Art Of Fighting’s Ollie Browne Reflects On ‘Wires’

8 September 2022 | 8:06 am | Ollie Browne

“After the shock settled in we jumped around like a bunch of kids and then I’m pretty sure we all drank way too much after that night’s gig.”

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Wires was written in the little apartment above the convenience store on the corner of Rathdowne and Princes Streets in Carlton North, Melbourne, which was home at the time for myself and Peggy Frew (bassist/singer). The songs were sketched out on my $200 cutaway Yamaha acoustic which had a pretty questionable action. They were mostly written late at night, which is probably obvious. There were street lights outside the lounge room window that cast a pallid light in, and I remember it often being cold.

But the songs on Wires were really written by Art Of Fighting, the band. What I (and Peggy for her song I Don’t Keep A Record) brought was germinal chord structures, with prototype words and melodies. These were the sketches. It was the band who endlessly etched away at the shapes of the songs and pulled them apart like so much LEGO and put them back together again in new ways.

One of my most vivid memories of that time and place was turning on the radio one Sunday morning and arriving one-third of the way through Gillian Welch’s I Dream A Highway. I was spellbound for the remaining eight or so minutes - I’d never heard it before. It was so slow and warm and patient and beautiful. Welch mines a very different genre of music than we do, obviously, but that song (and album) felt like it was in step with what AOF was trying to achieve at the time: playing as quietly and slowly as possible, almost as an act of defiance.

One of our all-time musical heroes is the inimitable Sydney band Crow, in particular their 1995 album Li-Lo-Ing. It’s an incredible album, lush and spacious but arresting and eerie. It was recorded by producer Tim Whitten at Megaphon Studios in Sydney. Both ‘Tim Whitten’ and ‘Megaphon’ were like mythical, unattainable aspirations for us. But with some publishing money from Mushroom as well as some of our own hard-earned gig cash, we plucked up the courage to contact Tim and Megaphon and set up the sessions that would become Wires.

Of course, being the pedantic and detail-obsessed band that we are, we’d already recorded Wires once before, in its entirety. We demoed the entire record down to the very last overdub at Marty’s studio in the front room of his share house in Rae Street, North Fitzroy. Some of the songs, Moonlight, Just Say I’m Right and Find You Lost, had been in the live set for a while, so they had mostly found their (slow) rhythms, but others, such as Something New and Skeletons, were new, and very glacial, even for us.

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We arrived in Sydney on the eve of the first session, decamped to our two-room, and (probably over a few beers) nervously discussed the imminent task before collapsing one by one. At 7am – the dead of night for young musicians – huge booming noises roused us from slumber. As it turned out, not one, but two adjacent buildings were being demolished.

Despite these rude early morning wake-ups, the sessions themselves were calm and orderly, and Tim was patient and sage-like. Lots of effort went into making sure we could hear each other properly in order to capture the energy and tentativeness of the songs and the interaction between the instruments, and the takes varied quite a lot in feel. Based on the demos, we had strong views about the tempo each song needed to be, so Marty would start most of the songs with a click track that Tim turned off a verse or so in so that the song then could take its own path.

I remember we had reams of paper for each song with all the overdubs listed on them, and we’d tick them off as we went. It became – ironically, given our early morning building-smashing neighbours – a very constructive and matter-of-fact way of making an album. Perhaps it was too orderly, but at the very least it tricked a confidence in the process that allowed a very nervous band to focus on getting everything we needed.

It was during a night passing time at a Kings Cross pub waiting for Tim to finish a mix that we decided on the name Wires. We had been struggling to land on something that worked with the lyrical themes and feel of the music. We had considered Murder In The Dark, but it didn’t really capture the feeling of the album, and was a little too intense. (A little?!!). The self-titled tenth track on the album, the instrumental Wires, was based on a comment one of us made one other long night – ‘You want to put wires in my brain’ – and as we thought about the sound of the record and the themes, it was that line, and that specific word, that we kept coming back to.

Incredibly, Wires won the 2001 ARIA for Best Alternative Release. Being nominated at all was completely outside of our universe so when the decision needed to be made about whether we’d alter or cancel our long-in-the-making European tour in order to be at the ARIAs, it was a no-brainer. So we embarked on our European trek and our impossible dream of ARIAs glory faded behind the itinerancy of day-to-day touring. On one nondescript mid-tour day in Krefeld, while we were sleepily loading our gear out of the previous night’s venue, my old Nokia buzzed to life. It was Miles’ and my younger brother Billy calling from the ARIA awards. Billy was screaming something or other down the crackly, calling-card mobile line and it took me a while to register what he was saying. ‘You guys won!’ I remember us all being delirious and in disbelief, staring at each other incredulously, amps and guitars dropped unceremoniously on the roadside. After the shock settled in we jumped around like a bunch of kids and then I’m pretty sure we all drank way too much after that night’s gig.

On reflection, after 25 years as a band, my feeling is that the ultimate idea for Art Of Fighting has always been this: What if you took a bunch of pretty good pop songs, with good hooks and memorable enough lyrics, and slowed them right down and extended them out so they could breathe and be as abundantly sad and indulgent and beautiful and tragically uplifting as they needed to be. And I think, with Wires, we came pretty close to doing that.


Friday September 30 - The Zoo, Brisbane / Meanjin
Saturday October 1 - Brunswick Picture House, Brunswick Heads / Bundjalung Country
Thursday October 6 - Lizottes, Newcastle / Awabakal Country
Friday October 7 & Saturday October 8 - The Vanguard, Sydney / Gadigal Country
Sunday October 9 - Kambri at ANU, Canberra / Ngunawal Country
Friday October 14 - Theatre Royal, Castlemaine / Djadjawurung Country
Saturday October 15 - Melbourne Recital Centre / Naarm
Sunday October 16 - Archies Creek Tavern, South Gippsland / Boonwurrung Country