Image Courtesy of Jack Carty
Jack Carty’s amazing new breakup-inspired album Break Your Own Heart is already sitting near the top of our “Best of 2012” list, which just goes to prove that heartbreak and inspired folk music goes hand in hand. In the latest installment of our Track By Track series Carty was kind enough to take us through each of the songs on Break Your Own Heart, giving us a unique insight into his songwriting process.
“The Length Of Canada” – I came up with the guitar riff and a draft set of lyrics for this song whilst I was staying in L.A on the way back from playing at the Canadian Music Fest and SXSW in 2011. A couple of days later I went to have lunch with Dan Wilson who is an amazing songwriter and artist over there and I told him about it. He invited me over and we finished the song together the day before I flew home to Australia. This was definitely the moment when I knew I was writing for a second album. Its about travel, because that was the big thing on my mind at the time, specifically the way that the more you do it, the more amazing people you meet and the more you end up missing somebody, somewhere wherever you are.
“Too Many Things In Too Many Places” – Let’s not dance around the issue, Break Your Own Heart is a breakup album and this is a break up song. I had just moved out of the house I had been sharing with my girlfriend of 5 years and was staying on the couch in my manager’s studio till I figured out my next move. I ended up there alone one night and it was cold and I started questioning what I was doing and why I was doing it. This song is an attempt to work it out. I remember the lyrics came really easy. I wrote it on the guitar, but just before we recorded it I started playing around with it on the piano and liked how it worked, so we ended up using that heavily. Gabby Huber (Maples) sings harmonies on the song to – that was a conscious decision to get a female voice in there, I feel like it gives the lyric a bit more scope and hopefully adds another layer of meaning, having another side of the story represented like that. I am in awe of Gabby; she is such an incredible songwriter and singer and also one of my closest friends. It was really exciting to have her involved in the record.
“Everything, Unhappily” – I wrote this song after a one-off random night in Melbourne with a girl I had grown up with but hardly seen since. For some reason we got in contact just before I was coming to town and we made plans to catch up. I was on the tram going to meet her and I noticed that she was sitting right in front of me. It was a pretty great night. I hadn’t seen her for years, but we had grown up together and so there was a lot of trust there, and she seemed to be in a very similar position to me at the time in terms of the things she was experiencing and questioning. This isn’t a love song, its more a song about two people finding each other at the right time to help each other out. Its also a little bit of a piss take about how incredibly hipster she had become in the years since I’d known her – I cant remember what the original line in the chorus was, but I remember being in a cab with Leroy Lee and him suggesting I change it to “Everything, Unhappily”; I liked it and it stuck, and Leroy got a co-writing credit. We recorded this song really quickly in the studio and I think it works well like that. It’s a very direct, honest portrait of a moment in time and so we wanted to just let that be and not cloud it up with production and over thinking.
“Traveling Shoes” – I feel like this song is a bit like the axis the album pivots on. It definitely captures the events surrounding the process most completely. It came quite quickly one night in Sydney after I had been playing around on my guitar for a good few hours to pass the time, and I started playing it and workshopping it in a live setting more or less straight away. It essentially tells the whole story of my year up until the point the song was written. I like that, having a permanent reminder of the things I learned. When it came to bringing in the band to make the album (Sophia Felton on drums and Gus Gardiner on bass) this was the first song I brought to them and we used it as a reference point for the feel and sound of the rest of the record. I love how understated and brooding Soph’s playing is and the way Gus holds notes so that it almost feels like the progression teeters on a precipice for a second before falling into another cycle. That’s what we wanted, a raw, sincere sound. I feel really lucky to have had those guys play on the album because we really seemed to click and they nailed it straight away.
“A Point On A Map” – This song was written after a day spent busking on Darby St in Newcastle. It was cold and wet and I needed some cash to buy a flight to Melbourne, so I spent the whole afternoon playing my own songs, mixed in with a couple of Ryan Adams and Bright Eyes covers while it rained. It was a strangely lovely and cathartic thing to do. I got home with the main melodic motif in my head and wrote it out. It’s another song very tied to that exact moment in time, another song where I am trying to work things out by getting them out. Instrumentation wise, it was originally written on an acoustic guitar, but I liked the brightness and attack the electric brought to the melody line, it almost makes it sound a little bombastic to me – sort of hyper-melodramatic or something – so we went with that. Gus composed the string parts the night before we recorded it and played the Cello and Viola on the recording – the guy is amazing.
“She Loves Me” – I wrote this song on the banjo originally and it had a completely different feel. This one really came into its own when I showed it to Soph and Gus, that’s when I finally got my head around it. They brought an almost dirty groove to it that I think really moves the whole thing along. I made a conscious decision when I started writing for this album to use my vocal range more and be more ambitious with my melodies, I think “She Loves Me” reflects that too – it’s a lot of fun to sing. The piano line was an afterthought of the recording process that stuck. It’s simple but I like how it works rhythmically around the bass and drums. I played all the piano parts on this record myself and I don’t really play the piano – half the time I didn’t know what I was doing but I think that allowed me to feel it out a lot more rather than cerebralising everything too much. It’s a hopeful song, maybe naively hopeful. That’s the main reason I like to play it.
