Song number nine on the album is a song called "Mother". (This post is part of a series of posts on the songs on the album. For the other posts, check out the archives. Or click the lyrics tag.)
Personally it's one of my favourite songs. The lyrics were written quite early. Sometime in 1998 or maybe even earlier. It was originally written as a poem which I sribbled in my notebook one stormy afternoon at the family home in Kepayan, in KK. I was, as usual, sitting at a table surrounded by drafts of poems, doodling, making revisions, and I could see my mum rushing out to the yard to take in the laundry as the sky grew moldy overhead. Anyone who lives in Malaysia would know about these torrential afternoon storms that often appear at the end of long balmy days.
Anyway, so there was mum retrieving the clothes. Usually I would rush out to help. But that day I was just observing her, and looking at her, as clouds gathered overhead. Thoughts rushed into my head. Feelings of sadness, a kind of existential wistfulness, crept up inside me and I saw her as a normal everyday woman saving her bit of symbolic laundry from the rain. The rain meanwhile took on ominous meanings, which is a bit common I guess, but still, if you've ever been given a chance to experience these equatorial downpours, you'd know how electric they are, how breathtaking the wall of white water that just gushes down with amazing force. When it rains like that, everything stops. You can't go out. You switch off electrical appliances. It's too noisy to watch TV or listen to the stereo. (We lived in a wooden house with steel roofing so it got pretty loud.) You just wait for it to end.
The poem came together like that. There are references to a mob of people gathering and the unknown future too. I'm not really sure what that's supposed to mean. It's a bit mysterious to me. I guess that's the part of the poem that allowed a bit of intrusion from the subconscious. Maybe one day I'll see it more clearly.
The song itself came together a couple of years later. I think I was in a songwriting mood, which happens from time to time. I had come up with the very basic chord progression and I was looking in my notebook for inspiration on what to write about and came across the poem (which I thought never really worked as a poem anyway). I started just improvising a vocal melody with the words on top of the chords and, voila, it just came together. Mind you, this doesn't happen very often. Most songs I write tend to be slightly less synergistic. But this one was a bit of a magical thing. And I'm very proud of it. I really wanted this to be on the album, even though I don't really perform it live very often. I think I've only sung it in KL about five times in the past seven years. Not that I don't like playing it live, but there's a feeling that I should respect the space in which the song happened, and that space doesn't come along very often, especially when faced by rowdy bored talkative crowds. Not to drop names, but, I remember one time I played it live at the old No Black Tie, Rafique Rashid remarked afterwards that it was a beautiful haunting song. Saidah Rastam said that she got weepy while listening to it. Those were really quite touching compliments, and coming from such amazing musicians, I felt... you know... honoured.
Well, it doesn't happen very often... ha ha ha...
Anyway, when I brought the song to Hardesh, he liked it just the way it was, just me and guitar. But I thought it sounded too spare, and a bit repetitive because I repeat the lyrics twice. We had several tries with it. First try was me playing it live in the studio. But I didn't really like it cause my tempo sped up towards the end and it sounded as though I was rushing it. It didn't have the languid feeling that I wanted. Second try we did it with a really subtle beat track, me playing the guitar part first, then overdubbing the vox afterwards, and then taking the beat out. I still felt it was too spare. So we put the beat back in (which ended up on the album version). But then I got picky over my vocals which sounded a bit strained. It wasn't the right approach. LOL... I think Hardesh at one point got quite sick of my pickiness... ha ha ha... sorry again Hardesh... let it be known that JK can pull off the studio diva shtick too... LOL... so I asked to re-record the vocal and so we did it... and it kind of languished for a while as Hardesh did a few mixes to get the balance right. I think he added a slight reverb.
Still, I felt it needed something else... Cello part? Accordion? Guitar lead? God knows...
Then, just as we were finishing the remaining tracks end of last year, I thought of programming some simple bass and synth parts to the second half of the song, just to build the momentum towards the final refrain. I wrote very simple parts over several nights on Nuendo with some Korg synth patches on my newly beefed up PC (which I had to get fixed after the chip in the old one exploded) and voila it came together! LOL... it was a relief when it was finally done... after months of listening to the track over and over thinking "What's missing, goddarnit?"
In hindsight, I think I was just itching to contribute to the arrangement of it. Working with Hardesh has been a very rewarding collaboration. He's super patient and always telling me not to overdo it, which was what I needed. But I think there was a part of me that was scared too that it wouldn't sound like how I imagined it. That push and pull dynamic I think resulted in a very peculiar sounding album. I've gotten mixed reactions to it so far. It's a bit of a grower. I think it came out a bit more provocative, sensual and austere than I initially thought it would be. "Mother" really epitomises that. It's definitely been a surprise of a track: full of hidden secrets that unfold over time.
Mother, the clouds are watching you
Tempting you to take your washing off the line
They grow dark, so dark
Like skin under too much sun
Heavy with the future
So heavy with the future
And look, mother
Can you hear the rumble
The crowd has gathered at the edge of the storm
Looking for something or other, mother
Perhaps the storm is staring right back
Can you see it, mother
Labels: album, Hardesh, lyrics, Mother, recording, songwriting