Songwriter

Andy White Buy Now
Year: 2009
Label: ALT Recordings/Floating World

Info

Recorded in Vancouver,  includes ‘If You Want It’, ‘Turn Up The Temperature On The Machine Of Love’ and ‘Twelve String Man’; and features Allison Russell on vocals and Rad Lorkovic, keyboards.

Songwriter is also available as part of Andy’s Studio Albums 1986–2016 twelve-album box set, available through our web store.

Tracklisting

  1. The Valley Of My Heart
  2. If You Want It
  3. I Believe
  4. Turn Up The Temperature On The Machine Of Love
  5. Candlestick Park
  6. When You Gonna Come
  7. First And Discovery
  8. Start All Over Again
  9. Why Don’t You Stay
  10. Faithful Heart
  11. Kathleen
  12. When I Come Back
  13. Now It’s Over
  14. Twelve String Man


Songwriter
is also available as part of Andy’s Studio Albums 1986–2016 twelve-album box set, available through our web store.

A message from Andy:

“hi everyone. I am sitting writing this in melbourne, about to get ready to go back on the road – or, rather, into an aeroplane headed for europe. to encounter once more the closing steel doors of ‘international departures’ and go back on tour. the new album booklet is sitting on my desk, the CD playing on the stereo. after spending a long time with it in my head, I’ve been driving round with it in the car for a while now, and would like to tell you something about the songs and recordings.

musicians spend a lot of time on the internet nowadays doing nothing more than this and that. socially connecting and organizing stuff. this kind of thing was uncool in years gone by (what did we do all day – stay in bed, drink or write?) but it’s just part of what you have to do now. however, one thing that does get lost sometimes is a focus on the songs themselves.
I wrote the new album songwriter over a number of years with a series of friends. I then took the songs and recorded them live in the studio.
I didn’t start off planning it that way but, looking back, this was the opposite approach to my previous album garageband – which was written in fourteen days, and then recorded all over the world over the period of about a year or so.

in short, there are many sites you’ll go to where you’ll hear about what’s going on – the tour, the video and so on, but here is where you can find out about the songs. perhaps I’ll be able to work out how to put them online, perhaps you’ll have to come to a show or buy the album to hear them (I am not quite sure right now). I never take it for granted that another album will ever come out, so I’m just happy it’s sitting in front of me right now, and playing loud on the stereo.

here are the stories of the individual songs. hope it’s interesting. I know they’ve stayed with me since the early days of writing the cycle which has gone to make songwriter, and hope they do the same for you.”

the valley of my heart
The first song should set the tone for the whole album, and leave you wanting to listen on. There’s a definite vibe going on here, and a string of images of separation and love, but nothing has been explained yet, it’s a starting point. Sean Sennett and I wrote the song over one repeated chord sequence, using a sequence of related images. I had never thought before of what to call the ‘dip’ in a kid’s drawing of a heart, although I have drawn thousands over the years. A valley is a comforting place as well as reminding me of Psalm 23.
I don’t think we knew how powerful a song this would turn into until we went in to demo it in a Brisbane studio run by an eccentric old-school engineer. Leon ran a chaotic ship of a studio, but had some great old equipment and was keenly aware of how the right atmosphere could make this good song great. He also told me I had ‘cyclists thighs’, but that’s another story.
Re-recording in Canada, I tried to retain the atmosphere of the original, and work on the building tension through atmosphere. Setting the mood with one acoustic guitar, and ending up with the band playing at full tilt – John’s drumming, which never goes into a ‘regular’ beat, Paul’s soaring pedal steel and aubergine of course (that’s my 12 string electric mandolin).

