1 Oct 2018

Anatomy Of A Scroll 2018

From RNZ Music, 4:03 pm on 1 October 2018

We pull apart the five finalists for best New Zealand song of 2018, ahead of the APRA Silver Scroll award for songwriting.

Anatomy of a Scroll: The Beths, 'Future Me Hates Me'

The Beths’ Elizabeth Stokes talks about the risky decision that led to her writing the Silver Scrolls nominated song ‘Future Me Hates Me’.

“I was falling into something I didn’t think I was a good idea… but I did it anyway,” says The Beths' principal songwriter Liz Stokes of the band's Silver Scroll-nominated song 'Future Me Hates Me'.

The Beths are an Auckland band who’ve only been around for a couple of years, but have made a big impression both here and abroad. Their perfectly formed and impeccably executed guitar pop songs are irresistible.

‘Future Me Hates Me’ started out as “stream of consciousness scribbling,” says Liz, “probably pretty late at night when I was feeling pretty emotional.”

The thought of falling for the wrong guy – the decision ‘future Liz’ would hate her for – defied her own logic: “Normally I think I am quite logical. That thought was scary and a little bit annoying.” It shows in the song's lyrics with lines such as “It’s getting dangerous / I could get hurt I know / I’ve counted up the cons / They far outweigh the pros.”

Liz says, apart from writing the bridge a bit later, she followed a pretty conventional path in writing the song: “I like rules and games with lots of rules,” she says of her general process. “I know they’re limiting but I kind of like putting limitations on things because it means you have to be creative with the way you work within certain parameters.”

It’s a system that works for guitarist Jonathan Pearce who also records the band: “My general reaction when Liz brings in a song is awe and joy because I think they’re fantastic.”

RELATED: APRA Silver Scroll 2018 - Top 5 finalists announced

He was particularly taken with the guitar riff Liz conjured up on ‘Future Me Hates Me’: “I remember thinking immediately: that is a classic guitar riff and we are going to have to record a real big sound for that,” he laughs. “It’s really nicely melodic and fits in with the other features of the melody.

Jonathan says the song came together quickly and was “pretty much” made up of the other bandmates’ first ideas for the track including the lead guitar line and the bass lines: “I’m not sure we even messed with the groove too much,” he says. “By about the third time we played it through it was pretty much the arrangement you hear on the record.”

Liz is modest about what she most likes about the track but says she was especially happy with the chorus and its “good rhymes”. She admits to being a nerd about coming up with rhyming lyrics: “I remember just looking at it and being like ‘yesss!’”.

“I really like rhymes and I think that is… not cool,” she laughs.

  • The Sampler: Future Me Hates Me by The Beths
  • Headquarters: The Beths

    Music details:

    Artist: The Beths
    Song: Future Me Hates Me
    Composer: Elizabeth Stokes
    Album: Future Me Hates Me
    Label: Carpark Records

    Anatomy of a Scroll: Chelsea Jade, 'Laugh it Off'

    Chelsea Jade describes her Silver Scroll nominated single Laugh it Off as being close to the epitome of what she wants to be as an artist.

    “If I had a thesis statement on what I feel like I’m about as a writer and an artist it ticks so many of the boxes for me.” 

    “I remember when I first started to do music, especially my own project, I had written down what I wanted to be - and it’s been just trying to get there and I feel like this is the closest to the fire that I’ve gotten to.” 

    It was Chelsea’s first time working with American producer Brad Hale. When she went in to record at a North Hollywood studio, Chelsea only had the phrase “laugh it off” and the opening line “coming in hot but not so bright”. Brad says they were the launchpad for the song.

    “It’s always kind of exciting thing to have someone come into a session with just a tiny morsel of an idea and see where it goes.” 

    Aside from that, she had Womack and Womack’s Tear Drops “on repeat in my head.” 

    In the track she sings about blowing off a person before they get a chance to hurt her, though she stresses it’s a jeering and self-deprecating stab at herself. 

    “You know when you just lie in bed at night and you think ‘I should not have said that - what an idiot’ you just regret - it’s kind of like me making fun of that person that’s said lots of embarrassing things.” 

    The line “Your love is in the liminal” refers another person’s feelings being unclear or uncertain.

    “You can’t take this attitude of loving or not loving me so I just have to take this attitude of brushing you off basically. It’s the only way I can control the situation.”

    RELATED: APRA Silver Scroll 2018 - Top 5 finalists announced

    “That would be me with most romantic scenarios,” she laughs.

    Chelsea says the chorus “Want my chest to keep it heavin’ / On the lighter side of feelin’ / I’m not going into grievin’ for you / So I’m just gonna laugh it off” was originally the bridge but Brad decided it was “too good” to be a bridge.

    While a lot of artists and bands talk about the difficulty of writing a good bride, Chelsea finds the chorus more daunting. “I feel so weighed down by that process of making something very good,” she says.

    A bridge, on the other hand, is more straightforward. “The bridge just doesn’t have that pressure on it and people are so lackadaisical about bridges in 2018,” she says.

