Tuesday, July 4, 2017

S.A.S - Bondage

The chorus. Sigh.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Faux-Malady Recording Diaries #3: When you’re hot, you’re hot and when you’re not, etc.


James and I were knocking off the poppier elements (lol) of the album first - “Wander”, which leapt to the front of the queue as the first to be released, and “Grace” and “You Know It” not far behind.

The first recording day of 2017 began with me cheerfully talking about the coverage that “Wander” did get, as well as the multitude of rejections it also received (and is going to receive) from many publications.

For a second or few last week I thought I’d done well with the whole self-PR thing. Not so fast, with SubmitHub rejections beginning to storm my inbox with ego-dissolving regularity. A couple came at moments in which I was already specifically shedding dignity as if in the throes of a summertime molt. When you’re hot, you’re hot and when you’re not, etc.

“Grace” and “You Know It” had been circling completion for some time before being packed away for a final check later before mastering. But it was time to take a different tack, so after spending most of the year’s opening day of recording inching them closer to the final form, we turned to different elements of the record.

I already have a rough tracklisting in my head for the record and the last two songs happen to be the first I created with this album in mind. They were almost entirely put together on two consecutive Saturdays respectively whilst house-sitting for my friend Eliza in Balaclava in November of 2010. It was just the beginning of a prolonged awful period personally and it was a rare encouraging sensation to have made music that gave me what I was wanting from it, but was different to anything I’d created before before. Whilst they’re probably the “closest” aesthetically to the first two albums (both of which I would be mixing and remixing for another 18 months), they were a clear first step towards the sounds and ideas that will be throughout the rest of this album.

Although I was comfortable with the reasons why I was set on having them together at the end of record (thematically, etc. etc. etc.), I’d been relatively nervous for some time about how they would sit if not executed properly; not just for their own sake but for the record as a whole.

For my own stupid little mind games I decided they should be the next couple of tracks James and I work on, so they felt more embedded in the creation of the record, rather than as outliers at the very beginning and potentially outliers again at the end.

I think I posted that initial demo for “Goodbye, Zola” on this blog shortly after its creation, in the days when I posted that shit for download from MediaFire because I had fuck all else to offer. The original guitar track I initially recorded will be in the final version, and the structure and arrangement for “Slink Away” (a live version is on my SoundCloud, and another one is there under the title “Lost Night”) is essentially the same but if played with an Expansion Pack.

“Goodbye Zola” was the first of the two to get the Cecil treatment. It was pretty close to begin with - mostly just clearing up the reverbs over the backing vocals, and the piano and bass synth sounds. I did a few takes of the main vocals; fortunately it’s one of the easier ones for me to get down and I was able to wheeze out something that could be given some semblance of competence with Melodyne.

I’d had a horrible week. The kind of period that it feels as though your ribcage has been opened up and someone has stuck in a hair dryer on its high setting in there. The words in the last section of “Goodbye, Zola” had been on my mind for some time - they just didn’t feel quite as genuine, doing justice as the final lines of the record as a whole or not. I inherently know when a line or words in a song really mean something to me.

One particular line in this last section that I was mulling over had already appeared in the song, but using it again at this point felt it had lost context and felt lazy. Amongst the ribcage razing I managed to dig out something I thought would appropriately contribute to the close the album, and something that makes me stop briefly and think about what it means to me each time I hear it or it passes through my mind.

The song already gave me something the first time we played it through the monitors in the studio; I felt confident that it would be done justice, and it would do the record justice. Listening back to song with the new line in it presented with me with a small grain of relief. Somehow, a semblance of satisfaction had been dug out of my week.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Wander


The World Won’t Listen” etc., so I don’t have a label and thus selling “Wander” to blogs, woke sites, radio stations, totally and so on and anyone was left to my own questionable devices.

Photos - done (by other people - Ted and Half Lands). Art - sure (I’ve had what will be the album artwork in my head for a long time and it is derived from that). Press release - I had to write it myself (fissures opening).

“It is a reflection on the prospect of passing on a genetically prevalent mental illness to potential progeny, and its ongoing effect on finding someone to be close with,” I shat out in the release..

Pretentious everything aside, I probably didn’t quite nail the “meaning” of the song in that one.

I did write about the song on this tinpot blog about a year ago, just a few weeks after the first time I played it live and as I posted the trailer (lol):
“Wander, at it's most basic, is about not wanting to have children. Because fuck me a whole lot if I decide to have kids when I know what I have has a genetic link, with generations of both sides of my family afflicted to varying degrees by different and specific elements of it. At best it would be irresponsible, otherwise a simply selfish, cruel and disgusting alternative to Russian Roulette. Some people have argued the point on this one a little with me but to think I could make a really easy contribution to my own child having to deal with this kind of thing for their entire life makes me feel sick.”

