Residencies are kinda great. I find it’s hard to pitch for them, because I tend not to know what I’m making until I’ve made it. The first time I do a show in front of an audience, I’m usually as surprised to find out what I’ve actually made as everybody who is watching it. This one was an open-ended invite to play and bounce off the ideas of the other artists involved. So, perfect for me.
I was a bit freaked out the night before I started this run. I mean, I’m always kinda freaked out the night before one of these things because I get worried that I’ll get in the space and not know what I’m doing. It’s kinda scary knowing I’m going to spend the first day pushing shit uphill until I figure out what’s going on.
I’d kinda loosely planned to make a bunch of sketches for a live online show I was doing on saturday night – but the more I thought about it, and a conversation with the other artists involved where everyone was talking about COVID-19 and BLM and all the weirdness in the air, I realized the webcast itself was a good focus. I’d started writing a couple of new songs for it and it quickly turned into eight or so tracks.
A lot of artists have struggled with creativity during the pandemic, but that’s not how my brain works nowadays. The show I’d made and had been planning to tour this year, Tomas Ford In Kuala Lumpur, was a big brain dump of a bunch of personal stuff that had been happening last year. I’d been writing pretty high concept shows for most of my career – I’d clothe a lot of the things I wanted to express in big ideas. Looking back on that stuff, they were ideas that mostly would get ignored by my audience because I’m a very… uhhhh… “immediate” performer. Anyway, now I just spew my little heart out into my songs. Which is good in a time like this.
With that in mind, I decided to focus on getting my concepts and animations and suchlike ready for the livestream on saturday night. Rather than trying to pull something completely fresh outta my butt, it felt like this could help me take what I was doing to the next level. By the time the second part of the residency comes around, I’ll have my recordings finished and I will adapt my live performance ideas into more tightly edited lofi music videos for online distribution.
Day one was garbage – I spent the day trying to get my head around what I was doing, though I did manage to bust out a music video and figure out the rough structure of the show. But it was a lot of banging my head against the wall, as the first day always is.
The second day moved a lot faster, but still felt painfully slow. Video content always feels that way to me. But I managed to get another video edited, a bunch of backdrops animated for the show and filmed some other video resources that I could draw on for the set. I also wrote a costume brief for my mum, as she would be coming in the next day to make some clothes for the show. That evening, my pal (and Perth cabaret queen) Jamie Mykaela stopped by and we worked on some choreography for my song I Never Bathe. It felt appropriate to dabble in a bit of Year 9 Dance-level choreography; I joked with the two choreographers involved in the project that I wanted to give them something to react to in their own work. In the end, it was difficult to use this choreography as I wanted to in the livestream, but I’m really looking forward to pushing more in this direction in the second residency, as it’s both ridiculously fun to do and probably pretty amusing to see a 37 year old man attempt. I do a lot of bad-dancing in my Crap Music Rave Party shows, so it’s kinda odd that I haven’t explored this until now.
Maybe I will become a choreographer full time after this.
The third day was THE BEST. My mother Liz Ford, who has designed some seriously amazing costume pieces for me, is almost always up for my ridiculous ideas. The lady has some maaaad skills. Which I feel the need to emphasize because I wanted her to make some utterly craptastic costumes for me on a limited time turnaround. Mum likes to obsess over details; the whole point of this show and batch of material has been to write, record and perform it in a very direct, lofi kinda way. So I had a list of eight costume ideas that she powered through, bouncing ideas off me as she went, as I put together my projections for the show.
The next day was show day – terrifying, because, as usual, I felt quite underprepared. Despite having spent a lot of time on the material and writing, I was utterly racing to get it across the line as usual. I edited together a track I’d asked one of the other artists, Cr0nes, to contribute lyrics for. I smashed out a demo of that and moved on, spending much of the day arm wrestling with technology to make the night’s stream work.
My pal Levon arrived and our videographer Fionn; Levon was to help hold the broadcast together while Fionn documented the show in nice HD footage, from a perspective outside of my multi-webcam setup, for a short documentary piece that I will edit for release alongside the music videos.
Fionn’s footage promises to be pretty dramatic. In the leadup to the show, the tech issues piled on top of each other in a huuuuge way, rendering much of the detailed work I’d put into the show moot for the purpose of this show. We discovered the setup for my music was causing a massive delay on my vocal, only ten minutes before broadcast time, which meant we had to move all the music to my phone. This was less than ideal, not least because we lost two pieces of music in the transition and, in the rush, didn’t have time to test the setup before going live.
At the end of the first song, we discovered the music hadn’t come through and I had been singing my opening five minute industrial techno megatune acapella! That was quite disheartening. Luckily my prerecorded content had preceded that, so what was a bungled opening from my perspective was a second song dip for the viewership. But it threw me enough that many of the schticks and concepts I’d wanted to dig into during the show went out the window for the first half. Not to mention the lyrics – though misspeaking “a man warned is a man half saved” as “a man warmed is a man half shaved” is my favourite verbal typo of all time, and I am strongly considering making it a permanent change.
When the webcast finished, I was extremely bummed out until I made it home and was able to watch the archived stream. Though my conscious planning had been thrown out the window for this, the show actually worked quite well, and in my attempts to make it work for the audience, I accidentally created a scaffold around which I can build a tighter version of the show. Though I’ve done other shows that have been disasters before, the theme of enduring through a disaster and making it fun is 10000% what I’m trying to get at with this batch of songs. So, creatively, I’m kinda glad saturday night was such an implosion.
It’s giving me something to do this week, anyway, as I picked up a cold on the way home from the final night of the residency. All my equipment is still in the space because I had to go get COVID-swabbed, so have to isolate before the results come back. So I’m sitting writing and writing and writing and getting ready for my next adventure at Paper Mountain in a month or so when I’ll record all this into something marginally slicker and prerecorded and pretty, ready for a pretty fast release while this is all still relevant.