Sometimes, music is more about the process and less about the progress. Even though a track might never be perfect or complete, the fact that it exists at all is magic, and a special stroke of luck. Even if it has a long way to go before its life is through, a song stands as a testament to its own creation at every state of the development process. There are so many forces at work to bring a song to fruition throughout the numerable and often nebulous states of its growth that sometimes it just seems a miracle that music gets made.
Part of what makes focusing on the stories behind songs so intriguing is that, while songs are very specific capsules of an artist’s offerings, the trail often leads so much farther than just that, widening the field to include whole works and careers. Truly, by looking closer we can often find truths about so much more.
I was able to speak with Jay Fraser recently about the work he’s been doing with his new band AFFA David. We were able to talk candidly about a song off the EP I Will Not Drink Where You Bled (which is actually out now over on Bandcamp). Fraser had a lot to say about the song, and plenty more on the creation process of music itself.
Jay Fraser has been making music for awhile. The Australian guitarist released his debut solo album in 2007, and he’s been hard at work ever since, relocating to London to release further records (including a great EP I reviewed back in February) and collaborate with other musicians. His most recent collaboration spawned his new band and their debut EP, which I recently reviewed as well. The first track from I Will Not Drink Where You Bled is “Bull’s Chorus,” a gritty, somewhat sprawling track of rambling, laid-back rock whose chorus actually is the name of the EP.
“Bull’s Chorus” begins with some tentative, rather lethargic electric guitar intonations that eventually get some real life and energy into them as the ball starts rolling and the song really gets underway. Subdued, chantlike vocals from the band enter and begin to sing about animals, discussing a bull, a pack of jackals, and some vultures.
The basic idea for the song came from a couple of places. One day, while thumbing through a copy of National Geographic, Fraser came across an image of a native man holding the severed head of a bull. It got him to thinking of the great burden the bull’s very head is, and how it’s indicative of the burden we all carry on our shoulders from day-to-day.
The actual riff and other sonic structures of the piece weren’t actually put in place until a while later. Fraser had just returned from a vacation, and met up with the band for a scheduled session. Since he’d been gone for awhile, he took some time to simply absorb the feeling of the guitar and what parts of the song he had already written while waiting for the other guys to arrive. Before they showed up, his enthusiam to be playing again had already inspired and pulled together the main riff and the first verse of the song.
When the band got there and started practicing, the second verse of the song materialized through the process of jamming together. Humorously, when all the other parts of the song were in place one of the other band members noticed that for a song called “Bull’s Chorus,” and actual chorus was strangely missing.
As Fraser considered what the song actually was about, he thought back to the bull and its life before its unfortunate decapitation. He considered other animals he was interested in, and as he’d also been thinking of jackals for some time (due to their place in mythology and ancient storytelling), he combined the stories of the two distict animals into one.
Fraser found the mental picture of a bull running with jackals to be a very strong one, and couldn’t get the idea out of his head. Right during the band’s session, he wrote the lyrics to the chorus, the band jammed on it for awhile longer, and a song was born.
While Fraser shies from giving his own interpretation of the song’s deeper meaning (to allow the listener to make their own conclusions), he does hint that the call-and-response near the end of the song is indicative of themes of self-preservation.
“There’s those old sayings that you should never shit on your own door step, never bite the hand that feeds you, never piss in to the wind,” Fraser says. “I guess [Bull’s Chorus] is along the same lines, but heavier.”
That heaviness is something that’s been present in Fraser’s music ever since he got his start. His songs deal with real, raw emotion and evocative subjects. But even though they initially already have significant relevance, Fraser refuses to let his songs be. He considers “Bull’s Chorus” an infant piece of music, planning to develop it further. He already has specific ideas for how this could work, too.
Fraser hopes to expand the middle section of the song in order to have the version on their upcoming full-length album occupy basically twice the temporal space. A 12- or 13-minute song is no small feat, and it remains to be seen whether AFFA David can pull off a track that long without losing the listener’s interest.
Fraser sincerely believes in Picasso’s philosphy that there is no unfinished art, only abandoned art. He is determined to keep “Bull’s Chorus” (or his band, for that matter) from being abandoned, because he believes both still have quite a long ways to go. “We had to record these songs quick to cement the band before our guitarist, Tobias, left for a month tour in the states,” Fraser muses. “In our view we cemented the band and what we stand for.”
“Bull’s Chorus” is a case study in the formation of new bands, and the ambitions that inevitably mark their inception. Time will tell whether those ambitions will pay off, but Fraser has his hopes. He certainly already has quite the EP to back them up.
– Tyler Quiring