if you want it
Allison Russell and I were on tour in Spain together, playing exciting, eclectic, and wildly differing venues. A students’ union, a discotheque, a church – we even recorded a performance for national TV which I’d love to see some day. The tour was set up by my old mate Javier, whose tours inspired many poems in ‘The Music of What Happens’, and who brought me to the square where I saw the motorcycle tightrope riders – the setting for my song ‘The Colour of Love’.
Allison and I were based between Javier’s family house in the hills outside Madrid, and a city centre hotel in the transvestites’ quarter, where prostitutes do daily battle with tourists trying to find internet cafes, Brazilian street performers, and itinerant musicians.
I brought the chorus and a chord sequence, to one writing session in Javier’s house. To write a song with both verse and chorus melody fitting over the same chord sequence is really the Holy Grail of songwriting. Listen to ‘Gloria’, ‘La Bamba’ or ‘Bittersweet Symphony’. It also means you can teach the song to the band in less than a minute. In ‘If You Want It’ I get close (I couldn’t resist putting in a middle eight). The idea or message of the song was simple but I wanted there to be as many words crammed into five minutes as possible – there was so much to say and not much time to say it. Allison ran with the idea, coming up fast with the verse melody and lots of lines which had us firing off each other very quickly, eventually working hard on the detail of each verse.
The Teenager must have been in his dinosaur phase at the time of writing – how else could I have been precisely known the length of the dinosaur’s time on earth? Actually, I feel guilty every time I sing it, since it’s more like 65 million years. As with misquoting Shakespeare, someone’s always going to find you out when you start talking about dinosaurs.
This song is one of my favourites on the album, and I knew it would be right from the very first recording in Vancouver. The most important part of the sound of the song for me is the delay repeats which are the pulse of the song, and Alllison’s beautiful singing (the Teenager also likes how John goes onto the ride cymbal at the end). But the key is the lyric. This is the last long evening on the planet, and the clock’s ticking.

I believe
Whenever Stuart Crichton and I get together to write, we came up with at least a song a day – despite Stuart’s breaks to watch Australian soap opera. By the time we came up with ‘I Believe’ we had had experience writing together with ‘Tell Me Why’ and ‘Can’t Hold Back’, plus Stu had done a version of ‘In Groovy Kind Of Way’ which ended up simply as ‘Groovy’ on the soundtrack of a Kirsten Dunst film called ‘Bring It On’. She plays it while getting ready to go out to a cheerleaders’ gig. Who knows why, but we’re very happy she does.
‘I Believe’ is a pop song written verse/bridge/chorus, repeat the same thing, and then a breakdown verse/bridge which leads you to repeated final choruses. Magic! I can’t remember who got the title, but Stu sang it over and over and we both found the ‘answer’ lines. I scribbled verses as he put the structure for a demo down on tape.
Recording the song in Vancouver, John came up with a great drum beat – very unusual, not what anyone else would have played – and Paul’s slide Telecaster is great to listen to without the vocals. In fact, the instrumental version rocks! We took the tapes to Iowa as well as Real World, adding the soul vocals of the Diplomettes of Solid Sound to the mix.

turn up the temperature on the machine of love
It’s easy starting off with a dream of playing the guitar like Jimi Hendrix. Grabbing a Strat and knocking out ‘Voodoo Chile’. Just the fingers won’t do what you want them to do sometimes … that’s where the “doo doo doo dooooo …” vocal at the start of this song comes from. Well, we all can have a dream. I also had a chord riff. Stephen Fearing and I were writing in the shed at the bottom of his garden in Guelph, near Toronto. He’d just got another new electric guitar, of which I was – naturally – jealous. I think. An enormous white and gold machine, with shiny pick-ups and a red velvet-lined case. Like a six-stringed 50s Cadillac. We’d gone into the guitar store to buy a cable and a couple of plectrums.
Stephen wrote that guitar into history with the clanger of a riff he came up with. Sitting in that sweltering shed, bashing out songs is something we’ve done for the past six or seven years. If you change one thing in our routine we’ll come up with a whole new style of song – he’ll take the acoustic and me the electric for a change, or he’ll have a melody with no words, I will mishear something he says and suddenly we have the title for another song. We bash out a demo and I run for the airport. All that’s left is 6 months to and fro arguing by email about whether to write “to” or “in”, “but” or “and” in verse 2. Then getting together again and drinking a whole lot of Canadian microbrew beer and feeling good about each other again.
So, we had a riff but still needed a lyric – or at least a title. Luckily, I had the very thing we were looking for.
My friend Glenn Patterson has two beautiful daughters. Jessica was then four and a half years old, and something of a child genius. At the time she was a member of an all-girl group of imaginary friends called The Roses. Sadly, they have since split up, but not before she gave me the title for a song. Imagine a sweet wee four and a half year old Belfast/Cork accent saying:
“Andy what about calling a song, ‘Turn Up The Temperature On The Machine Of Love’?”
Recording in Vancouver was another blast. Paul detuned a 12 string electric and played it at the end “Like the slow spin cycle, man!” Rachel sang a rock girl backing vocal over my lead, and then when I got home with the recording, I nervously emailed Jessica’s Dad (note to Glenn – get used to being called ‘Jessica’s Dad’) to let her know about her song.
Just last month I delivered the finished album to Jessica. We put on the song and turned it up. Watching her blush and get excited and then talk about her latest creative adventures was as good as any playback session I have ever experienced. Music is magic, really.

