Dropping their first album in nine years today, Spiderbait take us track-by-track through their epic compilation record ‘Sounds In The Key Of J’, which “celebrates the legacy of their pioneering bassist and singer, Janet English”.
Kram: I really wanted to start the album with the short acoustic version of this song from our last record. Simply because Janet’s vocals are so beautiful & set the tone for part of what’s to come. It’s like an introduction.
Janet: The initial idea with this song was to write a super melodic vocal line over crazy animal style drums. We thought of the Jimi Hendrix track Manic Depression. This is just the introduction of the album track. The vocals came up a treat so we dropped them to a solo and its pretty dreamy, almost whispered in parts.
J: A pretty epic endeavour but we were up for producing some over the top pop songs in an amazing studio. We had all the toys to play with and we pored over every detail. Kram and I agonised over everything on this song. A very different approach to earlier stuff which was much more live. It's a pain to reproduce live but I enjoyed the experience and the production sparkles. It was supposed to be a bit of a piss take of those 70s Carpenters songs like Sing, sing a song but also a homage to Karen and all things Sesame Street.
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J: Still loved by us and the crowd. When we pieced it together it was a complete mystery how we would ever be able to play it live. Somehow we got there though. I love seeing big tough grown men singing how the outside world is really sleazy. This one was almost a way to slow down the macho crowds who were getting aggro. I thought making them sing a sweet nursery rhyme type song might lower the testosterone. I went through a phase of wanting to antagonise half of the crowd.
K: This song is a hidden gem from the Tonight Alright album. We made this record in California in a fun adventure with Sylvia Massey Shivvy in an old theatre. In retrospect I think this could have been a good single.
J: I was listening to a lot of girl pop. The go-gos album Beauty and the Beat had such cleverly simple chords and changes. They were punk at heart just with some polished edges. I just played around with a stack of vocal lines and progressions, I think that’s where this came from, was never happy with the chorus though. Not sure why we called it cows? Maybe we wrote it on the farm?
K: A different side of Janet’s work on this song - it’s one of my favourites & also like the bands performance. Wally funk was a trippy experience and the record is all over the place , but little pieces of magic appear and this is one of them. I love her lyrics in particular - like a dystopian domestic dream.
J: I wrote these lyrics after having a, guess what- inner ear infection. I was so sick I felt like I was spinning for days. Horrible experience. It's sung so tentatively because I felt like shit.
J: This was from the Spanish Galleon record. I was trying to sing like one of those screamy singers, possibly Kat from Babes in Toyland, she had such an amazing belting voice. I felt like I had to admit defeat though and realise I actually have the voice of a 12 year old. You have to work with what you have.
K: She really smashed this song. So many lyrics in a mad flurry of words that reflect perfectly the state of mind. And mixed with her wonderful pop energy. I particularly like my Brian Wilson Beach Boys vocal on this one too :)
J: This was a fun song to record, super energy. I remember Kram & I wrote most of it on a BR8 8 track, I took it away and worked on words to match the energy. I remember trying to make this song only about 2 minutes long and debating with the others why it needed to go longer and have a bridge, a constant battle we have with each other. I like short songs, what can I say! Conversely if every song was short and punk pop that would be boring so I'm so grateful for the input of 3 different people- makes for a dynamic body of work.
K: Lo fi. Awesome. Classic Whitt production vibe from this period from his home studio. This song and Riffer were recorded together and I love them both 🎸More great Janet lyrics
J: This song was written quickly, we didn’t agonise over it at all. The messy demo and doubled vocals makes it good. Love Whitts guitar sound. I can hear our love of west coast American 80s punk coming out in this. Fear, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag etc.
J: I channeled my fury into the most delicate tender song we could make. We were making that transition from the small, inclusive punk community of Melbourne to the mainstream and it was a shock to me, it all felt a bit out of control, misogynistic and nasty. I felt helpless on stage sometimes.
J: This was a silly homage to those religious country songs I grew up on. My mum loved country music and traditional dixie jazz. I grew up an atheist but the southern bluegrass stuff always has great themes about riding in trucks with Jesus. I wanted to recreate that dopey sweetness and small town honky tonk feel but we put it through a punk filter.
K: We did this in the old ABC radio studios & was our first recording with Phil McKellar from Triple J who did our next 2 albums including Ivy. So Jesus was the start of a special period for us & a new style of sound that we loved. The song is fucken funny too and I love the MCG video by Sarah Van Rompey. This song is like a bridge between where we’d been and where we were going.
J: I still think this is an odd song- I remember writing the lyrics about mansplaining before it had that name. Kram wrote the music with a gazillion changes and parts. The bass part was really tough to play and sing, now it's like muscle memory.
