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Last Updated:
Jan 18, 2008

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Andy discusses '2 Rainbeau Melt'

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, "2 Rainbeau Melt", is the first song from the seventh disc in the nine-disc series of outtakes, demos, and rarities known as Fuzzy Warbles, and is one of Andy's newer (and more avant garde) songs.

Per was first out of the gate with the correct guess on which song we'd do this week, so props to him. Maybe guessing-champion Kim needs to watch her back? As for the hint this week for which song interview we're going to post in two weeks ... well, let's just say we don't have one because we haven't decided which song we're going to cover yet! It's all a bit of a mystery -- you'll have to check in next week to try to solve it.

TB: Let's talk about "2 Rainbeau Melt," starting with the title. Why is it spelled this way?

AP: I think I wanted to just have some mischief with it, and I like the idea of a rain beau -- a handsome thing caused by the rain. If a rainbow could spell its own name, I don't think it would just spell it b-o-w. I think it'd spell it b-e-a-u. It's more French and fancy, and sort of covered in ribbons and stuff. So, I think I was just being mischievous.

TB: Same thing with using the number two there, rather than spelling it out?

AP: Yeah. T-w-o just doesn't look right. It doesn't look like the rainbow would design it. But "2" -- probably because it's got a Sesame Street connotation or something. [chuckles, falls into crazy kids' show voice] "Today's number is two! The rainbow is melting!!"

TB: Were you also punning on the fact that it could be "to"?

AP: No! I was thinking of the fact that, with the most spectacular rainbows you can see are double rainbows. And the idea of them melting is about as psychedelic as you can get, I think. All the colors kind of running, or the rain is getting them to melt, you know.

TB: "Ballet for a Rainy Day."

AP: There you go -- it all ties in, you see. Do you know, this started as a poem that was inspired by when Erica came to see me down at Rockfield, where we were mixing Wasp Star. We had an enormous argument, and went out for a walk to get over it, still really boiling with each other. We wandered off, up some track, some hill, on someone's farmland, where I'm sure we probably shouldn't have gone -- probably private property or something.

It'd been raining, and we got to the top of this hill, really in a bad mood with each other. Just as we came over the prow of the hill, we had the most spectacular view before us -- this kind of hollowed out bowl in the land. The sky was a kind of steely RAF-uniform color -- a kind of blue-y gray, with the most phenomenally bright, solid-looking double rainbow symmetrically poised above the valley. It was so spectacular -- I've never seen a rainbow that strong, that bright, so obviously doubled, so perfectly placed on the landscape and against that color sky -- that it brought the pair of us to being friends again immediately.

TB: Sharing in a special moment together.

AP: Yeah! It was jaw-dropping. And the fact that we were both looking at it -- that was it! The argument was all over and we were great friends again from that very moment onward. So, I think I just probably had to say "thank you" to this phenomenally beautiful double rainbow, and the thank-you came out as a poem. I had no intention of putting music to it, but I'm really, really glad I did.

TB: What prompted you to set it to music?

AP: I think I was just afraid it was going to go to waste if I didn't! That it was just going to lay in an exercise book, or lay dormant on a shelf forever, and nobody was going to get to hear it. I was very proud of it -- I thought, "I've really got the essence of this double rainbow." To me, it's probably up there with "The Man Who Sailed Around His Soul" for my favorite of all my lyrics. I'm just very [chuckles] smugly chuffed at some of the metaphors and things.

TB: Let's talk about some of those. It says, "2 rainbeau melt in enormous colours. Hot balloons swoon from an RAF sky." By "RAF sky," I'm assuming you mean...

AP: That's that steely gray color, this dark -- I always thought weirdly claustrophobic -- gray. That seemed to be the color of the sky, with this receding storm that had just dropped so much rain over that part of Wales. It was not cold, so I had the notion there could be "hot balloons swooning" -- it's an idea that hot-air balloons, which are already usually colorful, would be enamored of the beautiful rainbows. That these stripey balloons are swooning with romance at falling in love with this rainbow. The balloons are not quite gorgeous enough, and they've just been blown away by the beauty of this rainbow.

TB: The next line is, "Bloom fold and billow with sherbert fantastic."

AP: Yeah! That's a rainbow, isn't it? You know, you used to be able to get those kids' sweets, like straws, with loads of different colors of sherbert in them. They may have even called them rainbow straws, I think.

TB: Then, "Wash brush in jam jar, leviathan's eye."

AP: Yes. Isn't it great, when you've been doing a painting with poster paint or water paint, and you've just put the brush in the jam jar? You make this colored cloud.

TB: Exactly. And you're swirling the brush in there to clean it...

AP: Yeah, you look down, and there it is, turning 'round, and it could be a giant round cloud eye in the sky, you know? Or, that's what the rainbow could be -- it could be part of some leviathan's eye, with an eyebrow there or something.

TB: Right. Then, "2 rainbeau melt in sneezes of flour."

AP: [laughs] Oh, yeah. It's the idea of something that makes you sneeze, and you're out of control, and it's kind of gone ka-POW with fantastic-ness, you know?

