Pete’s Blog – On The Wire (Part 1) – The Music
It seems hard to believe that the ‘On The Wire‘ album is approaching it’s 9th birthday and that many of the songs on the album began to form over ten years ago. This was a new situation for us as we had to write an entire album from scratch whereas ‘Stateless‘ had been a collection of tracks from our work as Alien Six Productions and several had dated from as early as 2005.
Without knowing it we had started in January 2009 when we were given a tight deadline to complete a bonus track for the ‘Submission‘ single which was due for imminent release. Shaun Brooks from our label Toffeetones was insistent that we should have a decent ‘b-side’ to break up the various remixes for this release. Having just finished ‘Stateless’, we scoured the hard drive for anything that we thought might be usable. We found a basic demo of ‘No Time For Fighting‘ which seemed to have some merit, particularly the chant type chorus. We then spent several long days in the studio finishing the track which was then sent to Shaun and it was agreed that it was acceptable for inclusion. But originally there was never any intention of using it for the next album. However, as time went on and we started including the track in our live set it seemed to become very popular and it was remixed for the 2009 DJ only promo CD which certainly gave it a new lease of life. But I never felt that the original version hadn’t done the song justice and so it was given a serious re-working for the album. As I recall, many mixes were sent to Shaun and he kept sending them back saying he felt we could do better.. We got there eventually although our patience was wearing thin at times!
The next couple of tracks became our album ‘bookends’ as it was obvious that ‘Losing Something‘ would be the perfect opener with it’s atmospheric synth drone and spy numbers (we definitely loved those!) which then kicked off into a rousing synth/guitar anthem. It became our live set opener too for several years. Around the same time ‘Under My Skin‘ was written and it was felt that this should close the album, particularly after we’d spent a long time on the vintage piano part and vocal coda which we absolutely loved. But we had quite a time convincing Shaun to let us leave that part in the outro, he felt it was derivative of several other artists. However, our vision was of a soldier from World War Two playing an old upright piano in a village hall so nothing to do with any of our influences. Things became quite heated but we were not for changing it at all and stuck to our guns! I’m so glad that we did as it completes the album perfectly as we’d envisioned at that time..
So we’d written the first and last tracks, we just had another nine to finish. I think that ‘Higher Ground‘ also came to us fairly early in the process, it started with a basic bass guitar and drum pattern which formed the verses and quickly we managed to write a great chorus chord structure. It was one of my favourites at the time and was a contender for a single. It also became the song chosen for our first ever music video which was very exciting at the time. As Geoff mentions in his blog, he’d purchased a fantastic synth module called the Waldorf Blofeld that became pretty much the main ingredient for many of the tracks. He’d written this lovely chord sequence using one of the new sounds but we never seemed to be able to take it further and often moved onto something else. But eventually we decided to try again and we managed to come up with ‘The Art of Evasion‘ which for us was quite an emotional song with lots of feeling captured. I came up with the title after a phone call to someone and I’d said to them that they seemed to be “perfecting the art of evasion” with regards to a person that they had been dealing with! I wrote that phrase down as soon as the phone call had ended. I’ve no idea why it had popped into my head at that point, just one of those lucky things I guess.
This track is memorable for many reasons, the first being that Geoff put me through the absolute wringer when recording the vocals! He made me do many takes and it was a challenge for me vocally.. I thought my head was going to explode during those sessions. However, I must have eventually nailed it he let me go home to recover and have a much needed beer! We also thought the track might benefit from some eBow guitar which was a device favoured by guitarists such as Bill Nelson, Rrussell Bell and Paul Reynolds from A Flock of Seagulls. It’s a magnet which when held over a string on a guitar causes it to sustain endlessly and creates a lovely smooth and eerie sound, emotionally it can tug at the heartstrings. Luckily I managed to nail the eBow sections after less takes than the vocals which was a relief! I think it is definitely one of the best songs that we ever wrote together. Several people at the time mentioned that it reminded them of classic ‘Tears For Fears‘ which I always took to be a huge compliment.
