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Keep Calm

City Calm Down

As Melbourne four-piece band CITY CALM DOWN embark on yet another must-see national tour, lead singer Jack Bourke takes us through their hotly anticipated third album, Television, track-by-track…

This was written the same day I watched Sidney Lumet’s satire Network. I’d written the verses and the choruses in the afternoon and found Network on later that night. I was startled by the coincidental similarity of the themes in the song and the movie, and decided to adopt one of Howard Beale’s monologues for the song intro. The song isn’t as overtly cynical as the movie, but they both share a sense of distrust in ‘the media’ (as in, the fourth estate) and question the value of mass consumption of media. My favourite line is, “Walter White still lights up the screen, shining on as the man of your dreams”. It’s absurd and gets to the heart of the song — Walter White is a horrendous character who can teach you a lot about yourself. Alternatively, you can binge watch Breaking Bad without digging into those issues.

“Visions of Graceland’
I started writing this one while watching the movie Drive on mute. I thought it would be fun to try writing something to fit in with the soundtrack, a goal that wasn’t exactly realised. The lyrics started taking shape around the time Tony Abbott and his mates started trying to roll Malcolm Turnbull. I had the line, “I’m a lonely kid at home in this wasteland”, which felt apposite to the scorched Earth political strategy being employed by Abbott and co against Turnbull. The rest of the lyrics fell into place around that line.

I grew up in a household of five boys. My mum took on the primary caring duties for the five of us. We weren’t easy kids to look after: babysitters usually only lasted a couple of visits. I guess this song is a way of saying thanks to my mum (and dad) for putting up with the five of us. It also ties in with “Visions Of Graceland” in the sense that the petty behaviour of children is remarkably similar to the petty behaviour of certain members of our political class.

“Stuck (On The Eastern)”
This one went through a bunch of revisions before we settled on the final version. In fact, the only part that remains from the initial idea is the distorted harmonic hook at the start. The chorus was written in the studio after we decided to can the idea we went in with. I was hunting around for chords for a chorus, and Jeremy Sonnenberg (bass) started humming a melody over the top. After three to four hours of no progress, there was a light-bulb moment. We worked the melody and chords up from there and I wrote the lyrics on the spot — which rarely happens.

“Lucy Bradley”
I woke up one morning with the lead instrumental melody in my head. I wandered downstairs humming it and recorded it my phone — on the recording you can hear my wife Jess laughing at me and me telling her to shut up (politely, of course). I was able to pull most of the song together later that day and we finished it off in pre-production a few days later. It was a relief it came together so quickly, given some of the others took so long.

“Flight” taps into themes I’ve explored on previous records — social media consumption and developing an opinion in a closed circuit — but perhaps it’s a bit more scathing in its view. The middle of this song was an absolute killer to execute. We were still working on it while we were in the final stages of mixing, and starting to feel like we weren’t going to make it, when Burke [Reid, producer] came down with a brutal bout of the flu. We all felt very bad for poor old Burke, but it did allow us an extra couple of days to finish it off.

Probably the most difficult song to make. At every turn it avoided becoming a proper song. We had the lead guitar and chorus melody from very early on in the writing process, and kept making incremental adjustments during pre-production… it took about four hours to get the pre-chorus right. Then, when we got into the studio, it still wasn’t working. Burke and Lee (Armstrong, drums) eventually came up with the snare-free/tom-drum-only drumbeat, and things started to take shape. It wasn’t until the last hour of the last day in the studio, under intense pressure from Burke, that Will (Fletcher, guitar) threw away his inhibitions and unleashed his weird and warbley guitar part that gave the song its identity.

“A Seat In The Trees”
When I was little I used to climb trees. Looking back, I’m amazed neither of my parents would bat an eyelid at seeing their five-year-old climbing five-foot-10 metres off the ground. My dad would just tell me that if I was going to go up I had to know how to get back down, because he wasn’t going to climb up and help me! I don’t really have very fond memories of that period of my childhood, because I had a pretty bad time at early primary school. I think climbing trees was a way for me escape the loneliness I experienced at school — by choosing loneliness in the trees I didn’t feel oppressed by it.

“New Year’s Eve”
This was the first song written for the record. Like ‘Stuck’ and ‘Weatherman’, it went through revision after revision. The thing I like most about this song is that the rhythm never lets you feel at ease, and this ties in with the lyrics, which draw on an episode of solipsism I experienced when I was about 10-years-old. I found this awfully confronting at the time and didn’t know how to explain the experience to anyone. My folks thought I had a lost the plot — which, I daresay I had.

“Cut The Wires”
In the final stages of recording the album we drafted in the wonderful Phoebe Cockburn of Two People to help out with backing vocals. I still believe the song is better with her singing the lead part. Anyway, she asked me what the song was about, and I’m typically terrible at explaining because I don’t think layers of meaning are easily reduced into a sentence or two. I told her the song was about challenging someone in a way that can only be done when you share a deep sense of mutual trust. In this sense, it’s a song about my relationship with my wife, Jess, and my gratitude to her for always challenging me and pushing me further. ■


Catch City Calm Down, with special guests… October 11: Manning Bar, Sydney NSW; 12: Lion Arts Factory, Adelaide SA; 18: The Triffid, Brisbane Qld; 19: Rosemount, Perth WA; 26: Croxton, Melbourne Vic

City Calm Down’s album TELEVISON is out now

For the full article grab the October 2019 issue of MAXIM Australia from newsagents and convenience locations. Subscribe here.

Mattie Spears

Detox Deception