Thursday, October 24, 2013

Walk This Way: Crayonsmith's track-by-track guide to Milk Teeth

Crayonsmith: (from left-to-right) Wayne, Richie, Ciaran
"The lead part on the outro nearly ended the band. In the misguided interest of band democracy we tried to write it together"

It's been a hell of a year for Irish albums with This Is How We Fly, Little Green Cars, Hidden Highways, Villagers, O Emperor and more all releasing strong contenders for inclusion amid the flurry of relentless-yet-addictive end of year lists that are barrelling our way. All this and we still have a new record from Dott on the way so all's bright on the emerald isle where homegrown music is concerned.

Joining that bunch no doubt will be Milk Teeth, Crayonsmith's third studio album and the first completed as a three-piece with Ciarán Smith joined by Richie O’Reilly (Guilty Optics) and Wayne Dunlea (formerly of Waiting Room), resulting in a more organic full band creation. Recorded by John "Spud" Murphy at Guerilla Studios and featuring one of the tracks of the year in the cascading slowburner that is 'Chrysalis', Milk Teeth was released last week by Limerick independent label Out On A Limb Records. Read below for Ciarán, Richie and Wayne's track-by-track synopsis.

Milk Teeth by Crayonsmith
01. 'The Fix'
Ciarán: We spent a good bit of time pushing ourselves to deconstruct the strummed chord progression I played in order to make the song more interesting. At one stage the chords were played on a droney organ sound but it just sounded a bit pedestrian. We really wanted verse one and verse two to be different even though they contained a lot of the same chords. So we ended up using verse one to set the scene with just voices and guitar. The choruses are what bring it all together with the driving bass, drums and guitar hook and then the harmony on the second chorus to heighten the dynamic.

02. 'Chrysalis'
Wayne: We had most of the writing done for the record but needed another dinger, had a few different tunes knocking around that didn't really cut it so we said we'd start on something new. We said what hadn't we done yet, musically speaking and krautrock came up. We didn't manufacture the song or anything like that but kind of had a starting point as far as the vibe (ahem) we wanted to achieve. I think Portishead's Third was being played a lot then and definitely helped me with the writing, knowing when to hold back and when not. Seeing as there's only the three of us I think that texture and dynamics play as big a role as melody and harmony and I think this song's a good example of that. One of my favourites, like most of them it took a while for the finished version to be eked out from the first draught, slowly figuring out where to put the dynamic changes and whatnot. The lead part on the outro nearly ended the band as well. In the misguided interest of band democracy we tried to write it together one note at a time on ableton and then transpose it after. There's loads of notes in it! It took ages but sure I guess it was worth it.

Richie: Without explaining away the lyrics, I liked the idea of a chrysalis as a symbol for change that's either not seen or noticed at the time. And not necessarily the wonderful miracle of nature of convention. Transformation no matter how gradual is often a painful thing, as vital as it is, and it often just ends with something flying away.


03. 'Sideways'
Richie: We're all pretty big Fugazi fans, it probably doesn't sound like it but we are; especially Spud who recorded it. Wayne asked Spud to record him playing along to various parts of the drum take he had just done and, as he listened, Spud knew instantly what Wayne was going for and how to best capture it. It's not the easiest thing in the world to do but Wayne made it look like a piece of piss. It really bolsters the breakdown of the song.

Ciarán: Regarding the main riff, I luckily happened upon it one day playing guitar while waiting for the kettle to boil. J Mascis likens sitting with a guitar and listening for a good riff to fishing whereby you're just waiting for a bite. Thankfully, it bit quickly that day! For the vocal melody, I spent a week driving around singing along to our band-room demo of this trying to find it. I eventually dropped down to a lower register then just transposed it back up an octave once I had the notes. Rich and Wayne then came up with the cool idea of shortening each round of the outro as a way of ending the song.

04. 'Laugh It Off'
Richie: This was one of the first we wrote and we were so sick of it by the end we were calling it 'Leave It Off (the album)'! It was, however, several people's favourite song. I think respecting your audience is an important thing and I never like when bands don't. Not to the extent where it's informing every decision or on your mind all the time, that would get in the way of the creative process way too much, but not ignoring that aspect either.

05. 'White Dwarf'
Ciarán: We tracked this with Wayne on drums and me singing a guide vocal while playing guitar. We did one take and then we heard Spud say to us in the headphones: "We're gonna record this next one as the final lead vocal take, lads. Ciarán, your voice is sounding nice and fragile which totally suits the delivery...so don't fuck this up! No pressure, ha ha!". A couple of months later, I bought a sweet Yamaha Electone organ and we decided its plaintive tone just had to be used on the album. I messed around with it one night and the ascending melody for the second chorus came to me so I recorded straight into my laptop. After that, the lads put down their backing vocals in Spud's studio in Dublin and Rich added the "I stand alone and then I step outside" refrain on the choruses and that was the track done.

06. 'Claude Road'
Ciarán: We were all into the idea of having a song named after a road. Rich and I had lived together for two years in a house on Claude Road in Dublin. For the last ten years, at least one of our friends had lived there at some stage so we had been there as visitors for many years prior to moving in. Rich and I spent a lot of time listening to records in the sitting room and bouncing ideas off each other and then Wayne would come by for a visit and add his two cents. It was he who suggested we use Claude Road for our "road name song" as it meant something to all of us.

07. 'Pilates'
Ciarán: Wayne and Rich came up with the chord progression on this and at the first draft it was sounding like a Sebadoh song crossed with Yo La Tengo. For whatever reason, though, it was sounding a bit stock in our band room. So we decided on finger picking the guitar and Wayne and I worked out the two vocal melodies with an emphasis on economy of syllables. The eerie keys were then added in the studio as a texture to bind the various instruments together.

08. 'Let's Split Up'
Ciarán: A simple song where space plays a big part in the mix. The sentiment of accepting that something is ending was inspired by 'It's Over' by Roy Orbison and 'Birds' by Neil Young. Rich's synth-pad sounding backing vox and Wayne's throaty "oh-woahs" really add to the atmosphere of the choruses taking them up a notch.


09. 'Swells'
Richie: My favourite thing about this one is the ghostly overdubs on the second chorus. We had been sitting with that song for well over a year and had become almost indifferent to it until Ciarán came in with them at the eleventh hour. There's a lot of yearning in the notes that made me completely re-evaluate the song for the better. It's back to being one of my favourites of ours to play.

10. 'Kit Gloves'
Richie: This was one of the few songs that Ciarán brought in and the structure was left relatively untouched. By far the best thing about the version we settled on is the off-kilter drum patterns which took an already good song to another level for me. I don't think the synths were actually there right from the beginning but we quickly settled on those as the best approach, especially as a way to anchor a song that could get a bit out of control at times; and I really like how that's maybe a bit of a nod to Ciarán's older recordings. Wayne and Ciarán also did some stellar work with some Xiu Xiu-style overdubs, which give the song a powerful lift especially on the outro and we felt that was a good way to end the album.

Upcoming tour dates:
Thursday, 31st October - Bourke's, Limerick
Saturday, 2nd November - The Grand Social Dublin

Stream Milk Teeth by Crayonsmith in full using the player below.


For more on Crayonsmith visit:


- Milk Teeth by Crayonsmith is now available from all good Irish record stores
- International readers may order the record over on www.outonalimbrecords


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