K: Another hidden gem that I’d forgotten about. Janets voice on this is magic & I'm just trying my best to keep up with her. Whitts dreamy guitar is also such a feature of this song and so lovely. He has that ability to kick arse but also be reflective & melancholy in his playing. He’s such a unique talent in this way.
J: This is an odd one too. I think we genuinely needed a holiday, everyone was smashed after touring for so long and Grand Slam was a tough record to make. This is like some weird trip hop experiment that is pretty cool. We were always keen to have a bash at about 50 different ideas and genres at once. We must have been a nightmare to work with. Sorry to all the producers who tried to wrangle our mad bursts of creativity.
J: This is a bit like the children’s records I used to listen to and follow the story book along. I have this thing about writing songs that muppets would sing. Sue me.
J: I wrote this song to cheer myself up. I was feeling miserable and I didn't want to anymore. It was about trying to take control again. The lyrics are actually quite bleak. It started as a demo that sounded like a punk Go-gos song and ended up a bit Mamas and Papas with tambourines and shit. Hope it makes people happy.
K: This is another one of those coulda been a single songs. Once again I hadn’t heard it for years until we were putting together this album - and it fucken rocks ! Just reminds me of going to gigs and gettin pissed in car parks on cheap booze with yr friends before the show. Janet’s lyrics crack me up.
J: Yep this is just me trying to be a smart arse. I loved the metal scene in Melbourne. Full of sweet nerdy people in trench coats with metal band patches on their backs. This is an ode to the fringe dwellers. May they inherit the earth. Wish I’d thought of something better than Na-na-na-na-na.
K: This song is I found out is one of our most requested from fans. It’s kinda sentimental & I think J wrote it about an old school friend. Thinking of Finley and growing up seems to conjure these types of feelings in all 3 of us , and as such these themes are recurring in our work over the years. Strangely the further away the past gets the closer it becomes.
J: This was going to be called Tracy Way but I want sure if she’d appreciate it. She was a star at school, good at everything and didn't take shit from the boys, I have fond memories of Tracy. But my grandma was called Vera Daisy May so it was a thank you to the combo of those two awesome women. Again I wish I'd thought of something better than Na-na-na-na. Ran out of time.
J: This was just a little melody that came out of an experiment in the studio with Franc who produced the song. I tried free forming melodies and lyrics. Melodies seem to come pretty easy for me but lyrics I can’t do spontaneously like Kram can. This song was a chance to work with a producer and try some studio tricks. It's a bit of a soundscape about joyfulness and wabi-sabi.
K: Love this fucken track ! I was skateboarding on the netball courts in Mullumbimby when I heard this for the first time in years & immediately wanted it to be a single for the record with a skateboarding video. Great Whitt production and the whole band sounds great.. And Janet’s vocals -‘Someday somebody’s gonna knock you off your toes / I come from nowhere and grab you by the balls / That’s when you find out that it makes no sense at all / That’s what it feels like when your up against the wall.' Classic 🙏
J: This one was another old demo. Lost in the files but reborn because Kram keeps everything thankfully. I don’t remember who it's about but I like the sentiment.
J: I actually dreamt the start of this song and came into the studio that morning and put the demo together with Whit at his house. It's a pretty simple song but fun to do live. I remember singing in the lounge room and Magoo had the desk in the bedroom. It was a productive day.
J: We were really channelling the Jackson 5 here. Like on Stevie- I think I was imagining Muppets singing all these songs. Not sure why but it appealed. Perhaps but it was so far from the aggro of the late 90s grunge mess that everyone around us descended into. This completely baffled the record company and I think they were pissed off with me for spoiling the sweet ride. In hindsight this might have been career suicide but it probably contributed to our longevity because I couldn’t just write the same song a thousand times. I think Kram put down some guitar bits on the BR8 and I pieced them together with a weird arse narrative.
J: Another hyper pop song. I can see we were trying to push back from all the heavy stuff and show different sides of the music we all loved. I love that the others are big pop fans too, it was never an argument which direction to go in. We just went in whatever direction we felt like at the time.
K:This song is a ripper and super short. I don’t even think it’s a minute long. Prob my favourite tune off Spanish Galleon along with Jesus. Janet can pack so much into a short song that you don’t realise how little time has passed when it’s over. Great recording by Lindsay as well.
J: I’ve come to love this song but it shreds me live. Bratty stuff with 3 piece crazy energy.
J: Touring was tough- I wasn't made for it and I kept getting sick. This song is about that. Interestingly my appendix nearly killed me nearly 15 years after I wrote this song. Revenge.
K: I wasn’t 100% on this song when we recorded it - I though Sylvia got the tempo all wrong & something was missing.. Janet’s performance was great of course but I wasn’t sure about the tune. So when I heard it again fresh after so long I was stoked to find I really loved it - it was so weird and such a happy moment. Sometimes time passing can be so great & you realise back then you were barking up the wrong tree.
