Nicholas Allbrook
Credit: Duncan Wright

Track By Track: Nicholas Allbrook Unpacks His New Solo Album ‘Manganese’

Nicholas Allbrook has released his fourth solo album, Manganese. Co-produced by Allbrook and Nathaniel Hoho, the album was recorded in Fremantle, Western Australia, and features contributions from many of Allbrook’s friends, including Jesse Kotanski, Cam Potts, Tayo Snowball, Thea Woodward, Julien Barbagello, Tiger Lily Hutchence, Lyndon Blue, Carla Geneve and Jay Watson.

Allbrook will take the record on tour around Australia later this month. In conjunction with its release, Allbrook tells us the stories and inspirations behind each track on Manganese.

Nicholas Allbrook: Manganese

1. Commodore

Nicholas Allbrook: I guess this is about being directionless, catching the bus around its full loop just to get some time for nothing. I’m the person who catches the train instead of plane. It takes ages and there’s a lot of melancholy that comes with that much time with your thoughts, but I’m a stinge and have a very low concept of how much comfort I deserve in this life.

I’m trying to adjust that now because “self-love” was a big buzz word for a bit, and now I’m trying to convince myself I deserve love, a sick Commodore and a romantic photograph – all things to be held simply and tenderly.

Nathaniel Hoho did heaps of work on this song. I had the structure and chords and everything, but it wasn’t right and I stopped caring. He did that for me and I’m eternally grateful.

2. Babbel

NA: I named it ‘Babbel’ because I mention dethroning god in towers high and whatnot, then I questioned calling it “Babel” on account feeling like another babbling, shit-ignorant, finger-wagging so’n’so. So I thought ‘Babbel’ was a fine placeholder, but I never changed it.

I used to play this live by myself with a five-second, three-chord cassette loop and it was maybe more powerful? Anyway, I really like this version, especially Jesse Kotanski’s clarinet and string arrangements. This song was a mosaic made from a great pile of smashed ideas, friends and influences.

3. Manganese

NA: Aunty Teena in Hedland pointed out to her sister Mijiwa from the car, “See that? That my manganese.” I got real into Roy Ayers but playing it with my piano skills in a small room with Tayo and Cam Potts made it into some sort of crusty jazz-punk (which sounds like the worst genre ever).

It’s Thea Woodward on flute, not me. She is incredible. I’m happy with the line, “As young men bang on the wheel / And yell ‘fucking trains!’ as they wait for the rain / And the sunset flickers through the cracks in the carriage like a very old film.” Very Hedland I reckon.

4. Jackie

NA: This is about my friend Kat who died. I was running along the canal in London thinking about her and crying and occasionally writing more lines on my phone. Thinking about how good she was, and how I didn’t talk to her for years after we had incredible close times in Tasmania. Jackie sounded better than Kathy and I didn’t want to upset my friends at the time.

Again, enormous help from Nathaniel Hoho. My favourite bit is Gum’s harmony in the second verse on “Cruel needles do.” Whooooeee! My favourite bit of the album for sure. At that time I also run-cried while listening to Midnight Oil.

5. The Endless Jetty

NA: Shit, this is a sad one. I saw a couple sleeping on Swanston St in Melbourne outside Woolworths. She was sleeping and he was eating Ferrero Rochers. I was feeling potently, passionately shit when I wrote this, which is different from feeling depressed-shit. Much more productive.

By the way, I’m saying “lion,” “lying” and “lie-ing”, whichever feels best for you. This one was recorded live and Cam Potts and Tayo Snowball helped me greatly with it.

6. Vale the Chord

NA: About love, new love, true love, panicked and insecure love, strong love. Played live with Tayo and Cam Potts and Edo. This was really fun to play. Nathaniel added heaps, like some space-age harmonies and a hella synth bass.

7. Mazda

NA: Another mosaic made out of piles of shit and studio debris. Tiger’s not-quite-sure crooning, Lyndon Blue on violins, Julien Barbagello just shredding with nothing except the song ‘Chains’ by William Fischer.

I think I just wanted to do the lyrics coz I liked them but didn’t have even the slightest whiff of a song to do them over, so I just made some tape loops and samples from YouTube and got friends to do anything until it became a song. Once I did the synth bass and drum machine, the song started to peek out of the bushes.

8. Round Round the Moon and All

NA: An old song I’ve never been able to record properly. Playing it with Rachel, Tayo, Edo and Cam made it work though. Thea Woodward again plays magnificent flute. This is about being love-sick, Wu-Tang, and crawling around in Carillon City on acid.

9. The Night Before You Flew

NA: Ahhh Jesus, this is a sad one too. It was mainly just me and Carla singing over me playing piano, with heaps of wacky squiggles and drones in the background. Then Jesse Kotanski added strings and it became a song.

I think I had just read Lives of the Saints by Nancy Lemann, so I was thinking in very melodramatic language about hearts breaking into a million pieces all over the floor, and words of love being so strong as to burn a house into ashes. “Hope’s a tinsel thing that flaps its tinsel wing” is from that book – the best line on the album, of course, belongs to Nancy Lemann.

I adore Cam’s drumming on this song. He is a rare and beautiful artist who is so ready to open his heart to a song it makes me wanna cry. He just went in and knew exactly what was going on. He listens to lyrics while drumming. I’m proud of this song but it makes me sad still.

Nicholas Allbrook’s Manganese is available now

Further Reading

Pond’s Nicholas Allbrook Announces Tour, Shares New Single ‘Round Round the Moon and All’

Tame Impala Release New Single Feat. Pond’s Nicholas Allbrook

Tame Impala’s Jay Watson (aka GUM) and King Gizzard’s Ambrose Kenny-Smith Unite on New Single

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