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Last Updated:
Oct 16, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Andy discusses "Church of Women"

Song of the Week -- Andy's take

Part of an ongoing series of interviews by Todd Bernhardt with Andy Partridge about the songs we feature each week on MySpace. This week's song, "Church of Women," is from 2000's Wasp Star (Apple Venus, Vol. 2). (MySpace's modern-day Pythia, Kim, is back on top of Mount Parnassus for this week, posting her correct prediction and the first comment two weeks ago. If you listen closely to her, she may reveal other secrets. Close your eyes, and open your miiiinnnnd...)

We'll be back in two weeks with an interview about one of the band's side-opening songs. In the meantime, remember that over at the XTC Boutique, you can save 20% when you spend more than £10 -- but only until the end of December, so get that holiday shopping done!

TB: Let's go to church, shall we?

AP: Let's go [adopts gangsta voice] to the Church of Bitches! [laughs] Just to think, how the choice of one wrong word could have totally upended the whole concept of the song!

TB: [laughing] "Yo, let me worship at the church of bitches."

AP: "Let him worship, let him worship, uh-huh." [laughs] You've always got to have, like, a professional interrupter in Rap songs.

I read a good thing in Viz a couple of issues back that said [affects posh voice], "Advice to Rappers: Instead of saying 'You know what I'm saying,' and 'You know what I mean' all the time, why don't you just enunciate more clearly?" [laughs]

TB: [laughing] I know what you're saying!

We were talking earlier about demos vs. produced versions, and this is a song that I heard in demo form way before the I heard the finished version.

AP: Yeah, I know. Unfortunately, so did most of the planet, and that really pissed me off.

TB: I remember you not being happy about that, but at the same time, it's always interesting to get a glimpse into your creative process, hear how a "rough draft" turns into a finished version, and think about the choices you make. So, for example, I remember telling you back then how much I liked the guitar solo on the demo [which you can find on Homegrown], and you poo-poo'd that.

AP: Oh, it's just silly! It's just this Eddie Van Halen type of thing... [laughs]

TB: I thought it was very angular and well-played! We were just talking about White Music and I saw it almost as a return to the type of approach you had to the guitar on the early albums.

AP: Maybe -- but I'll tell you what, I am actually immensely proud of the guitar solo on the album version, on Wasp Star.

TB: Why do you like that one much more than the other?

AP: [pauses to think, sighs] Because it's more feminine -- there's more thought going into it. It is more the nature of femininity. And also because I think I passed my audition for Steely Dan with that solo. I'm going to say it now -- I'm not usually boastful -- but the guitar solo on "Church of Women," the album version, is as good as any Steely Dan guitar solo. There! I've said it now. Whoops, that's torn it! [laughs]

TB: See, if you were still 39, you wouldn't have been able to get away with that, but you're 54, goddammit, so you can.

AP: Yep, I guess I can say shit like that now. [laughs] But yeah, I'm immensely proud of that solo. I don't know how many takes it took me to get it.

TB: Oh, so you really tried it again and again?

AP: What usually happens is, I either get a solo in the first couple of takes -- say one or two -- or then I go really off the boil and get really angry with myself for a dozen takes, in which I'm just playing crap, and then I go through the angry zone, and blunder in to something quite-nice again. Most of my solos go like that. I can't work anything out. Dave's the worker-outer. I just fire from the unhip, and see what I've got.

TB: Let's say you're doing that, and you're on the tenth take, or whatever -- are you building on things that you're discovering during the previous nine takes, or are you doing something different each time?

AP: I try to do something different each time, just to keep the brain agile and find accidents. Because the accidents are the creative stuff. So, I'm throwing myself into the wall, to try to find more accidents on each take. But I can't remember if this was one that I got in a couple of takes, or if it took a lot more.

I remember when I first got some pressings of the album, Mike Keneally called me up, and just because he's a ludicrously good guitar player, I played that solo to him down the phone, and made him listen to it.

TB: And?

AP: Oh, he could probably play it with his toes, you know. He was probably snickering to himself, thinking, "Is that all?"

