Track by Track: Ivy League Records
To celebrate their 15 years of existence, Sydney’s Ivy League records have compiled a 25-song set of the label’s most-loved music, 'Ivy League’s 15 Year Reign of Terror!'. Label types ANDY CASSELL, ANDY KELLY, PETE LUSTY, MARTY DOYLE and MARIHUZKA CORNELIUS take us through the stories behind some of their personal favourites.
Cloud Control – ‘There's Nothing In The Water We Can't Fight’
Andy Cassell: This was the last song to be recorded for Cloud Control’s incredible debut album, Bliss Release, in 2010. It proved to be a tension-packed rollercoaster ride to the finish line. The band turned up to Albert’s Recording Studios to work with producer Wayne Connolly and everything was in place, except for a chorus. When they had a break for dinner that night, the song was hanging precariously, moments away from being thrown into the ‘too hard’ basket. Thankfully, there must have been something in the food they ate, because they returned to the control room and it all started to come together – a really special song came to life.
Youth Group – ‘I Don't Care’
AC: Coming in a distant second, with the title sung a mere 16 times, ‘I Don’t Care’ is a song close to my heart: it was first sung by Toby Martin at my wedding. However, as Toby chanted “I Don’t Care” over and over to the wedding congregation, I remember thinking that I might have made a poor decision. My dream to create an independent record label based on counter-culture and the subversion of the dominant paradigm was clearly compromising my relationship ... until the last line, “I just care about you” ... ah phew, all good, carry on.
78 Saab – ‘Smile’
Andy Kelly: I love this track. It was the second single from Saab’s debut album (‘Picture A Hum, Can’t Hear A Sound), recorded with Greg Wales at Hothouse in Melbourne. To this day I can’t remember for the life of me how we paid for this album to be made or any of those pesky details. The band and the label were all on the dole or students at the time, but here’s to the pioneering spirit that made this country great. Walesy’s production is fantastic, it’s a great sounding number. Nashy’s lyrics are chock full of images of his country upbringing that are a theme throughout the first album. I think 78 Saab are one of the great Australian bands.
The Vines – ‘She Is Gone’
AK: Craig Nicholls has the most incredible natural grasp of melody I have ever seen up close, and this song is just another of many examples of that. He has a way of putting together a really standard chord progression then singing the most amazing, unexpected vocal melody over the top to take it somewhere other worldly. Then he stacks on harmonies that blow your mind for a living. He is easily the most naturally talented, charismatic, exasperating and difficult person I’ve ever worked with, which is a heady cocktail. For everything else that has happened in his life, and all the grey hairs, broken knuckles and ulcers he has caused us, I’ll listen to The Vines music forever because I think it’s exceptionally great pop music.
Lanie Lane – ‘To The Horses’
AK: The first time I heard Lanie sing I literally started panicking at the thought that she might already have signed a deal with a label that wasn’t us. I couldn’t believe how much I loved what she was doing, I started looking for some way, any way to get in contact with her immediately with a feeling like the clock was ticking and I couldn’t handle the thought of not working together. Luckily for us the lure of a one million dollar, non-recoupable advance and an on-call rockabilly stylist won her over, and here we are. This song sums up everything I love about Lanie from the sentiment, the tune and the production and her vocal. Bloody fantastic.
Alpine – ‘Villages’
Marty Doyle: I remember the first time Pete and I met Alpine (back when they used to be called Swiss) – they were so sweet and nervous. We both went down to Melbourne to see them play at the Wesley Anne in Northcote. It was like their third show ever and we had nowhere to sit other than right up the front, about one metre from where the band were performing.
It made things really awkward for everyone, but we loved it and thought they were brilliant. Their song ‘Too Safe’ is what had caught my attention, and I thought it was going to be hard for them to top that. When they sent through ‘Villages’, though, it was one of those total 'hold the phone' moments. It was clear to me that not only was this song going to be big, but Alpine was going to be big too.
Deep Sea Arcade – ‘Outlands’
AC: This song – which used to close Deep Sea Arcade’s live set – was what made me want to work with them. When I first heard the intro, it reminded me of the theme to the US TV soap The Young And The Restless. The recorded version was largely produced by the Nic(k)s in their bedroom studio, and managed to capture everything great about the live version – and then multiply it by ten. I particularly love the guitar interplay between Tim and Simon, and how it develops and intensifies, ending with the twin string-bend harmonies. I also love Nic M’s understated and ethereal vocals, Nick W’s bass playing and Carlos’ incredible drumming.
