A blorg about brewing beer and writing songs

29 Oct. 2009

This is not a love song

Writing songs isn't all that hard. You can slap out some 12 bar blues in a few minutes. You can write some lyrics about the first thing you see "Gotta lotta chickens in my underpants". There you go, that's one song right there.

I'm a big fan of this kind of songwriting, but sometimes I want to do a little bit more. Every since I met my wife I've wanted to write a song for her, but what I have found is that writing a song for and about something I really care about is hard. Once I have a topic that really matters, I want the song to be listenable, meaningful and express what I actually want to express. Since my wife is the best person I've ever met, I feel that a song made for her is pretty important to get right so I have put a bit of thought into this one. I know I'm doomed from the start because I can't write the best song in the world, but I'm all about embracing my imperfections so it was time to just do it.

I put together a list of things that I know she likes in a song, and came up with:
  • my wife loves pop music
  • she likes songs with counting in them
  • she likes a song with a catchy hook
None of these elements really sum up anything that Meat Pig have previously made, so this song was going to be a bit different, and yet, as it turns out, it seems that Meat Pig are not capable of making a non Meat Piggy song.

Song Form

I wanted to try something a little unusual for the song form. My original idea was a through-composed song, but that's hardly pop. I then got excited about the idea of a song with the form ABAB, where A and B are both verses and there is no chorus. I ended up with something more complicated, an ABCAD format.

A is an instrumental into
B is the verse
C is a one bar chorus, very minimal!
D is a divergence, a second verse format with a change in style but keeping the key and tempo.

The whole thing is repeated twice and comes in around the 2 minute mark. This is my preferred length for a pop/rock song, as it forces you to be concise. Say what you want then get the fuck out. I'm reminded of Frank Black; in my vague memory of an interview he was talking about the song length of many of the songs on doolittle. Arguing over the length with his producer he claimed that if you look back on all the old delta blues masters you'd see that most of their songs last about 2 minutes. This is important to me cause the tendancy to get self indulgent is always there, waiting to leap out and ferociously bore your audience.

Scales, keys, rhythms

We went for a rock song in F for no other reason than we haven't done many songs in F. We started with a guitar riff that I'd worked out and since I'm a crap guitarist I tuned the guitar up a note to make it easier the play in F. Luke came up with some pretty solid bottoms for this track. We drew heavily from the Jimi Hendrix experience, mainly a combination of Machine Gun and Fire. This is most evident in the drums where Luke slips into a Mitch Mitchel style without even trying, as if he had eaten with the same cutlery as Mitch and been infected with a salivatorily transmitted groove virus.

I added some accordion, trying very hard to reign myself in. I'm really not very good at doing that, since my fingers get bored. I basically improvised over a minor blues scale and an aeolian mode in F, which is my standard thing. Note to self: expand your repertoire.

Background lyrics were just Luke and I, yelling together about 2 metres from our mic. I had to postpone the main vocals cause a cold had left my throat a little ragged and I didn't have it in my to sing any more. I came back to it a week later having written some vocals in my head. I distractedly finished them off in front of an episode of Monkey Magic and then when it came to singing them found my heart beating a little too fast and they came out garbled and broken. More than usual, I'd say. A strange thing, singing this song made me nervous and reminded me of the first time I met my wife. I was coming down a set of escalators and she was standing there alone in a big, empty stone room and I just walked up to her and kissed her while my travel-sick body swiftly caught fire. I was almost that nervous all over again.

Finishing it off


Luke finished off the song , selecting a delightfully cheesy guitar fuzz to cover up the acousticness of our electric guitar-with-broken-pickups. Then he cleaned up some of the more startling errors I made in the lead vocals and finally he uploaded it to last.fm so the world can sing along with us.

If you've managed to read all of this, it would be very remiss of you to not go ahead and download the song, put it your MP3 player and upload a torrent to the pirate bay. Here it is:

Download Meat Pig - Rockin'

I love, love feedback. If you want to tell me anything, good or bad about this song then please use those commenty features down there. If you want to call me an arsehole, then do that too!

26 Oct. 2009

Beer Festival at The Australian


Despite the rains a lot of people managed to make it to The Australian Beer Festival, at the Australian Hotel. In fact it seemed that as the rains got heavier the crowds grew thicker. The sometimes sideward flying rains seemed to have little effect. Arriving early we managed to get our hands on a standing table and clung on to it till the late afternoon. Between the three of us we probably sampled about 50 beers and left in a merry mood.

The highlight of the day was my discovery of Red Angus who were serving a nice, hoppy ale and (despite my general dislike of lagers in general) a rather delicious pilsner. The Pilsner actually had a taste reminiscent of a wheat beer. Even more than their beer, I love their tagline: "grain fed beer" and the imagery of the anagus bull. A very beefy effort all 'round.

I also got my first taste of coopers' foray into Pilsner territory with Coopers 62. It has the full mouth-feel that I'm used to tasting in a coopers brew with the addition of that sharp pilsner taste. It was not at all bad.

Other enjoyable brews I sampled were:
I also got to attend a little talk by a brewer from blue tongue, a somewhat local microbrewery that are in a stage of expansion right now. I want to say that it's hard for me to cricisize a bunch of people who just gave me free beer and four cheese pizza, but I have to say that I disagreed strongly with the speaker's insistence that lagers are the best beer for an Australian climate. I'm a bit of a hippy, and I tend to think that any beer style that requires heavy refrigeration to brew isn't really the best beer for your climate. I also think that the predominance of lagers in australian mainstream beer has led to a vast array of flavourless alcohol water. Not that blue tongue is neccessarily a tasteless beer, but lagers generally don't have the flavour and body of a good ale and that is really what I want in a beer, a bit of personality.

