SONGWRITING  

I was asked to reveal my most closely held secrets, the chords and arrangement tricks that I use. When I put out the book "It is written, baby" , I originally wanted it to be a songbook with the chords and flyshit set out but was talked out of it. A pity. I will do my best to communicate the primitive powers that I am doing battle with across the vast and untamed wilderness of the musical plane.


art tony mahony
Flyshit
I don't read music and can't really play piano. I write my songs on the guitar. Clare can both read and play as she studied piano for many years before picking up the drumsticks. If Bill Miller sits in a room with a radio on he enjoys calling out, commenting on the chord sequences. In other moments on the road, we can test his skills by mentioning any song that comes into our minds and requesting that he plays it. Invariably, he can. Stu D ( Stuart thomas) picked up the trumpet first but is in the Lurid Yellow Mist as bass player. He has released his own solo cd "Devil and Daughter", as well as many recordings with Kim Salmon and other bands such as the Brass Bed and Luxedo.He knows a lot of stuff about music and recording. Stuart Perera is probably the most decorated student of music, having studied theory and practice at many institutions over the last ten years of his life.This is a pretty sophisticated bunch of musicians to present a song to. Every body is coming at a piece of music from different directions, intuitive mostly but backed up with some solid sense of chord stacking.
In the Coral Snakes everybody's roles changed over the period of the band. In the early days it was a case of me presenting a song to everybody and the band "transforming " it (mostly I had pretty set ideas of arrangements and approaches). It was always a brilliant surprise to hear the chords hanging on the piano chords and underpinned by Gordy ,Clare and Rods instant search and isolation of the dynamics. In the latter days I was more involved in influencing the end result and Clare was champing at the bit to break the limitations of her role as "the drummer". Robin Casinader on the piano was the most academically trained player. His role was kind of a "professor". He played violin and keyboards. Rod Hayward played guitar and could play keyboards (again ,his father was a musician). He could probably read music but the eventuality to display this never came as Robin did all that stuff. Gordy Blair was also probably a good reader. He could play sax as well as the bass. Clare was the most interested in vocal harmonies.

 

The Tools at hand
In general, I write the songs on the guitar. In the Moodists I never owned a guitar or wrote songs . I had previously learnt some barre chords on a Gibson SG copy when I was a teenager. I sold this later on and never progressed with it. Around 1986/7, while living in London, I bought a Fender acoustic guitar from Robert Forster (from the GoBetweens) for $50 as he was moving back to Australia. I started to write songs more on this as I was getting into a lot of late 60's songwriters such as Fred Neil and Gene Clark. (The Moodists were into a lot of hard country and soul but the music we made was relentlessly "modern" in its attitude. Everything was of its own world, we didn't touch much of anything current and did few cover versions).
I use a KYairi 12 string and a Maton acoustic to write my songs on. I bang around on the same chords and licks for a year or so until I get a feel for what kind of song it could be. Once I get some words around and through the music I keep playing it more and more. Over the last couple of years I've really been interested in getting a bunch of songs together where the chords really dictated the sound of the music.I know this sounds silly but so much of our time (and everybody else's) is spent on worrying about the "texture" of the sounds available and the new music technology has really widened the possibilities for everybody. Samples of perfectly recorded vibraphones, zithers, sitars, bongos, tablas and cellos are all out there within anybody's grasp. I'm trying to limit it immediately with the chords. Thats what our next cd is going to be heading into.

 

art-tony mahony


All these early songs are on the "My life on the plains " CD Minor chords and minor seventh chords were really apparent. They were really open and made a big sound. (The Em7th chord on a guitar is virtually all open strings , the B note on the A string being the only demand on your fingers.) We had a really melodic bass player in Gordy Blair and Louis Vause on the piano had a lot of room to play his weird inversions the more open the music was.In a strange way, all the earliest material was recorded on the next album "I was the hunter and I was the prey".There was about a 2 year break in recording until "Night of the wolverine" and in the meantime I'd gone nuts over the major 7th chord. (I'd first used this on the song "everything flies away" on "I was the Hunter" . In 1990 I was just really getting into the Barry White/Isaac Hayes mellow vibe). The title track was an attempt to get into a Lou Reed "Coney Island Baby" groove. Soft semi acoustic major 7th sounds with a virtually spoken vocal over the top. "You're just too hip, baby" is in E and is based around a suspended 7th 12 bar groove. I always try out chords in the old style 1-4-5 chord sequences as it's always been the lyrics that I want to have all the weirdness.
"Mogambo" was my most sophisticated song to date with the chords all being 9ths so the vocal was following the notes a whole tone above the root note of the chord. This really suited the piano and allowed the vocal its own space to be really intimate. We'd done a lot of acoustic shows preceding the recording and learnt how to hold back the intensity in the playing.
 
