This album documents a journey of the soul for me. Into new territory. An exploration of the inner world through music and the outer world through metaphorical landscapes. It is in essence a concept album that had its genesis upon listening to a poem being read out on ABC radio that had the striking visual lyric ‘burnished gold’. My first musical projects embodied a concept called ‘Firesongs For the Soul’ so that lyric evoked the flame but also the way the sun lights up the back of the wave in the early morning, how the fronds of a palm shield and reveal a golden light, the setting sun…its everywhere. It seeped into my consciousness. At the time I was driving back from my work in my day job as a marketing lecturer that I like… but is not quite as inspiring to me as music and song-writing is. Burnished gold took me somewhere that day and as I looked out the window passing the beautiful sun-drenched hills near Murwillimbah a haunting melody struck me in three part harmony and the song had begun to write itself. It took me quite literally to ‘a time long ago’. Lost in the canyons, almost like a lost cowboy on some kind of shamanic journey after stumbling into a tribe of American Indians…falling in love with them, nature and a raven haired woman. This song had some very interesting variations rhythmically and after much experimentation I settled into the unusual 6 /8 to 4/4 feel which in a way can be disorientating but strangely harmonious simultaneously.
The song burnished gold is written in a minor key (capo on the second fret) and I began the realization that where I was at spiritually was often best reflected in the deeper mournful yearning of minor keys and in fact at a certain point I had surrendered to the idea of writing an album completely in the minor realm. In the past I had always thought people would like to be uplifted through music and this uplifting lends itself through major or as music teachers often call it ‘happy’ chords. Music that makes you want to dance. But I was being led by something different. I wanted to create some kind of concept album which begins in the more melancholic ruins of self discovery but leads the listener or writer on a journey that faces the inner shadow squarely and hopefully leads them to a more relaxed space and acceptance of ‘what is’. Back tracking now…
The journey begins with Back At the Start. It was inspired by a brief encounter with a radiant little baby, peering over his mothers shoulder…such innocence and joy. I reflected on this innocence and how we are conditioned by parents firstly and then society, and are filled with preconceptions and ideas that may or may not be true but we somehow become confused in our identity and some of us turn to drugs or therapy to unravel this conditioning. I see it like a helmet or uniform that we are told to wear. I then thought of my 4 grand parents that passed away in nursing homes. My Irish Grandad in particular had an interesting journey with Alzeimers and during my monthly visits he eventually forgot who I was or indeed his own wife. However he did seem rather happy and by all accounts he was content, smiling and loved his food. He was even known to wander the local streets in search of….who knows. In some respects he was almost turning into a baby again hence the title Back at the Start. The heart has some kind of guidence system, some kind of purity, and 'if it comes from the heart you'll be back at the start again'...back to a more innocent approach to life.
So in track 1, Back At the Start we contemplate the corruption of innocence by unwanted rules and conditioning that are designed to order us but may in fact constrain our freedom. Burnished Gold (Track 2) looked at the old worlds and tribes and their connection to nature which are ‘signs like a roadmap, always knowing where to go”. But our path can unravel unpredictably and we can sometimes face loss and devastation. Until its Gone (Track 3) is a contemplation that often “we don’t really know how good it is until its gone”. Originally inspired by the death of the brother of one of my closest friends who has indigenous heritage, I used this as a metaphor for an American Indian warrior dealing with the grief of the death of his own brother and feeling his presence, sitting by the fire, hears his brothers totem animal the coyote … “wild cries in the distance’ your animal songs”. This song traverses minor sadness and lifts up in the chorus almost as a revelation to honour what we have hear and now. The altro or end is the acceptance. I have played music at many funerals and see these as a celebration of one’s life but wonder about the irony that this happens after they are gone?
