Through Intermittent Rain

Well, the day has finally come and the first Martin Austwick album, Through Intermittent Rain, is out on Bandcamp, iTunes, Spotify, and all your favourite locations:

These are songs written for events, gigs, nights and soforth over the last couple of years, tidied up and edited and re-recorded and wrangled to the point where they behave themselves and don’t dribble at the dinner table. A couple of them are interlopers or distant cousins who turned up and I couldn’t not feed. I’m not a big believer in explaining songs, but there are some weird themes that I didn’t entirely pick myself, so here are the stories behind these eleven tracks.

1. The Man Who Could not Read Minds was originally written for my last Sound of The Ladies album, The City of Gold and Lead, in 2012, but it was written in a fender jaguary-under the bridge style, which I don’t think I’ve ever done very convincingly, so it didn’t make the album. I later repurposed it for Bright Club: Super in Bristol, because it’s sort of about a (non) super power. It was inspired by seeing a pretty girl reading Atlas Shrugged and thinking “Jesus Christ, that’s a terrible book”. Actually, when I was in Bristol for the gig I was wearing my Atlas Shrugged t-shirt and a waiter in a cafe started asking me about it and I had to say “don’t read it, it’s fucking terrible”. Luckily he didn’t call me on the fact I was wearing the t-shirt of a book I hated or he wouldn’t have got a tip.

2. The Look Upon Your Face was written for Robin Ince’s 9 Lessons and Carols for Godless People in 2012. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to write a hymn (well, a song of praise) for atheists to sing, and I thought of the scene in Watchmen where Dr Bluedick talks about the unlikelihood of two human beings getting together, falling in love, and producing the particular person he’s talking to. That night, Alan Moore was performing, which was weird, and I was too shy to talk to him.

3. City of Dread was written for the new gig Steve Cross was running in 2011 and performed at the first ever Science Showoff. I was getting a bit bored of writing science songs, but it was around the time of the faster-than-light neutrino excitement, and I remembered the factoid about a neutrino being so weakly interacting (only weakly interacting, science fans) that it could travel through a light year of lead, so I personified it and started imagining this parallel world where you could move through a city of lead and you’d be seeing it through a veil, with a bunch of scientists hoping to catch you. I was in Vienna and going to lots of pathological exhibitions which always make me ponder my own mortality, and ended up with this mixture of neutrinos, Vienna and my brain.

4. When the nuclear fire rains down was written for Museums Showoff  last year. Rachel Souhami, who runs the gig, asked me to do it, not knowing that I know toss all about musuems. I wasn’t even sure what the point of a museum is, but on reflection I decided that education and the preservation of culture and knowledge were quite important elements of that, so I started thinking about how we could rebuild society from musuems in the event of an apocalypse of some kind. My album The City of Gold and Lead had just been deposited in the British Library and so I thought maybe that might be a good way to restart civilisation, and then I remembered all the weird musuems I’d been to in the US and how they could possibly be useful. There was a verse about the Black Country Living Museum but it got cut for concision.

5. Paler Shadow (Instrumental) was one of the first songs I wrote post-City of Gold and Lead, I really liked the bassline but the lyrics we never quite right. So I ditched them and added more guitar parts.

6. I wanna be a horse was written for a big Science Showoff at the Bloomsbury Theatre. I’d been twitter friends with a man called James Coglan, whose twitter bio was “I wanna be a horse” and, although he was a computer programmer, he seemed to spend all of his time railing against computer programming in a really incomprehensibly technical way. Like, sarcastic comments about monads and endofunctors and jokes written in javascript. I don’t know what any of these things mean. I came up with the character of a computer programmer who just wanted to be a horse and then ended up being a horse computer programmer and hating their life and dedicated it to James onstage. After that gig we met in real life for the first time. I’m not sure who it was weirder for. We are now good pals.

7. My Super Powers was written for Hayley Bennett nee Birch for the aforementioned Bright Club:Super in Bristol. It’s really me listing things I’m good at, with a reminder that most super powers are traumatic. I’ve realised in listening back to this that I don’t really fancy Holly Hunter any more, which is probably for the best. In writing it I was strongly reminded that my super powers overlap a great deal with the confession list of the child in In Bruges: being sad, being moody, being bad at maths.

8. You’re no more than a mile from the beach was written for Alice Bell and Steve Cross when they ran Green Showoff last year. That franchise kept me in songwriting commissions. People burn a lot of oil that we could make useful things (paints, plastics, and so on) from, and I was thinking about equivalent levels of stupidity – how we could take useful stuff and use it for the dumbest things. I came up with smashing up computers to make beaches from the silicon, using fibre optics to make a giant martini glass, making fake trees from books, and clouds from ground up pharmaceuticals. I cannot remember the chords to this song and believe me, I’ve tried. I added a slide bass very late because I like the band Morphine and I like fret noise.

