Traveling California with a Four Track – Jordie Lane’s Journey

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There’s nothing more enduringly attractive about the life of an artist than their tramp-years. From Jim Morrison recording bad poetry in his Parisian beard to Vashti Bunyan strumming her first songs as she horse-and-carted to the Hebridean Islands, this sort of peripheral stuff can often influence the way you think of an artist and their work.

With “Blood Thinner”, Jordie Lane has gone down the somewhat beaten track of the Wandering Troubadour, writing and recording his sophomore album in the dust-dry basements, garages and motel rooms of California.

But he’s also found a way to tip his hat to the dead. In the last week we’ve seen the “27 Club” still has some of the notoriety, bordering on mysticism, that fascinated rock music from the 60s to the 90s. Having written and recorded several songs on “Blood Thinner” in the same room Gram Parsons (who’s in the Club) died in, Jordie has a lot to answer for. He’s ticked all the rock boxes!

Shh, let him speak.

You were in California for a year, why did you leave Australia?

For a start I will clarify, I did come back to Australia a few times here and there. But I guess I just needed to get away. I have never lived anywhere else but the northern suburbs of Melbourne my whole life. I had a bit of money saved, and a few months initially free, so I just bought a ticket and went.

Was this album always on the cards when you left?
No. It was the complete opposite. I had no thought or intention of making this record at all. It was a real surprise to me, even now. I mean I didn’t even have a guitar when I first got there.

Did you notice a different vibe musically between Melbourne and California?

Oh completely. Just the vibes in general, the energy is completely different. And I loved it. I felt very at home, but also really excited that everything I saw, heard and touched was technically… foreign and new to me.

Everything is really far apart, and you have to search a bit harder to find good stuff in LA, than you do in Melbourne, but it also feels really free and open and spacious, and full of a great supportive community of artists, and punters. They are so very open-minded, I love it.

You recorded this album on an old cassette 4-track. Was it a challenge to fit all the instrumentation you were after working on such limited technology?
Yes it was a great challenge, a very exciting one. You see it wasn’t a stylistic decision initially to do this, but more out of necessity. That’s what I had to work with at the time, so that’s what I used.

The limitations found in a 4 track only spurred me on to become more creative with how I would translate what I heard in my head on 4 tracks, but this led to using strange instrumentation, and techniques, and a new way of looking at songwriting and arranging.

How did producer Tom Biller feel about using this technology? Presumably his role was more restrained, with less control over production methods, compared to his work with Kanye West for instance?
Well Tom didn’t have much of a say. After making the initial demos I returned his 4 track machine along with 30 or so cassette tapes, and he said he loved em, and I shouldn’t change a thing. I said: “No, I think you can help make this thing way better.”

We both decided that yes there was a special quality and vibe that I got with the shitty mics and tapes first up, so he wanted to continue that with me. So he was definitely there in a subtle way from the beginning. First it was lending me the gear, then letting me crash in his studio, then making me breakfast, then engineering and working on arrangements and all those other things that tie a record together. Tom was great at making me feel relaxed, and I trusted him completely, and it wasn’t cause of the Grammys or the accolades, It was cause he is a great person, and very talented individual. As I mentioned about LA being very open minded, its people are very diverse in who they work with, so for Tom to go from working with Kanye, to Warpaint, to myself, looked like a pretty easy transition for him!

You mentioned Biller’s Grammys—Rueben Cohen, who mastered the album, has also won his share. How was it working with a production crew with so many awards between them?
With Biller, this was never talked up, or made a focal point in who he is as a producer/engineer or as a person in general. To be honest he couldn’t really care less. His Grammys sit hidden under messy paper work and stationary on a desk in his lounge room.

Rueben and Gary Lurssen were more into the material side of things, with their 10s of Grammys sitting proudly on a display mantle in between the oversize mastering speakers. But in saying that, it was still a very personable approach that both took with me, and a very down to earth style. No one ever made me feel like I was pushing above my weight or anything like that.

Outside of recording techniques, were there any other conceptual elements to this album? Lyrical, musical, arrangement-wise?
Well when I first started in the “just gonna have fun, muck around” stage, I said to myself, “I will use whatever I have in the room, at my disposal, to come up with songs.” Musically I wanted the songs to represent a lonesome and organic journey. The arrangements and instrumentation therefore were very much determined by the limitations of the technology but also the instruments I managed to find along the way. So it was a very organic concept that evolved, completely different to my past projects.

I began phrasing lyrics in a much more deliberate and rhythmic style. Choosing plain simple language over my past lyrics, which had been filled with much more poeticism. I was very much trying to understand things in my own personal life and learning more in the ways of the world, so I was trying to simplify that for myself by doing this.

You spent a night in Gram Parson’s old room in Joshua Tree, the room he died in. Did you record any of the album there?
The first time I went was simply to pay my respects to Gram, by staying in the room, and also the idea which I did follow through with (after writing ‘Diamond Ring’ in the room), in which I bought a guitar with the sole purpose to take out to the middle of the desert and set on fire in his honour. That turned out to be just as much about finding a fresh beginning for myself. I went around the rest of the States for awhile, but as I began writing a lot of songs on the road, I couldn’t hold myself from going back to the room once more. This time was for 5 nights, and this time with the 4 track, some mics and tapes (that had me driving all round California, almost to Mexico to find them). So I wrote most of the songs and recorded several that stayed exactly the same on the final cut, in that very special Room 8.

Did you sleep well?
Like a little kid all worn out from a big day. It felt the same as being served a hearty comfort meal by your favourite relatives on a farm or something. Of course there was nothing like my family, or their food, or Aussie landscapes, but that secure, warm feeling was what I felt.

Your trip to Joshua Tree was a pilgrimage of sorts. Were there any other musical stop-offs you made during your US stint?
Yes, I love the whole idea of how America came to be this home of the most fascinating songwriters and music styles that I, and so many others have looked up to for so long.  So I had many places to visit. Obviously to stand on that famous ‘X’ in Sun Studios, where Elvis and Johnny Cash once stood. I made Nashville, New Orleans and Memphis must-go places. I took an original Sun Records 45 and played it on a battery powered turntable at Johnny and June Carter Cash’s grave site. I was also sleeping for a bit at Jimi Hendrix’s old house in LA (owned by Capitol). He was my first musical idol.

But to be honest BBQ and beer did sometimes foil many of my plans, oh well, next time…

What’s next on the horizon, album-wise?
Well I bought a mint condition 1975 Rhodes keyboard the day before I came back to Australia, and I left it in a basement there. So I wanna get back as soon as possible, after touring here until the end of the year, and start playing some dirty keyboard for another completely new sounding record. Tom Biller wants to work with me on this next record too, so we’ll see what happens.

Jordie Lane launches “Blood Thinner” at
The Corner Hotel, 57 Swan St Richmond
Friday 12th August, doors open 8.30pm
Tickets $18 + bf at the door, 9427 9198 or visit www.cornerhotel.com

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