TB: [laughing] One of the things that first struck me about the solo when I first heard Wasp Star was the big pause you put in there -- that you had the courage to know you didn't need to fill up all the spaces.

AP: That's what makes it more feminine. It's more curvaceous -- it has a subcutaneous layer of fat, if you see what I mean. Whereas the demo one is masculine, and flashy, and "Hey, look at my willy!" Waggle-wiggle-waggle. The album one is lither and smoother-skinned.

TB: What guitar are you playing on this song?

AP: Oh, it's the Ibanez. It's my favorite guitar. It's my baby.

TB: Another guitar that you have in common between the demo and album versions is Holly's nylon-string guitar.

AP: Oh, yeah, which Mr. Blushift has at the moment.

TB: Right, he's now the proud owner of that.

AP: Yeah, and the Swindon MS Centre is the proud owner of the money he donated for that. They're looking for new premises, because the premises they're in at the moment are really very leaky indeed. That's where I've been doing the oxygen pressure therapy for my tinnitus.

TB: Let's talk a little bit about how you stumbled upon the guitar pattern that is the foundation of the song.

AP: I was actually stood up, in my socks, holding this guitar...

TB: Just in your socks?

AP: [laughs] Armor, and socks. No, I was just stood there in front of the TV, holding Holly's guitar, I think the sound was either off or really low, and I just found a couple of lovely chords that fell under my hand. Top three strings, in descending order, the notes are G, D, B, and I think the D string is ringing open. And then you play a D6, which in descending order is G-flat, B, A, and I think the open D string.

So, these two chords fell under my hand -- I was probably looking at the TV, and not looking at what my hands were doing -- and I thought, "Ooh, that's nice. That's really a good bed to skate over." I was strumming it really languidly, a bit like that girl in Strawberry Switchblade used to strum the guitar -- just gling-gling-gling-gling, gling-gling-gling-gling. It made me want to sing in that triplet feel over the top, because the rhythm is so languid but straight. It's every beat. And I love singing in triplets.

TB: Yep. As we know. So, it gave you an idea for the feel of the vocal line...

AP: I had the idea for the feel of it first. I knew I wanted to write a song about women, and I knew I wanted to write a song about "church of something." Because I actually had a couple of songs that I'd written and rejected -- I can't remember the name of one of them, but the other one, the more finished one, was called "Church of Your Own Design." [sings] "And now you're on your knees / You're saying / This is not quite what you had in mind / Now you're on your knees / Start praying / You're in the Church of Your Own Design." It's about, you know, how things are shitty because we make them shitty.

And so, I think I had that in mind, and I wanted to write a song praising women, and after finding these two languid chords -- this G to D6 -- I think it fell out quite quickly after that. The pressure's building up and you've just got to kick a straw away, and down comes a whole mess of stuff that you've been building up, you know?

TB: What was inspiring you? Why did you want to write a song about women at this point?

AP: Because I really like women. I feel bad that they've had a bad deal, and they still get a bad deal. You know, they still get less wages than men for doing the same job. So I wanted to protest about that, for all that it's worth.

TB: Was there any particular event in your life that was inspiring you to do that at that time?

AP: No, not really. I'd had a long-term relationship with a girl called Linda, who was very strong, and really knew what she was trying to do. She would promote her own Rock-and-Roll gigs, and stuff. She wanted to start her own fashion chain.I admired her drive, and I think she opened my eyes up years earlier to how strong women could be. I admire women. There's absolutely nothing wrong with them. I would never call myself a woman hater, or even a woman user, particularly. I've always been pretty damned respectful of women.

Um ... my brain's going off on flights of fancy -- I was having a Father Dougal moment there. [laughs]

TB: You said the lyrics themselves came out pretty quickly?

AP: Yeah, although I did go back and make quite a few tweaks to them. What comes out quickly is your intention, if you see what I mean, and then you go back and you make all the screws, nuts and bolts fit, and all the cogs work -- that kind of thing.

TB: Was this one of those songs where you were developing music and lyrics at the same time?

