What? It’s the third Funkmuffins record! But this one is yellow though!
All songs written by Andrew Kwiatkowski.
-Kala Archtop Tenor Ukulele (in low-G tuning)
-Apogee ONE Microphone
-Garageband for iPad Mini
And nothing else.
This record is dedicated to CJ, for all the love and hanging on through hard things she has had to put in to life lately. Love you.
Click here to download the lyric sheet.
Phew! Lot’s of big plans for this one, but it took a couple of years to get any movement on it however.
In this phase of my songwriting life my primary focus was to explore my obsession with the songwriting of the indie band The Mountain Goats; in particular how they often tell stories of harried, downtrodden characters through simple but effective use of very few chords (usually only three!). This ’embodying’ approach is a really fun and interesting exercise in empathy. Hence the title, from the quote, ‘I am human, therefore, nothing that is human can be alien to me‘….
In addition, they often use a particular meter in their music: counting bars as 3+3+2 instead of simply your more normal 1,2,3,4.. which is very distinctive, and very much in evidence during the period of their album ‘Heretic Pride.’ As another addition to my exercise, I decided to put all the songs in the same key of A major as well, to make it a little more ‘samey’ and deprived of even more options and tricks. And, naturally, being me, I decided I was going to allow myself to use nothing more than a ukulele and an iPad. Lots of formal limitations.
With such a limited palette to work from, the challenge would be to utilise clarity and utter simplicity of storytelling.
The cover artwork, I decided similarly, should reflect variations on a simple theme and a certain ‘monochromatic’ quality: yellow seemed to be best because of my mild synesthesia with the letter A. It is in fact a close photo of a Wellington Phoenix supporter flag from my travels, which have been continuing since my The Price of Crayfish days.
As far as making progress goes, I began working on this one in 2018 while I was still living on Hamilton Island, Australia. I brought the ideas with me to Christchurch, New Zealand, then to Wellington, then to Gold Coast and Cairns in Australia, back to Christchurch, then Dunedin, and finally, back to Christchurch again where I settled down proper in mid-2020, after almost all of the covid issues had been resolved in New Zealand, but were, turns out, just beginning for most of the rest of the world. Progress was troubling, haphazard, and far from effortless. And so, a word on the production. Do these songs represent good composition and songwriting skill? Yes, I am really fucking proud of the songwriting, of marrying words with chords and melody in juuuust the right way. But does this record also sound a bit shit through anything but good headphones and probably in need of 6 months and ten grand in mastering wizardry beyond my capabilities as a producer before it’ll sound okay on your laptop speakers? Yeahhh…. yeah probably. Should I have done a thousand more takes of the singing because some of it is out of tune? Oof, now you’re breaking my heart.
Covid hit us all in different ways during the year 2020, and one way it hit me was that this record got severely stalled. By the time that these songs were turning two years old and hadn’t even been recorded yet, I was getting very very very fed up and annoyed, and wanted them gone — out into the world! Get off my iPad and onto the internet! So I decided instead of stalling even more, waiting and waiting and waiting for the right time or motivation or financial situation to develop that would breathe a more professional sounding life into them…. I was going to give up. The songwriting – I am super proud. The performance? I’d say they are 90% there. And in the year of covid, in the year of 2020, getting anything ninety-percent right is.. fine. A bit unfinished is fine. I am settling. What’s important is learning the songwriting lessons, getting things moving, and growing into the next thing. And that’s what this is for me. A step of growth. A journeyman record. Onwards!
Track 1 – Song For Jack O’Neill (Bottoms Up)
In 2015 I was watching a play on Youtube – a musical play made by fans of Harry Potter called A Very Potter Musical. It’s fucking fabulous, and you should watch it. And I started thinking… some crazy fan should also make a musical for the TV show Stargate SG1! So….somebody did. I have other strong ideas for a couple of other characters, but the easy one right off the bat was the lead character Colonel Jack O’Neill (with two Ls!) whose son killed himself with Jack’s own gun, leaving him in a suicidal state and ready to go battle aliens to the death on another planet. I particularly like how the echos of the words represent a ghostly mocking of his determined claim that ‘sometimes he can forget’ his trauma.
This song was written 2018 on Hamilton Island, and most of it recorded in Haka Lodge Christchurch. Being my attempt to ape The Mountain Goats, I really tried to evoke the Jon Wurster-Peter Hughes drums and bass combo in this one, and of course the 3+3+2 rhythm is on display most prominently here. It really was an attempt to mimic the songs ‘Heretic Pride’ or ‘Sax Rohmer #1.’ The outro also draws some stylistic inspiration from ‘Immortality’ by Pearl Jam.
