Guthrie’s Guillotine – released 5/2/11Posted: February 7, 2011
1. Guthrie’s Guillotine…
2. There’s a Ghost in my Flat
3. Straight Up, No Challenge
4. … Quacks and Nostrums
Well, this was unexpected. I’d been working on “Straight Up, No Challenge” for a while, pouring time into an individual song when I should’ve been concentrating on larger projects, as is my wont. The closer I got to finishing it, the more I realised I’d like to get it out there instead of sitting on it until I’d gotten a lot of other stuff out of the way, so I removed “There’s a Ghost in my Flat” from another upcoming EP, wrote two new songs and there you have it. Guthrie’s Guillotine.
I like this. Truth be told, I’m more fond of Thanks for Playing because it had a stronger theme and I believe the songs were a little more polished, but this has a quality of its own, I think. The overarching theme is of Charles Claude Guthrie, pretentiously dubbed by myself as The Forgotten Prometheus, being represented as a Dr. Frankenstein figure. The work he did is almost unbelievable, but you can’t deny its spookiness.
Guthrie’s Guillotine… is played by a calliope, an instrument named for the epic muse of poetry and absurdly inconvenient to record. Thank god for modelled instruments. The organ that comes in halfway through was entitled “Antichrist Organ”, and had that Transylvanian feel I was looking for. I tried to stop myself from putting thunder and rain in there, but it was too obvious to resist. The melody at the end floated into my head while walking down Hillhead Street towards a philosophy tutorial a couple of years back. I made sure no-one was around, pressed record on my phone and hummed the tune. If you like it, I can take no credit for it – my subconscious will do what it wants, and occasionally indulging it requires no effort on my part.
There’s a Ghost in my Flat is fairly straightforward. It’s one of a small group of songs I’ve written the melody for just by singing it while I play the chords. It’s my understanding that this is how most people write songs, but I just can’t do it. Everything I write by singing is boring. I have to use a guitar, piano or digital sequencer to write what I think are interesting melodies. I think I find it easier when I can ‘see’ the notes. I don’t know if this is a good thing.
I also despise writing lyrics, because I hate pretending my emotions and experiences are important/interesting. I have to have a specific idea of what a song’s going to be about and a good lyrical hook before I bother. That being said, I’m quietly proud of the simple wordplay of “there’s a ghost in my flat, I’ve seen him flitting between the kitchen and the bathroom, with a vacant stare and messed up hair, he looks like he’s just seen a person.”
Straight Up No Challenge is an exercise in “how would a straightforward acoustic song sound if I made one slight change to each phrase”. I compose songs in a certain way, and as soon as I become aware of how much I’m relying on one method, I try to change it up. I don’t know if I always succeed. The title’s a reference to Straight No Chaser by Thelonius Monk, and that creepy guy from Louis Theroux who would reply to everything with “no challenge”. At 18, Craig and I thought this was fucking hilarious. The song’s about time, experience, how you’re just a smorgasbord of assembled incidents and was inspired by watching people take old-timey photographs with iPhones. Plus, it has three layered lead guitar parts. Wanktastic.
… Quacks and Nostrums was me trying to make an ambient piece, because I hear people making this shit on their laptops all the time and I think christ, it’s not difficult to have three or four chorused synths playing long notes with a ton of reverb on it. I got bored after about five minutes and composed a faux-hip-hop beat to spice things up. I found a public domain video on the dangers of alternative medicine from 1959 (to tie into the Guthrie mad scientist angle), chopped and lined it up and bingo bango, Reinhardt Django, there’s a closing track.
So that’s the story of Guthrie’s Guillotine. The cover is a public domain family photograph from 1907 featuring a strange kid with two dogs. Couldn’t have been happier to find something that fit into what I was doing so well. Enjoy.