The Sky Above The Mud Below

Song by song

01: Meet the Beatle
Alec sings of real life meeting with George Harrison at Hamner Springs a coupla years ago. Useta have a guitar bit from Dead George’s "It’s Been a Long, Long, Long Time" at the front but it made it too long. Also Apple tends to be a bit litigious.

02: Beached Boy
Retained working title from when looped Wilsonian backing vocals were much louder than in final mix. Also kept first rough guide vocals laid down in one spontaneous take while slightly drunk cos, try as they might, they couldn’t get a better vocal. This goes some way to explaining the slurred, meaningless words which have been somewhat rationalised in the lyric booklet.

03: Deodorant
Derived from a T Rex template, it mutated into a nonsense song that perhaps owes more to Steppenwolf...

04: Michael Hillbilly
Another one that retained its working title despite only tenuous link to eventual subject matter, being the ‘boy racer’ culture and the forces that mould it. Early futile struggles to include cello on at least 4 songs were reduced to this vestigial, amateurish, shambling, cut ‘n’ pasted appearance of the noble instrument.

05: Room to Breathe
Several verses in search of a chorus or resurrection of the classic folk-ballad form? You choose. Alec in pastoral mode, albeit with his usual dark melancholy hovering over all. Sole use of one-time TD staple, the 12 string acoustic guitar.

06: Right at Home
Rejected till the last minute thanks to chaotic formal structure, this was the first track to be revived by the wonders of digital editing, not to mention fun with plug-ins!

07: Time to Wait
After a tough day’s recording Alec was mucking around when this lovely guitar pattern emerged and was swiftly recorded. A coupla tunes later, some judicious editing and a song was born. Lyrics may indeed reflect the genesis of the piece.

08: Melancholy
Working title ‘Melloncholy’ cos of mellotron instrumentation, this was another guide vocal from the same slightly buzzed evening that couldn’t be bettered despite the idiotic lyrics. At one stage this was to be part of some odd children’s rock opera segment of the record...

09: We are the Chosen Few
About the business whiz kid syndrome exemplified by the rise and demise of the dotcom market.

10: Baby it’s Over
They thought this would be the virtual single from the album so lavished all sorts of care over the thing, bouncing eight tracks down to two and continuing overdubbing. This succeeded in rendering it a little flatter, dynamics-wise, than they woulda liked so it was back-burner time for the lovely creature.

11: Cascade
Alec always wanted some melody over the top of this but Chris pushed for a naked instrumental. Given that he would hafta supply the vocal it may not surprise you that Chris prevailed. Boasts the original Bathgate garage 4-track demo version’s Casiotone rhythm loop that the lads just could not improve upon.

12: The Beautiful Invader
Another garage demo survivor that contains a real rarity in a Knox guitar solo! Neither could remember who had done it till Alec pointed out he could never have done the little rhythm ‘chik’ at the end. Could be considered a companion song to ‘The Slide’, which they will leave you to work out for yourselves.

13: The Big Brain of the World
Alec at his most naked. He wanted to spoil it all by double-tracking the whole lead vocal but eventually Chris compromised by letting him get away with the breathy ‘baa ‘n’ baa’ bits at the end of each verse. So deliciously depressing that even Lenny Cohen might be loath to cover it.

14: You Want me Shimmy
Originally titled ‘Trout Guitar Replica’ which should reveal its origins most clearly, this has been mistakenly compared to Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers!! Some people have no ears!

15: How the West was Won
Retaining both its working title and the half-pissed guide vocals (the b.vox were added later) this is another nonsense song that mutates into a swampfunk clavinet driven thing with the kinda West Auckland guitar that Mr Bathgate has always wanted to prove he can do.

16: OK Forever
Alec suddenly produced this little beauty after they thought all recording had been done so it was hurriedly put down. Upon listening later it lacked bottom so Alec dubbed a bassline direct to Protools which was one of only two times that they actually recorded in that fashion. Neato lyrics about guitars and bands which turn nasty in the last verse...

17: Your Unmade Eye
The beauty of backwards guitar never fails to inspire. In this case, weird, vapourous lyrics about returning to nature’s womb. Definitely informed the album title retrospect.


