We Don’t Need Another Hero was the lead soundtrack single from 1985’s Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. It was performed by the legendary Tina Turner, who also featured in the film as the inscrutable Aunty Entity. The music video has Turner performing the song in full costume as her character, which seems only appropriate as the song is doing something very unique and very great.
Out of the ruins Out from the wreckage Can`t make the same mistake this time We are the children The last generation We are the ones they left behind And I wonder when we are ever gonna change Living under the fear, till nothing else remains
We don`t need another hero We don`t need to know the way home All we want is life beyond Thunderdome
What an incredible type-rope walk between generically ballad-y pop lyrics and extremely specific references to the story world of the third Mad Max film! And then the way the the end of the chorus just goes ‘fuck it’ and just talks about escaping Thunderdome as if of course you’ll know what that means. (also the song canes)
This is an obsession I’ve kept coming back to- fleshing out a genre storyworld through the restricted prism of conventional pop lyrics. Bomb Collar is an attempt to do this across a whole show, the words to the songs being every bit as vital to an understanding of the character and his circumstances as as any dialogue spoken in between. Also I’ve still tried to craft each song so that it convinces as a stand-alone unit of pop songwriting.
Bomb Collar is the latest and most refined of my many attempts to pull off this same trick. But why? In a world where the accepted standard for a ‘concept albums’ involves using the same character names across a few tracks and then explaining things in the liner notes, why am setting myself such strict parameters? Why take so many steps toward stage musicals without just jumping all the way in?
I do love musicals. So do you. Yeah, yeah, most of you will tell me you hate or dislike musicals, but every single one of you has at least one that you love. Disney films way count. You can tell me that it makes no sense to you for a character to tell you their feelings and thoughts through song but meanwhile that’s what every song you’ve ever liked listening to is doing.
So musicals are factually great. But for a neurotic structuralist like me they’re a little bit too open a format to work in. The divisions between Song and Book a little too free. Also the dominant musical aesthetic of modern musicals is a little lacking in grit even for a pop-pushover like me.
Cabaret shows always have the advantage of intimacy, and an expectation of doing a lot with a little. It’s a tighter format and one that supports a single-character narrative, so I was easily drawn to it. I particularly love a good period cabaret show, one where the songbook of an era is used to mirror a characters’ experience. But I’m a songwriter, I want to write new songs, and I’m not the best candidate to capture a bygone period anyway. So…
I realised that there was a period that I could write the traditional songbook of and create a period setting for- the future. In the same moment I realised that the challenge would be to extrapolate a folk song tradition from a starting point of todays’s chart pop music. I would also have to map those songs to a sci-fi protagonist and make his story coherent and compelling to an audience.
And that is the amount of ridiculous restrictions that allow me to start writing something.
The first song I wrote is now the second song in the show. It’s a war anthem, about a legendary military leader in the Deep Ocean Colonies, and it’s designed as a sickly descendant of some of my favorite Shock and Awe Diva songwriters like Linda Perry (if you don’t know her, she’s written a lot of songs you really like). It’s called Red Song, here are some of the words.
The zero version of Bomb Collar was a show I did in 2012 called The Last Prom (pictured above). It was a stage musical built around a band I was in at the time, also called The Last Prom. The band was cast as the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse and I played the Antichrist, who in this show was a teenage nerd attempting to stage the Apocalypse as a 80s-teen-movie-style prom night.
The Last Prom was presented in the strict format of a live set by a band. All of the storytelling, exposition and drama had to be delivered as either song performance or between-song-banter and crowd work. It was a bit of a creative straitjacket, the sort of thing I really like. Like a lot of my stuff it was a foolishly self-indulgent blend of my different pop culture obsessions. But it went well. The crowd Responded To What We Were Doing.
Bomb Collar has carried over the dramatic conceit of the Live Gig. Everything the audience experiences is encapsulated by the Last Pop Singer Alive performing to his Audience, who are a comically threadbare revolutionary army staging a haphazard push into the Deep Sea Colonies.
So why? Short answer is that 15 years of playing in rock bands has left me with deep, complex and conflicting feelings about the Live Gig as a thing. You do it for long enough and accepted facts of life like stages, support slots and sound checks become absurd constructs crying out for deconstruction. Even in the gigging bands I currently play with (Babyfreeze, The Missing Lincolns and the earnestcore cabaret act that evolved out of The Last Prom, now just known as PROM) I’m neurotically tugging at the edges of what it means to be on a stage delivering a set of songs to an audience. Theatre work like Bomb Collar allows me to interrogate the Gig in an even more aggressive and direct fashion, using fantastical genre trappings and conceits to smash certain metaphors into your face.
My hope is that the gig structure also provides a recognizable anchor for the audience and helps me get away with ladling all kinds of artistic and cultural reference points into the one show. At the very least it’s a rigorous format with some clear standards for success or failure. If that’s a particularly dorky way to talk about what bands do, well that gives you a very good indication of what to expect from the show.
All the good and bad types of pain
I won’t speak any lies, You’re only gonna speak my name
The other weekend Faux Faux Amis launched the cassingle for our song 50/50.