Red Riders – ‘Ordinary’
AK: This is what we like to call a “mind hit”. It went to the top of the charts in all of our minds and stayed there unopposed for months, breaking all previous records. It’s very hard to get exact figures, but at last count it sold over a million made-up copies to imaginary people. What a beautiful number. Al Grigg is a humble fellow, and that is never more obvious than in this lyric, where he paints himself as a beautiful loser, never quite good enough to rise above the ordinary. I think he proved otherwise with this song, and the band, along with producer Woody Annison (again) backed him to the hilt. One of the many things I love about this track is its sense of musical mystery – I’m not entirely sure what is being played or how the sounds are being made. I could find out, obviously, but why would you? It’s all ringing, chiming melodious magic behind that understated vocal, and it makes the song even greater.
The Silents – ‘Astral Child’
AC: This was a hard choice, because there were so many great songs on The Silents’ debut LP, Things To Learn, but I’m a sucker for a song that builds from start to finish. The first verse is really sparse and unassuming. Lloyd’s vocals are so naked and upfront it’s almost uncomfortable, and yet totally captivating. And then the guitars kick in – whoah mamma! And then Lloyd’s harmonies, then the bridge (‘fair-y-tales-must-happen’), then a perfect resolve back to the chorus. This song still gives me shivers. If you’re reading this, go buy their album, it’s a hidden treasure.
Josh Pyke – ‘New Years Song’
AC: This song is a cup of tea, and I love tea. It’s so beautifully simple and understated. I played this song to my Mum once, and she got a little teary. It was inspired by the death of a close friend of Josh’s one New Years Eve. Knowing this makes his lyrics all the more insightful, but you could not understand a word of English and still love this song, because it rolls along so beautifully. Special note: if you try to sing along, make sure you take a very deep breath before you attempt to sing the last line.
Catcall – ‘Swimming Pool’
MD: Catherine [Kelleher aka Catcall] has exceptionally good taste in music. I remember she was listening to a lot of Chromatics at the time and I think that was that was a big influence on the overall shape and feel of this song. When it came back from the studio and I heard it for the first time, I was completely bowled over. It was so perfect and exactly how she described she wanted it to sound. It was also really exciting for the label, as Ivy League hadn't put anything out that sounded quite like this.
The original plan for this song was to soft release it and just put it out there and see how people react to it – none of us were quite expecting the reaction it got. It went viral right around the world! It was such a nice surprise for everyone involved.
The City Lights – ‘Everyone Out’
AC: Another song that goes in my ‘should’ve been bigger’ pile – I will not rest until it finds its way on Classic Beer Drinking Songs of the Naughties. I really wanted to make a Young Ones -style video of the band playing in the Botany View Hotel while people are being thrown out through windows at last drinks, but we couldn’t afford the stunt men or the fake glass. This song wins on so many levels, not least of all the fact that the title “Everyone Out” is sung a whopping 36 times.
The Rubens – ‘Don't Ever Want To Be Found’
Marihuzka Cornelius: ‘Don’t Ever Want To Be Found’ was actually the first official single that Ivy League ever released for The Rubens, and it was an immediate favourite of ours. It’s blistering live, and it’s probably the track on the album that best captures the band’s on-stage energy. The video for this was shot in and around the band’s hometown of Menangle, and during one of the scenes the boys had to dive into a river from a cliff edge.
While all the Margin brothers chose to safely pin-drop into the water, drummer (and total legend) Scotty Baldwin thought he’d try injecting some flair and gave a back flip a bit of a go. The result was a giant and rather violent-sounding belly-flop that struck dread into the hearts of everyone witnessing his less-than-graceful entrance into the water. Luckily, Scotty came to, got back up, brushed it off and kept shooting – despite a couple of nasty bruises.
Cabins – ‘Hounds’
AK: This is great, dark pop number from Cabins, one that signalled the way they were going to head musically after we had been working with them for a little while. It felt like a bit of a light bulb moment for everyone: when it came together everyone said, “That’s it!”. Full credit must be paid to Woody Annison, who produced the album, for capturing the darkness in the song while still extracting the pop aspect. I love the simple piano melody underpinned by that rolling bass line bringing the thunder (from down under, obviously).
Wons Phreely – ‘Tonight’
Pete Lusty: Wons is a real talent and a very unique artist. This is the title track from his last EP and it really highlights his wordplay and ear for a catchy melody.
Hoolahan – ‘Starts Over Again’
AC: Where it all began. King Autumn was the first album ever released on Ivy League Records, and it’s as rare as a hen’s impacted lower left molar. It’s as good today as it was back then, and there are many highlights, but ‘Starts Over Again’ is close as music gets to perfection in my book. Influenced by Sloan’s ‘I Can Feel It’ from their Twice Removed LP, it features the dual vocals of Dave Orszaczky with guest vocals of Tracy Ellis from Knievel. Also features one of the best lyrics in a song: “Tomorrow knows where you’ve been, and starts over again”. Produced by the inimitable Wayne Connolly, it gets my highest accolade: an official “Me Likey”.
