Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.
In this series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.
Jackson Phelan, RAT!hammock – Bright Eyes, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning
Dear I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning,
You beautiful, emo, alt-country goldmine. This is a love letter but it’s also a stuff you. You and your sentiment-soaked, lyrical collage brothers and sisters mutilated my teenage destiny. Growing up in rural Victoria, I was set to dissolve in to the accepted lifestyle that so many of my peers followed. Move to the 20,000 strong rural centre 100 kilometres away, find gainful employment and work towards home ownership. I was happy. You, faceless folder, trojan horse buried in a Pirate Bay discography, triggered the general disconnect with my surroundings and a nostalgia for a time and place I never knew, that pushed me toward this bullshit career in music. So here’s my fuck you, I love you letter.
You know, I didn’t like you at first. The same things most people say about you – the sentiment too soppy, the vocal shaky and jarring, the spoken word; pretentious. I kept listening though and you wormed your way in. You started a spark for better and for worse. Over 10 years now, every time I move towards something new, you drag me back in.
Initially you stole me away from my punk roots. I turned from the Dead Kennedys and the Misfits to you via the bare bones, poetry-drenched love songs. ‘Lua’’s Woody Allen for the mid 2000’s musing of a toxic relationship on a New York night, the sugary sweat ‘First Day Of My Life’ and my long time favourite ‘Land Locked Blues’. The sound of Emmylou Harris and Conor Oberst dancing around each other in drunken duet desperately convincing themselves there’s nobility in running.
When I moved to Melbourne I was sucked in to the future soul/hip hop wave that came over this whole city. I pumped DILLA BEATZ in my headphones on the way to the Grace Darling Basement. I made synth-soaked, lo-fi jams on ABLETON. I played only Maj7 chords for two years. But every now and then, in the privacy and safety of my room, I’d pop you back on.
Now, with a few more years of listening experience, I started to appreciate the intricacies of your arrangements. Arguably, less adventurous than your electronic twin sister ‘Digital Ash In A Digital Urn’, still your subtle orchestral flourishes hit when it counted. The sombre yet optimistic waltz, ‘We Are Nowhere and It’s Now’, lifted by the reverb-drenched trumpet instrumental. ‘Road to Joy”s cacophonous, instrumental explosions descend in to a visceral release angst. In that room, I wrote my first songs, all attempted C-sides to you.
As I started studying jazz at the Victorian College of the Arts, you were my dirty little secret. I’d slam Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins on the metro to the city in the morning. Drool over Chris Potter’s diminished sounds with my jazz friends throughout the day. And on the train home I’d put you on or something that sounded like you. Maybe M Ward or John Prine. I’d feel like myself again. About halfway through my degree, as much as I loved the world of improvised music, the ‘3 chords and the truth’ country approach that you adopt is an unshakeable part of me and it’s difficult to balance the two worlds. Eventually I pushed less and less to be something I was not.
When I sat down to write this letter to you and thought about the duality of your place in my world, I fantasised about where I would be if I’d never heard you. Would I be doing music at all? Would I be collaborating with the ‘young whatever’, the next underground mc? Would I be shredding changes full-‘Wes’ in a guitar trio?? I took a little solace in the fact that there was one track you hadn’t sold me on. The eternally forgettable ‘Old Soul Song (for the New World Order)’. It did nothing for me and it pleased me greatly to still hold something over you. But damn it, today you’ve beaten me. Floored by the line: “just when I get so lonely I can’t speak/ I see some flowers on a hillside like a wall of new TV’s/ yeah they go wild.” Stuck in a twenty minute re-listen loop, here I am finally dying for all of you.
Fuck you IWAIM, you own me and I’m grateful for it.
RAT!hammock’s latest single and video ‘Ghost’ is out today. Watch here. The band will be taking the track on the road this June for a series of launch shows. Details below.
RAT!Hammock ‘Ghost’ Single Launch Dates
Friday, 7th June
RAD Bar, Wollongong
Saturday, 8th June
Saturday, 15th June
The Curtin, Melbourne
Tickets: Music Glue