennetts)

I remember so clearly how low I felt wondering about the future in 2015, but as tickets started selling in 2016, I made a commitment to myself not to take any success for granted. We sold out the entire tour, bar a handful of tickets in Canberra, and that’s an amazing feeling. It’s one of the reasons I decided to donate every cent I earned from merch sales to charity. The total after paying manufacturing back was $4923.14 (this will be split between Grandmothers Against Removals, Tranby Aboriginal College and the Healing Foundation). I don’t want to front like I’m all G financially, but I’m very lucky, and don’t want to forget that.

After all that soul-searching, the album is going brilliantly, and this tour was all time – that’s no exaggeration. On to the next one.

Thanks.

The Secret Playlist Behind My New Album

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I compiled a bunch of music that inspired my new album, The Past Beats Inside Me Like a Second Heartbeat. Some of these songs lifted me at low points, woke me up during a lull, snapped me out of a rut, all the good things that music does that nothing else can. Enjoy.

Q-Tip – Gettin Up Classic song from a brilliant comeback record. This wasn’t about loyalty to a group I’d loved forever, but more so an incredible return to form. It inspired me to see an artist that had been around for a while, do something with such undeniable impact.

Kendrick – You Ain’t Gotta Lie Can’t front on the fearless artistry on To Pimp a Butterfly (remember when everyone was freaking about about ‘i’?). I look up at the sun and see a force so bright that I wouldn’t dream of being compared, and that’s beautiful. Let the greats shine! His vision makes me not want to settle for less in my life, and I want to do things I thought I wasn’t capable of.

Ceelo – Gettin Grown Before Ceelo became a celebrity, he did amazing shit like this.

The Coup – Wear Clean Drawers Apart from my daughter, this was the inspiration behind Little Girl’s Dad. And although it’s in honour of her, LGD is an homage to this.

Raury, Big KRIT – Forbidden Knowledge To simplify a complex web of social injustice into an easily understood song concept is a stroke of genius.

Big KRIT – Saturdays = Celebration This knocked me the f out last year. The beauty and anger and frustration thrown into disarray by loss, it’s all handled so well here. I just hear resilience. Amazing.

Mura Musa – Lovesick In the world that Hermitude and a zillion wannabes inhabit, Mura Musa stands out. Downtempo electronic music has always struck a chord with me, ever since the late 90s where it wasn’t easy getting my hands on a lot of instrumental hip hop – I went to whatever was closest.

Jarryd James – Do You Remember When songs are everywhere. I think this is a classic.

Kira Puru – All Dulled Out You know those type of songs that you hear and can’t place them? Was this a hit from some big overseas act in 2014? I had a moment like that with this song a few weeks ago. It’s brilliantly written, gorgeously sung – a screamer of a tune. One of the songs of the year.

Joelistics, Kaity Dunstan – Out of the Blue I’d say this is under-appreciated because it’s not known as widely as it should be, but to the people that have really listened to it, and seen the video, there’s no under-appreciating going on. This will outlast a lot of the fad hip hop in Australia, and it’ll be one of the songs that is played for years to come. Beautiful storytelling.

Jayteehazard, (Leone) Rivals – Seen A tasty and moody gospel influenced electronic hip hop tune. Jayteehazard is my touring DJ, and one of the gentlest and funniest dudes you’ll meet. Rivals is a leader, a communicator, an artist and label organiser – his husky tones are like coals on a campfire.

And so much more.. briefly, Ngaiire’s Once was my favourite song of 2015; Caitlin Park guested on my album and I’ve included her personality-filled hooky tune Lemonade (you should hear her new shit tho); B Wise‘s 40 Days cos he’s about to tear the roof off this motherfucker; Okenyo’s incredible Just a Story (whoa!).

There’s 28 songs and almost 2 hours of music; play it while you’re cooking dinner, smoking a joint, brewing a coffee, whatever. Enjoy.

Roll Up Your Sleeves lyrics

I’ve been hit up a bunch of times to post the lyrics from my version of Meg Mac’s Roll Up Your Sleeves. It’s taken a while because I’m lazy but here they are.. check my earlier post (inc the video) here.

ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVES
Kira Puru
Roll up your sleeves
And face the face it’s looking right back at me
It’s easier to leave it oh
It’s easier to fake it, oh oh
So I’ll go and I’ll join the free
There’s people there, they’re just like me oh
Bertie Blackman, Kira Puru, All Our Exes Live in Texas 
[Chorus]
Everything is gonna be alright
Everything is gonna be alright

