Sometime in late 2012 I happily received a call from Paul asking if I’d produce a song he’d been asked to do for the upcoming Hunters and Collectors tribute compilation. I said yes before the soundwave had properly entered my ear canal. The straggling second half of his question was still weaving past the wax on my eardrum after I’d started making plans.
The song was True Tears of Joy and he had Emma Donovan in mind as a collaborator. I knew it’d be better if Jimblah joined in too.
Jimblah. Pic by Dave Stefanoff
My only condition was that it wasn’t going to be anything like a Paul Kelly song, which I suspect is what he wanted to hear.
The first call I made was to one of my favourite cohorts Elgusto, producer of half of my solo albums and better known as one half of Hermitude. We had a preliminary session with Paul at the Elefant Mansion coinciding with his visit to help induct Yothu Yindi into the ARIA Hall of Fame. After playing a few electronic artists on youtube it was agreed we’d work with textures that took it as far away from classic PK as possible – without losing the essence of True Tears.
There are multiple audiences here – Hunnas fans, Paul’s fans and our own ears. If we go all out electronic we might make Paul’s voice jarring and incongruent. If we stay safe and close to the original we risk being red brick bored at the pointlessness of it all.
Emma is an incredible vocalist and Gusto and I felt that she’d be perfect for a soulful treatment – her voice is layered and rich with character. Jimblah is like crackling smoke if there were such a thing, and his flow is endlessly listenable.
Then you have Paul Kelly.
Gusto and I hooked up to work on the beat and he manned the boards, programming and playing the melodies – the producer in a hip hop sense. I was steering the direction, overseeing all aspects – a producer in a more classic sense.
Finally the session went down. Vibes were great in The Cave, Hermitude’s studio above Parramatta Rd in Leichhardt. Jimblah wrote a new verse on the spot, did a few takes and nailed it. He perfectly complimented Emma’s verse in backing vocal duties. Emma was a joy to work with – she adlibbed a range of little grabs that we pitch-shifted and incorporated into the song (you can hear them throughout).
Originally Emma did two verses to Paul and Jimblah’s one but I was a little concerned about the pace and flow. We worked on the song a little more before I got the courage up to ask Paul if we could remove the third verse altogether. Lyrically I couldn’t make much sense of it so I wasn’t concerned about sacrilege of compromising Hunter’s artistic vision – but songs are weird, man. There may be a profound meaning I’m missing and anyway, who am I to deliberately break something so important on loan?
Paul took it on board, tentatively agreeing, and taking on the task of asking Mark Seymour. It turns out Mark had discarded that verse in his live shows long ago and was completely cool about us doing the same. Mind blown.
Were you there?
The final piece of the puzzle was Mitch Kenny mixing the damn thing. Our instructions were to reel the electronics back in and make it thump a little less. Yep, what the fuck indeed. During the course of retelling this song we had to keep coming back to our original goal of it making sense sonically. Nothing was going to change the vibe (especially when it comes after The Living End in the tracklist!) but the treatment of the kick and snare and the proximity of the vocals to the bass and synths were crucial in finding the right balance. I don’t know how Mitch did it. I was still uncertain when we sent it to him but I wasn’t when he sent it back. Dude is good.
We did it.
It’s worth a listen.
Paul Kelly and Emma Donovan featuring Jimblah – True Tears of Joy
Crucible came out Friday Sept 27 through Liberation. It features covers from Alpine, Cloud Control, The Rubens, Matt Corby, Missy Higgins and more.
Jimblah’s debut album Phoenix comes out October 11.