Today is a special one for Melbourne’s Human Face, as the four piece are set to release their self-titled debut album. It’s an expansive fourteen track record, one that deals with themes of growing older, loss, renewal and fatherhood. To celebrate the release, the band’s own Dan Marsh took the time to reveal every detail from the album in this exclusive track by track expose.
An expansive album, Human Face reveals the details of their debut album track by track, one that deals with coming to grips with change and celebrating life.
This song is in some ways a dedication to my classical piano teacher, John Payne. I studied in Mt Macedon with John until my early twenties, and it was he that instilled in me a love of classical piano music, particularly from the Romantic period. John also introduced me to jazz and single malt Scotch. We wanted the vocal phrase to sound like the town had come together to sing, so it features all the band members plus a bunch of our friends: Ainslie Wills, Jaye Kranz, Tommy Spender, Hailey Cramer.
When Nina (my eldest daughter) was born, I was hit with a huge range of emotions – all the awesome feelings that most people describe, but also a real sense of confronting my own mortality. So in that first week, I recorded a demo. It was really slow and quite dark, and I showed it to our bass player Rohan (who is also the band’s shit-filter: EVERY BAND NEEDS A SHIT-FILTER). He saw potential there, so we took the song idea out to our rehearsal home base in Malmsbury and that’s where it really came together.
The lyrics describe the feeling of the inevitable cycle – the wheel turns and in the blink of an eye, the next generation is looking down at their newborn. There’s only one verse, repeated in a higher register to symbolise the changing of the guard. When it came time to track the vocals, our lead singer, Dan Fox, was just a couple of months away from becoming a father. Foxy’s tone in this song has these really tender moments and then by the end, he’s screaming his lungs out. He did two takes of the vocal and then that was it – he’d given everything and there was nothing left.
See The Light
This song is about the bad boss and misguided leadership. We’re seeing that all around the world in the political sphere and, I have to say, it feels good to blast out a song about it. Despite the heavy topic though, the song is meant to be a bit of fun. Most of the tracks on the album have a really organic vocal tone, but with this one we couldn’t resist the vocoder/autotune sound on the choruses. There are a lot of layers in there – heaps of synths and percussion. To freak out the chorus even more, I played drums (in my own wonky way) over the top of Rory’s warped but rock-solid beat.
After reading Richard Dawkins’ book The Greatest Show On Earth and learning that a frightening amount of people actually believe that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, we were compelled to write a song about it. This song is written from the perspective of the wind, which, if it were a conscious being, would have witnessed the evolution of the planet over time.
We always had the idea of having a guest lead vocalist on the album and Ainslie Wills was our first choice. She is supremely talented and we knew she could smash out the bluesy phrases of this song without batting an eyelid. And that’s what she did – a couple of takes – done! Foxy doubles up the chorus vocal with a very appropriate Tom Waits preacher man tone. I don’t know how he got his voice to do that – the guy can do anything.
Follow Me Down
A lot of the ideas in this song were written by our previous bass player, Evan Tweedie. (Ev had to move on from Human Face because at the time he was also in Husky and they were really taking off). So, he’d just watched the animation Spirited Away and got out all these kooky melodies and a couple of vocal ideas: “I know a place to go” and “I’ll show you what I mean”. When I heard the demo, I immediately thought the song was about getting away from “the scene”. We ran with that idea and so the song ended up being about us feeling like we don’t fit in anywhere.
This song began with Foxy’s finger-picking guitar part. He wrote that idea after driving along the Great Ocean Road on his own. For me, the music really reflects that meandering coastline. This was another song that got the Malmsbury treatment. Every Stone really came to life when we swapped instruments and found a groove that we wouldn’t have if we’d been on our own instruments. The feel is just so warped – it’s a really fun one to play live.
After the song found its feet and Foxy wrote the melody, we sat around the fire and came up with the lyrics. The song is ultimately about acceptance – of the good and the bad and the balance of it all. There’s something about the house at Malmsbury that somehow ensures we always come back with a bag full of new material. Maybe it’s being able to stand outside and stare into the spiral of the Milky Way. We’re psychedelic astronauts. Sorry, that’s just who we are.