Urthboy
January tricked you when it looked you in the eye
and said no matter what you've been through/ with me, you'll be renewed
a promise made at midnight/ a fire sale that
knew it couldn't drag you into something/
you don't wanna do/ a heart that's full of nightfall
hanging on dear life for/ first signs of daylight
but what if I refuse? what if it all passes like cycling of news
while I'm searching for an ocean/ I can wade into
what if I don't stick around for/ February's saving grace?
maybe I don't know it now/ I'll be in a different place
what I wouldn't dare to face if I don't find my feet
til March I'll find a way of giving chase, best believe
the arms of april may have open hands that hold you up
the pages we're reopening from what we'd folded up
we're not tryna front with all that 'winter isn't cold enough'
but we can handle anything they throw at us
[Chorus]
Everything is gonna be alright
Everything is gonna be alright
Urthboy
July had left you waiting, and August wasn't answering
but you're in touch with everyone you've ever known/ never so alone
a starry-eyed september/ reminding you of something
that you cannot quite remember/ so you're reaching for your phone
calling in a favour/ but it's ringing out
you're hanging up before it goes to message/ is anybody home?
there's trouble in your palms and they're making for a handrail
but if you fall/ it's something that you'll own
breathing in the time we borrow
won't be gone until november we'll be here until tomorrow
may as well take a risk
people singing carols while I'm singing this
roll up your sleeves this is it, let em sing it
[Chorus]
Everything is gonna be alright
Everything is gonna be alright
ohhhhh
Roll up your sleeves
Roll up your sleeves

The Long Loud Hours remixes

Today we drop Jayteehazard‘s remix of Long Loud Hours. It feels so effortless and neighbourly. Jaytee simultaneously reworked the music and transports the sentiment to another, altogether more cruisy place. It’s as if all the crazy drama of the original event is now sepia-toned and easy-going and said with a smile.

If this was the official telling of Lucy Dudko and John Killick’s story, I can imagine Lucy saying “yeh I hijacked a chopper at gunpoint and rescued you from high security prison, but it was cool, the good old days. Would you make me a cup of tea darling?“.

Big shouts to All Aussie Hip Hop blog for premiering this one.
While I’ve got you, Adelaide electronic duo PINES made this incredible instrumental remix, and the superdope Milwaukee Banks went to town on it too.

How to Like a Version

During soundcheck for the biggest show of Hermitude’s career, I received an email asking if I’d like to do the last Like a Version of the year. The catch was that I’d have about 8 days to put it together.

I stressed about it. I got appropriately drunk after the second of two crazyamazing shows and resumed peak anxiety about the like a version cover as I walked home at 6am.

There’s a long line of great covers that have been created for this popular segment on triple j so the prospect of pulling off something good in a short space of time was intimidating. First call? Manager Mondo. He suggested I work with a guy named Jack Grace Britten, who could assist with a musical arrangement. I was also staring down my first gig that weekend and was underprepared. I could feel my hair thinning and falling from my head like passengers on a sinking boat. I called Jack.

I shot an email to Tom Thum, an international star and an old mate I met through hip hop. He was in Abu Dhabi but was returning home a week before this. I called Luke Dubs, who had just finished a US/Europe/Syd/Melb tour and had every right to say no. I gave Kira Puru a buzz as she prepared for that night’s show with Paul Kelly on his Merri Soul Sessions vineyard concert. I checked in with Bertie Blackman, luckily back in Australia for a few months. Lastly, Mondo called All our Exes Live in Texas.

Despite hectic schedules and inconvenient timing, everyone said yes. It was a big deal. Jack shot me an arrangement and I began writing the first of two verses. I could go on and on but we made a little video that takes you into this process, and below that, is the end product: the live recording we did in triple j’s studios.

And here’s the youtube video. Together with the facebook video, it’s had 500,000 views in a week.

Oh and we did a live version of Long Loud Hours, which turned out beautifully thanks to the additional vocals of All Our Exes Live in Texas.

Thanks as always to triple j, they’ve created such a monster with Like a Version, a segment that’s been running for 10 years now. Also big thanks to Matt and Alex, and Greg Wales who engineered it all.

Finally, Long Loud Hours

I had planned on writing a big explanation of the song when it dropped, but things got in the way and then themusic.com.au went all charming on me and got the scoop.

Suffice to say, here’s the dot points of the piece:

  • Long Loud Hours was originally about Countdown. Yes, Molly.
  • I think it originally started when we sampled vinyl of Bathurst High School’s choir from the 1960s.
  • The magic moment occurred when Elgusto pressed buttons in a type of way.
  • Lucy Dudko is the hero of the story. I mean, a librarian with no criminal history who hijacked a chopper at gunpoint to rescue her lover from maximum security prison is pretty boss we have no argument there.
  • There is nothing wrong with encouraging people to do great & momentous things for love.

It can all be found HERE

Behind the Story of the Song

And the official music video

(300 Hours) Get It Out Your System feat. Joyride

What started at 1200 hours, then 765, has now climbed down to 300 and the final stop before Long Loud Hours. I’m very happy with this one, not least because I got to work with Joyride, an artist who is about to do some big tings. We worked on a beat written by Hermitude and Pip Norman (as is the majority of the new album) that didn’t get a proper look-in for the record. Then things got complex and I had to leave for South America to join Hermitude while Pip left for the States.

In stepped Adit, one of the illest producers in Australia, to save the day. Not only did he record it all, but took the stems away and added new parts, including the key change. I’m still shaking my head at how ready and willing he was to bring it all together. Mad respect. On a sidenote, I’m listening to new Horrorshow beats and Adit is outta. control. right. now.

Big shout to Joyride, you’re gonna know all about his new music in 2016. Can’t say too much just yet.

I can’t wait to show you what’s up with Oct 12.