Bernard Zuel writes: But the most telling part of that is not that Marley’s got the know-how to make a belated solo project – anyone with a home studio and time can, and too often does, do that – it’s that he’s retained his enthusiasm for the pleasures of pop music.

Savoury-Toothed Tiger, from pun title on, is like someone set free to just play and a whole summer’s day in which to do so.

From the vocodered voice and lounge music rhythm (and organ) of the silly/fun Something Sweet and the wistful character out-of-his-time of the very Kinks-like In The Garden, to the twin-‘90s mix of Seattle sound (and subject matter) overlayed with indie pop in Bright Lights Of Despair, and the none-more-‘70s faux brass/flute/congas/strutting bass of (Theme For An Imaginary) Cop Show, this is an adventurous sortie.

SweetSweetMusicblog spoke to Peter Marley about his new record.

How did this record come together? And Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

From 2009 I was in a band called The Nature Strip, an indie-pop Sydney outfit with my friend John Encarnacao. We decided to have a break in late 2018, but there’s talk of reforming for some recording. Anyway, we always had to agree on which tunes we would work on. Some of the tunes on Savoury-Toothed Tiger were written during that time, but either John or I didn’t think they were Nature Strip songs. Most of my songs begin as acoustic guitar noodling on riffs and chord sequences. I have a favorite notepad and need a good pen. But some were written while I was traveling, including while I was in Bhutan, on an old iPad using Garageband.

GarageBand on iPad used to have great sampling and synth capabilities – I don’t know what it’s like now. Bright Lights Of Despair was written that way, and it took me a few years to come up with the lyrics. I re-recorded it in my studio, using some of the original Garageband tracks like the synths. I had no idea what it would be about til I visited a casino in Sydney and I found it a disheartening experience, seeing rows of people endlessly putting their money into poker machines. I have my own studio at home in Sydney, where I can record everything, and I play bass and guitar and can muddle along on simple keyboard parts. So I was able to play everything on the album except for the guitar solos on Turpentine, which I asked John to play, the female backing vocals, and the real drums.

I recorded everything with loops or drum tracks from a 30-year old drum machine (Yamaha RX-11), then I spent a day in a different larger studio with drummer Jess Ciampa from The Nature Strip, where I could concentrate on the music instead of being the engineer. Jess plays with everyone in Sydney, including symphony orchestras, mambo bands, indie rock outfits – everything and everyone! He is a great drummer and percussionist. So he just played over the tracks, (in one or two takes!), and it works really well.

I asked my niece, Rachel Marley, to sing backing vocals on a few tracks with Suzy Goodwin. I play bass with Suzy in a kind of alt-country outfit called Fallon Cush. Rachel is an amazing singer, who also acts, dances, teaches, and plays the piano. They sang together and we worked out a lot of the arrangements on the fly. Awesome to hear those two great women singers together in my studio! Nice to work with others when you create most of a whole album by yourself.

Often, the music you come up with is dependent on the toys you have in front of you at the time. Rachel gave me her 20-year old Casio keyboard and it has loads of cheesy organ sounds and a rhythm box. On Something Sweet, I picked a rhythm which I thought was a Bossa Nova on the Casio, but my Mum tells me it’s actually a Rhumba – she was a very good ballroom dancer in her day so I bow to her superior knowledge there. Anyway, I worked out a chord sequence and guitar part that reminded me of a Morricone soundtrack – I pictured Clint Eastwood squinting in the sun with a cigar and black hat, on a horse.

I had oblique lyrics about a very very dark subject, and I found it impossible to sing in a normal voice. It sounded too “nice”, so I downloaded a free app on the phone that worked like a vocoder and I sang into the phone in two takes and I couldn’t better it. Those moments where you just try something and there’s magic there – that is what recording is about for me. It’s thousands of small tasks, interspersed with eureka moments where you play or sing something you didn’t know you could, or hadn’t expected.

Because I record a lot by myself, I can go over and over parts until I’m happy, so when you get something fast and good, it’s an incredible buzz. Those moments keep you coming back when it seems like a chore to re-record, edit, arrange, etc etc etc. I can experiment all day and night at no cost, and if I have at least one definite part or direction, I usually end up with something usable. Even the failures yield something you might use later. Some were totally new tunes.

Another Perfect Day was like that, I had the guitar chords I liked and I constructed the whole track in a day and the words just tumbled out when I realized I was kind of singing about addiction. I have a list on my phone of phrases or ideas for songs or words. I can always put something on the list when I stumble on something that grabs me. When I’m writing, or in the studio, I’ll refer to the list for phrases that trigger ideas or help me finish something.

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

Definitely. As I said, I have my own studio, I can write, record, and mix everything, then get it mastered. In theory, I could write and record something in a couple of days and get it on streaming services soon after. Easy to do. But then, it’s easy for so many musicians to do the same or similar. And that is great – being able to record music a lot more cheaply than the days of big studios and tape machines, means independence from major record companies who had pretty dodgy practices, to put it politely. Except now they’re in control over a lot of streaming, but that’s a topic for another day.

