Fascinator | Credit: Johann Rashid

Track by Track: Fascinator’s Johnny Mackay on His New Album ‘Lovesongs’

Lovesongs is the third album from Children Collide’s Johnny Mackay under his Fascinator alias. The album is out now via Spinning Top Records, who also handled the release of Fascinator’s previous two LPs, 2016’s Man and 2018’s Water Sign.

Engineer and multi-instrumentalist Loren Humphrey produced the album, which includes the singles ‘Love Is Coming’ and ‘Fremantle Girls’. Both tracks are indicative of the album’s ornate and melodic yet heartbroken tenor. In conjunction with the album’s release, Mackay tells Music Feeds the stories behind the ten songs that make up Lovesongs.

Fascinator: Lovesongs

1. Fremantle Girls

Johnny Mackay: Fremantle was the first place my grandfather landed when he emigrated from Scotland. A remote and heavenly paradise to him and countless others, but a mere two generations later I found myself at the cold-blooded mercy of it’s double-edged sword. Fremantle herself wielding the ivory handle, slashing me from North and South with consecutive breaks to the heart by one love-of-my-life after the other.

It’s been years now and I’ve all but recovered. However, on occasion, when the moon is empty and the night is still, I can hear the maniacal whispers of quokkas and sandgropers mocking my lovelorn soul as The Doctor blows salt eastward off the Indian Ocean, over the Australian desert and straight into my misty eyeballs.

Before each Lovesongs vocal take, I’d force myself to scroll the social media of whoever the song was about for a full minute before singing. This obliged me to view two former obsessions for this track. A verse on each. At least we got to use that frog güiro percussion sound.

2. Isabel

JM: I was a year into the deepest of loves, and while we felt like twin flames burning out of the same Le Labo scented candle, we’d become geographically antipodean. Like a falafel of longing encased in a pita of self-pity, garnished with the tabouli of unsated desire, I sat on the kitchen bench of our shared Brooklyn apartment, uneaten and slowly going as cold as the cold side of the bed.

Eventually, she came back and left forever. Silver lining is the duelling guitar vs oud solo at the end of this track over a droning tambura. I thought I was going for Bowie but it turned out nothing like him.

3. Ancient Beyond

JM: The problem with improvising is that much like riding an outdoor escalator to the top of a neverending Swiss mountain, you can quickly become disorientated and forget whether you are supposed to say “merci” or “danke shön.” However, when music is instrumental, you can simply express gratitude through sound.

The guitar seems grateful for Katie’s sax when it arrives to relieve our ears of my meandering plucks with even more meandering and hypnotic reedy breaths. It’s as though a welcome friend entered my mind mid-meditation and dragged me onto an enchanted cloud. Holding my hand like two cuddling starfish all the way back down to god’s green earth.

4. I Got You

JM: Letting go of someone romantically while simultaneously showing them selfless support is like attempting to balance yourself on a seesaw of emotion while the roundabout of existence continues to revolve, but both of you really just want someone to push you on the swings.

Here I was attempting to express unconditional love as I watched a relationship slip away. Later, I realised that while my intention may have been pure, there are conditions to all things. So, while we ultimately traded the playground of love for a gin and platonic at the bar, the eternal compassion of chosen family endures.

I keep trying to make musical notes, but really, with each song Loren and I were just trying to make music we loved. The tambourine reminds me of Velvet Underground… which is music we love.

5. Love Is Coming

JM: You’ve wept and wallowed like a salty little sad sack in a morbid puddle of regret for what seems like eternity. Too immersed in a foul cloud of mouldy, melancholic gloom with a face like a wet weekend to taste any hope. You thought you’d never love or be loved again, but here’s a big ol’ golden ray of sunshine making you feel like yourself for the first time in a long time. An answer to a prayer you forgot you sent. Everything’s going to be OK. Love is coming.

Musically, we tried to get Frippy with the guitar melodies, and the tape making the piano sound all wonky was a happy accident.

6. Needles to Say

JM: I dreamed a dream where I was dating my imaginary best friend and it all made so much sense. A romantic partnership where you’re each a beautiful, well-stocked human souvenir shop dedicated to reminding the other of all their best qualities. Not to mention an endless supply of personalised keyrings and tea towels emblazoned with hometown attractions.

Two souls truly complementing the other in every way. Like complementary colours on a colour wheel. Except in colour theory, those hues cancel each other out and produce grey when they mix. Hang on, this is a terrible metaphor and possibly a bad idea. But love is akin to a foreign language we all mispronounce at some point.

Like a triangle trying to squeeze a camel through the eye of a circle, we may never make it to heaven. But sometimes dreaming is as good as doing, and dreams can mean anything. Musically, it sounds like I brought in ‘Easy’ by the Commodores and Loren deep fried it in Bob Dylan’s ‘Lay Lady Lay.’

7. Sepia Sandshoes

JM: Dipping your toe into the lukewarm pond of indecision is a far cry from jettisoning your scuba tank and taking a 40-metre freedive into the shark-infested waters of unpredictability. Perhaps sharks dream of being people; why not the other way? You might finally grow some gills and stop holding your breath all the time.

This song is about taking a blind leap of self-assured faith while still swaddling in the warm woolly cardigan of nostalgia. Even if we get the bends rushing back to the surface, it’ll all have been worth it for the gills. Although they are just mind-gills and you’re now stuck in the decompression tank of reality with an inexplicable penchant for amphibious elective surgery.

We had a full band playing most of this all at once and it was glorious. Aku Orraca-Tettah’s piano is perfect. We were going for a David Axelrod feel, which you can detect in my attempts at guitar solos.

8. One Day

JM: Life is a public violin recital where you have to learn the instrument as you play. Jesse Kotansky’s string arrangement in ‘One Day’ is transcendent, but the song itself is about watching someone you love make the exact same mistakes as you and really wanting to interject, but there’s no way you’d have listened to some blundersplaining idiot either. Also you can’t even play the violin.

Time wounds all heels and you are the biggest heeler there is. So, if the shoe fits, tie up your loose ends and head on home. Which isn’t a place, it’s a person. Or more poignantly, a feeling. I’m not sure places are even real. I heard we never really touch anything because of the space between electrons, so are there ever any absolutes outside our own feelings? One day, maybe

9. Puffins Theme

JM: I dated a girl who reminded me so much of a puffin I called her Puffin. Sadly, I left her when I relocated to New York and wrote this song all spaced-out and sweaty in a railroad apartment in Greenpoint with no AC at the height of summer as I was missing her dearly.

I heard in Iceland they catch puffins in special puffin nets off the side of cliffs. I feel like this puckish melody captures Puffin’s energy in a kind of sound net off the overcast cliffs of my memories.

When we went to record it for Lovesongs, I couldn’t work out how the hell I’d played the finger-picked chord part so we had to leave my stoned, wobbly playing from six years prior in there and replay the rest over the top. I want someone to make a show about a mischievous puffin so this can be the theme.

10. Round the World Ticket

JM: This was the first time I ever tried to write a song for a single person with the intent of making them cry in a good way. I sent it from Melbourne to my girlfriend in London and she wept at her desk. I guess it was my first love song, but it didn’t stand a chance against the tyranny of distance. In the end, pragmatism snuffed out the flames of romance, but to this day I still pine for a nice warm tunnel and a lava lamp at the centre of the earth.

We used the same trick as Ozzy Osbourne on Black Sabbath’s ‘Planet Caravan’ for the vocals.

Further Reading

Track By Track: Royel Otis Break Down Their ‘Sofa Kings’ EP

We Got Children Collide To Interview Each Other & Here’s What Happened

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