9. Shasta Daisy was written for Vera Chok via Michael Caines for the Brautigan Book Club in 2013, a celebration of the work of author Richard Brautigan. This song was based on Shasta Daisy from Please Plant This Book, but I remember being told that for copyright and artistic reasons I couldn’t use any of the text directly, so I had to create something around the feel of this text. I chose Shasta Daisy because I’ve been to Mount Shasta, and it’s really beautiful; also Pavement namecheck Shasta in Unfair from Crooked Rain and so it sounds like a magical place just because of that. It’s another song where sea levels have risen and Mount Shasta is an island, the town of Shasta converted into a small fishing community. I didn’t like it much when I wrote it but I have a soft spot for it now.

10. Methuselah was written for International Fascination of Plants Day – my friend Anne Osterrieder is a biologist and when she found out that this fell on my birthday, she requested a song. I agreed to do it months in advance and then realised a few days before the song was due that I don’t find plants very fascinating. Then I realised that there were trees that were 5,000 years old, and when they were saplings, people were doing stuff like building Stonehenge. There’s a lot of facty stuff in this song, a lot of playing with timescales and comparing it to the lifetime of Methuselah and Pando, but the last verse always makes me cry, about there being things which are longer lasting than even the trees, in whose lifetime we are a blink of an eye. I really like the guitars, and it’s a really hard song to do live, because so much is in the arrangement. One day I will have my own guitar orchestra.

11. Sandkicker was written for the last album, The City of Gold and Lead, but my wife convinced me to leave it off because she hates whistling. I really like whistling. The bassline is me trying to be David Wm. Sims from The Jesus Lizard.

And that’s all the songs. I hope you enjoy listening to them as much as I’ve enjoyed agonising over them, tweaking arrangements, throwing away arrangements, and scrapping the lyrics altogether. I quite enjoyed my period of being a songwriter on commission. Well, for free. But anyway, please do download the album, and if you like it, tell everyone about it. As well as pay what you want on Bandcamp it’s on iTunes and Spotify and all the rest. Thank you for listening.

Podcast 76 – What do you think of when you don’t think of me?

Here’s the latest Sound of The Ladies podcast, featuring the brand new song “What do you think of when you don’t think of me?”. It’s a pictures and feelings song, so not much to say really. It was slightly influenced by End of Radio by Shellac, if that helps you to feel more kindly towards it…


New Years Resolutions 2014

It’s funny to look back on my New Years Resolutions from two years ago; I managed to accomplish most of the things on the list, just in an unrealistically slack timescale, as in, some of those things I only managed to accomplish this year. Maybe all new years resolutions, and resolutions in general, are infused with this tension between wanting to get shit done and wanting to create realistic expectations of what you can actually get done – going a little easy on yourself – or maybe that’s just me. I often reflect that most of the stuff I do isn’t very impressive for a man of my age and experience, but if I was doing things to be impressive that would be a bit adolescent for a man of my age and experience, so let’s not worry too much about that. So, what have we learnt?

1) Reading is fun

2013 was the year when I finally started reading again. And it didn’t even take Ayn Rand to defeat Karl Popper.  I think, honestly, I’m reading more than I ever have – fiction and nonfiction books, newspaper articles, academic papers, the lot. Of course, working at a university means I’m always the least well-read person in the room, but I’m not reading to be the most well-read person in the room; I’m not an obsessive or a completist, and 2014 will be a year of finding more things I enjoy reading, rather than just retraining myself to read at all.

2) Doing stuff is fun

In support of 2012’s The City of Gold and Lead I learned to papercut, greenscreen and edit for the 10,000 Letters of Love video. I’m not sure what to do with this next year. I’d love to do something in 3D, maybe using a bit of red/green action. I often learn stuff for the experience of learning, but normal people generally reuse skills they have rather than just tossing them to one side, and normal people often have the right idea.

3) Doing stuff with other people is fun

I’ve spent a lot of time as a songwriter just trying to work out if I can do anything interesting, and to make sure it’s me doing it I’ve generally excluded others from the process. That way I have a scientific control. My peculiar and particular sensibilities when it comes to writing, lyrics, arrangement and production aside, working with other people is getting easier and funner. The Existential Meltdown album, created with Marc Burrows, is something I was really proud of, and producing Spirit of Play’s Take Shelter EP was fun cos I got to hang out with Spirit of Play who are beautiful people and lovely musicians and great company. Collaborating on podcasts and various other work things has been tremendously rewarding this year. And it’s nice to do work where you get to hang out with people you like and love.

So, looking into 2014…

I still need to write more, and gig more

I’ve got an album of songs I wrote from late 2011-2013, but it’s just a fun collection really; I’d like a bigger project to get my teeth into, I’d like a sense of movement. I’d like to develop what happens on stage and in the studio and in the writing process and when songs are done. And I do need to play more gigs, because when I don’t I miss it and I’m rusty as hell when I do play.