    “If I think academically about what a good bridge should be, I think of it like the point where you’re supposed to expose what you’ve been saying or like the feeling of what you’ve been saying. Where you’ve been coy in the rest of the song, you have to be very overt. If you’ve been kind of tepid, it’s time to be mean. If you’ve been mean, it’s time to be really vulnerable. It’s the opportunity in the song to contort what you’ve been saying in a different way.”

    “I value a good bridge so much. I feel excited to tackle a good bridge,” she says.

    Brad says one of his favourite moments in the song is the outro.

    “I just want that to be playing behind me at all times in my life,” he laughs.

  • Chelsea Jade performs 'Perfect Stranger' with the St Mary's School Choir
  • The Sampler: Personal Best by Chelsea Jade
  • Music details:

    Artist: Chelsea Jade
    Song: Laugh it Off
    Composer: Chelsea Jade
    Album: Personal Best
    Label: Self released / Create Music Group

    Anatomy of a Scroll: Unknown Mortal Orchestra, 'Hunnybee'

    Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Silver Scroll nominated ‘Hunnybee’ had its beginnings as a lullaby for Ruban Nielson’s daughter. Here he lays out the struggle of writing an earnest love song for our Anatomy of a Scroll series. 

    Ruban says he was putting his daughter down for a nap in the afternoon when he started singing to her. 

    “Sometimes I make up songs for my kids to make them laugh, so I’d been doing that but it wasn’t helping put her to sleep.” 

    “She was only three or four at the time and I was making up a song to sing to her like a lullaby.

    “It was the only time I’ve made up one of these silly songs I sing to my kids and thought maybe this is an actual song,” he says. He decided to recorded it on his phone but it went on to sit in a folder on his computer for about four years.

    “I wasn’t prepared, for a long time, to write that song. I didn’t have it in me.” 

    Ruban says he finds it easier to write songs that have a pearl of cynicism or dark humour to them. He was scared that writing a completely earnest song would come across as corny or pointless. 

    “There’s no smirk behind it or anything. It’s the first song I’ve ever written that feels like I’m being completely sincere because my relationship with her is like that - there’s no twist to it - she’s my daughter. I needed that song to feel like love.” 

    Ruban was at his brother Kody’s house with bandmate Jake when they began working on the song in earnest.

    “It came together really quickly. We were in a family environment, it felt good, the weather was nice, it was a very breezy day so what we played was exactly the way the day felt.” 

    Ruban Nielson of Unknown Mortal Orchestra

    Ruban Nielson of Unknown Mortal Orchestra Photo: Luke McPake

    The string section, one of the original ideas for the song, was outsourced to friend Naomi Win, while the piano part was recorded during a monsoon in Hanoi. The line in the song “warm rain and thunder”, which he wrote in Portland, felt especially relevant in a Vietnam monsoon. 

    RELATED: APRA Silver Scroll 2018 - Top 5 finalists announced

    “One of the things that’s so cool about songwriting is that these strange things happen. We were stuck in the apartment where it was humid and rainy and there was a beautiful Yamaha piano there, so we just put a microphone down and recorded the piano part.” 

    Ruban says the song has special meaning to him and listening back to it brings back good memories. 

    “When the song started to come together I felt really great about it. I was thinking this might end up being a single or something and then I thought what if this is the best song I ever write,” he laughs. 

    “What if this is the song that makes me the ‘Hunnybee guy’ - like ‘this is it’”. 

    Seeing that the song had come out quite poppy, he decided to add a guitar solo that Unknown Mortal Orchestra fans would be able to appreciate. 

    In the end, it’s his daughter who’s the centre of the song and that makes it “pretty special” for Ruban. He says he wrote it with the idea that she would listen to it in the future.

    “I don’t know if I’ll even be around when she actually listens to the song and tries to figure out what I’m saying to her. At the moment she just hears her name on a nice tune and thinks, ‘oh cool, I have a theme song’”. 

  • The Sampler: Sex & Food by Unknown Mortal Orchestra
  • Unknown Mortal Orchestra's new album is definitely not about the apocalypse
  • Ruban Nielson: 'Sometimes it’s hard to make music when you’re too comfortable'
  • Music details

    Artist: Unknown Mortal Orchestra
    Song: Hunnybee
    Composer: Ruban Nielson
    Album: Sex & Food
    Label: Jagjaguwar

    Anatomy of a Scroll: Troy Kingi, 'Aztechknowledgey'

    “It’s pretty much some bullshit that I conjured up one night looking at the stars. But there’s pieces of me in it.” 

    That’s how Northland actor and musician Troy Kingi describes his Silver Scroll-nominated song ‘Aztechknowledgey’ from his high concept space funk album Shake That Skinny Ass All The Way To Zygertron.

    Troy says the basis of the track came from the guitar line - “that ching ching chinggg ching ching” - which he wrote on New Years’ Eve family holiday in Taupo Bay

    “That’s pretty much all I had and I thought it was cool. And that’s how it stayed for probably about six months.”

    “It wasn’t until I started coming up with the overall concept for the whole album that the theme and everything else fell into place with that song.” 