“A Master Of All Things” – This begun as a poem, it was a optimistic time in the middle of some pretty bleak shit and I was staying at my sister’s house in Bellingen trying to think of a way of being romantic long distance. So I wrote out the words as a poem and took a photo of them, then sent that where it needed to go. I can’t remember writing the guitar part at all – but it must have been sometime after that. From memory I had gone to Bellingen to try and slow down my thinking a little bit and simplify things in my mind, I think the lyric reflects that – its pretty honest and simple in its directness. It’s in an open tuning: DADDAD, which is the same one I use for “The Length of Canada” and also for “One Thousand Origami Birds” off the first record. I like it because you can get these really rolling and melodic guitar lines going which seem to compliment a lyric like this. Again, the piano flourishes and electric guitar parts were all things I had thought of whilst workshopping this song in a live setting but which really came to bear in a studio setting. I was lucky like that on this record, in that the atmosphere in the studio was not a hurried one and we could experiment a bit with the parts we wanted. I remember when I asked Gus to put some double bass down for the track he got a blister on his finger because of the way every verse just holds a droning “D” for its entirety – he seems to have forgiven me though.
“Waiting, Waiting” – Another song I wrote in Melbourne. The line “I met my girl at the end of the world” was intended to be a bit of a play on words and reference that, because Melbourne is about as far south as you can go on the east coast of Australia’s mainland. I originally wrote it for a bluegrass project Leroy Lee, Jordan Millar and I had talked about putting together – We were going to call it Belltrees. So the chorus originally had a staggered three part harmony on it that made it sound really old-timey. I ended up liking it better without though. When we came to recording it we did a couple of takes with double bass and drums before settling on the more bluegrass-centric instrumentation I had in mind when I wrote it. Leroy even played the banjo part – so this is possibly the closest Belltrees will ever be to actually existing.
“Break Your Own Heart” – This one was written at my mum’s place in Newcastle. I was mucking around with different time signatures on an old, cheap ¾ sized nylon string guitar she bought for me when I was little. It’s literally just a bit of plywood with strings on it. The intonation is out and it has the resonance of a cement block, but I like playing around on it because if you can come up with something that sounds good, chances are it will transfer well to a nice guitar. I thought I’d keep the vocal line pretty straight and simple because the song is quite busy both rhythmically and in terms of instrumentation. This one was a lot of fun to work on with the band. The trumpet was a bit of an afterthought really, but I am so happy it’s in there – I think it adds a whole other dimension to the song, an uplifting one, which is appropriate because its sort of about the happiness that can come from accepting the things you cant change. What’s that Voltaire quote? “Man is free at the moment he wishes to be”?… I like that.
“She’s Got A Boyfriend” – This song is definitely autobiographically inspired, but I also wrote it largely to tease my little brother, who is a raging hipster and actually does wear Kaftans in real life. It was really just an attempt to lighten up and see the bright side, to neutralize a bad situation by trivializing it. Because of that I never really thought of it as a serious contender to be on the album until very late in the process. I remember running though it with the band in one of our rehearsals prior to recording just because I thought we could use a change of pace, and it worked really well in that environment. That was the first time I even considered recording it. I think I knew we’d keep it for sure when one of the engineers Steffan and I added that spaghetti western sounding electric guitar part, but before that it just didn’t really figure in my idea of what this record would be as a complete piece of work. It’s funny how things work out though because for all that, it is definitely the song that has received the most attention from radio, and we even did a film clip for it with a guy called Jefferton James who also did all the artwork for my first album. The night we recorded the gang vocals was a lot of fun – I sent out a group msg saying that we would supply the beer and pizza if people would supply their voices. We had a party in the studio and it got so hot in there due to all the body heat that the power supply to the mixing desk shorted out. It was a really nice moment, singing an upbeat song about sadness with my dearest friends. Nice for its irony.
“Giveth & Taketh Away” – This song was written in the penthouse of The Cullen Hotel on Commercial Rd. in Prahran, VIC. I had the penthouse because I was there to play a show on the roof of the hotel called Tuneful Tunes and for some reason they gave me the best room they had – I have never stayed in a hotel room as nice in my life, before or since. It was a really strange day because even though I had somehow found myself in 5 star accommodations in a city I love, to play music, it kind of felt like everything else was falling down around me. It seemed like a validation of my decisions and sacrifices and also a complete rejection of them all at once. When it came to recording we decided to keep it pretty sparse and let the narrative speak for itself. There is some slide guitar in there played by Leroy Lee, and I make my recorded banjo debut on this song too.
“I Hope You’ll Come Around” – I don’t really remember writing this song at all. The only proof I have that I did is a piece of paper with draft lyrics written on it and a scratchy demo recorded on my iPhone. I went to New Zealand in January straight after we finished recording and spent a lot of time listening to the rough mixes of the album whilst we were driving so I could get my head around it all and make sure I was happy with how it had come across. I ended up coming up with a slightly different melody to this song than the one we originally recorded and so I went back in and re-sang the vocal when I got home. I am really happy with how it turned out and I think it serves as a nice bookend to the album both thematically and musically. That was important to me, to leave it somewhere I was happy with on a record as personal as this one. I think of it as a full stop and a new board to spring from.