I was hoping to see a few more obscure microbrews, there weren't very many new discoveries, but I was satisfied at least by the lack of any real mainstream beer (with the exception of a small effort by Lion Nathon to serve their 5 seeds cider). I took away a pleasant buzz, wet feet and a growing love of beers that employ finishing hops. I reckon my next brew will have a second fermentation with some quality finishing hops to try and capture that herby flavour.

19 Oct. 2009

Giving it away

I was trying to decide where to start today. I currently have a chocolate stout brewing, and a new Meat Pig track that needs some vocals and some production attention. Neither of which I'm completely ready to talk about. So instead I wanted to get stuck into an issue that I hope will define the spirit of this blog: freedom of information.

As far as I am concerned, anything I put on the Internet is information. This includes the digital audio files that have encoded the music I've made. That information, once it is residing on a global computer network is fair game. You can try as hard as you like to protect it, but the reality of the situation is that someone either knows or can know how to get at anything that's out there. This also means that anything you send out into the world which can potentially be converted into digital format and made available on the Internet most likely will be. In any case you should assume that it is or will be available.

I think that fighting a futile battle against copyright infringement is akin to eating your own organs. They may seem like a delicious idea when explained to you by an order of cannibal elders, but then you realise that you can't metabolise food any more and you are haemorrhaging blood out of the wounds in your torso. That's as far as I'm going to go into the politics because there are so many better spoken people who have put it so well that I hardly need to.

I'm in an enviable position (depending on your point of view) because I'm not trying to make a living off my music. So all this politics and money talk doesn't effect me. I make music in my brother's lounge room. We have about $3000 worth of equipment between us, purchased over years. And we have a network of friends who can loan us things when we need them. We haven't produced any physical media and we use free software and free online services in all of our production work. We aim to get the most output from the least input in our music, so there's no feeling of loss when we don't get paid for it. Certainly there are ways we could try to make money from our music if we were dedicated, but we aren't. So for us, a creative commons license is the perfect system. Our music is free. Free to download, free to share, free to modify and use in your own works. And I believe that this approach is particularly suited to music which, at it's very core, is derivative. When you write a song today, you are drawing (even if you don't realise it) from a source of historical knowledge that can hardly be comprehended. If copyright had no time limit then every new recording artist would have a case on their hands.

So it seems to me that rather than crying about it, like the Lily Allens of the world, a better approach is to embrace freedom from first principals. Have no intention of control. Give and receive freely. So instead of looking at the accumulation of money as success, look for the accumulation of fans, collaborators and remixers. With this in mind then every file sharing transaction is a net gain, a new set of ears to hear your voice and another shot at influencing the collective consciousness with your vision.

This topic is particularly hot right now in the UK where Alice Taylor, commissioning editor for education at Channel 4, is all set to publish an essay proclaiming sharing as the new way in a world where people no longer want to pay for music. I'd like to hear someone in authority go straight to the crux of the issue and stop deferring to the music industry with talk of legal paid downloads and other pretty ideas. The cold truth is that 99% of your fans don't want to pay for your music. If you accept that, even embrace it, then you are less prone to hissy fits like Ms. Allen's, proclaiming your career over because people don't want to give you as much money as you think they should.

Sit back and think about it for a while, do musicians really deserve to be rich? Does anyone? Maybe you work hard for the money, but so do a lot of cleaners, receptionists and help-desk workers who have and will never appear on a music video show, or be ushered into the VIP section of their favourite nightclub. So stop crying and think about what really matters: the music.

16 Oct. 2009

Beginings

I've had this account for a while now and haven't used it for anything more than commenting on other blogs. But I decided that there are some things that I want to get out of my head and hopefully attract comment from like minded people on. So I decided to start blogging and dedicate this blog to my two favourite hobbies right now. These are the brewing of delicious beer and the writing of interesting songs. I've reached a point where I have been experimenting in both and feel confident enough to try to gain a deeper understanding of the craft of each.

I have been home-brewing for a few years now and have become comfortable with the all grain mash style of homebrew. This is where beer is made from barley without such shortcuts as cans of pre-made malt. This allows for greater experimentation and fine-tuning of the beer. I have a few pieces of equipment that I use for this purpose. There is the mashing stage which is done in a mash tun (basically an esky with a tap and false bottom), a fermenter (a plastic tub with an airlock and tap) and, of course, the delivery system (a fridge with beer taps on the outside and kegs on the inside). I want to start working on more interesting beers that require more complex proceedures to produce beer flavours that are not often encountered.

I have been making music with my brother under the name "Meat Pig" for a few years too. Our music is very amature and raw and so far we have depended heavily on thoroughly explored avenues of music, mainly twelve bar blues and general rock forms. Our song writing is spontaneous, and usually we try to write, record and publish a song in a single sitting. This means the music is always raw and unpolished and never overthought, which I like. It also means that often I have ideas for songs after they have been made that I can't go back and redo. I've been reading more and more about the art of songwriting and am interested in spending some more time and thought on the craft and want to document this process here.

So if you are either a beer maker or a songwriter (or both!), I'd love some feedback on what I will be posting here, when I have the time.