Posted In: John McCaffrey, Part Timer, Scissors And Sellotape
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This selection begins in a hazy cloud of sound but as the mix progresses, a bit more melody, a bit more light, a bit more sharpness enters within – each new tune brings a slow adjustment in sound and focuses the listener’s attention. – John McCaffrey
Y0t0 – verbiage
David Newlyn – suburban
Szymon (Trees move the most) + Monolyth & Cobalt – (Time) to consider
Humblebee – 12th Nov
Mountains – blown glass typewriter
Lefolk – new perimeter melts
Tokyo bloodworm – mergers and occupations (remote viewer mix)
Mark Templeton – beginnings
Orla Wren w/ Katie English – Swallowtail Yellow
Fennesz – happy audio
Emmanuele Errante – dorian’s mirror
Marsen Jules – endless whisper of the old brigade
‘…For the Tired And Ill At Ease…’ is the cumulative result of several years of John McCaffrey’s shoulder to the musical grindstone; originally a member of electronica duo Clickits, McCaffrey moved from Accrington in the North West of England to Melbourne, Australia and started solo project Part Timer. His upcoming release as Scissors And Sellotape on Fac-ture follows the eponymous 2009 debut on Cotton Goods and numerous projects as both Part Timer and Upward Arrows for Moteer, Mobeer, Flau, Under The Spire and Lost Tribe Sound, including a number of solo self releases and collaborations with Nicola Hodgkinson, frequent muse Heidi Elva, multi-instrumentalist Aaron Martin and vocalist wife Danielle.
As Part Timer, McCaffrey concentrates on mixtures of delicate folk flavours and electronic augmentation. Upwards Arrows is an outlet for his drone material. Scissors And Sellotape is a different beast, an articulate mix of subtle electronic manipulation, field noise, restrained melody and maudlin texture. Recorded in 3 hours at St Mary’s Church in Thornbury, ‘…For the Tired And Ill At Ease…’ is an eleven-track deconstruction of the piano and organ pieces taken from the day, edited, resampled and stretched so comprehensively that after four weeks work even contributor Elva found them unrecognizable…
McCaffrey took some time out in between early morning starts and his 3 year old eldest’s birthday party to discuss the project, religion, playing live with an iPhone, the involvement of his co-conspirators and the collective history of his musical outputs…
Do you still get back to the UK?
I haven’t been back to the UK in a number of years. My parents moved to a cave in Spain, so when I’ve been back over, it has been to visit them. I miss Manchester’s record shops though, and some good friends in Accrington.
Speaking of caves, which church in Melbourne was the album recorded in?
The piano was recorded at St Mary’s in Thornbury, Melbourne. Heidi had befriended the priest there, had hooked up a piano tuner for him and managed to wangle some time on the piano and the big organ there.
How long did you record in there for?
All together we spent about 3 hours there and came away with just under an hour of recordings. I recorded a few organ notes (they make the bass in a couple of tracks), some room ambience, the sound of keys being struck with no notes (organ bellows turned off). Also spent a bit of time taking photos and shooting a little bit of video on my iPhone.
The original plan was to record Heidi playing some straight piano bits, add a bit of Part Timer to them but essentially leave them as is. While Heidi was out getting me a coffee, I recorded some of my own piano too and then when it came to editing the recordings I just got carried away. Very little of Heidi’s original phrasing remained. I just got stuck into the recordings, editing, resampling, stretching, twiddling, adding strings (courtesy of Tom ‘Origamibiro’ Hill, I nicked some samples from a track he sent me to remix) and my own field recordings.
The end result did not strike Heidi as what she had been expecting – she recognised nothing in there, despite the majority of the samples being of her playing. It’s clearly not Part Timer – there’s no folk influence, and it’s not drone enough to be Upward Arrows…but the compositional process was very similar to the Scissors and Sellotape release for Cotton Goods; for that one I just sewed together loops, from random recordings made over the space of a year within a really short time frame – maybe 2 weeks. This album took a bit longer, maybe 3-4 weeks.
Hence Scissors and Sellotape. I think the title is self explanatory, though maybe it should be “FROM The Tired And Ill At Ease”…
Heidi was the driving force behind the choice of locale, she really liked the ambience there. Me, less so. Coming from the UK with some proper ancient churches I don’t find the relatively modern vibe of Aussie churches all that inspiring!
The titles have a “self help” tone to them; does the album as a whole have a sentiment or direct statement behind it?
The album title came to me first. I think that was partly inspired by some of the religious sentiment, the idea that people go to their religion for meaning or for relief from the pressures of the real world. I studied theology at Uni (first time around) and have long been interested in the fact that mere ideas act as a kind of refuge for people. I’m a devout atheist, with a lingering vague interest in Buddhism (the more Western psychological interpretation), so I find the monotheistic religions bizarre and magical.
