Journalists writing about an album is all well and good. Doing interviews with bands, asking them wafty questions about the overall body of their album is alright too. But nothing really reveals what the songs are about like an artist giving you a track-by-track, director's commentary-like walk through their album.
1. 'Arming Eritrea'
I've attempted to explain what this song's about a couple of times now, and so I know that as much as I can fall about the language and chuck myself over a succession of inadequate metaphors, I really shouldn't try. Eritrea is as a country, just North of Ethiopia - a former Italian colony - but it's more of a deeply personal song than a political song. We wrote it and knew immediately that the rest of the album was just going to fall into place, so in that sense it's got the same role 'The Lord Hates A Coward' did on Curses. It's not the template of the record as such, that's too much of a fruity and convenient way to dress it up, but more the beginnings. It was an absolute piece of piss to write, the intro came together just before we went on an American tour last year supporting Against Me, and in our second or third rehearsal after we got back, the rest just fell into place. It's all just a little bit emotional... tying myself up trying to explain particular lines might embarrass me, so I won't do it!
2. 'Chin Music'
If people want to say this record evokes Mclusky Do Dallas, then this would be the evidence for the prosecution. A very straightforward, bass-driven song, a little guitar melody in the chorus and lots of regimented shouting and lyrics about women who love violence in men - of which there are more than will admit it. There's not a lot more to say about that song, other than that it works particularly well live - people tend to have a new lease of love for the song once they've seen it live.
3. 'The Hope That House Built'
The first, and massively, unspectacularly successful, single. It's the first song that was written for the record, and unlike most of our songs wasn't written at full volume in the rehearsal room. Because of the mechanics of our music, we can't really write on acoustic guitars and then bring them into the band for full chin-stroking deliberation and dissection. But me and Kelson [Matthias, bass] actually wrote that in my kitchen one day, as the cat looked on bemused from the corner. Lyrically it's pretty literal, really, there's no real images to tear apart. It's about lost causes, of which we feel we are one, it would be fair to say.
4. 'Throwing Bricks At Trains'
Even though it appears daft beyond all mortal comprehension, [it's a] very straightforward and literal story taken from when I was a child about two guys I knew who used to get drunk, climb on railway bridges and throw bricks at passing trains. They weren't called Reginald J. Trotsfield and The Fearsome Brown, I added those names in order to give the whole song more of an Oscar Wilde feel rather than a gritty Northern lyrical feel, which isn't really where I feel I prosper. Musically, it was started in the rehearsal studio when we came up with the outro, with Kelson's twangy little bass line, and was sounding fantastic but then I tried those fruity little harmonies - which are rather inspired by my love of Queen - and it all fitted together. I read something on a forum the other day about how someone always skips that song... I think they're listening to music with a different pair of ears, that operate in a different fashion, to mine because I think that's undoubtedly one of the best songs on the record.
5. 'I Am Civil Service'
This was designed to fit at track five. I'm playing bass on that particular song, and we stood there in rehearsal, Kelson came up with the guitar riff, I played bass around it, put some particularly offensive lyrics over the top of the rhythm, which I guess you could say allude to the rather ambiguous experience of being a man in this modern epoch - which is something that does concern me... how to be a man, you really need to be 'a man', but you're also meant to be able to sense a sea-change and be sensitive at the drop of a hat. Myself, I prefer to throw such conventions to the curb. And obviously there are elements of the lyrics that are a pastiche of 'Blue Monday'. I thought [the song] was rather throwaway at first, but taken in the context of the album it works rather well, even if I do say so myself.