TB: "Slo-mo explosion from circus paint store"...

AP: If you were going to have an explosion, where would be the most colorful place you could have it? In a paint store, that belonged to a circus! So, you'd have all these striped kinds of awnings and striped cloth and canvas and stuff, and then there's an explosion, so there are all these colors flying in all directions against the bright-colored canvases of a circus! Just about the most colorful thing I could think of.

TB: And of course the paint from a circus paint store would be very brightly colored anyway...

AP: Exactly. And the explosion would have to be in slow motion, so you could see all of this paint just sort of reaching out for these incredibly colored canvases.

TB: And then you get a little playful here -- "Toucan spill four can on cloud turning Kodak."

AP: Is there anything more colorful than a toucan beak? Plus, the thing about paint is, it comes in cans, right? So it's "toucan spill four can" -- so we're talking about lots of paint in this explosion -- "on cloud turning Kodak." [stoned Hippie voice] How colorful can you get, man? [laughs] That's about as colorful as you can imagine.

TB: And of course there are so many puns embedded there -- there's "toucan" the bird, or "two can," where "can" can be a noun or a verb...

AP: Exactly, because people can spill cans! But ultimately, it's me and Erica looking at this rainbow.

TB: And finally, "Rain falls applauding and whispers for more."

AP: Yeah, which it does -- you know, you see something that spectacular, and you listen to the rain, and it's kind of [imitates white noise] -- it's like an audience, isn't it.

TB: Yeah, both sounds are contained in there -- it could sound like waves of applause depending on the strength of the rain, and it could sound like a whisper as well.

AP: Exactly. But, as you can see, it's only a short little poem, but perfectly formed, and I was really chuffed with it. I'd say it's head and shoulders above a lot of other things I've written lyrically. But it never intended to be a song.

TB: Although you have rhymes in there, which helps them along as lyrics -- typically, when you're writing pure poetry, is that something you try to do? Do you think maybe subconsciously you wanted to turn this into a song?

AP: Do you know, I hadn't thought about that!

TB: There is a definite rhythm to these lyrics, and they do kind of wrap in themselves that way...

AP: [Sighs] Maybe! But, do you know, when I write just poetry, it has to be rhythm-based, and I usually find after a while that it starts to fold in on itself with rhymes. So, I guess it's just my desire for boundaries.

TB: Which I understand. I do that too when I write. I find that setting up some boundaries helps you focus more, and be a more disciplined lyricist.

So, tell me how the song was built. How long did the lyrics sit dormant before you started to put music to them?

AP: Oh, some months. I think I was starting to fret that, "I've inadvertently written my favorite lyric -- although it's not a lyric, it could become my favorite lyric -- and I don't have any ideas for any music. So I'm going to let the music happen accidentally. I'm going to grab the first things that come to mind." And I literally did. I started it not knowing what key it was going to be in. I just grabbed the first chords that fell under my hand on the guitar. And to do it quickly, I just grabbed a load of drum loops.

TB: What was the order in which you laid the tracks down?

AP: I started by grabbing a bunch of loops in a certain tempo...

TB: Was this from Beats Working?

AP: It's Ralph Salmins again, yeah. And they're great. He just plays so well, you know? I just grabbed them at random -- if you listen to them, there are no reasons for the patterns. What he's doing on the hi-hat is not related to what's happening at any given point in the track -- they're completely random.

Because of the two chunks of the poems, I thought, "I'm not going to go for conventional song structure here. I want it to have a long run-up" -- not even an intro, because it's beyond an intro. It's almost like a long piece of improvised music. It's pre-Monstrance Monstrance!

Then, after I did the first part of the poem, I wanted the rhythm to go away, so I didn't put any in during the center section. Then I wanted the drums to come back in for the last part of the poem. That's why you have this long section of melting guitars and keyboards, then the drums kick in, and you have this long passage of rather pictorial music, with lots of synthesized bird noises and things in the background.

TB: There's a lot of dissonance in the organ you start the song with. The notes are really rubbing hard against each other.

AP: Yeah, and I've got a lot of delay on the organ, which is being bent very deeply. So it sounds like the keyboards are melting. Imagine the keys of the keyboard being the lines of the colors of the rainbow, and then, as you're playing them, they just melt down.

TB: Kind of a sonic metaphor.

AP: Yeah. It's tough to call it a song, actually! I guess the end product of it is a song, but it's conceived more as a poem with musical pictures around it. So everything had to be extremely colorful, but melting as well.

TB: In other words, what you've done is create a musical Dalí or something.

AP: A Salvador Dalí Parton!

TB: [laughing] You're having a musical Daliance!

AP: Salvador Dalí Lama! The Dalai Parton!! [laughs] There you go. Two enormous bald heads contemplating the universe. With the Dalaiwood theme park!

TB: [laughing] You could just go and go with this one...

AP: You could really go with that! You're on a roller coaster, but you're not screaming -- you're calmly sat there, cross-legged.

TB: [laughing] And the roller coaster is not really going anywhere.

