Features

Track By Track: Ned Collette

Pere Ubu basslines, Eastern European cinema and songs about the end of the human race – NED COLLETTE walks us through his third album ‘Over The Stones, Under The Stars’.

?The Idealist?

I’ve got this series of songs developing about archetypal characters, and about how their single-mindedness can lead to their own demise. There’s also ?The Hedonist? and ?The Optimist?, but they didn’t make it onto the album. They’ll show up later, I’m sure. I guess it’s a way of splitting a whole character into their individual facets. This is basically someone sacrificing a relationship for their ideals, which is actually just their excuse for being selfish. You know, the way that some people’s ?beliefs? can cleverly mask the fact that they just can’t be fucked getting along with people. This character has perhaps spent a whole lot of time trying to preach truth to the detriment of his relations with others. In the end he knows the girl would be better off with someone nicer. I’m glad the album opens with [drummer] Joe [Talia’s] abstract percussion business, because he’s really good at it and it’s not always easy to integrate that side of his playing into my lyrically despotic songs.

?All The Signs?

The whole album wasn’t actually written in a library, contrary to misinterpretations of the press release. I just went to the library a bit when I was in Glasgow, but it was really overheated and I usually fell asleep. This was written in bed I think. I woke up early and watched a documentary about Roy Orbison online, and as you do, I thought, ?I shall now write a song in the style of Roy Orbison.? Of course, I can’t sing like Roy, but the feel and the chord structure did sort of end up along those lines. I like that it just goes round and round and the chorus structure is only slightly different to the verses.

It took [bassist] Ben [Bourke] a while to get his head around because of that deceptive simplicity – it just keeps rolling on with one off changes. Lyrically it starts off about the average state of universities these days – my girlfriend Anna actually came in and said that stuff at the start (she was studying in Glasgow) – but then it heads off into just an all-purpose rant really: ?Wasn’t everything better in the past??, that sort of thing. I pinched an idea from Milan Kundera in the third verse, but I made up for that by telling off the character who pinches the idea … naughty boy.

?Your Golden Heart?

This is the song Joel Hamilton likes. He mixed the album. ?Likes? is a bit of an understatement. For a while there he was writing to us every couple of days just to make sure we knew how MUCH he likes this song. He fucking LOVES the little sucker. So does Joe. I think it’s ?cause they’re the sound nerds and there’s some nice things going on – that big squished up piano all compressed to buggery, just like The Beatles did it. It’s the most ?studio-ish? track. Most of the album we tracked bass-drums-guitar-vocals live but this one we built up. I like it too but in certain moods I baulk at some of the lyrics. That bit about the flu was a bit lazy, but we had to record it and I had to get something to rhyme with ?news?. It’s all quite inspired by a Jonathan Franzen essay. His fiction doesn’t quite get me but the essays are good. It laments the loss of public life – how we (ie. middle class consumer types) have lost the knack for behaving well in public, and while everyone (in the States anyway) is always banging on about assaults on their privacy, it’s actually our conduct (or lack of conduct) towards each other in public that has really gone by the wayside. Everyone’s successfully partitioned off from everyone else in the new technocracy. Oh well. Go to a museum, he says – people still behave themselves there.

?Come Clean?

?Don’t tell me that if Paul McCartney had walked into Abbey Road with Pro Tools they wouldn’t have loved it. They would have eaten that shit for breakfast.?

I had a brief fling with all this stuff about Eastern Europe. Yeah, I watched The Lives Of Others* and read *Stasiland. While Black Cab managed to get a [whole album](/releases/2000400) out of that territory, I only managed to write a truly terrible song that sounded like Shellac-lite and which will never see the light of day. I also wrote one called ?Come & See? (after the Klimov film), which I think is OK but no one else does. Maybe Ben likes it. God bless Ben. Anyway, this song is kind of set maybe somewhere behind the old Iron Curtain and is about the West showing up with all their pre-fab everything, destroying the difficult but sturdy lives of simple people, leading to betrayal and murder and all that other juicy stuff. Musically we referenced ?Final Solution? by Pere Ubu when we were trying to work out what the bass should do. When we were mixing in New York, well, Joel runs the studio with Tony Maimone who played bass in Pere Ubu. One day he came in when we were mixing this track and said what a great bass sound it was. That was pretty cool. I don’t think he played bass on ?Final Solution?, but I still think it’s pretty freaky. That guy, by the way, is a fucking champ.

?Mr Day?

This is just about the end of the human race and how awesome that will be for everyone else.

?Aspect?

Another one about uncertainty and relationships and all that crap. Don’t listen to it. Just skip to the guitar solo. How fucking ECM is that guitar solo? Maybe now I’ll finally be included in the ?Past Alumni? section of the VCA brochure. If it’s still there. Ben plays and sings like an angel on this. He played most of the album upside down too – there was a right-handed bass at the studio which he liked more than his lefty. It only occurred to me later how crazy that is. Joe likes the line that goes, ?Early on the Tuesday before losing you forever I’m awake.? Don’t know why – it must ring some distant bell. The next line is not about masturbation, by the way.

?Why We Can Be Apart?

The oldest song on the album. We’ve been playing it for ages, in many different ways and many different keys. It’s scrubbed up OK here – we went for a gentler version than we do live. It just worked better that way in the studio. Ah, the studio, where the magic happens. The magic of tape. Actually we didn’t use tape – it’s too expensive and impractical and everything sounds too great on it. What a load of rubbish, of COURSE we used tape. That’s why everything sounds so GREAT, because of the tape. The warm, harmonious, honest TRUTH of tape. The bubbly, tapey, tape of tape. We didn’t use tape. Well we did a bit. Later. Two songs – see if you can pick them. We used some COMPUTERS too. We love that shit. Don’t tell me that if Paul McCartney had walked into Abbey Road with Pro Tools they wouldn’t have loved it. They would have eaten that shit for breakfast. Anyway this one has some nice words in it. And some I nicked off Townes Van Zandt (in tribute).

?Polly Angel?

Another from the Eastern Europe phase. Kinda inspired by a Czech film called A Case For The Young Hangman, which in turn was based on Gulliver’s travels. The imagery is inspired by a lot of ?60s European film really – a woman appears from nowhere and somehow saves a town from itself. How? With love of course, and some slight divinity. All you need is love, and some slight divinity.

?I Had A Love?

Speaking of love. I had a love. It’s just a chant really. The focus here has always been the playing, which I’m happy about on this track. All live and the best representation of what we do when we do it right live. Joe’s killer on this. Reminds me of Elvin Jones. He’s so tough. It’s lucky he’s behind me on stage because if I had to look at him I might get the horn.

?One Evening, In The Middle Of The Road…?

Well this song was really called ?Rome?, and it’s about a guy leaving his wife behind to travel to Rome. Yes, I watched Rome*. Ben does some beautiful singing in those choir bits. He’s very pastoral Ben. When he sings he even puts on a whispery English voice like Syd Barrett in ?See Emily Play?. If you listen to this song listen to where he sings, ?Take me towards the light? – that bit kills me. In a former life he might have been the farmer in *Withnail & I, or perhaps some sort of artistic duke. Ben and I have the same dreams of retiring to the English countryside and drinking ale all day at the pub. The big synth ending was Joel’s idea, and now we can’t reproduce it live. Boohoo. Well we might be able to work it out if someone can lend us an Eventide for a bit.

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Over The Stones, Under The Stars is out October 23 on Dot Dash.