I would like to be more brave

I’m often scared of things that aren’t frightening, this is called being neurotic. My motivation behind doing things has tended to be “to do things” rather than “get money or fame for doing them” – but there’s still a lot of stuff I do that I think people might like that I think not enough people are aware of. I don’t want to go into 2014 with a resolution to “do more marketing”, but I do want to connect with people and learn from it and get better and get some things back from the various projects I do that maybe I don’t always get at the moment. The DIY approach I tend to take is “I will do stuff and perhaps it will find an audience”, but it don’t think it takes a huge ego to think that this approach might undersell the hard work I put into some of the things I do. And doing things in a vacuum has artistic value, but can get a bit solipsistic. Self-expression is often over-emphasised at the expense of communication.

Doing nothing has value

Not every moment is productive. There are times for pushing through the pain barrier and getting blogposts and songs written, even if they’re not good, because doing things means practising and practising means getting better; there are times for drawing silly pictures and putting pictures of eggs on social media and making stories from the streets and buildings, because there’s no greater barrier to speaking than your own resounding silence, however unpleasant your voice might sound when it chatters; there are times for making lemon meringue pie or roaming around Crystal Palace with a camera photographing urban foxes or reading a book or doing the washing up, because at least it’s doing something; there are times for seeing friends and having a life; and there are times for just sitting in bed doing nothing, because brains need some idle cycles. I’m particularly good at choosing the exact wrong task for my current mood and worrying about not doing one of the others. This is called being neurotic.

These are pretty broad resolutions; but I feel positive about 2014. I think it’s going to be a year of experiments: failed experiments and partially successful ones. I’m sort of relishing this mixture of minor triumph and minorer failure – even if I knew what unmitigated success looked like, I doubt I’d find it all that interesting anyway.

Podcast #71 – Couldn’t you have picked a better day?

Happy New Year! The first podcast of 2014 is a new song I wrote for Tragic Xmas last month, recorded here with superbass and falsetto backing for your delectation. The superbass is a Gretsch Electromatic Baritone guitar I’ve strung in a variety of fun ways; this week it’s E(from a bass guitar)-E-A-D-G-E; like a guitar with an additional low E. It makes it sound gloriously high church. Falsetto is a sound men make when they want to sound like boys.

For more background on the song, and a live version of it and “100 years of solitude”, why not check out Stand Up Tragedy’s latest podcast? I’m on it, like a bonnet.

Podcast #69 – Enemy of Promise

The Sound of The Ladies podcast is back a little late this month, featuring Enemy of Promise,  written for the Existential Meltdown project. As aforementioned, any proceeds from this album will go to the Arts Emergency charity. Enemy of Promise is about an entity that can take away hope, crush dreams and generally be a massive overbearing pain in the arse. It’s written in such a way that the enemy of promise is personified, but it could be sickness or sadness or institutionalised callousness or anything you like. Personifying it least means you’ve got a friend in despair, or at least a frenemy. The chorus was trying to think about ways of expressing the idea of someone who delights in your downfall and their part in it, in finding your moments of failure and submission and making those emblematic. The verses are more stream of consciousness, not necessarily responding to the choruses, just catching a few words that rattled around my head and got stuck in the fleshy bits.

If you’d like to listen to the podcast on iTunes, you can get it here.


Podcast #68 – One Hundred Years of Solitude

The latest Sound of The Ladies podcast is out now, featuring One Hundred Years of Solitude, the magic realist influenced tune that I wrote for the Existential Meltdown album. I’d once again like to warmly encourage you to download the album, and if you enjoy it, chuck us a few pounds, which will go to Arts Emergency. You can get the Sound of The Ladies podcast on iTunes if you’d like to listen for free every month…

Existential Meltdown

Many things I do start as a good idea and then spiral terrifyingly out of control. Thus it was for Existential Meltdown, a project Marc (from out of The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing) and I conceived of as a birthday present for a friend. We came up with the idea because we’re creative types and we actually did it because we’re fucking mental.

So it’s broadly inspired by our friend who’s a feminist and a socialist and hates Michael Gove, recast as a magic realist story of a young woman leaving her home to travel to London, finding love, heartbreak and friendship and railing furiously against injustice, sexism and stupidity. You’ll probably be able to figure out who wrote what.

I’d like it very much if you donated a little if you enjoy the album, as the money will go to Arts Emergency, a charity which offers new opportunities to people from disadvantaged backgrounds wanting to study arts subjects and make a career in the arts. Many of you will know that I’m a physicist by training, but I think studying or working in the arts gives people a bunch of valuable things to contribute to society that science degrees don’t. Like making life worth living, for example. The arts should not solely be a playground for rich kids, and Arts Emergency is a small step towards opening up these subjects to a broader range of people. Please give generously.