Track By Track: Pikelet
While best known for her loop-pedal wizardry, EVELYN MORRIS’ second album under the Pikelet nom de plume, 'Stem', is very much a full-band affair. Here, she illuminates the stories behind its 12 tracks.
A song about a man who wished to be made out of pure light. Upon realising that it’s impossible, he sets himself on fire in an attempt to at least be released in the light of the flames that engulf his body. It’s a comment on that feeling that (I think) most humans get from time to time that usually becomes distilled and diminished down to feeble questions such as, “What does it all mean?”, or, “What the heck is the point?” It’s also an attempt to lighten that feeling within myself – hence the jaunty feel of the song, and somewhat silly theme.
It was originally called ‘Oh To Be Light’, which is the main chorus lyric, but at some point one of my bandmates thought I’d said his name was Toby Light, and it stuck. [Producer/engineer] Casey [Rice] added some sweet percussion ideas to the end of this song that brought some organisation to its somewhat chaotic climax.
[Bassist] Tarquin [Manek] and I wrote ‘Smithereens’ together one afternoon in a house in Brunswick. I was underwhelmed by it at first, but thought that it had promise when Tarquin played the bass line. It was initially just a loop of tambourine and floor tom, some keys and some bass. When Shags added synth and Matt [Cox] added drums it made a lot more sense. Lyrics formed and it became one of my favourite Pikelet songs. I quite enjoy playing the intro of this song especially. The tambourine part on the loop references a Spiritualized song.
The lyrics have so far been unanimously misinterpreted as being about a relationship or relationships in general. Which is totally fine, however, it’s more about savoring “this year” – even if it happens to be a never-endingly shitty one. It was written as a surrender song to things that I can’t control. There is also a line in there that was directed at the imaginary audience that would eventually sit in front of the song that goes, “You’re in front of me, we are here to be, happier.” This was initially an attempt to connect with people through the song, but has evolved into more of an abandonment of my previous concern as to whether people were enjoying the music or not.
I always enjoyed it when back in the day songs were written with veiled meanings and intentions. This is my attempt at one of those. The only part in it that is literal is in reference to the first time I ever went to Perth to play a Pikelet show. I had this lovely moment on a friend’s balcony looking out across a purple sunset sky. The moon was sitting on the horizon, gigantic, and a dirty shade of yellow. It was lovely, so I added a bridge to this song to include that moment in the hope that I wouldn’t ever forget it.
Ahem. It’s uh … also about sex. I’ll let you run with that theme on your own.
A loosely structured improvisation that, conceptually, represents the dramas that have gone on in some friendships of mine in the past. Hence it is used as an intro to ‘Swooping Buzzards’, which is mostly about reuniting with old friends and finding that most of that old drama has dissipated.
‘Swooping Buzzards’ became one hundred times better as soon as Tarquin, Shags and Matt started adding their stuff to it. The bass line is awesome. It really reminds me of that song, ‘Love Is In The Air’, although I’m almost certain that wasn’t Tarquin’s intention. (I hope that whoever owns the rights to that song doesn’t decide to sue us now.)
I wrote this song while living in Brunswick, where I would often bump into old friends whom I hadn’t seen since adolescence. Whenever we had our brief catch-up conversations I would walk away feeling completely overjoyed to be seeing them regularly again. I have a hard time letting go of old friendships.
The title refers to some bees in my backyard that inexplicably fell to the ground one day and started flying again at dusk. That was what I chose to use for a metaphor for my friendships. Shags decided to call it ‘Swooping Buzzards’. I think he was referring to the bees. Basically we just thought it sounded good as a title. In a humorous way, I think.
When I attended university for six months to (unsuccessfully) attempt a bachelor of music, the class that I most enjoyed was the Gamelan orchestra class. This song was constructed out of the very vague memories I have of what I learnt in that class. I cannot claim to be an expert on Gamelan traditions or themes, so don’t listen and google Gamelan and then come back telling me I got the intervals wrong or some jive.
I like the fact that the recorded version sounds very different to the live version. Casey had an idea to use several layers of lead vocal, and it ended up improving the song dramatically.
"I cannot claim to be an expert on Gamelan traditions or themes, so don’t listen and google Gamelan and then come back telling me I got the intervals wrong or some jive."
Originally this song was entitled ‘Red Leather’, however, my friend Janita wrote a Denim Owl song using the same name. Since I like her so much and neither of us were really sure who wrote which first, I changed it to ‘Red Pleather’. Her boyfriend Alex recently made a film clip for this song that totally rules. They both play in Aleks and The Ramps, as does Joe Foley who was an original Pikelet band member. (I wrote about him extensively in my European tour diary).
