Leeds five-piece Autobahn released their long awaited follow-up to 2014's excellent debut Dissemble last Friday (3rd November). Recorded in their own studio in the suburb of Holbeck then mixed in New York by Ben Greenberg whose past credits include Amber Arcades and Beach Fossils, The Moral Crossing follows on from it's predecessor's dark post-punk leanings.
Here, singer and lyricist Craig Johnson gives DiS a track-by-track guide to the nine songs that make up The Moral Crossing.
Prologue / Obituary
We had this big intro and it always felt like a start to an album, so we built this into a song. It builds and builds until everything drops and all you can hear is the guitar riff. The song explodes into a snarl of vocals, driven guitars, and pounding drums. I love that raging guitar that cuts through before the last chorus, it knocks you out. 'Prologue' references the introduction section to the song. 'Obituary' is a play on the idea that my lyrics are a notice of death. They call out those who feel they are above others.
This song started with just the synth arpeggio, I had that with a melody for quite a long while. With that, I thought we should try and write a pop song. I remember me and Gavin (Cobb, guitar) spending some time trying to work out how to structure it, but found it hard. So we listened to ‘Club Tropicana’ on repeat for an hour or so and basically copied that. So thanks George. Once the structure was there it was a pretty fast process to get the drums and guitars in place. We then made it more our own, adding a noisy synth and pushing the mix hard to give it that driven feel. Lyrically it’s about telling someone to look forward because there is a future. No matter how bad a place you’re in now, things will always get better, well, unless you die.
The Moral Crossing
This was the first song we wrote for the record. It started with a loop I made, which you can hear throughout the song. At this point, we were looking to make an album that sounded quite machine-like and abrasive, but also had that sort of looped dance drums. We also wanted to steer clear of traditional song structures. So the drums and guitars all came from that idea and were pieced together quite quickly. It’s quite a long track, but it always felt like the right length; it nearly feels too short when you play it live. I remember this was the first song we tried to record. Because we’d built the studio ourselves and I was just learning how to record, we didn’t know if the recording would be any good. It was a long wait to hear back from Ben Greenberg who mixed the record, to confirm what we were doing sounded good and he could work with it in the mix. The strings were added later by a lovely string duo from Sheffield, I had to hum what I wanted, which seemed to work. I wanted them to play on the upcoming tour, but looks like they’re doing live shows with Liam Gallagher. What can you do, eh? The lyrics are about coming to a point where you’re asking yourself, should you take that risk? Or should you sit back? Should you carry on the way things are, or should you leave it there? For me, it questions all those sorts of things.
This is my favourite song that Ben mixed, the mix sounds incredible. It’s probably the song I’m most proud of on the album. This song was originally played on synth, with two guitar parts, bass, and those great drums. I ended up taking the sun and Gavin’s guitar out and we replaced it with that real melancholy string section. I’ve no idea how I managed to record those strings, but they sound great. For some reason, this track always had french vocals in it for me. I think the contrast of the spoken French word and the sombre sung words "Pain, out of control" in the chorus work so well.
It sounds like a couple of songs this, but me and Gavin thought this up quite a while back as one whole track. It was all written on guitar and we kept progressively adding section after section. I remember when we got to the second half of the song we got Liam (Hilton, drums) to play a drum loop we’d heard him play over the previous weeks. It’s such an uncomfortable drum loop and works really well with the song. The first half of the song is really about being low and how to support that. The second half really is about letting that feeling go, how to float high. Everything’s going to be alright.
This song was the only one that was completely reworked in the studio. It was originally a different song, but it wasn’t really doing anything for me. One night I asked Micky (Pedel, guitar) to do some horrible distorted white noise piece on his guitar, and we played it back. I accidentally soloed the drums and his guitars by themselves and it sounded incredible, nearly hypnotic. We built the rest of the song around that. There’s a football rattle in there somewhere, it was the hardest things I’ve had to record, try playing a perfectly consistent rattle for 20 plus seconds, nightmare. 'Execution/Rise' is a reference to being punished for one’s sins, but rising again!
This was written on the guitar, I remember playing these big delayed root notes while Gavin was playing the riff. Anyway, we ended up playing this for about 20 minutes, it’s really hypnotic. It’s a long song, but it was really easy to put together. Its all very simplistic, but works well. With all the music in place, it felt the track had real meaning and purpose. It felt to me like you were being reborn with that track, that it was a new beginning. So I used the word creation, and then related each word following that together. We often use melody to offset the music, but with this, it just works together with the song.
This is quite an old track, I think it’s the only standard structured song on the album. I wrote it all on the guitar, with melody and lyrics. The other parts came quite naturally. I think the drums were the only hard part, we wanted to make sure they did something different, like the rest of the record. It would have been quite easy to do a straight sort of drum take. We used Suicide as a reference in the end, and I think the drums have come out really well. The strings really add the sombre sound to the track. One of my favourite lyrics on the record is on this song, "Give a break to the child in the noose".
This song always felt like it was going to be the end of the record. It was the last song to record and we used it as closure to everything that came before it. I think it’s important when writing an album to always close out what you’re doing; this is what we’re doing here. I’m not sure how we ended up putting it together, I think there was maybe a backing synth to start. We were out of money so couldn’t afford new drums skins, so ended up only using the kick and snare, which led to the Ronettes-esque drum line. I love the guitar part Micky plays in this, he used a drumstick to make those lovely wavey slides throughout the track. The strings again lift the song as the vocals take centre stage. Sombre lyrics, to end what feels to me like an uplifting end to an album.
The Moral Crossing is out on Friday 3 November. For more information on Autobahn, please visit their official website.