I saw both of your feet on the ridge
In morning air, like pushed out of a dirty syringe
She said: “You know it’s really hard for me to breathe when you’re mine”
I said: “The thicker the air, the thinner the shine”
Axel Nystrom – The Ridge
I saw Axel play last Friday night – a refreshing voice in a sometimes bewildering techno city. I met him writing his debut album Bricks – heading to a friend’s Neukolln shop-window to sit in the lazy spring warmth and fill books with sparse, fading prose. Nice to hear the album and confirm what I’d suspected from live shows – he wasn’t drifting off to sleep in that sunlight…
A friend from Australia named another voice I’d been chasing – something here of Grant McLennan’s nonchalance and the wistfulness of The Go-Betweens. You can stream the album here:
There is a generous space in honest guitars, melodic pop and a deft turn of phrase. On tracks like From Outside and Bricks, Axel Nystrom has managed to find cracks in the wall of urban cool and gently prise open room for us to learn something new about hearts and heartbreak. And in that realm, it’s always good to have another go-between.
Action at a distance – Starling clouds – they look almost like a crazy sci-fi monster or a rippling wave. Easy to believe we work alone, we sail our own path, we are free traders…
In a 2010 study, they showed that changes in the velocity of any one bird affected the velocity of all other birds in a flock, regardless of the distance between them…
In the new study, the researchers looked not at velocity but at orientation, measuring how a change in direction by one bird affected others.
Rather than affecting every other flock member, orientation changes caused only a bird’s seven closest neighbors to alter their flight. That number stayed consistent regardless of flock density, making the equations “topological” rather than critical in nature.
“The orientations are not at a critical point,” said Giardina. Even without criticality, however, changes rippled quickly through flocks — from one starling to seven neighbors, each of which affected seven more neighbors, and so on.
It looks so joyful – so connected. Perhaps there are ways we can find ourselves, and lose ourselves, when we realise we too travel in flocks?
One of the highlights of my recent trip to Australia was playing live in the gorgeous Colbourne Avenue space – an old community hall / movie theatre / church in Glebe with gorgeous ambience – curated by two erstwhile members of the music scene in Sydney – Barney Wakeford and Andrew Lorien. Just after touching down, in the midst of rehearsals for my University of New South Wales gig, (frantically getting together new songs with a completely new band) I got a call from Barney asking if I wanted play ‘Live at Colbourne’.
About a week later I checked in… ‘So… who am I supporting?’. No bro, he explained – it’s just you… two hours, live and solo.
This is something I’d not done often – and certainly not for a while… What ensued was lots of practice – re-arranging band songs, sorting new guitar parts and resurrecting old favourites that would work nicely in the intimate candle-lit setting of Colbourne Ave.
Probably my favourite song of the night was Like a Bluebird, a track written in the Berlin winter, dreaming of spring. The picture above is the view from my window- once spring finally did arrive – and you can hear the track below.
As I’m heading back into winter over here, I’m reminded to thank myself even on cold winter days there are clear blue sunny skies. When I’m warm and safe, and I have my winter jacket on, spring doesn’t seem so far away.
I spend a lot of time looking back, realising full well the trouble with life is you have to live it forward. Silver is from a time I was overwhelmed by my past – recalling the romance of an impossible first love, a girl in a blue coat, a smile across a crowded room, tra la la… running headlong into my everyday life – the dead mouse, the long drive to the coast, the terrifying gentleness of Burt Bacharach – a different girl, a different time, a different country. At times I think I live to be distracted by silver things – to slide off them, to marvel, to surreptitiously slide them into my pockets when no one is looking.
Speaking of having the ocean in your pocket, I’m reminded of the gorgeous Rory Toomey, who is drumming on this track as part of the TJ Eckleberg trio with Tom Kazas. Given the already difficult timeline of three hours to rehearse three new songs prior to the studio session at the weekend, Rory announced on arrival that he had to leave half an hour early (9:30pm) as his brother was flying in for a surprise visit from London. Boldly we plunged forward – with some degree of panic as Tom and I realised how much work was to be done. Toward the end of the night there was a little angst when Rory reminded us he had to leave. I was still struggling to hammer out the right disonance in the disconcerting ‘Didn’t I swagger?’ bridge. I think if you listen very closely you’ll hear both my panic and Rory packing up his drums.