Uh huh. Firstly, what I immediately take from reading that is how angry and frustrated I was with my chemical (and life?) situation at the time, and reminds me just how strongly I feel about this when I am actually embedded in a lower period. In relatively better periods - like my current one - it’s possible to envisage some sort of mental state conducive to parenting, but the genetics situation doesn’t ever go away.

It’s a giant shit smeared right across the board when I’m at deeper point, however. Either way, medications that are compatible with me will eventually lose their efficacy; therefore I will inevitably feel not so good for indeterminate periods in the future. That’s when the harshest reminders are (as above), and also where I am actually operating in a state that is not conducive to parenting or, as my personal history suggests, being in any longer-term relationship.

The song certainly centres around the idea I have rollicking in my head about passing on my mental illness to any child I should ever have, and certainly about its effect on me having felt that it has quashed a number of chances I’ve had to form deeper relationships with people (both from their perspective and my own). Ten years since having the feeling of falling for someone who is falling for you is a long time. If you attribute that large timeframe in large parts to a mental illness - correctly or incorrectly - then you can lose a lot of autonomy not just in the present, but on looking back at past situations and interactions with people and lessons you can learn from those experiences.

Your life also becomes essentially a lot of waiting.

I’m aware this smacks of a straight person privilege rant. Obviously the idea of the choice available to me as a straight person of having children is central. In this case I think I've used it as a pointed way to reflect on how my mental illness can affect relationships in my life and - to make the conversation a little circular and perhaps self-fulfilling - the people who aren’t around me for that reason. It does keep coming back to that.

I played it live for the first time on December 9th in 2015, on a Wednesday night at the Grace Darling upstairs. I was excited be playing with my friend Lux Ovarye again, as well as with the excellent Pillow Pro for the first time, and I had my own visuals (Ingmar Bergman’s Persona - Dodgy Sissysocks Cut) lined up. I was also looking forward to it because I knew I’d be playing this for the first time. It had been close to being ready for a few months, before I simply switched two of the synths around and the entire thing clicked for me.

I hadn’t quite nailed the words, however, and it was the first show since the arse had fallen out of my medication regime. Anxiety was dominating me when it had barely existed in the lead-up to my last show just three months earlier, and I managed to come down with a psychosomatically-induced belter of a head cold in the few days before it. It would set me a predictable challenge for each of my shows and recording sessions since then.

Report back
From a better place than your own
A failed hero

Oh, the centre of the world
Never got to know
Sitting on the floor
And then lying on the floor

A shiver charging down the family line

I don't want to know when
Or see it again
Just a painful yellow glow

Why should you be so surprised
That's its only a matter of time
'Til I'm
Picked up from the nearest street
Picked up and taken over the sea
Oh, you should know that time doesn't take sides

A shiver charging down the family line

What's yours will always be yours
And what's mine will always be mine
A shiver charging down the family line

I don't want to know when
Or see it again
It's painful but I have to know
A shiver charging down the family line

The rain brings down the rust
We see it as we drive past
Maybe just a reminder that there might be nothing for me in this life
A shiver charging down the family line

The rain brings down the rust
We see it as we drive past
Maybe just a reminder that there might be nothing for me in this life
A shiver charging down the family line

Apple Isle holiday pun

I got two very pleasant surprises last week whilst down in Hobart - Ripe featured "Wander" in its "Best New Australian Music" playlist and Diamond Deposits named it its Track of the Week, with the lovely words, "lyrical poetry sung so sublimely and genuinely to immense synth licked melodies". This was all immensely flattering and also very unusual, considering roughly zero people know who I am.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Eucalypt is a Melbourne-based blog run by Lee Hannah and clearly has a lot of love and effort put into it - there is so much to discover in there wholly due to his great work.

I played a Sissy show with him a few years ago at Bar Open, with him playing as The Townhouses and it was very nice to hear from him over the past week. Yesterday he was more than kind enough to include "Wander" in part five of the publication's "Inflorescense" series.


FYI, as well as on SoundCloud, "Wander" is now available to listen to and download from the Sissysocks Bandcamp. xx

Monday, December 26, 2016

"Well worth the wait"

Very nice surprise for "Wander" to be featured on Little Indie's "10 Boxing Day Electronica Chillout Tunes". "This return is well worth the wait" is a suspiciously generous line ;)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

"Wander" - Premiere on Tone Deaf



“Wander” is the first song to be released from the next album, which I’m currently recording with the wonderful James Cecil.