Photo by Laura Milkovits.
It was a long time coming. We originally recorded the song with producer Nick McCorriston in January 2014. Nick was kind enough to invite us down to record with him in Melbourne. The band at the time was the OG crew – myself, Chris Gleeson and Kevin Lauro. We cut two tracks that day, 50/50 and Holiday Inn. Holiday Inn ended up remixed before being released as a video in August 2014. However, 50/50 was always meant to be the flagship release. It’s one of the best recordings I’ve been involved in and one of the purest distillations of the default sound I keep in the back of my mind. I’m so glad it is now out in the world.
We had a great experience down in Melbourne with Nick. His studio was a granny-flat-slash-garage behind his house. It felt cosy before we loaded in our amps and drum kit – combined with our four bodies and mid-summer temperatures, it was steamy. But Nick had a warrior-like focus and immediately got us down to the task at hand. I remember spending most of our time on 50/50, but I don’t remember playing it that fast – the recording is pure fire, and I reckon the song’s current gig tempo is at least 20% slower.
Nick was a producer in the classical sense – he especially did an amazing job getting the best out of me. Two stories:
The guitar solo was brand new and I hadn’t yet played it for the rest of the band. Nick took a couple of listens and zeroed in on a section that sounded ‘busy’ – it was his suggestion that particular refrain not be played on the guitar, but instead chanted by the band. That’s what you hear; we added in the call and response backing vocal to the middle of the solo. It’s the kind of genius moment that once heard, you can’t imagine doing it any other way. I wish I could take credit for it, but it was all Nick.
The last thing recorded was vocals, and particularly on 50/50, Nick pushed me. I don’t think I’ve sung it better before or since, and certainly not with the same intensity. Nick was consciously aware of crafting a performance, getting me to pull back from my go-to gravel in the verses before unleashing on the choruses (on the second chorus you can actually hear my voice pop). It was really fun to have someone that invested in my vocals (always a self-conscious thing for me), and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the results.
Nick’s mix was great – clear but tough. We got the track mastered by Bruce ‘Cub’ Callaway, adding a little extra crunch and space.
From the start, the plan was to release it as a cassingle – in fact, as our first recording. I specially ordered the cassettes from the UK (keeping the fifty-fifty theme, I found cassettes with different colours on either side), and was already talking up the release in March 2014.
A couple of minor setbacks ended up derailing it – chiefly, I couldn’t find anywhere in Canberra that was able to dub audio cassettes any more (my fault for wanting to release in an obsolete medium). I looked into having it done in Sydney but the postage costs were prohibitive (they were close to being a ‘loss leader’ already). I bought a second-hand dual cassette deck and tried dubbing them myself but they sounded terrible. In the intervening months, Faux Faux Amis went on to gain two singers, record X, lose two drummers, and start making alotofvideos. The blank cassettes sat idle in my garage – in hindsight, I should have abandoned the cassette idea and released the song online. But you know, like John Lennon says, life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.
Cut to May 2016, and Kev asks, ‘Hey, whatever happened to 50/50?’. That set the wheels in motion again – this year I’d upgraded my digital audio interface and also bough a new cassette deck – the combination of the two meant I could dub the cassettes myself.
We finally launched the single on August 6th at the Phoenix, with support from fellow rascals Terrible People and Okinawa Girls.
I had a bit of fun shooting a quick stop-motion promo, and a lot of fun shooting a guerilla marketing promo that masquerades as a Youtube tutorial:
It’s the first bit of Youtube comedy I’ve done since One Pot Punk Rock and it really left me wanting to do more.
Being as it’s called 50/50, we tried to have some fun with half half / dichotomy / binary stuff. Firstly, all the cassettes are gorgeously half-blue and half-yellow. Next, half are in a blue case, the rest in a yellow case. And finally, they all come with an insert with the lyrics, but half the inserts have English lyrics and the other half have French (thanks to Karelle Duchesne for translating!). Oh, and we naturally only made fifty cassettes.
The cassettes themselves are a thing of beauty, and I wanted to match that with something special for the online component. I tapped graphic designer Fiona McLeod to do some artwork for the Bandcamp page. The brief was a picture of a face split down the middle, each side showing one half of a couple, with splashes of the same colours as the cassettes. As you can see, Fi knocked it out of the park! She also did some stellar pictures of the cassettes which now adorn both the FB and Bandcamp sites.
Faux Faux Amis are getting ready to go back into the studio next weekend to record our next album (tentatively titled Beg For Merci Beaucoup). We plan to re-record 50/50, and I’m excited to see how it turns out in the hands of our new line-up, 60% of which didn’t play on the original recording. I am certain we won’t better this version, but I like the idea of a world where multiple versions exist, some on limited edition cassette. It’s the trainspotter in me.
