One of the things I most like about seeing a band live is the opportunity to hear the stories behind the music. But sometimes you can’t see the bands you want to, and it would be a shame to keep the meanings of these songs hidden. So, if you are the sort of person who likes to know what songs are about, here are some notes explaining the tracks on Fables.
TOW THE LION is a song for a friend who was having a fairly rough time. The expression ‘Tow the Lion’ was adapted to create a chorus that suggests to an embattled party that they should stop taking nonsense from thoughtless individuals, stand up, and seize control of their own life. The lion element suggests that this process may well be hard, but it will be rewarding none the less. Rather than toeing the line (an act of conformity), towing the lion is a rallying call for those who would overturn the oppressive circumstances of their existence.
FINE PRINT was written on a sunny morning on the porch of the cottage where we recorded Fables. Beth and I liked the idea of ‘Fine Print’ being both the unread terms and conditions of a relationship, as well as an exasperated statement of resignation directed at a long-term partner. There is also a hint of passive aggressive mud slinging throughout the verses. We’ve all been in that sort of relationship where petty insults are traded and it was fun to put this into a song in a playful, jaunty way.
GIMME A LIGHT is a song that talks about the experience of being locked in conversation long into the night. I love when this happens — in a bar, at a house party, on a sofa at a friend’s house — it’s a great feeling to be lost in stories and words for hours. The chorus itself evokes two separate meanings. The most obvious of these alludes to lighting up, sharing a smoke in a courtyard or a garden. That said, when I wrote this line, the light referred more to the spark between two people bound together in a conversational haze.
BRICK BY BRICK is just a personal song about getting to know someone incrementally. Somewhere, seeping through each line and verse of this song are the best parts of a relationship.
SOULS TO THE COAST only made it onto the album because I played it to Tim on the car ride back from an essential beer run in the middle of our recording week. The content of the song relates to a particular friend whose commitment to loving entire people (mind, soul, dancing, dishevelled) is infectious. The lyrics try to capture this approach to people: realising the totality with which you adore another human and wanting to be away with them.
SKYLARKING was co-written with Nick, who played a version of this song late one night. I really liked the idea of skylarking as a verb, and wanted to develop it into a metaphor for lying intoxicated in green spaces. It speaks to a sense of escapism, finding a moment of tranquillity in busy, urban surroundings. The idea of ‘gods and cranes’ tries to capture that sense of wonder that can still be achieved by gazing skywards, even in the most grey and concrete of habitats.
ONGOINGONE causes problems as soon as people read the title. While Beth and I enjoyed the idea of a sprawling word that represented the passing of memories from the mind, it was seen as elusive and meaningless by others. But that’s band stuff. The song itself is written with a very real sense of worry that events which have been an important part of childhood and growing-up are starting to pass from memory. The way in which the word ‘ongoingone’ bends back on itself is intended to represent the way in which these memories slowly start to lose shape in our minds, while still leaving a nostalgic residue behind.
THE GOSSAMER TREE acts as a tribute to the cottage we stayed in to write this album. Beth and I talked about the idea of creating a character who could have lived in the cottage, and landed on the name 'Maggie'. The story of Maggie needing to leave the cottage stems from the experience of knowing a person who needs to move on from a place, a thought or a longing that is causing them grief or sadness. The Gossamer tree, in this case, is a metaphor for a preferable state of sanctuary that —although imperfect— acts as a spiritual and emotional cradle for damaged souls. And trees are cool.
TIGER TIGER is the only semi-autobiographical song on the record. The words focus on our mischievous, alter egos that seek to lead us astray in the night. This track was written around 10pm on our last day in Cygnet Cottage. We finished recording it around midnight, which leant a great sense of calm to the sound and a great sense of quiet menace to the words.
GOLD AND I was in fact the first song we finished for the record, and probably has the deepest roots. In the simplest terms possible, it’s about dating someone who starts off blonde and turns brunette. Plus I had wanted to use the lyric ‘war and pieces’ (or the variation that appears in the chorus) for a while, and it fitted nicely.
So there you have it. I imagine that for some people that will be faaaar too much information, while for others these notes will be disappointingly vague, but that’s the way we roll. If in doubt, read all you want into the lyrics, you’ll probably be onto something.