Some venues are bigger than others

Morrissey has cancelled his UK and Ireland tour citing “logistical problems”. Various well-informed sources say those problems are of the “persuading people to buy tickets” variety.  In one Scots venue with a capacity of 2,900, I’m told, he barely sold 400 tickets after weeks on sale.

In the last six years, Morrissey has cancelled 134 shows. Between that, poor record sales and increasingly divisive on-stage banter, it’s a miracle he managed to persuade anyone to buy tickets at all.

“We are in the same sea, trying to swim”

Same Star is another of David’s compositions and another vocal where I appear to be channelling E from Eels, which of course is never a bad thing. It’s a musical version of the Scots phrase “we’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns”: we have much more in common than what divides us, and we’re all busking it. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote: “We are here to help each other through this thing, whatever it is.”

“There’s no joy in being right”

A Hollow Victory was one of the first songs David and I wrote for the current crop of music, but it took a while to get right: the superbly retro electro stomp was there from the outset but it took a bit of fiddling to find a version we both liked.

It’s a companion piece to Barren Ground, written earlier but set later: it’s about how you feel when you’ve been thrown under a bus that promptly crashed into a wall: what you said would happen happened, but there’s no schadenfreude: being proved right is a hollow victory in a war you didn’t want to fight.

“Some rock you proved to be.”

This is Pushing Air, a song about sound and fury signifying nothing. Ironically, it started off as sound and fury: I love noisy guitar rock and that tends to be my go-to for songwriting, but sometimes you need a stiletto, not a blunderbuss. This is a stiletto, written during a time when I really needed help and help didn’t come.

“For all the promises, you’ve never known a loneliness quite like this”

This is another one for which David wrote pretty much all the music (the quiet strings from the second verse are mine). There’s something really dysfunctional about it, deliberately so: the timing of the main keyboard part has a great tension to it, which really makes the song.

It’s another really close-miked vocal, and again it’s designed to be almost uncomfortably intimate because that’s what the song’s about: me as the elephant in every room, the thing you wish wasn’t there.

I wrote it about the period after I’d come out as trans, but it’s just as relevant to anyone who’s faced challenges or sadnesses: sometimes you’re going through something that other people just can’t cope with, not because they’re bad people but because they don’t want to put their metaphorical foot in it. So the conversations you’re included in avoid the elephant in the room, but you overhear the ones that do through the “doors ajar” I mention in the lyric.

“You didn’t like the decor, so you burned the place down”

David wrote all the music for this one. It’s great, and very claustrophobic. I love the way some of the keyboards sound like breathing lungs. The vocal is really close-miked to give it an almost uncomfortably intimate presence.

Barren Ground is about somebody breaking things that can’t be put back together again.

“You’re four hours gone. I guess tomorrow brings another excuse”

I wrote the lyric to this a few years ago about a friend of a friend who was acting like a complete arse, apparently convinced that he was getting away with it. He wasn’t.

Where Do You Go? is one of those songs that has a difficult evolution. It began as an angry, retro guitar stomp in a Hives or Dr Feelgood vein, but musically it felt too much of an homage to be its own thing. I had a lot of fun reworking it as a Lady Gaga disco stomp, but again that didn’t quite work.

It took me a while to realise the problem. Sometimes having music that’s at odds with the lyric can work really well, so for example Robyn’s Dancing On My Own is a desperately sad song with a joyous tune. “Crying on the dance floor” is one of my favourite genres of pop music.

But sometimes you need the musical and lyrical moods to match, and that was the case here. This is a song about sitting by yourself, wondering what pathetic excuse you’re going to get, the realisation that not only is somebody going behind your back but that they think you’re too stupid to know they’re doing it. That’s not going to work as a hands-in-the-air disco banger.

I’m pleased with this one. I like my singing, and I think I’ve nailed the mix of contempt, anger and for-fuck’s-sake exasperation that I was trying to get.

As for the friend of a friend: he got busted, and now there’s nobody to come home to.

“Nothing feels safe, and nothing feels the same”

This is Pianothing, a song whose working title suited it so well we didn’t want to change it. It started life as a little electric piano riff and turned into something that’s musically poppy and lyrically bleak.

It’s about the helplessness I often feel reading the news, the horrors large and small that dominate social media and make me want to scream. We live in what should be a golden age of humanity and we’re encouraged to feel angry and scared. And that’s not who we are. Again and again we’re shown the very worst of humanity and told it’s a mirror, but it isn’t. I feel like Howard Beale in Network, yelling “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!”: my version, “This is not who we are!”

The full rant from Network is a superb bit of dialogue. Here’s an extract.

We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
We know things are bad — worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is: ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’
Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get MAD! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot — I don’t want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. [shouting] You’ve got to say: ‘I’m a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!’
So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!

“Every day I pray for rain”

I wrote this song about an extraordinary man, Yukio Shige. He’s a retired policeman who patrols Japan’s “suicide cliffs” every day, and who has talked more than 600 people back from the edge. One line in the LA Times story about him (which I can’t link to; its publisher currently blocks EU visitors) really stood out: he said that “almost nobody jumps on rainy days”.

Musically this one’s me channelling my love of raucous guitar music, especially Nirvana and Pixies. The chorus reminds me of New Model Army, a band I love.