Track 2 – Song For Noodle Girl (On The Inside)
This song is about the relationship between things you do on the outside and the way you feel on the inside. In the lyrics, the narrator is using external fun things to make them feel happy. But my personal experience has been the total opposite: only once you’ve decided to be a happy person on the inside can you ever actually enjoy your external world. I’m proud of how the placement of minor chords under certain lines undercuts the confident proclamations of being alright, in certain places: making a liar out of the voice. On another level, though, it’s simply a sweet little lullaby song for a friend from Hamilton Island.
Some aesthetic inspirations are from U2 or Coldplay; this was the era of me discovering the Mylo Xyloto record. Indeed, in my project file the guitar part is labelled “Johnny Buckland Guitar Solo” so that I would know exactly what I was doing there.
Track 3 – Waiting For You After (Covid Anthem)
No prizes here for guessing. With the world going to hell in a hand basket, I thought I might as well cash in on writing the song the world would sing to sum up the experience. I am not alone in this, and thanks to my procrastination, I am not the first musician to get there. But I thought a super-earnest and chilled/rocking track would be a good idea.
This track is actually the odd one out from the formal limitations. Firstly it’s in the key of G, not A. It is of course the most common chord progression in all popular music, but that kind of mainstream salubriousness was what I wanted for this. Other stylistic inspirations come from ‘Where’d U Go’ by Fort Minor for the verses and choruses, and ‘Rolling Waves’ by The Naked and Famous for the bridge.
Big thanks to Sophie for having a go at being the vocalist on this one. I ended up singing it myself with mixed results, but your nudging along was super appreciated.
Track 4 – Here & Now
This song was written in a wonderful ten minute stream of consciousness, one of those beautiful creative moments that tortured artists wish would happen more often. I have used barely any chords (certainly still within The Mountain Goats paradigm, but perhaps more The Sunset Tree era) and I adore how the words ride up and down the chord changes perfectly.
Lyrically I drew on several difficult experiences related to losing touch with a friend taken by alcoholism, and being ambushed by anxious and fearful thinking, with the refrain of course coming from the book Way Of The Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. You are always here. It is always now. Peace is alive in the present.
Stylistic inspiration for this song was ‘Wild Sage’ by The Mountain Goats. I really tried to let the simple strumming of the ukulele carry the whole song along.
This one is for Julia. Three years, and I’m still writing songs about you.
Track 5 – Song For Paul Sheldon (There’s No Way)
Ever since I heard Hank Green’s album So Jokes I have been interested in putting talking into songs on albums (particularly the ones that aren’t going to be singles, and are buried as gifts for the superfans). I did this on The Price of Crayfish and enjoyed doing it again here, in a much more informal chatty/manic kind of way.
This song was the last one written for this project. I aimed to write an exactly-three-minute pop song with three chords. It is of course in the key of A. The rhythm section work is basic but heavy-pumping and fun. All of it from my iPad, but composed again with Jon Wurster and Peter Hughes from The Mountain Goats in mind. Geez, I have really got The Mountain Goats on the brain! It is also the first time I have ever tried to write vocal harmonies, and I won’t be winning any awards for complexity, but it unlocked certain doors for me as a writer.
The story is that of Paul Sheldon the main character from the book and film Misery. When I picked up the book I was immedaitely carried away for six hours while I finished it in one go. It was captivating, intense, panicky, fearful, and desolating, just like being addicted to alcohol and painkillers. I immediately had to bust out the ukulele and add my ten cents to the story.
In sum, while I had a great deal of trouble with the performance side of things, my songwriting on this EP has been very quick, and once I get the song figured out I very seldom made any changes at all from my initial burst. This is very gratifying and tells me that I have been doing a good amount of learning and growing and mastering of my craft, enough that I can choose to sit down and switch it on and let it work things out on its own, almost. I hope to keep growing in this manner and deliver more and more compelling music.
Thanks again for listening.
Thank you so much to:
- Sarah for the SG-1 enthusiasm!
- Aleisha – my always-inspiring noodle girl.
- Jon and Chris, someone’s gonna say!
- Nick for giving me the wonderful lodge space to work on some of this.
- Sophie for very kind feedback and having a go on track 3.
- Brenna at Beatbox studios in Christchurch for providing the comfortable isolation where I felt I could attempt to sing so loudly and stupidly.
And my eternal thanks must go to:
- Angela Shea, my high school piano teacher, who frequently described my playing as ‘like pulling teeth’ but stuck it out anyway in exchange for money.
- John Dodd for being encouraging and proud of my songwriting in front of the whole class.
- Jen Cattermole, for putting me front and centre in the ukulele orchestra and making singing non-optional.
- Craig and Tim for the rock and roll. I salute you.
- Lucy, for the spinning.
- Mike, Chester, Brad, Joe, Dave, and Rob for teaching me everything I know about producing records.
- JD, for looking at the void and seldom blinking.