May 2017 marks the Tenth Anniversary of our cover of 'Walking In Light', originally written and performed by New Zealand new wave/'Kiwi rock' band Th' Dudes, back in 1979.
Our cover of 'Walking In Light' was for a New Zealand music tribute project, masterminded by Josh Wood of The Mercy Cage to commemorate New Zealand Music Month, May 2007. She's Lost: an underground New Zealand music recovery expedition was the result: a free download compilation, featuring 'dark-end' New Zealand bands covering songs by other New Zealand bands. My involvement with the project extended to getting a few more bands on board, working with Josh on the press/promo side of things, and obtaining permission from the original songwriters and copyright holders. This in turn led to both APRA/AMCOS and Mushroom Music Publishing threatening me with legal action, as not all of the big biz publishing companies involved were quite as happy as the songwriters themselves were to see us recording and releasing their songs for free. But that's another story.
I was four years old when Th' Dudes original single came out, and the video left a lasting impression on me. Shot with heavy use of (what seemed at the time) spooky fish-eye lens, scowling frontman Peter Urlich emerges from a darkened, smoke-filled room at the end of a hallway, which he proceeds to strut down like a young Mick Jagger, back-lit and in leather trousers, with a nod to Bowie's 'Heroes' video from earlier that same year. The impression of flickering light was emulated by Dobbyn's flickering keyboard washes, while Urlich pauses briefly to play with the eerie candlelight of a candelabra prop. The band lined the hallway on either side of him, lurking in corners with an anonymity that made them all the more intriguing. Especially enigmatic, I thought, was the pale, skinny, dark-haired guitar player, Ian Morris.
'Walking In Light' was credited as being written by Dobbyn and Morris, so I got in touch with Ian through the website for his own music publishing company, IGMusic. He could not have been more helpful. A man after my own heart, Ian enjoyed a good rambling yarn about the long and complicated history of things, and was incredibly generous with his time, anecdotes, and advice on the legalities of music publishing. He explained that Stebbing Studios Ltd owned and controlled all the original master tapes, copyrights and publishing rights to the majority of Th' Dudes back-catalogue, a situation long-disputed with the band, and that I should go ahead and release 'Walking In Light' with his blessing anyway, because "Stebbing was a crook", and Ian thought our version was "brilliant".
There's a very good piece about Ian by Chris Bourke at the AudioCulture New Zealand music website.
In attempting to put our own stamp on the song, I took some cues from Bowie's influence on Ian and Th' Dudes; I knew Ian loved Ziggy so I tried to play the Morris/Dobbyn duel guitar solo with a bit of a Mick Ronson flavour. I've never been a keyboard whiz, so I decided to substitute Dobbyn's synths with other guitar textures that served the same purpose; to recreate an aural impression of being swathed in flickering light. And the obvious thing to do with an uptempo pop song when you want it to sound like Disjecta Membra is to slow it down.
The lyrics are fairly simple, albeit without being too obvious or direct either, and I've never really attempted to draw much out of them in terms of their meaning, substance or emotional content. People ask me what it means - I have no idea, I didn't write it; I can only tell you what it's meant to me. But there's some sense or feeling underscoring the whole song that I always find uplifting, in the same way that I find IKON's 'Subversion' uplifting, or the last two songs from Fields of the Nephilim's Elizium album, so there were stylistic nods there too. It was a sense of transcendence and redemption that I tried to connect to first and foremost; stepping out of that darkened room at the end of the hallway to go Walking In Light.
I recorded it in a shed out the back of my mum's house. Disjecta Membra had not recorded anything new for some time. I had no microphones, no external soundcard, no mixing desk, no DAW or recording facilities to speak of whatsoever, save for a cracked pirate copy of Cool Edit Pro that Johnny Chrome had given me six years earlier.
My bass was a shitty old no-name brand thing that I bought second-hand for about $140 twelve years earlier and hadn't played since, having loaned it to a friend and only just had it returned. It had two strings left on it that were impossible to play, and I'd tied an old sweat-sock around the headstock to help dampen the excruciating fret buzz. I had no bass pedals; bass chorus and compression effects were just straight from Cool Edit. I plugged that huckery old bass straight into the microphone jack at the back of my frankenputer; a barely functional assemblage of pieces of old computers now long dead, put together for me by a geek pal who had a bunch of old machines lying about.
I borrowed my friend Scott's Les Paul and his old RAK multi-effects unit, and plugged that straight into the back of the frankenputer too. The only amplification I had was a couple of tiny PC monitors, about two-and-a-half-inches in height, and I generated all the guitar feedback on the track by aiming the Les Paul pickups at those. Then I spent hours and hours editing together all my favourite bits of feedback processed through Cool Edit's phaser and pan-shift delay effects, for that shimmering light sound I was trying to find.
Vocals were recorded through a $10 headset mic, which along with the drum machine went straight into the back of the fankenputer too. When the song was more or less complete I sent it off to Matthew, because it made me think of him, and he added some high-pitched guitar drones to the choruses and outro. Then Josh very kindly remastered the final mix for me, to make the overall EQ somewhat more bearable to listen to.
I've never much considered myself anything of a producer/engineer, but I suppose I might consider this my "proudest moment" in the engineering department, if only for having produced this recording in the face of such overwhelming technical adversity. We played it live once, and only once, at a gig with Distorture about a month later. Curiously, it remains one of our most popular recordings to date.
Three years later, in October of 2010, I learned of Ian's untimely passing from the local news. Little information was given, but when you've known enough creative, complicated, fascinating souls to travel the same path, it's not hard to imagine. I hope he has found peace, in light.