6. 'Land Of My Formers'
The title plays on the Welsh hymn 'Land Of Our Fathers' - it's a contortion of that. It's a song about heartbreak, but not in the traditional 'mope around in the debris of the relationship' sense. I like to think there are positive sides to events, and relationships, that can appear to be predominantly negative... that's what that song's about. Even at the scene of great heartbreak there was love in the first place, which I think is difficult to remember sometimes. You do tend to remember the bad times rather than the good, whereas I make an effort to remember the good times by writing them down in a special book. That bit's a joke... I do no such thing! Again, it was one of the first songs written for the record, I think the day after we wrote 'Arming Eritrea', and it gave us an idea of the sound of the record, how massive the whole thing was going to sound. I mean massive in the sense of it sounding as if it was recorded in a crumbling Roman amphitheatre, rather than it's going to sell a lot of records.
7. 'You Need Satan More Than He Needs You'
Again, I play bass on this song because playing the keyboard part and singing - singing is a rather generous term - proved too problematic. Lyrically it's about that age-old conundrum of the Satanist trying to combine the trappings of everyday life with the occult fascination that being a Satanist involves. Probably the most tongue-in-cheek song on the record. It has to be, really. I know it's Jack [Egglestone, drummer]'s favourite song on the record, and it's probably the most fun to play because it's just so farcical - especially the bit at the end [the repeated mantra "But does it fuck like a man?", presumably]. Even though it's tongue-in-cheek, it has a genuine ability to make people uncomfortable. I know that because I sing it and look people directly in the eye to watch their reaction. It's quite a beautiful thing, in a very wrong kind of way. I played that song to my mother - she's seen us play it live twice now - and she just pretended it wasn't happening, and told me about a day out she'd had with her sister. I believe that song is a one song argument to the people who think keyboards can't rock. They can, and there it is in that song. And if you don't like that song, you don't like our band. Goodbye!
8. 'That Damned Fly'
Yes, it's about Barfly venues. There are a lot of very nice people who work for Barfly venues, including some very close friends of mine, but I've had a few bad experiences in a row with Barfly venues, and I just felt compelled to write a song about it. I think bands of a certain level are scared about saying anything about an organisation like that, not because they're scared of a ninja style assassination, but because they feel they're cutting off one of their main avenues of playing shows. A young, or desperate band, doesn't want to be doing that. But it's a responsible thing, I think, to start a debate about it and say it's about time venues - not just the Barflys - started treating bands with respect, whether they've sold 8 or 800 tickets. Respect them as human beings, until they prove themselves worthy of less respect. And also, hold gigs in rooms that are acoustically designed to hold gigs rather than simply bars with PAs in them. That's a big thing. There's too many shows I've been to where, unless you knew the songs in intimate detail, you wouldn't be able to get anything out of the music. I think that's bullshit. The priority at a show should be how you hear the band... I don't think that should be much of a stretch. I've had many of those experiences at Barfly venues. And also, any venue we're playing, when it says 'No Carling' on our rider, that means no Carling. It doesn't mean some Carling, it doesn't mean warm Carling, and it doesn't mean no beer at all. No Carling PLEASE. Please tell people that. It was funny for me that that song comes straight after '... Satan ...', because it's such an innocuous, jaunty little number after such a ludicrous song. That's why for some people it might be the weakest song on the record, but for us it's a source of great amusement, that juxtaposition.
9. 'Stand By Your Manatee'
After we wrote that song we found out there's already a song called 'Stand By Your Manatee' by some American pop-punk band. So that shows the level of humour we're operating on. I believe it's Nerf Herder who had a song called that. But I can honestly claim I named the song ignorant of their hilarious conceit. It's just a story of a man whose heartbreak is based around the fact that this girl really can't let go of her poor upbringing. It's kind of a twisted love story, with a lot of random lines thrown in that just rhyme to make it a little more exciting. It's a very simple song played on a normal six string guitar; normally I play a four string guitar with a very stupid tuning... it's just really simple, and a pop song, basically, made explicitly for people to bounce around their rooms to, and probably betrays far too much time spent listening to The Kinks, I suppose. We purloined a bassline from a song on the live record called 'Distant Jabs At A Soul', and stuck it on the end here, where it makes far more sense. We've not given up on that song, but it just wasn't ready for this record, so we saved it - maybe for record number three. There weren't really many other songs left over [from the recording of Travels With Myself And Another] - there's one called 'Cloak The Dagger', which we end out set with, that everybody else is in love with, recorded, except for us. It doesn't work as well, it sounds generic, recorded - it sounds unbearably repetitive. Live, it's the best fun to play, so maybe it's one of those songs that never quite makes the leap, which isn't such a shame for us, as it's nice to have a song that you can bring on and play at the end that people won't recognise at first. But usually, ten minutes in once Kelson starts dancing with the crowd and I'm dismantling the drum kit, they're usually as excited with the song as anything we've recorded.