"You wanna be there but you don't wanna travel" again had a couple of songs we'd looked at before the album preceding it.( The title track and "Warren Oates" had appeared on "Lure of the Tropics". It was the first time we'd ever played them so we thought we should have a go at recording them properly). I demoed a lot of the songs on acoustic guitar. I see it as the most "straight" recording we'd ever done. It was intended to be as I remember. The strangest chords on it are in the last track, "we didn't have the words" which is built around these suspended chords, (D with a G and F# in it to E with an A and G# in it). Robin did a great string arrangement. "I'm gonna release your soul" was in E and again based around a classic soul feel with the chorus part going from an A to an A minor. "A new life in a new town" went back to the early days in London in 1987. I thought it suited this collection.  
"The Soft'n'sexy sound" has the most co writes of any Coral Snakes cd. Robin wrote (and sang) all of "Salty Girls", Gordy wrote the music to "Outward Bound", Rod wrote the music to "Apollo 69" and everybody wrote the music to "Morrison Floorshow". My favourite songs on it, "the Birds and the Goats" , "deep inside a song" and "I'm not afraid to be heavy" are all major 7th although by this time I was trying different keys to sing in. "Rock'n'roll is where I hide" was written at the last part of the session. (I had demoed almost everything else on acoustic guitar again). I came up with the chord sequence of B9th /DMaj7th/Gmaj7th/Dmaj7th (the alternating last chord being F#m7th) in the verses going to a chorus part where it was just vamping on F#m7th so the whole song would have a single droning F# note going through from beginning to end. The chiming two note figure after each chord sounded cool as it resolved on the last chord.  
"The Devil Drives" was mostly written in late 1995,demoed in Jan 1996 , recorded in September and released in early 1997.The opening track, "the oblivion seekers" was written by Clare and pretty much introduced all the elements at play in the record. Samples, percussion,a remix process and strange, discordant 6th(major and minor), 9th and 13th chords. This was taking the tuned percussion, heavily textured music of the previous cd to its ultimate conclusion. There were no co written songs with the band and a big input from David Ruffy and Kenny Jones in the studio."Pascal et Caroline" is the only track with Major 7th chords, all the rest are built around suspended 7ths , 6ths and 9ths. It has the most varied songs in different keys of any record yet and two songs featured lounge punk singer "Frank Bennett" on vocals."Feelin Kinda Sporty" was recorded after the album session as a single. It is in E and was heavily remixed by Andrew Duffield and Phil Kenihan. The songs were very strong on this record and all the attention was given to the production process. It was produced by Clare and myself. It is without a doubt our favourite Coral Snakes record and was a total blast to make.
art tony mahony

"The Dave Graney Show" was written mostly in 1997 /98 and released in 1999.For us it was a natural carry on from the previous record. 8 out of thirteen songs were recorded by Clare and myself, the other 5 being done in a session with Adele and Stuart. It begins with "Lt Colonel Cavalry" which is built around B7th to C#7th F#min/sus in the verses leading to a bridge with E/Emaj7/E7th/A7th to a chorus of D7th/D6th toGm/A#maj7/Asus. I was really thinking of a grand "Macarthur Park" style thing.
Clare co wrote ""Twixt this world and the next, "I'm a commander" , "am I wearing something of yours", and "they wanted to be players". All possessing the most brilliant, intricate chord structures we had ever attempted. "Between times " was a song I had written back in 1987 but had never felt sure enough about recording before. "Smile and wave" was built around Amaj7th to Emaj7th, "I'm a commander" went from Fmaj7th to a rising G#sus to A#sus to Csus. The chorus was built around Dsus9thadd6th to Asus9th to A#7th to A7th. Recording and writing and playing the record was great.

 
"Kiss tomorrow goodbye" is without a doubt the freshest bunch of tunes we have put to disc since "wolverine " and "soft'n'sexy". A lot to do with grasping the technology and also revelling in the new band. All the songs were written in a great state of liberation from the business and also an overhanging sense of lingering fury at certain people who'd been toying with our lives. Adele wrote the music to "you're on your own,now" and Bill wrote the music to "mind full of leather".Clare wrote the music to "Don't be true" and cowrote the music to "Vengeance" and "I need some scratch".
"Drugs are wasted on the young" has a verse going from C9th to Aadd9th to G6th to Dadd9th. The chorus is F/Fadd9th to G6th/Gadd9th.The middle 8 is D.
"Out of the loop" was written on a winter Sunday. We had played a show the night before and someone gave me a biscuit. I ate some of this the next day and then found myself playing variations around one chord on the guitar for what seemed like two hours.It's an E chord.I then went down to the studio and cooked up a whole track on the Logic Audio system, vibes,bass, strings, beats, I had it all flying. It's the only song I've ever written on keyboard. That biscuit was strong!
"Death by a thousand sucks" is built around A#maj7th to Cmaj7th/9th to Fsus/F7th/F6th. The chorus is Cmaj7th to Ebmaj7th/9th.
"Have you heard about the melbourne mafia" is based around Dmaj7th to Em7th to A and resolving on D.The chorus goes from G to A again resolving on D.


illustration-tony mahony

onto the brother who lived?

onto the Heroic Blues album?