The Turning Tide
I’m a bit of a fan of the interlude so there was always going to be an interlude on this album. This piece is actually an excerpt from the second last track The Tide. We took the chord progression from the outro and wrote it in two-part counterpoint and then asked Tommy Spender to sing the vocal. There’s something ethereal about Tommy’s vocal take. I can’t get the image out of my mind of Freddie Mercury standing on the moon and singing this. Now you can’t either.
This is our anthem. It’s got a tiny bit of the reggae flavour, a space travel theme and an EPIC guitar solo. What else is there? Nature was one of the first songs we wrote for the band and that was about six years ago. I’m not sure that if we were writing the song today, it’d have the lyric “See it sitting like a praying mantis staring at the sky” but there you have it. And anyway, the shit-filter says it’s fine.
This song was mostly recorded at Echidna Studio in Christmas Hills where we made use of the grand piano and stunning main tracking room. Foxy came into the studio around 1am after having just sung three sets of metal at the St Andrews Pub and laid down the sweetest vocals in one take. The other instruments had been recorded earlier that day and we were working out what to do next. Foxy said “So, I guess I should re-record the guitar solo then?” to which Simon (the engineer) replied “Mate, you’re not fucking touching that guitar solo!”
When we listened to it again, we realised the solo was perfect, and that’s because it was recorded live, at the same time as the drums. You can hear Rory and Foxy feeding off each other – you can only achieve that when you record live. The song’s lyrics tell the story of humans happily packing up and leaving the spent Earth behind, venturing into the darkness to find a new home.
This song was born on an old beaten up nylon string when Foxy was staying in Camden, London. He describes it as “A reflection of a tired heart and a grave song about learning to love the unlovable”. It’s definitely the dark horse of the album and the baritone guitar licks are super heavy, but don’t despair; the bridge is a ray of sunshine.
Bottom Of The Hill
A friend of mine told me a story about a time that he was driving a winding mountain road and tried to take a corner too fast. He veered off the side of the cliff and had the “Whole life flash before your eyes” experience as he plummeted off the edge. After smashing into a tree, he got out of the car, (which was completely mangled) with hardly a scratch on him.
After scrambling up the side of the hill for half an hour or so, he finally reached the road again where a truck driver pulled over and offered to drive him to the nearest servo. As more and more time passed, winding around the mountain, he started to think that maybe this was the afterlife – that his body was down below. This song tells the story of the spirit of that man, destined to drive around the mountain through eternity.
This song is about that feeling of being stuck inside your own head. Crawling up the walls in an empty room, a bad acid trip, sorting out reality from fantasy. When bass player/shit-filter Rohan heard the demo of this song with me singing, he suggested that I sing the vocal on the album. I’m not a singer, so it has this kind of shaky fragile edge to it, which suits the theme of the song. This one features backing vocals from Ainslie Wills and Hailey Cramer.
When I first started writing this song, it was another song about the demise of the planet (yes, I vote Greens, what of it?). We already had that covered in Nature so I disguised it as a break-up song. To me, this song is about the planet purging itself of humans, and the lyrics are from the perspective of the last person left standing. It took us ages for this song to find its groove. We road tested a bunch of different feels for it at gigs but eventually went back to the vibe of the original demo, which was kind of punky and raw.
This song is about being stuck in a rut or a dead-end job, or just that feeling that you’re not getting anywhere. The chords keep moving back and forth like a pendulum and the lyrics keep cycling too “The tide goes in…..the tide goes out”. A lot of the lyrics to these songs are fairly ambiguous and, for me, the meaning has changed several times and I hope that people find their own meaning in there. The Tide is another dark horse – the massive outro section sounds like the ocean boiling over and the Space Echo on the drums sounds like the ghost train rolling in to pick up the lost souls.
Since having kids, my relationship with my Staffordshire bull terrier, Cannonball, has suffered. This is Cannonball’s lament. It’s him saying “It’s all good, I understand, but one day I’ll be gone and you’ll realise what you’ve lost”. If you’ve had a Staffy in your family, you’ll know what I’m talking about. This is a sad, sad song and I have to say, it wasn’t written without shedding a few tears. We originally had a trombone playing the little solo but decided that pedal steel guitar was a better fit. Pedal steel is basically tears reincarnated as an instrument. It’s such a melancholy way to end the album but we did think it bookends sonically well with the opener.
You can catch Human Face live on the following dates!
Friday 29 May – The Bridge Hotel Castlemaine
Friday 5 June – The Spotted Mallard.