    The funky tune and its opening beat were inspired by the Isley Brothers which he said he was “smashing hard” at the time. “I just really wanted to sound like I was from the 70s,” he says.

    Troy describes the plot of the song like this (buckle up):

    “By this stage in the story, there’s a father who’s travelled through this portal and ends up in the fifth dimension in this kind of Amazon in this fifth dimension with this Aztec tribe.

    “He reads these hieroglyphics on these old ruins and there’s one part that mentions that there’s going to be this person who’s born with golden feet and they’re gonna lead the people into the future but there’s also gonna be people that are gonna try and take him down.

    “I dunno,” he pauses. “You gotta have those people - the jealousy ones.”

    Troy Kingi

    Troy Kingi Photo: Elliot Childs, RNZ

    He continues:

    “So he’s like ‘Oh shit. That’s my son. OK.’ And then he comes onto the other side of the ruins and rips these vines across and sees another little piece that says ‘Aliens made this civilisation’ and they’ve left remnants of their technology underneath the ruins of a temple something.

    “So he ends up getting it, going underneath, finding a pod and puts his son in it - his son’s about five years old at this stage - and sends him to the moon.

    “And that’s what this song’s about”. 

    As for the pieces of himself he mentioned earlier, the lyric ‘A hum is replacing sound’ was a reference to going deaf in one ear which happened just two months before entering the studio. 

    RELATED: APRA Silver Scroll 2018 - Top 5 finalists announced

    “So that’s a sneaky little Easter Egg there.” 

    Also: the line “You’ve gotta look back to move forward” is a nod toward his Māori ancestry.

    “You gotta know where we come from to move to the future,” he says.

    Troy says that when he went to record the album he had “minimal dollars” so he was only able to give the band three days to get the tracks down live. They had only played 'Aztechknowledgey' twice.

    “I showed Ed [Zuccollo, synths] the chords the night before going into the studio. Pretty much what he puts on that song is him, on the spot, improv.

    “That’s the magic that I’m talking about.”

    Troy says Ed played in the control room - where they couldn’t hear him - while they recorded live. When they went into the control room, they heard the synth parts Ed had been playing. 

    “It got to that bridge and then I started hearing all this stuff coming and I was like ‘holy shit’ and it was just so cool to get these nice surprises.” 

  • NZ Live: Troy Kingi & The Electric Haka Boogie
  • Troy Kingi and The Galactic Chiropractors live in session
  • Review: Troy Kingi and The Galactic Chiropractors live
  • Music details

    Artist: Troy Kingi
    Song: Aztechknowledgey
    Composer: Kingi
    Album: Shake That Skinny Ass All The Way To Zygertron
    Label: Private

    Anatomy of a Scroll: Marlon Williams 'Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore'

    “It was a therapeutic and emotionally necessary song to write, in a way, to convince myself of the reality of it,” says Marlon Williams of his Silver Scroll-nominated break-up song.

    Marlon says it’s no secret the album, Make Way for Love documents the fall out of his break up with fellow Lyttelton musician Aldous Harding and although he was hesitant about asking her to contribute to the song, 'Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore', he feels it was worthwhile.

    “I was in a unique position to have someone ploughing the same field I am. Not many people get the opportunity to explore those feelings and the subtleties of that dynamic in such a way,” he says.

    The idea of singing together about their break-up took on special meaning for the pair. Marlon explains Aldous and him had been singing together since they were teenagers. 

    “I know how it looks but it’s such a natural and important part of our relationship anyway - it didn’t feel strange to use music as a way of understanding.” 

    RELATED: APRA Silver Scroll 2018 - Top 5 finalists announced

    Marlon recorded his parts and the song in California, while Aldous did hers from a studio in Wales. The two talked over the phone to coordinate the arrangement. 

    Marlon says the chorus and line “Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore”, which was the first idea for the song, is a sort of mantra, or coping mechanism. 

    Marlon Williams

    Marlon Williams Photo: Guillick

    He wanted it to sound Paul McCartney-esque, and had imagined it sung in his voice. “When he locks onto a melody, he holds onto it and convinces you it’s the way it’s going to be,” he says.

    But close to the end, the song takes a depressing turn. 

    “We throw in the E minor seven chord which is a 70s folk rock trick that I picked up. If you throw in that chord, everyone knows there’s going to be a mood shift. So I put that in and the song devolves into a mope. There’s a moment where I don’t believe my own hype and the game’s given up.” 

    “What am I gonna do / When you’re in trouble / and you don’t call out for me,” he sings in that moment.

    The contrast between a hardluck situation - “nobody gets what they want” - and total empathy was one of the goals of the song, Marlon says.

    “It’s me prostrating myself out again and saying, actually it’s tough stuff.”

  • New video: Marlon Williams 'Make Way For Love' with Māori choir
  • Review: The broken beauty of Marlon Williams
  • The Sampler: Make Way For Love by Marlon Williams
  • Marlon Williams: love, jealousy and Aldous
  • Music details:

    Artist: Marlon Williams
    Song: Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore
    Composer: Marlon Williams
    Album: Make Way For Love
    Label: Dead Oceans


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