AP: You don't need it to! And as you get off, they give you money, in your begging bowl. That's Dalaiwood. [laughs]

Sorry, we kind of got off the subject there! What else do I remember? When I'd got to the second part, after the piece where it all breaks down and you get the sense that it really is melting -- because of the very distorted guitar, I'm just wiping my hands up and down the thing -- I stumbled upon a linnet.

TB: In the Shed? [laughs]

AP: [laughing] Yeah, he followed me in. No, I'd bought myself library of sounds that were all recordings of Mellotrons, and under one of the sound effects banks, I just put my hand on the keyboard, and there was this linnet tweeting away, and I thought, "Jesus! That's perfect."

I mean, all of the things that I did, I sort of grabbed them whether they were right or not. For example, I dialed up a patch on the keyboard, and got something like 127 different cowbells, so I just ran my hand all over them at one point. And you can hear all these cowbells going -- there's a storm of cowbells.

TB: Ah, I'd heard that and wondered what it was.

AP: It's just dozens and dozens of different cowbells being played really rapidly on the keyboard. It was one of those things where, "Whatever sound comes up, I'm going to use it." In this case, it was cowbells, and I thought, "God, if I do that, it's almost like super-descriptive rain or something." So, I was very lucky with the sounds that came up. This little thing of a linnet coming up was perfection itself -- just a great piece of happenstance, you know?

I didn't want it to be a "song" song. I didn't want it to have verse-chorus structure-y bits, so I just grabbed the first things that came to hand, quite literally. I just grabbed a key; and once I'd laid down what you'd call a rhythm guitar with the drums, it was a case of, "Well, how am I going to do these words?" I just grabbed the first melody that came into my head that sort of fitted that key. It was all pretty instant.

TB: And, once again, you're singing triplets across the rhythm.

AP: I'm doing the triplets! [imitates smacking sound] Naughty boy! Smack smack. Yep, can't stop them old triplets.

TB: Hey, whatever works. Let's talk about your vocals and how they were recorded. I remember someone asking about this on the Idea Records Forum, and we recently got a question along these lines at the MySpace site, too.

AP: On a lot of the later records, it's what I've called the "honey effect." Usually, you get your one performance that you're happy with, and then you do a half-dozen to a dozen other performances, which don't have to be tight at all. They can be a bit out of tune, a bit out of time -- it doesn't matter. And then you have those bunches of up to a dozen of you "surrounding" your main take, and then you blend them in under, not very loud, to make this sort of a honey glow around the vocal.

Now, because I did this in the Shed, I don't think I had the patience to do that.

TB: It's at least doubled and sounds like more.

AP: Oh, it's probably, say, three or four of each part. I would have had one in predominance, with the others in support, so it's a sort of a semi-honey glow [chuckles]. But I'm also singing it very lightly, and sort of "choir boy." You know, [sings "2 rainbeau melt," overemphasizing the slow attack of each word, almost Gregorian in nature]. It's almost singing it like you're 14 years old, and you've got your cassock on.

TB: Because you're sitting there in the Church of Nature in awe of what you've just seen?

AP: Actually, I was standing, because it was wet. [laughs] I was hovering, like a Dalai Lama. Dalai Llama Farms -- what kind of wool do you think they'd give off? [laughs] Sorry, I can't stop myself.

I was trying to sing it, I think, almost like a piece of church music. And I don't know why. Maybe I was that in awe of the subject and the vastness of the vision, that I felt it should be somehow quasi-religious.

TB: Let's talk about the bass part -- did you do that at the end?

AP: Yeah, I think it was the last thing that went on. I did it in two takes, I remember that. I love playing bass.

TB: You and I have talked about that before -- you have a good approach to the bass, and I guess the reason you wanted to wait until the end was because you wanted to use that as the glue to hold everything together?

AP: Yeah, always. When you leave it until last, you know what you've got to do in terms of tying the rhythm down, and what melodic room you've got. If you don't have much room, or you want to go for a very minimal approach, you just hit those root notes, on that bass drum, and that's it.

TB: At the same time, you must certainly write songs with bass lines in mind from the beginning.

AP: Oh yeah! Yeah, a lot of them, the bass and drums are completely integral right from the start.

TB: Sure. Even if you're going to lay down the bass last, you have it in mind.

AP: You have it in mind, because you're weaving it around what you're playing on the guitar, and what you're singing. I mean, the best example of that is "Mayor of Simpleton". That was very integral right from the off.

TB: On this one, you're sliding down the neck, for that melting sound, but you're also punctuating what the drums are doing too. You're holding it down, but doing a couple of pops to keep it interesting.

AP: I remember not wanting the bass to be particularly important in this. For me, on this song, the most important thing -- other than the words -- was getting the "scenery" right. I wanted to put into music the visual idea of these rainbows getting somehow washed away by the rain -- they're so transient that you can't take your eyes off them for the few seconds that they're up there, because they're going to melt away, you know? Hopefully I accomplished that.

5:34 PM

©2008 by Todd Bernhardt and Andy Partridge. All Rights Reserved.