FFA – X
X has landed!
I pitched the idea of ten one-minute songs to EMA label head Oscar Condon at the Wig & Pen the second time I met him. At that point, all that existed was Sno-Globe, written the week before. Sno-Globe, like its namesake, felt to me like it contained a full song/world in miniature. It prompted me to consider a whole album in microcosm, and X (at least as a concept) was born. Oscar loved the idea from the get-go (he was also the sadistic bastard that suggested I make videos for all ten as well).
The beauty of starting with a clear concept was I could just figure out what songs I would need for a rounded album, and then write them fit for purpose. I knew I’d want some kind of mid-point palate cleanser (That’s A Bingo), a song in French (Ou Est Henri?), a song with a starring turn from Mel and Cath (Unusual Curse), and a lot of crunchy rock (everything else). This was also the first tracks conceived knowing Mel and Cath were in the band, so songs like 6BB, Ou Est Henri?, Unusual Curse, and Love, Or Leave It Alone (For Iris), were written with female vocals in mind.
Three songs in particular wear their influences on their sleeves – Good Night was my homage to Cosmic Psychos, That’s A Bingo to Jon Wayne, and Kingdom Of Fear to The Blade Winner.
Cosmic Psychos are new favourites of mine, having only heard their music after watching the brilliant Blokes You Can Trust last year. Good Night is me unabashedly channelling my inner Ross Knight – the only twist I added was to cast the song in the second person, an under-utilised variant in rock’n’roll, and also a first for me.
In contrast, Jon Wayne, the sui generis drunken cow-punk band, have been on my radar for years. I first read about them in Dave Graney’s book It Was Written, Baby back in the 90s, where he extolled their praises and let loose the secret that The Cruel Sea’s Better Get A Lawyercribbed its best lines from their song Texas Jail Cell. They were very popular with me and Na in The Bluffhearts-era, and we adopted some of their catchcries and licks into our repertoire. They are also concept album savants – nearly every song on their masterpiece Texas Funeral has ‘Texas’ in the title. Written in 2010, That’s A Bingo is the only song not written/finished specifically for this album. It sees me adopting the sneering, lecherous vocal style of Jon Wayne’s singer (also pseudonymously called Jon Wayne). I perform it with a guitar pick clutched in my teeth, to replicate the tight-jawed sound of someone talking with a cigarette between their lips.
Kingdom Of Fear was literally me wanting to do my version of a The Blade Winner song – a classic rock tune filled with grand, apocalyptic imagery, similar to his Sweet Babylon.
The blindingly obvious revelation came later – hey, I know The Blade Winner! Why don’t I ask him to sing it? As you can hear, he did not disappoint (though he nearly gets overshadowed by Mel and Cath’s showstopping backing vocals).
The final song conceived for the project was Kevin Lauro’s Blues (Angry Women, Pt. 1). Kev offered to write a song months before we began recording. I quickly agreed, mainly because it saved me writing another one. However, as the recording date drew closer, I began to question this decision. Kev, on a weekly basis, would insist his song was near completion and would be ready to show us all the following week. I was even invited round to his place a couple of times to ostensibly hear it – every time, the sly fox would nonchalantly defer its unveiling to a later date. It became a running joke, some kind of elaborate ruse. With just two weeks to go, and Kev still insisting it would be finished, I figured we needed a Plan B.
I am a huge fan of Lars Von Trier’s The Five Obstructions, the film where he challenges Jorgen Leth to remake The Perfect Human five times, each time with a new set of challenging rules and criteria (The Perfect Human was the inspiration for our current series of projections). On a couple of occasions, Leth does not strictly adhere to the set rules/obstructions – Von Trier then takes it upon himself to ‘punish’ Leth with more severe rules the following time. For the final iteration, Leth’s punishment is that Von Trier will make a version of the film… but it has to be credited to Leth. I co-opted this idea as punishment for Kev – his song, which is one minute of ludic avant-jazz nonsense made up on the spot by the band, had to be credited as written by him, and it had to be called Kevin Lauro’s Blues (in homage to the similar Stooges track L.A. Meltdown Blues). Kev accepted, likely relieved that he no longer had to finish his song (though he was still working on it on the day of recording!). The ‘Angry Women’ suffix comes from Mel and Catherine’s contribution, the song’s sole lyric, intoned in both French and English.
The last thing recorded for X was Nicholas Coombe’s saxophone. I’ll take a sax solo over a guitar solo any day (as any Missing Lincolns song will attest). To me, sax mixed with electric guitar either sounds like The Stooges or The Saints, two bands I credit as influences (fun fact: the chunky chordal riff of The Missing Lincolns’ Light A Fire Under You came about trying and failing to play Know Your Product). Nick C is a delight, one of the most relaxed and up-for-anything musicians I’ve had the pleasure to play with – he’s now played on Holiday Inn and X, AND performed with us at the launch – I’m surreptitiously trying to make him a fully-fledged member of the band before he notices.
The indelible cover image is by Uy Nguyen. Uy and I met on the first day of year seven – he’s now a talented artist and architect, and when he posted his drawing of a sloth in a bowtie, I was immediately smitten. The mixture of cuteness/evilness, savagery and sophistication, seemed to parallel our sound. The irony of a sloth as mascot for the quickest album in the world was also too good to pass up. I hope to convince Uy to design the covers for our future releases too – it would be brilliant to have an artist of his calibre establish a consistent look for the band’s material.
The launch last Saturday was a rollicking good time – as a label, EMA is distinguished by its lack of homogeneity – the night included sets of skeletal folk-pop, grunge, trip-hop, punk, choral electronica and drone. Around 150 people attended, and we sold a bunch of albums. Not wanting to dilute the impact of our one minute blasts, but recognising that the set would be too short otherwise, we played all the songs twice. It was Darren that came up with the idea to do it as a palindrome, playing the songs through the second time in reverse order. It added another layer of playfulness to a gig which also included a (minor) costume change, an intermission gag (thanks Nick!), and a pre-arranged stage crash by The Blade Winner.
For our projections this time, Paul Heslin live vee-jayed. We used the same black and white footage of the band (I hastily filmed new drummer Darren the week before and subbed it in), and Paul coloured our first set red, the intermission white, and the second set blue, to mirror the French flag. Paul is the unsung hero of the FFA family, having implemented our live visuals, remixed Holiday Inn, and recorded overdubs for X. He’s one of my favourite and most trusted collaborators and (friends), and I hope we do lots more together in the future.
With Nathan up on stage, our numbers swelled to seven, and we barely fit on the tiny stage. Combine that with the suit jackets and sunglasses, and I feel like we are entering our Dexys Midnight Runners/Young Soul Rebels phase. Which, excitedly, gives me a whole raft of ideas for the next thing.
All photos by Adam Thomas.