Toby Martin – ‘Everything At The Same Time’
AK: Toby has been with Ivy League since 1997 and he is one of the nicest, most genuine people I have ever had the pleasure to know. He’s an incredible songwriter and singer, and people like him and the other guys in Youth Group are why you want to have a record label. I’m really proud that Ivy League have released everything he and the band have ever committed to tape – or hard drive. I love Love’s Shadow, the solo album from which this track is taken. Toby took his time on it and recorded with another Ivy League alumni, the super talented Tim Kevin (who played in Hoolahan). This song has a touch of 10CC’s ‘I’m Not In Love’ about it, which is a big plus. The whole album is heartbreakingly great.
Woe & Flutter – ‘I Think I’m Fine’
AC: I first came across Woe & Flutter in early 2010 after hearing a demo on a surfing website. I was instantly hooked, made contact and I flew up to ‘Goldy mate’ – that’s local speak for The Gold Coast. I was met at the airport by what I can only describe as two cartoon characters, Dusty and Adam. They took to a cafe and introduced me to two more cartoon characters, brothers Dave and Aiden. We drove to their group house/rehearsal/recording/drop in centre where we drank long necks and ate grilled sausages. Then I shoved tissue paper in my ears, sat in a mouldy corner of a their neighbour’s gimp sex dungeon and was thoroughly blown away as their cartoon superpowers came to life. ‘I Think I’m Fine’ was one of the highlights.
SURES – ‘Poseidon’
AC: There are so many things I love about this song. It sounds like it was recorded in a studio by a band who have been around for 20 years. In reality, it was recorded in a bedroom by some kids who’ve been alive for barely 20 years. A comment on their Youtube page sums it up best: “YES YES YES YES YES YES (120 times) … I’ve been looking for this for ages”. With only an EP to their name and the world before them, we are all stupidly excited to hear what SURES will come up with next.
Bridezilla – ‘Brown Paper Bag’
AK: The first time I saw Bridezilla play I was absolutely mesmerised. It felt like being transported back to the Crystal Ballroom in its pomp, they had such an electricity about them. (The fact that I was too young to have actually ever experienced the Crystal Ballroom is neither nor there). What a collection of strong characters, all amazing players in their own right – and Holiday’s voice and presence on stage is from another planet. I seem to remember the band disowning this song pretty quickly – and that's every band’s right, especially one as young and rapidly developing as they were at the time – but I love it.
The Mess Hall – ‘Keep Walking’
AK: The first time I remember hearing this song was when the Mess Hall played at the Mercury Lounge in New York in 2006. Jed and Cec were living there and I was living nearby. (Hopefully that opening sentence gives you an idea of just how terribly worldly we all are?) Anyway, no big deal, there we all were in the Big Apple … I remember being blown away by that “new Zeppelin-sounding thing” (which now sounds nothing like Zeppelin to me) and asking the fellows what the Dickens it was. It was our very good fortune to release Devil’s Elbow the following year, containing the smash hit just described. One of my personal highlights of the past 15 years was getting to play ‘the label guy’ in the ‘Keep Walking’ video (directed by Jed’s brother Justin, who went on to direct Snowtown – again, not a big deal) where no costume or acting was required.
Monarchs – ‘2001’
AK: The Monarchs were a band put together by the one and only Bradley Mark Shepherd, guitar player with the Hoodoo Gurus, The Hitmen, Super K, 31st, Fun Things … he’s made a fair contribution to the Australian musical landscape, hasn’t he? Brad started The Monarchs after the Gurus split up for a while in the late nineties, and his stated intention was for his new band to “sound like a bomb going off in your living room”, which sounded good to me. I played bass with this combo, which was a massive thrill, and along with Greg Hitchcock on guitar and Brad’s brother Murray on drums, I think we came close to honouring Brad’s vision a lot of the time. Certainly a lot of my hearing loss supports that theory, anyway. We put ‘2001’ out on seven-inch ‘red’ vinyl. I remember Brad taking a call from the pressing plant while in the Tarago touring somewhere. They explained that they had run out of clear vinyl, so they were just going to mix white and red and it would all be fine … oh well – red, pink, they’re both colours.
John Reed Club – ‘Destroyer’
PL: This was the first-ever Ivy League release. John Reed Club actually came up with the name Ivy League when they were going through their preppy/Weezer phase. It’s a short sharp punk song that was only released on seven-inch vinyl.
Sparkadia – ‘Morning Light’
PL: This is the first Sparkadia song we ever heard. It was a demo and at the time they were actually called The Spark. It’s a great track, and is also a fan favourite and a live highlight.
Neon – ‘New Direction’
PL: The Neon album is one of the best we have ever released, despite its limited commercial success. From start to finish, the songwriting is world class. The music has elements of Redd Kross and Cheap Trick and just sounds timeless to me. It was hard to choose the best track. This is one of many.