candlestick park
At one of our Brisbane sessions, it was hotter than you can believe possible, and Sean and I were writing more songs. During a break, he threw a title into the ring, knowing that as a fellow Beatle fan, I would immediately know what he is talking about. The actual name of the venue for the Beatles’ last live concert is a mysterious one, and I wouldn’t have used it unless it drew a picture of its own, outside of the reference. But of course, the spirit of Abbey Road was soon moving amongst us.
With the title, I soon had the verse chord sequence, and then Sean gave me the first line – again, he has a knack of plucking phrases we know from the most bizarre sources – in this case, his car’s wing mirror. We both loved the “What happens when music dies” line. The “engineer” and the “map of the human heart” – again, it was all coming together quickly, and we rushed to the demo studio to record a rough version. This time I wore long trousers.
Recording this song in Vancouver the only difficult thing was to get the correct number of crashes in the verses and choruses. Greg played some awesome hammond, Rad was on piano and yet another amazing solo from Paul. There’s a bass lick somewhere during this solo I like – and a very simple Casio three note pattern which survived from the original demo. The idea was to keep it all sounding very simple. There’s nothing more than an enigmatic lyric and a spacey middle bit. But then that’s why we’re writing new songs all the time. To stop the music from dying.
Innit?

when you gonna come
The least grammatically correct title I have written since … err … ‘I Got A Number Off You’. Nothing like an incorrect to preposition to waken up the listener. Or, rather, sometimes a title or a lyric sounds better a bit off if it’s a little bit wrong.
I wrote this one with Allison in Atlin, BC. Way up in the north country, stuck in a hotel room waiting to play a benefit show for a festival.
I wanted to write a song like this for years. I remember sitting in a Glasgow top floor flat, in Oban Drive, looking out over a midnight world of black taxis, feeling like a punk and trying to write it Hank Williams style song with country chord changes.
A woman’s point of view is just one of the great things Allison brings to this established form (the structure is typical – chorus, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, middle eight, chorus, instrumental verse, verse, chorus, chorus. Looks more complicated than it really is).
This was one of the first songs we recorded in Vancouver, and come to think of it there may well be a version without drums and electric instruments. Someone told me last weekend it was the very first country song I’d ever recorded, but I disagreed. I always thought of ‘Reality Row’ as country – at least, it was meant to sound like a Northern Irish version of a country band playing ‘Lily, Rosemary …’ in a Clones night club, where the events I wrote about (really) took place.
Anyhow, you have to listen to Rad’s hammond playing during Allison’s beautifully sung middle section, and also the totally rocking piano solo in the middle eight of this song.
That benefit show? Raised a lot of money for the festival. Then they stopped answering emails.
As you might guess, I’d rather have this song than any email.

first and discovery
This song came from the same writing session as ‘When You Gonna Come’, and exists in a world of ice and snow. Here, Allison used the Keatsian technique of pathetic fallacy. The surroundings, the world of nature, mirror the feelings of the people in the song, and in turn you can feel nature imposing itself on the people. The chords are empty and open, reflecting the mood of the characters – I know a man calls this prosody, and I am not going to argue with him about it.
The title comes from an actual road sign. It’s where First Avenue and Discovery Street meet – a crossroads, and that’s where the people in the song are standing.
We’re reaching what would be the end of side one of the album, if it was an old-fashioned vinyl one, revolving on your turntable. As befits the end of side one, it should be a good enough song to make you turn over and listen to side two. And different enough from what has gone before to really want you to turn over, since you don’t know what could be coming next.
Recording ‘First And Discovery’ in Vancouver was the moment when John Raham and I connected in a production sense, and as a would-be team – he and I had been on the road together, but this was when I thought he could sense there was a really good album about to be made, and he was about to go the extra mile to make it happen. Like you have to do, every time. I had been looking for a drummer-engineer for a long time, since everything else apart from drums I can have a go at playing. I also loved the high-ceilinged room we recorded in, and the wildly varying quality of the cups of coffee available in the immediate vicinity of the studio. I made a three week study of these strange brews.
Rad added his ethereal piano and beautifully understated accordion in Real World. As a thought, check out Rad’s solo album title track ‘Clear and Cold’ and you’ll see how easily he moves in this world of single notes in an empty landscape. No one loves the snow as much as my piano playing friend. There are chords left out. There are missing parts in the structure, but after playing the song in a swelteringly crowded Melbourne bar and it bringing immediate hush, and then in front of a rained-on Scottish crowd of party-goers where it got the best applause of the evening, I think that if you can conjure up atmosphere with words and spaces, you’re half way there.
This song for me is like the opposite of “Last Day Of Summer’ (often I think of songs in pairs – like each other as in ‘Tuesday Apocalypse’ and ‘Pale Moonlight’ or opposites, as here.