So there is SO much music being uploaded every day with virtually no filters. But with all that music going up, how do you grab people’s attention?

Whether they’re listeners or radio people, or blog-writers, it’s really tough with no major promotion behind you. You have to really hit up social media, send a lot of emails, try for playlists, etc etc and that can be really time-consuming. As for live shows, gigs in Sydney, even before the pandemic, were pretty tough to get. So many venues stopped having “loud” live music – and when I say loud, I mean anything with live drums – because of noise complaints from people who want to live in a buzzy area of a big city, but don’t want any sound coming from outside! Also, pubs got rid of stages and put in poker machines, because they make so much money. Soul destroying, money-sucking, evil pieces-of-shit those machines are.

There’s obviously a lot of emphasis on visual elements – FB, Instagram, TikTok, all need images to get attention. So obviously videos and visual posts are really important. I had plans to shoot a couple of videos outside with a small crew of friends for this new album. The pandemic killed that idea, so I created the animated clip for Another Perfect Day by myself in my studio. I had to learn how to do stop-motion animation and shoot it all on an iPhone; edited it and a friend helped grade it and make it more presentable. Awesome fun – even having to take 1,500 photos! I would like to make more clips, maybe we can shoot something outside soon.

Which 5 records would you bring with you for your stay on Mars?

I like records that sound kind of “unreal”. I do still love plainly recorded acoustic music, with great voices and guitars, etc, but my true love is music that’s transported to another realm in the studio. 5 is far too few – so many acts I can’t include like REM, Radiohead, Bjork, Elvis Costello, XTC, Motown!!

The Beatles – Revolver

Great writing, the peak of their movement from pure pop to a greater plateau. Tomorrow Never Knows! Shit! 1966! That album is an amazing mix of guitar jangle, lushness, experimentation and pop catchiness. George comes into his own, awesome tunes from our two regular heroes, and Ringo’s always amazing drums. The studio experiments contribute to that unreal sound. Hearing the remastered recent version makes it even better – bigger drums. What a record.

Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt-Cutters

Musically playful, so fragmented on first listen, but worth the repeated listens. I really didn’t want this list to be all old music, and this record is one of the latest things to knock me out. It’s like Apple’s brain is spilling out into the microphone as she vents and chants and you find yourself yelling along. But still musically brilliant. Great.

Miles Davis – So What So cool

Explores great musical terrain but is always singable. Not a dud moment from one of the greats. And what musicians! Great playing, live, and recorded to three-track over a short time in 1959. Changed everything in jazz and more. So What makes me want to do that finger-clicking, hip-swinging, head-shaking, jazz cat thing while singing John Coltrane’s & Cannonball Adderley’s sax parts, and all the other parts too.

PJ Harvey – Uh Huh Her

Hard to choose which PJ album to take, but I’ve landed here as I listened to it again after a long time recently and I love it. She is unique, seen her live a couple of times. A true artist, she makes me feel so much. Always interesting to see what she’ll do next.

Led Zeppelin – II

The sound – those drums! John Bonham powers like a big subtle steam train that can swing. It gives me so much adrenalin when they kick in on Whole Lotta Love. Page’s guitar ideas, and maybe the best bass player in the business in John Paul Jones, and of course Robert Plant’s incredible voice. Huge thrill hearing that for the first time as a teenager will never shake it.

David Bowie – Argh – again, which album?

Will go with Hunky Dory, just ahead of Low. What a unique artist – songwriting genius, so many different singing voices. Life On Mars is incredible, such a beautifully constructed and emotional performance. Rick Wakeman on the piano throughout the album. The best records take me to another universe – this is one of them.

Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

It is a thrill to make something that someone else has an emotional reaction to. If you make up a great joke, the first thing you want to do is tell someone else to see them laughing. Playing live music is like that joke multiplied by a million. Especially, for me, when it’s with a whole band. That connection with people when you’re part of a crowd or playing to a crowd, no matter how small, is something I’ve never matched in other ways. It’s like we are all joined together briefly on another plane of existence.

My perception of my music changes when I play it in front of someone. It’s as if you hear it yourself for the first from another angle, I don’t know if that’s just vulnerability. So when it works, the things you liked about it are amplified, but when it doesn’t work so well, it’s the same in reverse.

You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?

Elvis Costello – lyrics, lyrics, and lyrics. He is an amazing wordsmith. Lyrics are the hardest part for me in writing songs, I agonize over them for a long time usually. Imagine if EC came along and we put some amazing lines down over one of my tunes!

Johnny Marr – listening to The Smiths, those tunes all based his amazing way with the guitar. It would be such a great experience. “So Johnny, what you got in the way of a new riff or tune” “Well, Pete, ava go at this new ‘un.” Then I pick up the bass and noodle along with one of my favorite guitarists and melodies come out of the air. Good times.

Brian Eno – he would make me go places I never would ordinarily. This would be the ultimate studio experience. Not sitting with a guitar and notepad, but in a studio, with song bits and hIm suggesting things and playing weird-ass stuff together and not knowing what would come out the other end. Can you imagine?! Yow.

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