So, I think the sour note of lots of the track titles hint at my feeling that any refuge found in religious thought is illusory and the consolations hollow. The song titles join on to either the beginning or end of the album title; “For The Tired And Ill At Ease…There Is No Succour”, “It’s A Long Slog….For The Tired And Ill At Ease”, “ For The Tired And Ill At Ease….I Say Get Used To It”.
Where did you lose your interest in theology? Was there a point?
I didn’t lose my interest in theology – I was never interested!
I did theology because I’ve always been atheist but wanted to understand what people saw in it!
Did you ever find out?
I think people see all kinds of things in religion, in some ways it’s whatever you need it to be. You can project your fears, hopes, or conceptions of justice on to it, and find some validating stream of thought. Plus there’s that sense of belonging, being part of a community. I think that’s important; that you’re part of a shared truth.
Are you doing shows for the release of the record?
I think I’ve only done 7 shows in total over the years. I find live shows really stressful and really difficult to work out how best to ‘perform’.
I think the best set up I’ve had for a live show has involved my three wonder-women – Danielle, Nicola and Heidi. It’s great to have a lot of hands on stage, singing, playing keyboards, glockenspiel, additional samples and guitar, with me playing guitar, sampler and loop pedal. That’s the closest it gets to a proper live version of Part Timer, but it’s really hard to get everyone together to practice because everyone’s got real lives too! I just played a solo gig supporting Heidi using an iPad and iPhone.
I have a gig in Sydney at the end of July with the same setup, but I think that will be the last in a while.
Whereabouts is the show in Sydney?
The gig is on July 30th at Pablo & Rusty’s 42 Langston Place, in Epping.
Tell us about these wonder women.
Nicola is Nicola Hodgkinson out of Empress/New North Wales/Remote Viewer. I was very fortunate that she moved to Melbourne not long after me, so we’ve been able to do some recording together and I’ve been able to enlist her services for live shows in the past. I’ve learnt a lot about being quiet from Nicola!
Heidi is a New Zealand-born singer/songwriter/mult-instrumentalist whose debut album ‘Ships and Trees’ still stands as one of my all time favourites. Heidi is a very talented, very committed musician, who very kindly sang and played harp on a few tracks on last year’s ‘Real To Reel’ album. I’ve done a couple of remixes for her and a bit of production on a track (‘The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter’) – she also keeps pushing me to play live.
Danielle is my long-suffering, ever supportive wife who I rope in for vocals and to help out in live shows. Danielle keeps me (relatively) sane, provides encouragement when I’m down and is so, so patient – she must get sick of hearing tunes again and again with tiny modifications that are close to imperceptible and tracks on loop…
I must drive her mad, but she never complains….
I’m so thankful to have her in my life.
What do you use on iPad/iPhone?
I’m still getting to know the iPad/iPhone stuff and there are difficulties in using them for a live show. But…at the last gig I had loopj running on the iPad and a range of other apps on the iPhone: Moog Filtatron, h.fbk, thumbjam, OttO.
Out of necessity I have to use a lot of prerecorded sections and loops, which I’m not a fan of doing live, but the majority of sounds used for these loops were made using Garageband, Thumbjam, Curtis, CP1919…
How do you think the work you did in the other projects led to or laid the groundwork for this one?
I think you just learn little tricks or techniques as you go, they sort of build up and influence the next track you make, and hopefully you learn something as you make that track; and on, and on.
All the music you make in some way lays the groundwork for the next – even if you think to yourself, ”Well, I’m not doing THAT again”. Failure has a lot to teach you.
When did you move from the UK, and why Melbourne?
I think I moved to Melbourne in 2002.
It was to be with Danielle. At that time she was living in Italy and me in the UK. We were doing the long distance thing, and getting pretty sick of all the travelling to see one another. So we decided to move to Melbourne – I don’t speak Italian, and the UK didn’t look attractive for us then with very little money.
When we moved to Australia you got three Aussie dollars to the pound, and the cost of living was really cheap. You could eat out for 10 dollars a head – three or four quid! – we were rich! Now the exchange rate is going the other way…
What music did you make in the UK?
In the UK the only music I made that ever saw the light of day was the Clickits stuff with my friend Jonny Russell.
We made the music for the 12” just before I left for Australia…
Is Scissors And Sellotape an ongoing project, or a secondary one?
Part Timer is obviously my main project but if I end up making something that doesn’t seem to fit with the folkier sound of that project, I will allocate it to one of the other two names. If in the future I end up making something that sounds much different again, I’ll make a new project name…
‘…For the Tired And Ill At Ease…’ is to be released as a limited edition 200 run on Facture some time in September, and will also come with limited edition photographic booklets.
- Interview by Alex Gibson for Fluid Radio