start all over again
Some of the strands are beginning to come together. I wrote this song with Sean, again in Brisbane, and Allison and I changed the lyrics very slightly in Spain, before recording it in Vancouver.
In a break sometime in the middle of a three hour show in Brunswick Street Mall (the setting for the ‘Tell Me Why’ video,) I was sitting on my guitar case strumming chords and making up a story using only the barest of bones – leaving out as much as possible. Bringing the idea back to Sean’s house, we started to throw different phrases at the chord sequence. Implying a story rather than telling it – you can fill in the gaps. Once we got the chorus then the rest fell into place.
I brought the song to Vancouver and after putting down the rhythm track and a guide vocal, didn’t quite know where to go next. A harmonica and a repeated chorus later, and a chiming thing on aubergine finished it off.
Allison and I had just visited the modern art gallery in Madrid – and been knocked out by room after room of incredible paintings and sculpture. Not only Picasso, Dali and Miro, but hidden names from the 20th Century and masterpieces every time you turned your head or walked into a new room. I was so pleased to see a David Hockney amongst them all. He is one of my favourite painters, and I was tempted to call the song after him. Can you spot the Hockney picture in the album booklet?

why don’t you stay
This song starts off with Irish seagulls, and ends up with Australian ones. They describe the movement of the piece, though you can’t be sure which way the singer is moving. The answering ‘Why don’t you stay?’ question should really be sung by backing vocalists, but after Allison shadowed the lead vocal, there wasn’t room.
I remember thinking about this song in two places – one a cream coloured Lexus sports car, late for a show, speeding from Chicago airport to Burlington, Iowa. There was a big hold up, and I passed a wreck on the highway just outside of Burlington. Rad repeatedly phoned my number only to get an engaged tone (since I hadn’t recharged it yet with credit) hoping it wasn’t me in the twisted wreckage. That night I felt like I had survived something – without doing anything more than arriving late from the airport.
Just before that American tour I had played the Commonwealth Games music carnival in Melbourne, representing Northern Ireland. That’s the big stage in the sunshine – it was 37 degrees at the end of March.
Recording in Vancouver was exciting. Before the end section there was an even longer break, and once John kicked in with the full drum kit, there was only one way to go. Paul and Rad recorded great solos, and the chorus starts to work in a different way than in the first section of the song. The chorus grew from repeating the line “Why don’t you stay” at the end of a song called ‘Me, The Moon, My Car, And You.” I remember singing it for ages, tears in my eyes.
All I had to do was to find recordings of the right nationality of seagull – although as you know, birds of passage don’t carry passports.

faithful heart
Stephen and I wrote this song just after playing the Mariposa Folk Festival. After finishing our performances and workshops we got to lie down on the grass, on a warm July evening listening to Feist play a bizarre rock set. I remember looking up at the sunset sky, thinking how the moon looks so different in the northern hemisphere, and being surprised at the northern hemisphere stars – I don’t often feel like an Australian, but I did that evening.
As ever, the songwriting process with Stephen was meticulous in its attention to detail. You can be sure that every word of every verse was played over, discussed, argued about and decided upon with maximum care. Sometimes a phrase just sounds right, and you have to go with it, trusting in instinctive judgement – the “poetry of innocence” is like that. I like the way it really is “talking darkness into day” after the worried thoughts have been getting in the way. This describes the experience I go through in writing many of my songs. They can end up very joyful or positive, but many come from another place entirely.
Recording the song in Vancouver was a challenge, since the guitar chords are on the borderline of being too difficult for me to play. I tried to keep the whole thing as muted and empty sounding as possible. Soft drums, Paul’s aching pedal steel solo. Jacob came in to play piano on this song and hammond on a couple of the others – he’s a jazz guy from San Francisco, understated and cool.
For me this song is taking in breath before the uptempo wave which starts with the next track. The album has turned the corner with ‘Why Don’t You Stay’ and is heading into the home strait.