J: Song about alienation and growing up. Heavy topics so you may as well write a song about it. I was also a bit in two minds about this one but I don’t mind it now. Recording with Sylvia was interesting, she had some good stories about working with Prince and the Bangles.
J: It has so many parts. Feels like an old song that Kram would write in the Sha Sha days. I can’t remember much about its conception, sounds like one of those mongrel songs where everyone adds a piece, kind of like a chain letter.
J: I couldn’t remember anything about this song when it resurfaced recently. I think I hated it at the time because it felt just a bit too twee and cheesy. But I’m Ok with it now. It's fun and we need some fun.
J: I have a soft spot for this song. The Motown/Jacksons influence seems obvious but it just makes me smile. I love sticking stupid words in songs like vacuum cleaner and microwave. I remember baffling the record company with this one too. Kram came up with the dreamy chorus chord change but it was so much slower and I just couldn’t get it out of my head so we kept pursuing it. It got called Stevie because it sounded like a Stevie wonder progression. I have to drop it down a key to sing it now. It's hard to do live but we try. One of my favourite songs of ours.
K:Janet brought this track in on her Roland BR8 digital 8 track recorder. She said let’s work it up a bit as a band & see if we can change it round etc. Whitt & I said fuck that mate the song is finished and we love it the way it is! So simple and classic it’s an F word love song & has become such a huge live song for us as well.
J: This was a saying we all used through the 90s. Probably sounds like old folk speak now. There wasn’t a lot of f-bombing around then compared to now. I remember having to try and sing 'you’re really awesome' on some channel nine morning show. Didn't have quite the same sentiment. It's supposed to be a love song, the fucken is about intensity not aggression. Someone told me they walked down the aisle to it. That made me happy.
K: Whitt was using a sampler during Wally Funk & he and Magoo would work on tracks for hours. This is a house meets rock vibe and Janet’s vocals drive the whole song. It’s kinda dark too which I like a lot.
J: Whit wrote this vibey dance thing and I wrote lyrics about how vacuous some dance music was at the time. Not sure about this one.
J: I think I already mentioned my love for the Go-gos. We met Belinda Carlisle once at Bakehouse studios she was rehearsing there when we were. I snuck down to listen to her sing this song and her voice was fucking amazing. Kram told her we did this cover and I felt like such a fan girl. I love that she was a messed up punk with a beautiful voice. Glad she survived the drugs and craziness. Didn't love her solo stuff but I didn't tell her that.
K: Love this song it feels like we were listening to a lot of Supergrass at the time! Can’t wait to play so many of these lesser known Janet songs on the upcoming Key Of J Tour and this is one of them.
J: I think this was influenced by The Jam too. They were the first band I really got into after my top 40 phase. I wore a cardigan around Finley for a while, thought I was so cool.
K: Janet’s first Spiderbait song. It’s become a bit of a classic along with Old Man Sam from our first record. Great recording by Locki on what I think is only an 8 track tape. But the best thing about this song is it somehow beautifully expresses both Janet’s hate and me & whitts love for something we all grew up with in the small nsw country town of Finley - footy. K
J: I grew up in regional Australia in the 80s. Football culture ruled the town and it represented everything I hated as a girl growing up. It dominated life and excluded half the population. People could be arseholes as long as they played footy well. These lyrics come from a place of great resentment even though they’re funny. We wrote this as a little band who played to 50 friends. Eventually the people named in the song heard about it. I don’t think they realised I seriously did hate football. It wasn’t the game it was the stinking culture that surrounded it. Hopefully things have changed there.
J: I grew up on Whitby Farm, my grandpa was from Whitby. This is just a sentimental jam about summer nights on a 500 acre irrigated property cruising around on my motorbike checking the waterwheels. We grew rice, sunflowers and wheat. The farm is not there anymore which feels sad to me. The recording is actually on the farm, so many frogs. The mention of the rising water salinity and the agricultural economy is something Riverina farming families will know all about. It was discussed around the dinner table each night on Whitby Farm.
FRIDAY, 3 JUNE 2022 - ALBERT HALL, LAUNCESTON, TAS
SATURDAY, 4 JUNE 2022 - UNI BAR, HOBART, TAS
FRIDAY, 8 JULY 2022 - METRO THEATRE, SYDNEY, NSW -
FRIDAY, 15 JULY 2022 - NORTHCOTE THEATRE, MELBOURNE, VIC -
FRIDAY, 5 AUGUST 2022 - PRINCESS THEATRE, BRISBANE, QLD -
FRIDAY, 19 AUGUST 2022 - METROPOLIS, FREMANTLE, WA
SATURDAY, 20 AUGUST 2022 - HINDLEY ST MUSIC HALL, ADELAIDE, SA