(TD’s ‘Stumpy’ album was credited to International Tall Dwarfs because several of the songs therein were built from tapes sent by TD fans worldwide. For this record, some of the TDs’ favourite musical friends were invited to do similarly. Some (Graeme Downes, The Clean, Peter Brocolli and Jeff and Laura from Neutral Milk Hotel and Elf Power) did their bits in person. The rest were mailed in. Originally a couple of members of the cult late 60s band ‘Lothar and the Hand People’ were going to participate but natural disasters intervened. Maybe next time.)

18: Seduced by Rock ‘n’ Roll
Until the very last minute this was a fragmentary instrumental throwaway. Then, an old Led Zep interview disc provided the ideal lead vocals. Time-stretching software did the rest.

19: Amniotic Love
This was originally two songs that overlapped on the 8-track tape so, with a LOT of digital editing and rearranging, they slowly merged into one somewhat spurious whole. The two separately completed lyrics had very little to do with each other... More time was spent on this than it really warranted but it’s all worth it for the inclusion of the hermetic Peter Brocolli’s haunting homebuilt Vocalifone. Somebody make this boy do some live gigs!!

20: Carsick
Graeme Downes and his lovely partner, Jo, made Chris write some spontaneous lyrics about a subject of their choice...which was ‘castles’ exchange for Graeme supplying a guitar loop. Said loop was a 12-tone serial progression with an utterly wonky rhythm that seemed to defy conventional songsmithery but, such is Downe’s mastery of structure and form, it actually fit the supplied lyrics like a glove. A bit of bass and Robert was your mother's brother.

21: Wax
Jad Fair, in a fit of altruistic madness, sent over three CDRs full of maniacal looped vocal rhythms, any of which could’ve inspired a great little offbeat ditty. Upon noticing that two of ‘em shared the same BPM our trusty Dwarfs stitched ‘em together and graced them with this sad tale of cosmetic surgery and rampant narcissism. Another challenge met!

22: Open Wide Your Pretty Mouths
Some of the Lambchop crew mailed out a selection of beautiful instrumental music that was complete in and of itself to which our heroes really couldn’t add anything meaningful. Happily, they also included a few pieces by tiny Dutch group, Mongrell, from whom an intro was stolen and looped for a rhythm track. A few lyrics about cannibals vs coprophiles were all that was needed. There was an argument over a spiky little guitar figure that Alec did but hated. He won the argument but Chris snuck it in at the beginning and end anyway.

23: Possum Born
Inspired by true-life events deep in the Coromandel, this is the first of two songs to feature the wild talents of Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel) and Laura Carter (NMH and Elf Power). They supplied the possum noises, TDs did the rest. It was originally almost 5 minutes long so be grateful they spared you the Director’s Cut! Still couldn’t resist the punning title, though...

24: Over the Waves
Second collaboration with Jeff and Laura, the Milk guy supplying a half-finished song (his gorgeous b.vox in verse 2 are the original Mangum Melody) and Laura the clarinet. The lyrics are vaguely about this country’s invasion by Northern European white boys.

25: The Runout Groove
Being based upon the infinitely looped groove that goes into the label on original pressings of ‘Sgt Pepper’ (and also stopping only when the tape ran out) this Tall Clean Dwarfs indulgence could only ever have one name. Alec wasn’t present for The Clean’s contribution but made up for it with warm, wailing walls of backwards feedback fuzzdrone magnificence. Heavily edited on eight track and computer into its present form it completes the Beatles-tribute bookending of a dense but rewarding sonic smorgasbord.

Chris’s turn to do the front this time and, after searching thru huge piles of b & w contact sheets, he finally came up with an old photo of a schoolmate’s mum at her Invercargill dining room table. Gouached into technicolor life she became the latest TD icon. The booklet image sprung from Alec’s ample psyche and he also designed the rest of said article. The title is shared by a French doco from the early 60s about a bunch of filmmakers plunging into darkest, meanest Papua New Guinea. Only one emerged from the Highlands, the rest having been killed and eaten. Also a coupla country songs but neither TD has heard them and show no desire to do so.