Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Boy's Not Right

Yes, boys and girls the time has finally come. ist's new album Toothpick Bridge is finished. Recorded, mixed, mastered and in the final throes of arriving to your ears in a variety of formats, almost of none of which contain free ice cream. (I know, what were we thinking?)

Within the next couple of weeks, we will have information on how you can get your hands on a limited edition pre-release version, and also where and when it will released worldwide. (If you are particularly keen, feel free to email us on to secure a copy ahead of the pack, physically or digitally). All very exciting, I'm sure you'll agree.

In the meantime, now that I know exactly what's on it, and what you can expect to hear, I thought over the next few days I would try to tell you the story of the songs and the recording. As no one else is planning an ist anthology, for the moment, it falls to me to document what has been the highlight of our career to date. Other than that night with the exotic dancer and the melon, but that's another story.

I should imagine I have now told the story of how this record began about a million times now. It contains a prime piece of name-dropping, so I'm always happy to trot it out. It all started in the Summer of 2006, when in a fit of self-promotion I sent the song Fag Break from our second album, King Martha to songwriter, broadcaster and bon vivant Tom Robinson - thinking its themes of elastic orientation fit nicely in with his Having it Both Ways  project. I then promptly forgot about it, until I received a message on MySpace from Mr. Robinson, inviting me to join him for dinner in London to discuss where he felt ist should go next.

I was both excited and skeptical. After all, MySpace is not necessarily known for the veracity of its purported celebrities. The day I spent answering idiot messages from someone claiming to be Lindsay Lohan is a good example of this. Unless Ms. Lohan actually can't spell, in which I'm very sorry for doubting you, and my girls loved you in "The Parent Trap".

Long, annoying story short, I met Tom in London and we drank and talked. (I call him Tom, you understand. He really doesn't like being called Mildred. In fact, he spat on me.) His take was that Auntie Beeb was waiting on us to deliver a definitive ist single, a short, sharp "Oliver's Army" style hit. He also pointed out that really short songs were in demand and short supply on radio playlists. I should think about going away and writing such a single, a real proper two and a half minute pop song.

Around the same time, we were introduced to producer Jay Burnett by Christine Kellogg of TuneTribe, then of Wippit, who was masterminding our A&R for Martha digitally. She played the first two albums to Jay, he thought he could do a much better job than US at producing ist, and armed with Mr. Robinson's decree to go away and write a short, catchy pop song, we wrote 25. One, the track we'll deal with tomorrow, was already long in the bag, but the majority of the songs that made the record were written and endless re-written over the next six months.

In the interim, we released the first fruits of our new thinking, I am Jesus (And You're Not) as a digital single. Here was the short, punchy song as ordered, we thought. Blasphemy, however, is still a frightening proposition to some people - regardless of kick-ass surf guitar - and radio play tended towards the underground.

However, I'm here to talk about "The Boy's Not Right", the opening track on "Toothpick Bridge". This was one of the very first songs I brought in, and was originally a Tennessee Two style country number, sparked by a late-night drunken viewing of the Johnny Cash biopic, "Walk the Line".

I think, long-term readers will have cottoned on to my fascination with mental health and the degradation thereof. (Although, I do suscribe to the view that, as my countryman Steven Page sang, "mental health is overrated.") This may or may not have something to do with my own battles with the mad.

The original version of the lyric was quickly rejected by Mr. Burnett as not quite getting to the heart of the story - that of a singer slowly losing his marbles and several re-writes later, I finally cracked it. It became a strange collision between my own experiences and news stories I had dug up about the battles with depression waged by Adam Ant, who is strangely enough the only artist  for whom everyone in the band has an equal soft spot.

Now, there's a face you'd recognise
But for the missing greasepaint and this unforgiving light
He used to be your ideal man
Now the Devil works your idol's hands

He's not right
He's not right
The boy's not right

The flashbulbs burst, the papers fawned
Until the money ran out and the gold discs had been pawned
As we filed out, childhood returned
Now there's glass to break and tyres to burn

He's not right
He's not right
The boy's not right

We hang our heads and say that, "It's a crying shame"
We light our candles then we join him in forgetting his name

The guttersnipes all caterwaul
Beneath the Marble Arch, he takes a bow as midnight falls
In the realm of the misplaced mind
He's a one-eyed man amongst the blind

He's not right
He's not right
The boy's not right

The boy's not right
The boy's not right
The boy's not right

(c) 2008 ist

The recording of the song, one of the first we attempted as we set up camp at The Way Studios in Hackney, was a very good example of how we developed the arrangements in situ, in a Revolver-type stylee. Everything on Toothpick Bridge was recorded live, as a band, something both we and Jay were very keen on - to capture the energy and, indeed, synergy, of us playing as a unit. Vocals and overdubs were then added later, and we crafted the final versions of the songs as we listened and relistened. For Boy, this meant calling on Brett Richardson to pull double-duty as we created our own hybrid instrument - the guitoon - by mirroring his original guitar riff with his first instrument, the bassoon. The bassoon has actually become an incredibly integral part of our recorded sound since Brett joined us full-time, and is also a wonderful thing to have on stage. Particularly when he plays his version of the theme from "The Muppet Show".

And then there's that bit at the... No... wait...

I am wary of describing the sound of the song in too much detail, as I want you to experience it for the first time when the record finally hits your shiny ears. But I do hope that I can at least whet your appetites for the album to come. There are some things I'd very much like to tell you about the songs, but more than that - in my deepest heart of hearts - I want you to buy the bloody thing.

Until tomorrow....

The Boy's Not Right by ist

Kenton Hall: Vocals, Guitar

Brett Richardson: Vocals, Guitar, Bassoon (aka the guitoon)

John McCourt: Bass, Vocals

Flash: Drums

with John Budding : Hammond Organ

Produced, recorded mixed and mastered by Jay Burnett

Assistant Engineers: Luke Buttery, Matthew Hodson

Assistant Mixing Engineer: Marco Perry @ The Beat Farm


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