AP: The majority of songs do certainly come out with an idea, a phrase, or a couple of lines simultaneously with chords. Because, you know, the chords make the suggestion, or the words suggest what the chords are going to be. You usually don't come up with a whole lyric first -- you come up with a phrase, or a couple of lines.

TB: What about the bridge -- the "lie for a lie, and a truth for the truth"...

AP: Well, that was all nabbed from another song, you see. On Homegrown, there's a little bit of the demo of the "Lie for a lie" song.

TB: Why did you decide to plug that in there?

AP: Because I needed an intro. I didn't want to just amble in.

TB: So it wasn't just a matter of saying, "I'm going to use this for the bridge," and then saying later, "Oh, I can also use it as the intro"?

AP: I think I wanted it for the intro first. I really like those old Hollywood things, where they have a totally separate intro -- you know [sings in lounge-singer voice, speeding up as he goes along], "The loveliness of Paris / Seems somehow sadly gay / The glory that was Rome / Is of another day / I've been terribly alone / And forgotten in Manhattan / I'm going home to my city by the bay" -- totally different to the rest of the song. I kind of like that, so I wanted to some extent to have an old-fashioned, different intro.

If you do that, it's kind of nice to bring it back later. I've done that on a lot of songs. "The Disappointed" has an intro that comes back later. "Respectable Street" also has an intro that comes back later on. So, I quite fancied doing it with this.

I liked the phrase "a lie for a lie." It's not totally relevant to the "Church of Women" idea, but I did like the phrase, so it was a case of getting the art hammer and banging that square peg into that somewhat elliptical hole, and just making the bloody thing fit.

So, later on, when the phrase comes back, you can then append to it, "Give 'em back their house / The walls, the doors / The floors and roof." You know, let women have more a say in the world and in their life.

TB: Yeah. Don't fight it.

AP: Yeah! And stop trying to feed them on, what is it, "wafers and wine"? And "some myth we're in control." And then there's that little hanging piece coming after that, with Colin going, "oofa-ah, oofa-ah" -- doing a slightly Beach Boys-esque thing. You know, the kind of fake American Indian stuff that was lopped off of "Heroes and Villains." It's like vocal percussion.

TB: Was that your idea?

AP: It's mostly Colin -- it was like, "Ooh, I've got an idea, let me do it." And I thought, "Yeah, that's pretty good. Let's track that up and make it really work."

TB: Speaking of Colin, one of the things that strikes me about this song is the bass line.

AP: It took me a long time to find that for the demo. Because I wanted a bass line that was distinctive, and work in a way that spoke to the drums and the melody.

TB: So you kind of had the drum pattern in mind before you created the bass part?

AP: Yeah, there's a not-very-good take on it on the demo. But when we had Chuck [Sabo] there, and we had Matt Vaughan doing some programming bits and pieces for us, I'd sit with him and say, "Show me some crunchy-sounding bass drums. Show me a distort-y snare. Show me a little high-pitched snare. Now tune it up even higher. And I got him to layer up a [imitates rhythm of song] kind of groove, and then Chuck was playing with that live.

We even screwed up Chuck's drums so they sounded more like these processed looped sounds. So, you know, that lovely fuzzy kind of roll that Chuck does when he comes in -- we put that through the Pod.

TB: So it sounds like a timbale or something.

AP: Or it sounds like cheap samples, which is a nice way of taking something real and screwing it up, you know? I think he's drumming with brushes, and we distorted it. He's drumming with a loop of screwed-up samples as well, and further layers of samples come in during each section, if you see what I mean.

The whole album is Pod madness. There's so much on this track, getting screwed up with the Pod -- the drums, different percussion bits, guitars, keyboards -- we were like, "Wow, we can distort that just right," you know?

TB: Was Colin putting his bass through your Pod as well?

AP: I think he was. I'm not sure whether there was such a thing as a Bass Pod at the time. Certainly there was a guitar Pod, and we would be putting it through that, and then out through a bass amp -- his Gallien Krueger, or as he called it, his G.K. Chesterton.