I played this live for the first time just over a year ago with a busted throat and I didn’t have the words for it quite down then, so I’m glad it has grown a lot since. You want to do justice for yourself sometimes - by whatever metric or feeling you determine that by (the subject matter of this certainly isn’t something to celebrate). But there’s still a long way to go before the record is finished.

Thank you so much to Tone Deaf or premiering this.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Faux-Malady Recording Diaries - Part 2

"There is no Sex plug-in."
- James Cecil


What do you do when it takes the equivalent of three full days to get a vocal take that is vaguely usable?

What if “vaguely usable” is genuinely the best way to describe that take, rather than “definitely great”?

Am I doing the wrong thing with my non-professional hours? Have I been doing something incredibly incorrectly? Have I just sucked this whole time?

After my first day of recording James had told me to spend the week practising filling up the room with my singing over the top of my songs to get a competent idea of the projection needed for different tracks. I was sure I did, I was sure I had been leading up to that day to begin with. Incorrect.

The day that I recorded said vocal takes was heading directly towards hell. I was feeling weak behind the microphone. I had no control over my projection even after the millionth take of “Grace”. For no decent reason I was yet again tightening up when the record button was hit. All this despite spending the week feeling specifically good about going in and recording - and recording better takes than what I’d done previously - and feeling less faux-sick than usual. I'd had another full day between Day One and Day Rubbish, which I thought had got me comfortable in the surrounds and we'd also waded into mixing/production territory for "You Know It".

Instead, after two hours I was sitting at the piano trying to match three very close-together notes to replicate the vocals for the second half “Grace”. Why was this going backwards all of sudden? I didn't know what the hell I was trying to do. I was trying to do everything. James was trying to simplify things for me. As I had in my head Louis CK recalling his advice to a nervous Sam Smith (LOL) before his first US Late Night TV show performance, "Just think about why you wrote the song", James said the immortal words, "There is no Sex plug-in".

I managed to shit out some less-garbage vocal takes when it was decided I projected a lot more appropriately when I only had one headphone completely on when tracking, and no vocals coming through so I could listen to myself raw when doing the take. I had found much more of a balance of being able to hear myself not only vaguely sing in key but also project with some semblance of intent.

If it wasn’t for James’ expertise - he needed to use a lot of it to right this shitty ship - and his command over the magic of Melodine I have no idea what I’d be thinking now. All of the time in the lead-up to recording spent practicing singing the songs and the worrying about coming down with my patented faux-sickness added up to a lot of time and effort, sure. But I had four months of sitting around wait for something to happen with the original producer that I could have spent far much more of getting everything prepared. What I did simply wasn’t enough. This was a timely kick right up my arse to use my time a lot more productively. James and I could be doing better things with better material than editing shakey and not-so-convincing vocal data in Melodine.

This week marked three years since the broadcast of my, uh....awful? 3CR set. I’ve mentioned this on this blog before - I had the gift of a whole Thursday night with the wonderful Mike Smith to record an interview and set of six songs which he would edit together in a package and broadcast on his Saturday evening show Let Your Freak Flag Fly. For all the rehearsing I did in the lead up, I just couldn’t make myself comfortable and I spent so many of his hours trying to get a very simple set-up right before butchering my own vocals. Thus, the interview in its entirety is on my SoundCloud, but I deemed only one song from the set as passable and posted it alongside.

Come back to the last few weeks I’ve definitely learnt a whole lot of things that competent people either know inherently or pick up far quicker than I have. Listening back to the vocal takes deemed as the best in my multiple sessions of time-wasting, my heart fell through my other vitals as I thought immediately about James sitting there listening to me bleat from the corner of his studio over hours upon hours all the vocal takes that weren’t good enough to be used.

Of course, you’re always learning things, or I would at least say I would like to think I’m always learning things. These are the times you need to take all those moments you’ve said “I’ve definitely learnt a whole lot of things” and honour those experiences and lessons and put all of that into practice..

Remedy: Six capsules of echinacea + zinc + c per day, olive leaf extract pills, hot water with a shitload of lemon, Betadine throat gargle, Bosisto's EucoSteam Inhaler Combo, that treacle-like like stuff I still don't know that name of.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Faux-Malady Recording Diaries - Part 1


A few weeks ago I had my first day of recording proper for the third Sissy LP, and during that week I received some awful, awful news about someone I knew.