The title track of the album (track 4) follows, as this warrior, whom ambiguously may be of modern times or from the old world, is searching for “A Horse Called Freedom”. Not sure if I was unconsciously affected by an old movie I saw with my Dad called 'A man called horse' or the desert chill of Horse with No Name by America. This lyric is a metaphor for finding freedom within. My personal journey of living in a blended family with my two children and my partner’s two children has been emotionally challenging. Combine this with 5 jobs and still a burning desire to keep writing and recording musical ideas, I sometimes feel like a warrior albeit misguided at times. This journey is not free from darkness and the emotional upheaval of my own difficult upbringing (family of 4, a very strict father and all the conflicts apparent in the interrelationships -N.B dad has since mellowed like a bottle of red wine god bless him x). Interactions in my own day to day experiences can trigger these old wounds. This leads the warrior to paint his face, embodying his shadow. Removed from society, somewhere in the mountains, with the threat of rain, a metaphor for inner isolation and the emotional storms that can plague us. Throughout this isolation there are glimpses of this mythical white horse (also represented in the album artwork). Glimpses of a freedom that can lift the spirit beyond these sometimes chaotic worldly concerns onto a more elevated plateau.
The album’s central character re-enters society in ‘Must Start Moving’ (Track 5) but on the fringes only. Wandering with just a dog as a companion he finds deep solace in the solitude of loneliness and turns his gaze once more back to nature and its infinite support. The theme here for the character is not to get stuck. Not dwell unnecessarily in emotional confusion but to stay grounded. He 'Must keep moving'.
This theme is continued with Tears for the Road (Track 6) where a soul is dealing with the tremendous grief of losing his family in the Victorian bushfires. He couldn’t save them and watched them be burned alive. Horrifying. To tell someone to just move on would be disrespectful to them so instead the song explores how grieving can be like leaving ‘tears for the road’ (Track 6) which can lead you to a lighter space. It is also touches on the journey from one place to another.
Thus we enter a transition from the dark into the light where in track 8 “good feelings will guide you to a home”. A metaphor for the inner home of knowing yourself and contacting your own inner power and strength and ability to self-nurture. The song is also an exploration of manifestation whereby the intuition is expressed by genuine good feelings which if you choose this method of guidance may lead you towards self-actualisation. It is also an honouring of family and its role in the bigger picture.
Now as the transformation is near complete, the wounded warrior with the ‘broken wings’ meets the mythical Firebird (Track 8) who becomes a spiritual healer and teaches him to ‘fly again’. This is similar to the rising phoenix that according to Greek mythology, is a long-lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn. After writing the song I was present at a ceremony where an indigenous leader from Australia was passing on a Black cockatoo feather to another man of Hawaiian descent as a peace offering and a sacred symbol of the environment to 'spread' the word. He relayed the story that his people called the black cockatoo a firebird as well as the bearer of rain and it is very lucky to be 'dropped' one of these feathers. I actually wrote the song as Fireburn but my lovely step daughter Arianna thought I said Firebird so it stuck. It is interesting when you let go of the conscious mind what can come through. Now our character is transforming, lightening and moving through into modern times.
So We Can See (Track 9) looks at the pressure of day to day living. We can all ‘crack like thunder’. It also looks at how long term relationships can lead to the drifting apart ‘phase’ through the mundane, the familiar, as we are ‘moving along like trains in the night with rattles and aches, and there’s splinters of light’. This metaphor draws on the themes of ships in the night which may arise from a lack of quality time spent together, which in turn can create unwanted friction. Again pointing ‘back to the start’, this quest for peace and liberation may require a connection to a greater spirit or power who can ‘strip us of the dark, so we can see’. It also looks at the humanistic aspect of spirituality where each one of us can ‘light a candle’ for the other 'so we can see'.
In the End (Track 10), we need not take it all so seriously, so as the painful process of the metamorphosis ends and the butterfly emerges from the cocoon we can move into that peaceful, breezy, connected space that dwells somewhere within the moment. Written at a Corroboree near Casino, I was by a rushing stream, like vagrant, a wayfarer, watching the children swim and play free from the shackles of technology and Facebook. It is also inspired by a great book called Siddhartha by Herman Hesse who'se journey of hedonism ultimately leads him to a life of simplicity by the river.
So as this first part of my journey ends…..another begins