LUKE :Nick wrote about his leap of faith sign-ons to any proposal Chenoeh dreams up. He and I have a similar relationship. Artistically both of us have confidence to spare, but Nick has outpaced me of late in doggedly pursuing multiple ambitious gambits at once. As he will tell you, some of this is the gods laughing – he applied for a string of arts grants and was as shocked as anyone when most were funded.
It’s a good relationship – we’ve trusted each other’s instincts for nearly two decades, ever since co-writing our first song. It’s my experience the best art comes not from compromise, but from seeing eye-to-eye – we generally both do what we want and most times, it works out damn fine.
Sure, I’ll say, put me down to direct 12 music videos in three days. Or, no worries, happy to do a gig aboard a lake cruise. It’s not that I don’t believe these things will come to fruition (they always do in some shape or other), it’s just Nick tosses out these ideas with such casual regularity that my saying ‘sounds great’ feels less like a commitment and more general approval of the concept.
Which brings us to Merry Christmas (Let’s Conquer Death). Nick had pitched Art Not Apart the idea of Babyfreeze doing a charity single launch, with as many Canberra musicians joining in as possible. Nick had the song written, but the production and arrangement fell entirely to me. The song has the simplicity of a folk tune, and as such could be adapted to any number of styles. Of course, I reached back to the ur-source:
What struck me listening – for the first time with a critical ear – is how sparse it is. It’s mostly airy synths and occasional fills, ample space reserved for the melisma-thon vocalising.
I couldn’t help embellishing on this template, throwing in saxophone, bells, skronk guitar, and marching drum fills (in fact, A LOT of skittering percussion). I sneakily snuck in a hook of my own as well – the first voice you hear on the track is actually me, singing in falsetto and pitched up an octave. It’s my homage to Sebastian Field, who sung with us on the day (albeit in a vastly different style).
The day itself was frenzied – we set up and rehearsed at the NFSA, the same room as our infamous Champagne Breakfast. A gaggle of friends and Canberra luminaries joined us, including Fun Machine and Coolio Desgracias and House Mouse. Most exciting was being reunited with Chris Finnigan (aka Fossil Rabbit), only hours after he returned from his Scottish sabbatical. Nick did his best to run the unruly group through a few takes of the track, while cinematic wunderkids Dom Northcott and William He captured the chaos.
Dom and Will also shot interviews with everyone involved – in fact, between this and their video of our performance, we have a surplus of great footage now. The gag on the day was the film crew were there specifically to film me, now ‘Hollywood’ Handsome Luke, the breakout star continually threatening to leave the parochial confines of the group behind. It’s a fun bit of world-building that requires little effort on my part – Nick does the heavy expository lifting on stage and all I have to do is throw in the occasional glib aside.
Rehearsal over, we quickly unpacked and hauled gear across to the stage set up just out front of the Shine Dome. There were a few Babyfreeze diehards in the crowd, but it felt like most people were seeing us for the first time. It’s threatening to become meaningless how frequently I say this, but it was again (AGAIN!) one of the best gigs we’ve played – this band is just becoming more and more fun. It was also the live debut of our Valentines Day surprise drop Creation. I love this track – it’s a tight melding of the hip-hop I’ve been listening to with my ingrained need for prominent melody. Which upon reflection, is exactly what Nick brought to the track as well.
I’ll let Nick talk about the actual performance of Let’s Conquer Death, but it was everything I could have hoped for.
NICK: I’m used to Luke approving of my ideas and what I do, which creates a monster when it comes to approaching others artists for stuff like this. Most of our on-stage guests were super-into the premise of Doing A Live Aid and lived their roles brilliantly, but I have to say my favourite part of the day was seeing my close friend and noted Serious Music Fan Sebastian Field yelling his way through the sweet vocal hook that Luke wrote for him, his contempt for the entire bit on display for all. Why did he still agree to do it? Maybe because we’re friends? I don’t really care, he was perfect.
The stage was outside with no cover and it was HOT, which ramped up the intensity of the dozen of us crowding around four mics and singing into each others mouths. Particular credit to Warm Death (my original collaborator on the earlier version of the song) who didn’t even take her hood down. As far as the rest of the set, Luke and I made liberal use of the dangerously steep drop off the front of the stage and like Luke said, having Fossil Rabbit back on guitar made us feel like the unstoppable stadium band we’re increasingly describing ourselves as.
This feels like it might be the logical conclusion of our series of Babyfreeze Celebrity Fan Experience Shows. Like, what’s more that thing than doing a charity single? But at the same time the character bits that have emerged (‘Hollywood’ Handsome Luke and his burgeoning success, Handsome Luke and Trendoid’s free jazz side project constantly trying to take over the set, Babyfreeze’s constant jealously/obsession with courting the favour of the eminently well-adjusted Fossil Rabbit) feel like they’re only just gaining speed. At the same time as we become more and more a cabaret act the songwriting for the band only becomes more earnestly done and felt. Unstoppable Force Meets Immovable Object and we can’t bring ourselves to blink or slow down from either end.
Let’s Conquer Death as an actual song is a prime example. The name suggests that we’ve finally relaxed into just doing a Joke Song but nothing could be further from the truth. I’m genuinely enraged and terrified by the fact of mortality to the point that it’s the subject of every other song I write now. It’s bad enough that we haven’t just Sorted It Out, the fact that so many people want to venerate death as the thing that makes life have value is downright sickening. An anti-death charity movement couldn’t be a more absurd idea and I couldn’t mean it more. Musically, it’s a studious encapsulation of bloated pop excess and also our best effort at writing a genuinely good song. And that’s the thing with Babyfreeze.