TB: What else do you remember about the music?

AP: Well, yes, the trumpet line is from "No Woman, No Cry" -- which I didn't realize for a couple of months after coming up with it. I thought, "Where have I heard that nice little countermelody before?" Obviously, I must have had "woman-ness" on my brain for that to go in there. It's one of those subconscious connections you make.

TB: That's on the demo as well, right?

AP: Yeah, I think it's played on the guitar. It just came into my head, and I thought, "Oh yeah, that's a good little countermelody," but it's the countermelody from "No Woman, No Cry." So, sorry Bob!

TB: Any other parts that stick out for you?

AP: I really like the lift that happens before the chorus, when it goes [sings], "I'm on my knees but dancing." It sort of sets up like it's going to go to the chord of E -- it goes from B, because B is the setup for E -- and then it jumps up a tone to D-flat. And so you think the chorus is obviously going to be set up by this D-flat, and be in G-flat, but it's not. It drops back down again to the initial key, to E.

So there's kind of an artificial lift in there, where you think the chorus is coming, then there are a couple more bars where it raises up a tone, and therefore your expectations get raised more, and then it [laughs] dashes them cruelly back to the original key. But I think that's kind of a nice bit, actually. I was listening today and thought, "You know, that's quite nice. I wonder what made me do that?"

TB: So, what did make you do it?

AP: I don't know! Obviously I felt the song needed more of a lift there, but instead of being corny, and doing the lift up and then resolving to the key you think the lift has taken you to, I resolved it back to the original key.

TB: Another big difference between the demo and the album version is the ending.

AP: Well, we have all those cross harmonies at the end. That just fills me with ecstasy, the thought of crossing those vocal lines. It all the fault of old J.S. Bach.

Then everything gets stripped down, where the track disappears, leaving [producer] Nick Davis on the harmonium -- Colin and I weren't quick enough to play the changes -- plus our handclaps and the vocals. The very reverential congregation there.

TB: How did you come up with the idea for the swelling, churchlike ending?

AP: I didn't know how the hell we were going to get out of this, and the idea to do that just came up in the studio. It was a matter of, "Let's take the track down but leave the vocals up. Ooh, that's nice. Leave the claps up, so the congregation is clapping." So, it was built, in the mix, in the studio.

TB: So you guys originally did play for the whole song? You just thought you'd fade the song out?

AP: Yeah, I didn't know exactly how we were going to end it.

TB: Speaking of vocals, I really like the vocal line on this song. You really show off your range -- there's a big jump between the low notes in "butter" and the high notes in "like us men."

AP: Yeah. Well, that's because I'm a god this evening. [laughs]

TB: Well, you are a damned good singer, and people don't always realize it.

AP: Ah, shucks. I'm a singer because, you know, I inherited the job. I never knew any other singers, so it was a matter of, "God, I'll have do this myself."

TB: Yeah, but that's not why you're a singer. You are a singer because you're good at it, and you obviously love to sing, because you wouldn't write yourself melody lines like this if you didn't.

AP: I do like to sing. The more I did actually do the singing, and the more songs I wrote that I had to sing, the more I kind of got into it, you know?

And then there's that long process of finding your voice, and I obviously found it. I've probably lost it by now, and come through the other side! But I'd certainly found it by Wasp Star. I think I probably found it by some stuff on Drums and Wires...

TB: Was there any particular point that you remember saying to yourself, "Yeah, I am a singer, and I like doing this, so I'm going to write myself some good melody lines to sing"?

AP: Ummm ... no, I never set out to specifically write some really good melodies. They're just what fall out because it's what seems right at the time, and it's pleasing. It gives you little goosey thrills as some of these lines come out, and you think, "Ooh, wouldn't it be good to take the melody there, so it rubs against the chord?" Or, "Wouldn't it be good to sing those notes, because they're not in the chord that I'm playing, and it sounds somewhat momentarily dislocated but achieves a certain effect?"

I mean, good vocalists are nice to hear, especially people with really attractive timbres. But no, I don't think of myself as a singer, and I do know a lot of people who do say, "Well, he's not really a very good singer"...

