York Minster

York Minster

"For me, Base Metal started life as a poem that I wrote in 1987 or thereabouts. I used to study for a while in York and often visited the Minster (one of Britain's historic city cathedrals).

In 1984 the south transept of the building was reputedly hit by lightning and it caused a major fire that destroyed the wooden roof and caused great damage to a lot of the original features. Stained glass windows melted in the blaze. It was a national disaster.

York Minster in flames

York Minster in flames

Miraculously, a series of large wooden sculptures by an artist called Fenwick Lawson survived the blaze. These pieces, the Pieta, are made of driftwood and represent the dying Christ figure, lying next to the Virgin Mary.

I was very moved by these sculptures and wrote several poems based on the theme of the Mother-Son relationship. One of these was appropriated for Mothersonne from the album Furnace and another, as Base-Metal. As an adult, the figure of the Mother has resonated most strongly for me, when I have needed support or help in times of crisis. That was certainly the case when I wrote the poems. Additionally, my Father died when I was young. So, the prostrate Christ figure of the Pieta represented either myself or my Father. I used imagery inspired by the sculpture to explore the dynamics of the relationship with my Father and Mother. There are references to driftwood, the sea and base-metal (the pins holding the sculptures together and the nails driven into Christ's body).

Fenwick Lawson's Virgin Mary

Fenwick Lawson's Virgin Mary

I also think that Dwayne's death cast such a major shroud over the time when TEOSP was recorded. Phil had left for India and there was a kind of network of past associates and friends involved with us at that time. We signed to Nettwerk, they felt like part of cEvin's family to me and Ken and Anthony became involved, both of whom were part of the Puppy family. Ken was an absolute joy to work with. He brought a kind of protestant work ethic to the sessions. He was brilliant at what he did and a genuinely lovely guy. I didn't know Anthony very well at that time but he was also great to work with. We recorded the vocals for Glassblower at Bryan Adam's house-studio together. I should add that TEOSP was essentially recorded in a month, we worked for 6 days a week. I would come to the studio after work. cEvin worked long-hours, only ever taking Sundays off. It's a myth to think that we sat back and chilled and jammed. Download was work orientated.

I accidentally became a vocalist with Download. Maybe that's stretching things a bit. I used my voice to create sounds but Base Metal is one of the few Download tracks where I think you can clearly hear what I was saying. The poems were liberally cut-up both by myself when I performed them in the studio and then by cEvin and Ken when they were glued into the track. I like the fact that the words are not precious, that they can be cut and pasted by caring hands and made to work. The track name was suggested by Ken I think as he liked the words 'Base Metal.' I like the fact that the words mean different things to different people. I also like the Shakespearian reference, that wonderful speech from King Lear where he rails about base, bastard, bastardly and so forth. It just goes on and on. Vengeful, a man more sinned against than sinning.

The words that appear on the cd are as follows. The words in brackets are the bits of text that Ken flew into the song. They are out of context with the original poem but I do love the way they resonate and jar.

(a meat mine)

if you could just see me now,
hands pitted blood red
one clasped to my chest,
the other covering my wound..
base metal..

(like some bag of skin)

I felt for one moment that I could reach out to you,
that the sea in it's wisdom,
it's green blue wisdom
could for one impulsive moment cease it's spring tide

(you're wasting my time)

send my aching limbs towards your totem smile..
and that my bleeding might stop..
and that my wounds could heal

(nobody has the decency to say anything)

and that my arm could weld itself to yours

(we dream together)

people pour past me, a wilting figure
metallic,
wooden,
constrained..

(caged
masked
hatred)

I felt as if I could see leaves,
I could see summer leaves
that autumns wind had cast to the ground

(give it up...)

I felt as if I could sculpt time
but in one moment
this sweet clay turned to blood..
sea blood,
un-refined..

(we sit in silence)

I had hoped to sculpt a memory of you
sea memories,
of intense colours contained within a million sea stones..

(spoon fed or watershed..)

(give it up..
and kill)

(jahyawhan)

There is an in-joke referenced and that is the word 'Kill." We all loved playing with words, we would often have conversations that started with us saying words like 'flotsam," "jetsam." Kill was one of those words. It was immortalised on the back of a T Shirt made by the German record company, "Offbeat." We had this joke that our music wasn't Chill-out, it was Kill Out. It was a joke by the way.

The word Watershed was the name of the building I used to live in. Some of the words in brackets were off the cuff one take utterances. I don't know why I said the words " a meat mine," but I love the imagery it conjures up. I probably didn't say those words anyway, it's like the word 'jayawahan,' means absolutely nothing but when I listened back to it and transcribed the words, I probably couldn't make a real word out of it, as I could with 'a meat mine.' The last couple of lines from the poem are missing and are actually used on Mothersonne.

Musically, I have few memories of how the track was assembled. I believe the base track was laid down by cEvin. I think Ken added stuff. Ken certainly added the water sounds. I can remember cEvin recording the vocals. He used to give me directions and was a bit of a bugger for asking me to do retakes but you know, it always worked and he was usually spot on. I was lazy in the studio and got bored easily and probably used the 'first take is always the best take' as a limp excuse for wanting to dream and look out of the windows of the studio and watch the seaplanes buzz over Vancouver.

The Eyes of Stanley Pain was a studio album. For me, Furnace was an assemblage of improvisations whereas TEOSP was crafted in a studio. I think Base Metal and Sidewinder are examples of 'songs' that were extensively reworked. Base Metal is a great example of cEvin and Ken's work. I think the words are important but that haunting keyboard line is cEvin through and through. He has an uncanny ability to play these wonderful sad little melodies that seem to act as an anchor for songs. Strangely, Dwayne had exactly the same ability and to be honest, seeing them work together made me realise that they shared many of the same skills. I could be wrong you see, that keyboard line could have been Dwayne's. I'm not sure it really matters. One of the problems of writing something about music is that it can affect the listeners experience of it but the music is over 10 years old and I think there is historic value in reflection. I can't honestly say that what I have written is factual or accurate as time has an impact on my ability to recall details but I hope this has been of interest to some of you.

Finally, my friend Darryl Neudorf created a 'remix' of Base Metal that we used to perform on tour with Dead Voices On Air. I had mixed feelings about doing this but I did it because of the fact that I think it is a great song and because I felt so attached to it. I havn't released this version and won't do so unless it's via Subconscious. I also once performed a spoken word version of Base-Metal at a 10 hour concert we gave live to the internet at The Lab in Chicago.

Mark Spybey.
Northumberland. U.K. July 12, 2007.

Discuss on the Litany Forum

View at the Skinny Puppy FAQ and Lyric Archive

View on last.fm

Previous | SotW Archive Index | Next