We should be playing this by the time the record comes out, along with 'Throwing Bricks At Trains' - they're not in the live set yet because they're going to take a little thought about how to achieve properly live. A combination of ridiculous lyrics about dinosaurs, juxtaposed with particular lines which mean a lot, messages to old lovers and friends. It's that kind of song, really. It kind of disarms you with its stupidity, and then attempts to give you something imbued with a little bit of... profundity. I've never said that word before! I hadn't said the word 'Harpsichord' until the other day as well... you don't realise until you move your mouth in a particular way, until you form the word, that you've never said it before. Anyway... the song itself was incredibly easy to write. I think Kelson played the bass riff and it all came together in about the time it takes to listen to! Some of those songs we put so much time and effort into, but 'Yin/Post-Yin' wasn't one. It's either one or the other with us: 'adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood' from the first record must have taken us a year-and-a-half to get right.
11. 'Drink Nike'
A very straightforward song as far as we're concerned. A standard-tuned guitar, which isn't normally the way I like to play guitar - I find it dull and predictable. The other two guys love this song, and always try to get me to play it live but I'm not the biggest fan of it myself. I really love the recording of it, but when we play it live I don't feel as if it lives up to that. It doesn't have the tightness or nakedness of the recorded version... there's something just a little too straightforward about it. If you can't hear the lyrics, which I think are the strength of it, it begins to sound like a few other bands. I can imagine someone playing that in between some bigger or more corporate bands and it not sounding out of place. That's not to criticise the song, it still excites me to play it, but it's not my dead-set favourite - which is probably why it will go on to be the most successful song on the record! We used to play it more live, but since finishing the album but it sounds a little too ordinary to me in comparison to some of the other songs. It seems I'm virtually alone in that opinion, though, as a lot of people have told me it's their favourite song on the album. That's just my taste, though, and I don't like music in general.
12. 'Lapsed Catholics'
This was always going to be the last song on the record, even before the end was written. We just had a sense of 'This is the end of the record, now fuck off'. I recorded the intro on my own at home using a four-track, and that sat around for eight or nine months. It was always, as far as I was concerned, going to be the start of a great song. We tried countless ways of getting out of that intro into something else... we tried more versions of that than we tried of anything else, even 'You Need Satan More Than He Needs You', which we had a title for and then wrote the song around. We had seven different songs called that at one point. A coincidental number! Although, apparently, the Number Of The Beast isn't 666. It is, I believe, 611 - a mistranslation from ancient Hebrew. That might have come from an ancient text I was reading, or QI... you decide. An interesting little aside. Eventually, then, with 'Lapsed Catholics' Kelson started playing the melody on an electric guitar and I played the bassline underneath it, and the outro was written in three or four minutes. Musically it was very, very quick... lyrically, it was a case of working out what I wanted to say and then writing it. When inspiration comes, it's a question of letting all the ideas come at once. The thing with being creative is that you don't always have your A game, it's all about being patient, and when it does happen to take full advantage of it. And with 'Lapsed Catholics' there was a lot of waiting around, but then when it did happen it was self-evidently great, I think. For me, starting with 'Arming Eritrea' and ending on 'Lapsed Catholics' bookends the album perfectly.
Travels With Myself And Another is released on June 22nd via 4AD. We gave it 9/10 over here.