BOMB COLLAR S.W.O.T. ANALYSIS FOR POTENTIAL INVESTORS
Strengths- The show has been around the place, it’s pretty well-drilled and evolved. The story world is clear now, people get what’s going on and who the character is. I’ve learned how to stand still when I have to. I’m singing well these days. While I was doing the Fringe photo shoot with Adam the other day I finally worked out what kind of moving around I have to do in the final scene. I have an actual producer for this season who really knows what they’re doing. I have an incredible venue right in the Fringe Hub and it’s the exact right size (28 seats).
Weaknesses- I’ve never tested my modest, lo-fi sound and lighting rig across 7 nights. Reckon I’ll need to have a whole back-up rig made but I don’t know if Adam and Paul have time to make it also how do I repay them for all the free work they’ve done on this project for me. Promotional Avenues for sci-fi black comedy cabaret are proving a real challenge to find. One day I’m going to make something in just a single genre and medium. I promise. I haven’t 100% cracked the ultimate version of the costume yet.
Opportunities- I need to tweak the script so there’s versions of the thing that can play to tiny (sub-five people) audiences just in case that happpens. That’s fine, I’m actually excited for that, it’ll be good for me. That said I’ll gonna try to really DO the promotion and social media stuff this time. I have lots of help this time, I can do it. Whatever happens it’ll make the next thing easier. Man I’m looking forward to the couple of weeks in Melbourne, there’s some people up there I’d love to collaborate with while I’m there. No wait, bad Nick. Focus on this one thing, for once in your life.
Threats- That NZ Fringe performance got a bad review. People will see it, maybe it’ll come up ahead of the good reviews. Some of it was just the reviewers’ taste but more of it was that I didn’t meet the task of performing to a tiny crowd. CANNOT HAPPEN AGAIN. I LOVE TINY CROWDS. WILL ROCK THEIR LIVES WITH INTIMATE INTENSITY. I HOPE IT’S ALL TINY CROWDS, CAN’T WAIT. Also the same old threat that the total potential crowd for a sci-fi black comedy cabaret is limited, but look I refuse to admit that.
So I’m thrilled and daunted to announce that the one-man sci-fi black comedy cabaret show that I’ve spent the best part of the last two years developing and touring has secured a seven-night season in the Melbourne Fringe Hub (The Parlour Room to be exact). Tickets on sale here.
Regular Lick-Nuke-ers have followed Bomb Collar’s genesis from a seed of an idea through development shows in Newcastle, Manila and Wellington to it’s Proper Debut as part of The Public Theatre program in Canberra late last year. Still, it’s feels like the rubber only really hits the road from now. I’ll have seven nights in which to make crowds laugh, cry and sing-along to the bleak adventures of the Last Pop Singer Alive, armed with only myself, a handsome-if-aging 30-seat theatre space and around $150 of lo-fi sound and lighting effects strapped to my body. I invite readers to follow me for the next six weeks as I focus up and hunker down.
I’m gonna share a few lyrics from one of the songs from the show in every post. This one was written long before our main characters birth, by someone whose peaceful-but-drab life in the deep sea colonies had them questioning what lay above.
Who built the lens at the top of the tank
That filters the sunlight down?
Who let us know that there’s more than this ocean
And made a boy dream of the ground?
Far from these trenches that stretch through the deep
Acting has become a increasingly important component of my various fruity creative projects, so I was probably overdue to be part of something where I could deliberately work on my acting skills in isolation. That said, If Aspen Island Theatre Company head honcho Julian Hobba hadn’t approached me directly and asked me to read for a supporting role in his new play The Slip Lane then there’s no telling when I might have pulled my finger out.
The Slip Lane is a reality-bending drama set in Gunghalin. It tracks the halting and fragile friendship between Matthew and Missy (portrayed in this initial production by Dene Kermond and Claire Moss) and the various ways in which their suburban existential angst is preyed upon by a literal demon from hell. The role of the shape-shifting demon was shared by myself and the frighteningly talented Emma Strand.
It’s a dense, bleak and fun play that picks at the Australian Middle Classes’ wonky process of self-definition and resists any easy thesis thereof. Julian (who produced the Public Theatre series at which Bomb Collar made its’ Canberra debut) sent me the script back in November and it was an offer I couldn’t pass up.
Here are a couple of revues. You’ll notice that neither single me out for gross incompetence and I’m taking that as a good sign. It was every bit as challenging and humbling as I expected to work as part of a Proper Grown-Up Theatre Production and I was given a lot of generous support by the rest of the team. Watching the rest of the cast employ their full range of Actor Skills (script analysis, vocal warm-ups, impro games etc.) drove home just how untrained my approach is. I encouraged Julian to just plain tell me what to do as much as possible, and focused mostly on remembering my lines, relaxing and trying to stand in the right spot.
I feel like I made a fair-ish fist of my role and started some kind of structured skills progression in terms of ‘acting’ rather than just ‘performing’. It’ll be an interesting challenge to keep that progression going now that I’m back to my normal juggling-half-a-dozen-projects-at-once lifestyle. I’ll admit that our month of full-time rehearsals was an intense experience for a flighty dilettante like myself. That said, it’s only ever taken the merest sniff of positive reinforcement for me to double down on creative challenges for myself, so watch this space.