Whatever the case, the tension between Rory’s absolute commitment and his uncharacteristic distraction was resolved a few days later when he explained he had married the gorgeous Deena the following day in a private family only ceremony, using his brother’s visit as an opportunity to resolve their long engagement. Hilarious – and an honour to have been there, unknowing, the night before. Of course, you can hear for yourself his stellar and muscular focus. It makes me smile to remember him racing out the door, juggling drums – of course at 9:45pm, fifteen minutes over time…
Silver is a re-envisaging of the original track from illumineon in 2003. The tracks are completely different, enough to be new songs… almost. Just similar enough to remind me ‘Everything that comes back comes back changed…’, and you can fit an ocean in your wallet if you fold it right.
“Who Loves Ya Baby?”, the first ep for Sydney band Leadlight, was recorded in a 24 hour period at Damien Gerrard Studios with TJ Eckleberg at the helm. TJ’s focus, stamina and creativity were amazing to behold! He moved seamlessly from recording the bass and drums, to coordinating the horn section, to inspiring great individual performances from a diverse bunch of musicians, all the while keeping the singer/songwriter (me!) positive and sane. TJ provided an endless supply of melodic and rhythmic ideas, singing possible melodies and harmonies to eager musicians who would translate his ideas into beautiful music. TJ was tireless, and it was his energy and motivation that ensured the recording was completed to the deadline. He relentlessly pursued great performances, asking musicians to think and play outside their comfort zone. At one point he pulled out a casio keyboard and asked me to improvise a line which came to be an integral part of the song.
TJ worked hard in the lead up to the recording. He spent time at rehearsals, building relationships with the players that would allow him to find the best way to inspire them during the recording session. As a songwriter himself, TJ engages with the essence of what the writer is trying to communicate and looks for ways to develop their ideas. He has a broad knowledge of music and production from his experiences as a musician, performer, producer and musical autodidact! As a producer TJ brings his restless energy and excitement to the pursuit of unique musical adventures.
The song: I had finished the basic structure for “long road home” when I went for a walk and heard an old Chinese guy busking with a one stringed Chinese instrument on a street corner. The sound was beautiful and I immediately thought that it would suit the track so I went home to get a sample recorder I had borrowed from my brother. I recorded a snippet of what he was playing, attempted unsuccessfully to explain why I wanted to use the recording, thanked him for his playing and put a bunch of coins in his hat. I took the recording home and it fitted perfectly with the chord structure. No need to change the pitch or tempo! This sample became integral to the song, you can hear it coming in about 10 seconds into the track. TJ Eckleberg wove his production magic and you can hear the results! I hope you enjoy it.
Since I arrived in Berlin I’ve already found a guitar partner in crime – Christopher Zitterbart – and together we have become The Silver Trail – taking our name from the 1937 western of the same name. It’s been a pretty wild ride so far – full of unexpected surprises and challenges – creating improvised imaginary movie scores together, I’ve really had to step up and use all the tricks, looping skills and effects wizardry (not to mention playing ability) I can muster.
Recently we rolled up to the gorgeous 8mm bar in Prenzlauerberg (http://www.8mmbar.com) and put our improvised scoring abilities to the test in front of a generous packed house, for an unrelenting 100 minutes – forming the backdrop for a classic 60’s cowboy flick. It was a perfect setting – an alternative venue that’s become a Berlin legend, the first gig for a nascent and enthusiastic duo, and a classic genre that lends itself to sweeping eerie guitars, edgey noise effects and plaintive melodies.
What you can hear below is the last eight minutes – unedited, save the fades in and out. It’s fully improvised, and everything is made with just the two guitars – although I’m using a looper at times (recording live then playing it back). You can hear me in the right channel, and the brilliant Christopher Zitterbart in the left. Enjoy.