THE BIRTH OF THE SONG: ‘90S MUSIC’
The story of this song is an interesting one. It was never originally on the album when I initially thought the record was finished. But I had always felt the song should be completed somehow and used for something. There was an un self-conscious kind of energy to it and it wasn’t until the last month of working on The Golden Echo that it popped back onto my radar. Interestingly it is now the first single for the record and a divisive one at that. Nothing else on the record really sounds like this song sonically but in saying that no song sounds much like the other on this record. I have placed innovation, artistry and experimentation as high values while working in the studio. But above all, it is the art of songwriting and the ability to take the listener on a journey that keeps me excited about what I do and always pushing to find a new way to do that. The story of how this song came to be is an interesting one. The Catacombs will continue to be a place I can share more insights with you about this album so for those of you who love a good backstory, here’s a bit more about the song. There is so much to share about the making of the music video which will come soon but for now here is a bit more about the song and it’s wild birth.
90’s Music first originated back in Australia when I was jamming with my band in a studio I had set up an hour out of Melbourne in the country. At first it was a bit of fun, my drummer Stevie Mcquinn was mucking around on a Roland drum machine, and hit the ‘music’ sample - I suggested we try building a song around it to see where it led. The band and I were listening to a lot of Deerhoof and Battles at the time and were drawn to the idea of juxtaposing sing-song melodies and toy-like sounds with abrasive, heavier elements - I wanted the song to feel like a kids anthem, I had the idea of carnival music in my head or a warped version of a Sesame Street song. It took on a strange little life of it’s own as we jammed it and I began a lyric about listening to 90’s Music with a young love but it was always left somewhat unfinished, and fell to the side while I worked on the rest of the record.
Literally in the last month of working on the album, Rich Costey (the producer I worked on the record with) and I went back & listened to the ‘90’s Music’ demo randomly one day and discussed wether it was worth taking another look at it since we both had a soft spot for the track since Day 1. At the time, the record was pretty much complete and I felt sure I had all the songs I needed, but on a whim I decided to dig in to the song again just to see if it could come to life in a new way. The demo was just a raucous band jam recorded through iPhones so I asked my drummer, Stevie Cat Jnr and guitarist Timon Martin (aka Major Dudes) to lay down their parts to a click and send them back to me in LA - I figured this would help me to rework the song and try a new idea for it. They sent the song back but this time it had thumping 808’s as a backbone for the verses and an almost industrial approach on the clunky xylophones which were now running through abrasive distortion plug-ins with fast math-rock guitars and dribbling high hats. It gave me a totally fresh perspective on the track and the very same day I re-recorded all the vocals, spun my voice through a dozen samplers and gadgets to weave a new world around the song. It came together so quickly and suddenly had a completely unique identity to everything else on the record. Rich and I continued to evolve the song by adding textures and taking a pretty fearless approach structurally - we wanted it to feel slightly unhinged while also being super fun and abandoned.
One night at the studio Rich sent the song to Matt Bellamy (Muse) to see what he thought and if he had any ideas. The next morning he’d sent back an email attached with an obnoxious detuned guitar part for the chorus. We loved it and dropped it straight into the session. Moments before signing off on the song we also had Mark Foster (Foster The People) come down to the studio as he was also excited about the track and had some ideas. We dived in and came out with the final section for the song, a modulation halfway through the track with stacks of synths and r&b hooks which I recorded literally moments before I flew out to Australia that same night. We wrapped the song up feeling super excited about the last piece of the record coming together. It inhabited an energy that seemed to compliment the rest of the album which ultimately inhabits quite a different sonic space but embraces a sense of adventure. There is a part of me that is very attracted to minimalism and sparseness, but I have a wild love affair with maximalist music and to be able to explore both sides as an artist and have fans that create a space for me to dive into both these worlds is a great blessing. I think pop music should give a chance for experimentation and a whole lot of good fun. But also a place where the listener can be challenged, then slowly courted into a great romance.
Despite being a different stride in sounds, this song embraces many things I always like to explore musically - I’m always attracted to the meeting place of light and dark, sweet and sour - the juxtaposition of angular sounds and head-crushing distorted elements sitting alongside a breathy bubblegum vocal - I love the idea of crossing unlikely approaches sonically and lyrically. Bands like Deerhoof, Battles and Mew inspire me so much for their innovation and collision of playfulness and dreaminess with heavier, aggressive moments. These bands were all influential over the period that i worked on this song - their approach combined with the R&B influences already stamped on the song gave it an identity very unique from other tracks I was working on at the time. Instead of making the track a throwback musically, I wanted it to feel like a nod to the past from a futurist perspective. Lyrically the song is a celebration and affection for an era I remember fondly and associate with growing up and young love. I discovered a new excitement for 90’s music again while I was writing this record and was feeling a strong resurgence of the era in a lot of music and fashion so it felt like the perfect framework for the song to exist in, and a chance to pay tribute to some of the artists I loved in my youth.
Nostalgia has often been a theme for me - I have a strong connection to childhood and the teenage years so I wanted to capture that boisterous, playful energy with this song - and to do it through the use of sounds and influences I haven’t drawn from in the past. That place where all the subconscious ideas merge and collide is always the place where I am most excited about music. Although we change and grow as people, the memories of the past live on, but perhaps they take on a different shape and form as we recall them. It doesn’t sound or look quite the same but it’s made into something new! Seeing this song birth from a garage jam in rural Australia and grow throughout the time spent here in Los Angeles has been so much fun, and it’s just the start of many more adventures to come.