Darting between panic attacks, dull nausea and exhaustion in the ensuing days, the Friday of that week remained something I saw as a necessity, and a situation I had wanted and then needed to be in for a long time. It now had another significant role for me; I couldn't think of anything else I would want to do or be able to genuinely devote myself to in that state.

That first day in James Cecil’s studio, in an alley off an alley in East Brunswick (That’s Me!bourne) didn't turn out to be a wondrous quick fix for everything or anything, really. It took probably the entire six hours to knock out the rust in my throat and get things moving. Instead of what I assumed would be a really simple process turned into a laborious process of me really making him earn his money. Having tightened up in the pressure of the moment I was making him sit through countless half-baked takes of whatever the hell it was I was trying to do.

(Quick Sissy Fact: I already have two albums; needless to say no-one has heard them or knows who I am.)

It was almost entirely vocal tracking, and I suggested we begin with “Stay Here”, which was my live opener for a long time but was replaced by “You Know It” and then ditched altogether from the set. I thought it would be the most ideal track to settle into vocally and get used to the studio surrounds - the vocals essentially play a role of ambience and there are mostly no melodic acrobatics; they don’t go much beyond a whisper and I let the reverbs and delay carry them through the song (quite deliberately, as opposed to that being my default plan for everything else).

It will also be the opening track on the record so it seemed appropriate, and saying the title with purpose gave me a chance to come across as vaguely confident to James early on in the process. Really, I felt like it was a situation I should have been in five years ago so I was also looking for any opportunity to seem as I hadn’t wasted most of my life putting so much time towards this stuff.

However, it didn’t take long - maybe four or five rather aimless takes - before James and I realised I was struggling. I’d had a show on the Thursday night of the previous week and as per the last 10 months I had become psychosomatically ill “just in time” for a show, and my throat was a mess. The news I had received during the week wore me down much further still. I’d purchased a thermos and bought in kilos of lemon and ginger to the studio.

Fortunately, the home remedy had mostly tempered the faux-affliction and gone a long way to ensuring the show went half-decently.

The tea/glorified water had been doing the trick all week as I did some rehearsals at home, and it had saved the week leading into and the show itself at Bar Open. Combined with a whole lot of echinacea and some other probably useless garbage it did the trick but I still think the Betadine throat gargle (which my GP said hadn’t been proven to kill anything outside of a petri dish) is still my weapon of choice against my own...brain? But in this moment, in the corner of James’s studio with two microphones pointing at my confused head, I think this was more of a mental tightening than anything else, as opposed to a sustained week or two of head cold symptoms “suspiciously” forming around the time of a show.

Lunch at Milkwood and it was time to change tack (not “tact”, as I just learned via a vague Google search). After trying four or five other songs, “Augsburg” and “Grace” were the ones we settled on being the most appropriate to release on their own before the album, and the ones we were keen to finish before the others. At the time we felt they were probably the closest mixes to being “finished”, probably the most accessible of the songs and the ones that I think I was able to reflect what I wanted to reflect more clearly when I was putting them together.

A more specific theme of the day than “Tom, your vocals are off” (not a direct quote but definitely a sentence that whirled through both of our heads repeatedly) was, to put it basically, oversinging and undersinging. Too gentle on “Wander” and “I Will Be Out”, topped off with amateurish breathing techniques unbalancing things when it came to hitting syllables in “Augsburg”. Via James’s suggestion we found that actually singing without the vocals coming through in the mix in the headphones during recording was the best way for me to find a more organic tone. I think he was also using the idea to make me feel simply more comfortable in the studio with my voice and using it more confidently in different ways - my facade of knowing vaguely what I was doing was well and truly a wide and torn fishnet.

A grounding experience, but as far as that part of my life is concerned, a necessary and therefore great day. It was relief to find myself in that position, although the sad juxtaposition of experiencing those feelings amongst everything else I had felt during the week (and would feel beyond that day) certainly was heavily noted. I think spending the day that way was the only thing I could have done that would have felt at least partially natural, or cathartic, given the circumstances.

Today’s remedy: Coming off the previous week, I’d decided to keep running with six capsules of echinacea + zinc + c per day, as well as hot water with a shitload of lemon ginger in it. The Betadine throat gargle would have to wait.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Sunday, September 4, 2016

All the Same [trailer]


"All the Same" is one of the oldest songs I have that will be recorded for the album - it's nearly five years old and is basically a bewildered 23-year old me getting used to undesirable results when it came to interacting and making impressions with people I was quite, uh, fond of. Unfortunately, to a large point, that hasn't gone away, and for that reason will be recorded for the album and makes occasional appearances in my setlist.