TB: About you?

AP: Yeah.

TB: Well, they're full of shit.

AP: I mean, you can see all sorts of stuff all over the Web, where people say that.

TB: People might be thinking of the old "seal bark" of the early albums, but even then -- these people have not tried to sing along with your parts, if they think you're not a good singer. I have covered your songs in a variety of situations, and they're not easy. You've always had a good range, both dynamically as well as melodically. That involves a lot of control, too -- to be able to sing softly and then really project or bark something out.

AP: I guess it's finding your voice. You feel confident once you've found your voice, but there was quite a few years where I didn't find my voice -- I still had this cartoon thing going -- a seal had eaten Buddy Holly, and was given helium to make him throw it up, and the end product was my voice.

TB: Well, but you were doing that for a certain effect -- you wanted to get people's attention, also you were trying to cut through bad PAs and other things like that.

AP: That's true.

TB: Let's get back to the lyrics. You've got lots of little jokes and double entendres in here.

AP: Oh yeah, it's peppered with little things. They "have you give praise with a laugh, bark and stutter" -- that's what women do to me. They make me nervous.

TB: Then, "like us men, like us men / They are nothing like us men."

AP: Yeah! It's sort of like a plea -- please like us! -- but then you turn it on its head by saying they are nothing like us. A bit naughty that, but it seems to work.

TB: "Men have gargoyles round their hearts."

AP: Yeah, they do! They like the ugly, hard side of things. And women are the complete opposite of that. They're the anti-gargoyle.

TB: Men do that as a way of protecting themselves, so in a way, you're saying, "You don't need to."

AP: Not in this day and age so much. But, you know, I can understand why they're like that. You can't be a softie if you've got to go and bring down a mammoth, you know?

TB: Or if you're going to survive on the playground!

AP: Yeah!

TB: I don't know if you intended it, but the image of "I'm on my knees but dancing" has always struck me as a great sexual metaphor.

AP: Oh, it's filth. Unmitigated filth.

TB: [laughing] So you intended it?

AP: [Sheepishly] Yeah.

TB: "Want to worship / At the church of women / Breathe 'em in / Until my head goes spinning round."

AP: Yeah, I love the smell of women. Actually, the best woman I ever smelled was when I worked as a producer for Saeko Suzuki. She smelled wonderful. I don't think it was any perfume, it was just her. She was just a very fragrant woman.

TB: In the second verse, there's the whole joke about "Church of women / Is making donations / Of loving and giving" and then "Performing that miracle / Raising the living."

AP: Yes. I think people get [laughing] several ideas about what that line means -- and they'd be right! You know, they're giving you a hard-on -- that's raising the living. Or they're bringing up the kids. So, they both work.

TB: Then we were talking about the bridge before...

AP: "Let's put things right" -- that's a pivotal line. That's what the song is all about. Let's be good to women and put all the injustices right, finally. But, you know, that's going to overturn all the world's religions, for a start. They certainly don't like women being in control, because they're all male-centered.

TB: There are a few out there that aren't, but they're certainly not in the majority.

AP: No, they're really on the sidelines.

TB: And then there's the joke in here about the "loaves and kisses" rather than loaves and fishes.

AP: Yeah, that's a bit crass, but it sort of works.

TB: It's a good set-up for the next line, where you say, "'Til we have enough to love and eat forever."

AP: Yeah. Not "live." Sometimes I wonder if I've tripped myself up with a lyric -- is it too tangled? -- but the thing is, you can go back to the songs, and pick them apart, and follow the different strands, and think, "Oh, I'm going to go with that strand today," and you can find it goes in a different place. So, I suppose that's the joy of slightly tangled-up lyrics.

TB: And I wouldn't even necessarily call them tangled up -- I'd say they're multi-layered. You've obviously worked these, because you want them to be interpreted in more than one way.

AP: I've worked those babies with an uplift pen! [laughs]

5:17 PM

©2007 by Todd Bernhardt and Andy Partridge. All Rights Reserved.