The little bit of piano at the start (that continues on from the end of the previous song) was from a recording of some improvisations I did at my mum’s house when writing ideas for this album. I was happy we could include some of the writing process in the end result – even if just as a link.
This is another song that only works with the full band. Shags’ synth line was the main reason I decided to continue working on this song in the first place.
Shags and I met when we both played in the Ariel Pink band. I was very impressed with his musicality and general air of awesomeness. We had our very first rehearsal together at his house just the two of us. The way I saw it, I was trying to convince him to play music with me permanently, and also to test the waters and see whether we should start another band together or whether he would “get” Pikelet. When I played him this song he came up with the synth line almost immediately and it was so perfect. It was a very memorable moment.
In production, Casey added a “randomiser” or some such thing to the guitar. It takes tiny snippets of whatever you put into it and repeats them randomly. This filled out the nylon string guitar part a great deal.
I often find it frustrating that there are so many songs with lyrics in them. So I wanted to attempt to convey a feeling or a story without using any words. I decided on a story for this song, which is about a hunter that chases prey on foot with no weapons (something I saw on a documentary once). The hunter keeps chasing the large animal until the animal gets exhausted and collapses. This can take several days, as the hunter now and then needs to rest a little bit too. Once the animal collapses with complete exhaustion the hunter then puts it out of its misery, spends some time with the animal mourning and thanking the animal for feeding his family and for the challenge of the hunt, then performs some kind of “freeing of the spirit” ceremony.
Rather than trying to explain this story with words I decided I would keep the images of this chase in my mind and write parts to represent each section of the chase and kill. Or at least, what I imagined that kind of chase to be like, for both the animal and the hunter.
I tend to feel slightly dorky when playing or listening to ‘Allergies’. I wrote the lyrics while in New Zealand. I was trying to figure some stuff out that I was confused by. I realised that I had patterns in my thinking that were difficult to avoid. So once again this song has a light and jaunty feel in order to help me feel less heavy about these tendencies. I often have experiences when traveling that change me, and this trip to New Zealand was loaded with those experiences. I didn’t want to leave. Matt has an incredibly intricate drum part in the verses of this song that in hindsight I wish I had made more of a feature of. I also think Tarquin’s bass line is amazing.
One day, during a rehearsal with the band, I had a little intense freak-out. (They might tell you that this was a regular occurrence in the earlier days of the Pikelet band. I might not be able to deny this fact if I’m being honest.)
This particular day, I was attempting to re-introduce the accordion to Pikelet. It’s not my strongest instrument, so eventually I became quite frustrated with my abilities and my ideas and felt as though all of them were staring at me waiting for me to do something good. They suggested that we just jam for a bit and not try any grand ideas. We did, and ‘Weakest Link’ was written in that jam. The lyrics are about that feeling of inferiority I had while rehearsing with musicians whom I respect and admire so much. Sometimes I felt like the weakest link in the band.
Still, I hated the song and didn’t want to record it. The boys wouldn’t allow that, because they really liked it, so Casey and I spent some time trying to pinpoint exactly what was irritating me about it. As it turns out, it was just a little bit too masculine-sounding with the original bass and drum parts. (It reminded me of Rage Against The Machine with less distortion). So we re-wrote the drums and bass in the studio and added some backing vocals in overdubs.
This was previously recorded at home on piano and released on a CD-R that I sold at shows for a while. It was such a silly song I decided to get the band to play some stuff on it. Everything they added to it was amazing to my ears so I wanted to record it again more hi-fi. At the end there is a snippet of the piano part from the original recording.
‘Elbow Equals Bend’
Tarquin and I are the only two playing on this song. He wrote a bass part while we were in the studio and then overdubbed the clicking and whistling parts.
I originally wrote the lyrics about religion, and how it seems so strange to me that people killed each other over beliefs such as these. This as a concept always made me feel extremely uneasy around all people. Hence the line, “Don’t take off your coat”, because we first need to assess whether or not your ideas are similar enough to ours for you to be welcome in our home.
I love protest music and wanted to have a go at it myself. However, I think it’s necessary to be subtle in your delivery because the danger of sounding preachy or judgmental is greater than it used to be. Rather than tackling the gigantic issue of religion, I decided to sing about the issue of differences in taste being a tool for distancing yourself from others, or another from you. Seeing as the song never really states what issue I’m referring to, I can make it about whatever I like – and so can you. How’s that for “Naughties” vagueness?
Stem is out now through Chapter Music/Love+Mercy.