Honest Politics was released in 2018, and was my first original song album. Here are some of my thoughts and inspirations for the songs included.
Here’s a song with a long genesis! I initially composed some variant of it prior to the 2015 General Election, so the fact it remains so relevant is a sad indictment of our politics. It’s a fun number on the whole, though – I take the listener inside a politician’s head, breaking down the truth behind their campaign rhetoric. I made a conscious decision not to be partisan with this tune, something that I think contributes to its success.
Fun fact – one of the lines is that ‘the people’s vote is key’. The tune gained a bit of traction among second referendum supporters when they adopted the same phrase (although, given that most of the big players were politicians themselves, I understand why it didn’t become campaign music)!
The Dancing, Singing, Talking, Singing, Purple Cypriot Monkey
I wanted a daft swing number, and here it is. To clear something up – the only reason that the monkey is Cypriot is because I liked how the word sounded in the list.
In an early version, I howled and tried making monkey noises during the monkey song – that’s one you should be glad wound up on the cutting room floor.
I could hear the melody for this in my head immediately, but writing the music proved far trickier. I do like how it turned out, and I think that the lullaby music works really well. Indeed, it might be too nice, because no-one I know picked up on how dark the ending here is (or maybe I just didn’t do it that well – who knows?).
This song was one of the first I wrote for this album, because the concept came really quickly – casting the worker ant as a literal worker, this song had a lot to say about life under a capitalist state and the happiness of a worker trapped in an uninspiring existence. Most people didn’t see that – now, when I play it, I say it’s about insects.
I like the piano, however, and the little variations in each verse. It changes without every really changing – an illusion of change, if you will, that fits nicely with the intended message.
Open Up Your Heart
I included a love ballad because that’s what you do, but it was by far the hardest song to write. Big proclamations of love are not my style, and it probably shows.
There was a girl that I was very close to in school and, when we all left, I never had the chance to say a proper goodbye to her – I wrote this song as personal consolation, but I’d be lying if I said that I wouldn’t have rathered the goodbye instead.
I Love You
I scored a short film called Seasons of Love, and the director asked me for a short, sweet tune for the credits. ‘I Love You’ is an expanded version of that tune. It’s nice and simple, but so is the sentiment and so was the film’s narrative, so it all fits.
Man’s Best Friend
I’m a big country fan, so I wanted to attempt a country song for Honest Politics. Country songs deal with some really complex themes, but I already had a lot of songs like that, so I went for a very simple narrative instead. When it gets going, the piano on this is really good.
The Refugee’s Song
I wrote this song amidst the backdrop of the migrant crisis – it seemed to warrant a song, but figuring out exactly the angle to take was a challenge. I do like this one, though, and I think its simplicity adds to its effectiveness.
If You Need a Friend
This one also comes from a short film, although this one never got further than the planning stage. The working title was The Fruitbowl, and it told the story of a bunch of fruits who didn’t want to be eaten (in an early draft, they were traumatised by watching a watermelon get chopped up). Before you think that I predicted Sausage Party, my version featured a fly called Buzz, who helped the fruit by rotting them – they were all thrown out, united on the compost heap.
My friend and I had planned (and I wrote) a few songs for this film, and this was the best one. I can’t remember who sang it – I think it was Buzz or a comforting Apple, but I really don’t recall.
Praise the Lord
A few years ago now, I went to New York for a week. My objective was to see a Randy Newman concert, but I explored the city and did a lot, and one of the things I found was a faith show. I’ve heard about these but we obviously don’t have them in the UK, so I had to give it a go.
I’m not religious, but the experience is unlike anything else – there’s such a palpable atmosphere. There was a guy on stage dressed in white, and he whipped the crowd up into a frenzy – if you weren’t a believer, you could well become one by the end. This song conjures up the spirit of that evening, and is my first go at a gospel tune (a genre that I really quite like).
You’ve Got to Find the One You Love
I planned and wrote a musical set in the Wild West, and an early version of this was from that show. It was a comic relief song, sung by an undertaker and an assayer about their passion for the dead and rocks respectively, in order to convince the female lead to consider romance.
I expanded the song, making most of it a tango, and built on the undertaker role – I thought it would be funny to make such lively and passionate music deal with such a dead subject matter. People tend to find the lyrics a bit disturbing and so they don’t revisit this one too much after the first listen – I can’t say I blame them, but it still makes me laugh.
‘Elisa’ is probably my favourite song from the album – it’s the one that feels most distinctly me in terms of composition. Writing it was a process – the piano went through a lot of variations, and refining the lyrics to strike the balance I wanted was tough. I think my voice probably suits this song best, too – ‘Elisa’ is one I’m proud of.
The nice version is that a guy is flashing his cash to impress a girl, and everyone tells me that they hear a guy soliciting a prostitute as the subtext. I do hear that (although I honestly didn’t think of that at all). My version is far darker – I envisage the narrator purchasing a woman as a slave, hence the continued refrain of ‘you’re gonna be mine’. It’s a complex tune and there’s a lot going on – I like it.
I like the simple melody of this one, although I never quite figured out exactly who the narrator was meant to be. It’s an optimistic tune, though, so the narrator’s definitely on the up – a positive way to end the album, then!
- Honest Politics (3:28)
- The Dancing, Singing, Talking, Swinging, Purple Cypriot Monkey (3:30)
- Daddy’s Lullaby (3:12)
- Ants (3:14)
- Open Up Your Heart (4:40)
- Leaving (2:33)
- I Love You
- Man’s Best Friend (2:40)
- The Refugee’s Song (3:57)
- If You Need a Friend (2:43)
- Praise the Lord (4:23)
- You’ve Got to Find the One You Love (3:10)
- Elisa (3:57)
- Wand’rin’ Boy (2:57)