kathleen
I remember sitting on the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria (or was it the other way round?) and penning the first verse, but definitely finished it in Javier’s house outside Madrid. The title line in the chorus comes from an old song ‘Take Me Home Kathleen’ which has just about entered the language. I guess she’s standing for a time of innocence – until finding out that “there’s nowhere pure and clean”. The Strait must be the Georgia Strait which the ferry sailed over, and the presidential hopeful was one of the younger Kennedys, not Obama. Though I am fearful of course for the new president, he’s such a superstar.
The recording session went very quickly until Paul tried to perfect his already-perfect mandolin part. The end is incredibly tricky but in the end he managed not only to get it, but to slip in part of the Canadian national anthem without telling me. I didn’t spot it until I was told during the mix. Watch a Canadian’s face in the mandolin solo, is all I am saying.
Rad’s accordion is a standout here. Most of the parts he recorded in a session at Real World, overseen by John Leckie. What would happen was Rad would have a fantastic breakfast in the studio restaurant, where you might bump into Peter Gabriel making a cup of tea or the guy from the Blue Nile trying to find a bowl of cereal. Rad would then come down to the studio and practise some Bach for a while (he brought his own sheet music). Then we’d run the track at him and he’d do four or five takes, most of which were amazing and all completely different. John would then direct the engineer on how to skip from take to take, ending up with a master piano track including the best of all of them. Afternoon tea would be ready just as Rad finished the final take. As soon as the engineer stopped the tape, you’d hear the studio door closing, and all that was left of the piano player was a Bach piano concerto sitting on the piano.
After the session ended, the engineer invited Rad to play Peter’s personal grand piano. We were led out of the main studio complex and up towards another studio hidden amongst a mini-forest of organic bushes. The piano was bigger than the room it was standing in, it went on for miles. As well as normal white and black keys, it had an extra octave down at the bottom of the keyboard, with the colours reversed. This totally freaked me out. Imagine growing up in Belfast, the first time you see a green letter box in Ireland, it’s crazy – these moments never leave you.

when I come back
Coffee on the Rue Mouffetard. Fish and chips in Liverpool. I thought of this song up when on a tour which managed to take in both John Lennon’s childhood home, Notre Dame cathedral, and another trip to the polls, when I should have at least voted Green so I could have lost with a clear conscience.
I really would like to return to a time of innocence, of discovering something great for the first time, when it is fresh and new. I am happy for someone who has never seen ‘Fawlty Towers’. I envy you if you have never heard ‘Astral Weeks’, because it’s all ahead of you – just don’t leave it too late.
Recording this one took a couple of attempts – there’s another take with drums which didn’t quite get the atmosphere right. Once I got the tuning though (some kind of E), and the fretless bass, it fell into place. Later on, in Iowa, there was something about looking thorough the control room window, watching Rad put his soul, technique and expertise into playing the simplest organ part for this song, which made glad to be an artist. You need these moments – life on the road is tough a whole lot of the time.

now it’s over
The final track on most of my albums I always imagine to be the last I will ever record. This latest final song (I count ‘Twelve String Man’ as an extra) is the end of this album’s story. It’s joyful but there’s something very sad in its power.
We recorded this last, John and I working hard as a rhythm section, and Jacob adding big chords on the grand piano. The vocals went down immediately, as I recall, and the structure is still a thing of mystery to me – it’s all intuitive. The same goes for Paul’s cyclical electric guitar part, which I wish I could play.
I couldn’t end it like this, so here comes …

twelve string man
Don’t worry about the instrument – it’s all about the number of strings. That’s how you can tell the player!
The words of this song aren’t printed on the album sleeve because it’s better just hearing them. However, I’ve already been asked for them, so here goes.
I hope you’ve enjoy the whole album – I am still in that fragile period of time before it is officially released.
Also, talking to you on tour, it sounds like an album you might have liked me to have made years ago.

Lots of love and see you on the road.

Andy, September 09

twelve string man

I work twice as hard as
a man who’s only got six strings
I work twice as hard as
a man who’s only got six strings
I’m a twelve string man
don’t worry about those six string things

I met a mandolin man who said
“let’s get this one thing straight”
I met a mandolin man who said
“let’s get this one thing straight”
“I’m an eight string man
and andy don’t this thing just sound great”

better watch out for the girl on the banjo
though she only got five
better watch out for the girl on the banjo
though she only got five
when she hits you with that thing
man you’re never going to wake up alive

I grew up in a bombed out town
I only want to play bass
I grew up in a bombed out town
I only want to play bass
but I’m a twelve string man
can’t you tell by the lines on my face

I’m worth twice as much as
a man who’s only got six strings
I’m worth twice as much as
a man who’s only got six strings
I’m a twelve string man
don’t care about those six string things
I’m a twelve string man
don’t worry about those six string things
I’m a twelve string man
you can keep your six string things