I actually gave it over to Creeks in early 2012 because at the time I thought it might have been a better fit for that project, but after a few shows playing it live Nina quite rightly pointed out that it didn't quite fit with the others and the overall sound of the what we'd created more organically together. And so it was back to its rightful place as a(nother) despondent Sissy song.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Margin for error

Listening to Anohni’s jarring new album HOPELESSNESS for the first time a couple of months ago drove home the feeling that this is it. This is our lives, these are the people we’re supposedly sharing the world with and this is the world as it is. It’s also made me understand a little better things that drive me to make music.

My life isn’t going out on Saturday nights and having a good time on the d-floor listening to things featuring Nile Rodgers. It was once, specifically because I got my medication very, very right, not strictly because “I was young”. But I know now that that wasn’t to be my normal state of being forever. The sample size I have of my own life is too big: over time my body and brain have shown to be clinically difficult in dealing with essentially anything that isn’t a relatively new SSRI and Valdoxan (and things like Ativan and Oxazepam, but everyone loves those).

On top of repeat wide-eyed listenings to “Watch Me” and “Why Did You Separate Me From the Earth?” I also saw Honor Eastly perform a couple of months ago. That ruined my heart. I accosted her after the show; I said “That was beautiful. That ruined my heart. There’s no coming back from that.” I’ve never been one to gush, etc. but running on Valdoxan and Ativan alone at that point in time wasn’t helping anything, least of all her plans of a night of not having some clown berate indecipherably berate her.

Around the same time, after running a gamut of different types of medications over six months to try and find a circuit breaker to my two-year SSRI cycle (the recession I had to have?) my psychiatrist suggested I get a second opinion, which would be referred back to him and we would take things from there. The first thing I was asked at this appointment with “the second opinion guy” (by someone, I have to say, who really was - is - a very lovely person) was, “How do you see yourself?” They pointed out the question was deliberately obtuse. How did I see myself? After the last six months - the first time in a long time I’d unequivocally, genuinely struggled with mental illness over an extended period of time with no real break for anything for a number of years, and after extended periods of in recent years of living without malady, I realised how I saw myself. Inherently flawed, inherently damaged, inherently broken, with management the closest possible thing to a solution for the rest of my life with absolutely no guarantees other than it would be difficult, and that my reasoning for being alive would be questionable most of the time.


There will be times when I’m taking a medication, or more likely combination of medications, and I feel good - I might be on that path now with Paroxetine, but we are at a point now where if this doesn’t work then my options for medication, for now, are severely limited. Either way, given my brain’s chemistry it’s only a matter of time - it might be months, it might be a year or two, but it will happen - in which this wears off, or proves to be another flop.

It was also around this time I was asked for a bio on Sissysocks, which forced me to think what has this Sissysocks project become to me? How much of myself is in it? In answering those I could find a clearer path for a description than the poorly constructed sentences and non-ideas that I offered myself and others when asked. I didn’t have to look far because it’s essentially been the story arc of the first two albums, finishing with the third that I’ve just begun recording in earnest now.

In short, using poor metaphors - Bloodied is about the fall and the irreparable damage, Because We Have Things In Common is coming to amongst the wreckage and taking in the new surrounds, and this third album will be/is about accepting that I am an inherently flawed human being living amongst those surrounds.

It doesn’t quite answer exactly “why” I make music. There’s a few reasons for that - a few reasons hover around the admittedly self-fulfilling notion that one might hope that their life is worth (for whatever reason) documenting in some way; at least partially then making music then is for my own benefit. It’s a way to measure and mark, and maybe in some cases show some respect the things that have happened in my life and how I created or navigated them (perhaps a way to show respect to aspects of myself in place of other ways that I don’t). It’s certainly not to “have fun” or “feel good” or whatever; right now anyway. Maybe that’s something I can learn but inherently it’s not for the present.

There are a bunch of other reasons but I don’t think I need to articulate them poorly as well right now. The margin for error is smaller than ever.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Friday, April 15, 2016

I Will Be Out (2016) [Trailer]

The trailer for a remake of what I guess is technically my first release on Bandcamp. My fetish for using Ingmar Bergman as show visuals moves into the world of colour with Cries and Whispers. A late entry for the album which has unofficially officially started to be recorded in earnest (a lot of caveats there). The tricks (or truths) that mental illness delivers on a cold night on your own.

Thursday, March 3, 2016