I guess the song that we are best known for is ‘Blinded By You‘ which Geoff had started as great demo with that cool ‘walking’ bass line and strident rhythm track. The Blofeld featured heavily on this track and it even managed to nail a superb Arp Odyssey synth solo sound at the end of the track which may possibly have been influenced by Billy Currie of Ultravox! I don’t recall that we thought it was going to be such a well loved and important song for us until the night we first played it at the Bedsitland club in London before the album had been released. It got such a fantastic reaction (unusual for a brand new song) that we decided it would be the perfect choice for the lead single from the album. Shaun did a slightly different mix for this which I really liked except for one small error that I don’t think anybody apart from myself noticed! He did however rectify it on the storming 80’s style extended ‘Designed For Dancing‘ remix which I still think is one of the best remixes of one of our songs to date.
‘Blinded By You‘ also gained the unofficial title of the ‘Heartbeat Song’ which came about about when another artist at Infest Festival came up to us to introduce himself backstage and said in a rather strong German accent “I know you guys, you do that heartbeat song don’t you!” which we found rather amusing at the time!
On this re-release we have decided to include ‘Synchronise‘ as a bonus track as we are unable to re-release the ‘Blinded By You‘ single for reasons to be explained in part two of this blog. Even though at the time we thought of it as a throwaway kind of track, it proved to be quite popular especially at gigs. This track originally started as grinding synth riff played on Geoff’s vintage Korg Monopoly synthesiser and it later mutated into a type of synth glam rock track and was called ‘Glitterfrapp‘ originally. It was a lots of fun recording this one, we spent a while layering up plenty of ‘hey’ chants trying to make it sound like a football stadium. There was also a Roland V-Drum electronic kit involved with a lot of playing into the computer to give it more of a live feel which definitely helped. Quite defiant and amusing lyrics in this one, always fun to play live!
‘The Grid‘ was almost certainly one of the last tracks that was written for the album and was heavily influenced by the Nitzer Ebb album ‘Industrial Complex’ which we both loved at the time, lots of big sounding synths and huge drums. As usual with most of the songs on the album we went for a layered vocal sound in the chorus with a great guitar/synth riff underpinning it. Along with ‘Field of View‘ these were the only two songs that never got played live. With ‘The Grid’ I think we felt that it was a huge slab of music and it really need a full band to do it justice, particularly the drums. At the time we performed as a duo so it was better to concentrate on other songs we felt would work with just the two of us onstage. This song was also notable for the hilarious vocal ad-lib in the final chorus that we always intended to replace but never got round to so we disguised it and left it in there! See if you can work out what Geoff is singing? You may have noticed that nowhere in the song is there any mention of the actual title. It was actually an inside joke about about how I like to program everything in the computer exactly to the grid without any variation or human feel. I should point out that I’m more flexible in my musical approach these days!
‘Visions‘ is another song that had a fair amount of humour in it, I referred to it as the ‘Hooverbag’ song for a long time due to Geoff’s original lyrics which we actually got quite used to and so it became quite challenging to come up with something less whimsical! This was another track that proved to be difficult to perform live, I think it was only played twice due to the complex vocal arrangement.
‘Loose Connection‘ was another of my favourite tracks on the album, it had a vocal intro which was unusual for us. There was definitely another homage to Billy Currie in this track and we also used a heavily flanged guitar sound that was reminiscent of ‘Replicas‘ by Tubeway Army which was a very important record for both of us in our formative years.
Overall, I think this album was the most cohesive in terms of sound as all the songs were written and recorded over a much shorter period than the debut album. It was quite intensive in places but was lots of fun, generally very productive and even when it wasn’t we quickly moved onto another track so that we could make some progress and not waste any sessions. I have very happy memories of those times, we were touring extensively back then so it was quite an accomplishment to release two albums in 18 months as things were extremely hectic. So we thought we’d slow down for the third album!
I hope you enjoyed reading this, another to follow soon as I promised Cheri! 😉
Pete – 9th April 2019.
*This album is now available in DIGITAL format ONLY via our BandCamp page or other digital stores!