Track By Track: Co-Pilgrim
Englishman MIKE GALE returned home after living and playing in Melbourne to make the second Co-Pilgrim album, ‘A Fairer Sea’. Produced by Ride’s Mark Gardener, the lush and Byrds-y record hinges on a love that didn’t last.
Along with a few other songs on the album, ‘22’ runs with the theme of a long-distance relationship I was once in and how we tried really hard to fight against all of the problems that come as part of the deal. With a little more luck we might have made it. Who knows? Who cares? Musically the song was a bit weedy until our beast of a bass player Andy [Reaney] chipped in with his bass part. It transformed the direction of the song and every other part was then formed around it.
A song about my time spent living in Melbourne and my decision to leave and return to England. I loved living in Melbourne, but after about a year I had a sudden longing to be cold, wet and miserable again. There is only so much of being warm and happy that any good Englishman can take. Also, I’d kind of driven myself down a country/folk musical cul-de-sac and it was starting to bore me. I thought maybe I’d go back home, write some pop songs and record an album, which is eventually what happened.
Again, this song was a bit lightweight until our drummer Tom [Wenzel] laid down the heavy-feeling drums. We were all listening in the control room and as soon as he played, we all sank down in our chairs as though the ceiling was coming down on us.
‘A Fairer Sea’
Album title track, returning to the theme of how – with a little more luck and a fairer sea – the long-distance love could’ve worked out. It’s definitely my favourite song on the album. I usually get bored of listening to my own stuff almost immediately, but I can still listen to this without any wincing.
Again, not to blow smoke up his hi-hat but Tom nailed the drums on this. We were lucky enough at this stage to be recording in a posh studio with Mark Gardener producing. Tom seemed to relish this and really went all out. Then in came Joe [Bennett] to sprinkle some violin, piano and slide on top. It was just a fun song to record and one of those rare occasions where it seemed effortless.
I’m a melody first, lyrics second kind of guy, but every once in a blue moon the two arrive together. When this happens I find it near impossible to write any new lyrics to replace what I’ve been mumbling while writing the melody. As a result, ‘Sialo’ doesn’t have any particularly deep message or meaning. I think I understand parts of it. Some may call this bad or lazy writing; they’re probably right, but I’ve always been quite attracted to lyrics that don’t lay out a story in front of you and instead let you come up with some mind wander of your own. Mark Linkous was possibly the master at this.
‘I’m Going to the Country’
I wrote this almost as soon as I’d landed back home after my time in Melbourne. I wanted to write something combining an upbeat chorus with sad lyrics. Maybe I took that a bit too far with the clichéd lines about sitting on the porch drinking and being lonely, but they were never meant to be taken that seriously. As I previously said, I’d fallen out of love with country music at the time and, unfairly maybe, I was poking fun a bit about that whole alt-country scene. Again, Andy's bass part was the driving force of the song. I’ve lost count of the times that guy’s bass lines have given life to one of my songs. He’s our very own James Jamerson.
‘Now You’re Here’
Straightforward, no-nonsense love song. It seems to me that some writers nowadays are reluctant for whatever reason to write a simple love song. Personally I’m very partial to an honest, heartfelt tale of love. For me, the most beautiful love song of all time is ‘Let It Be Me’, which was made famous by The Everly Brothers. The subject of ‘Now You’re Here’ and I used to cover ‘Let It Be Me’ when we first met during the early years of Co-pilgrim, so I used it as a template to simply tell a girl how I felt about her. That’s all. Special mention to Emma [Meurice], who sings beautiful, spooky backing on this.
‘Come On Come On’
This was the last song to be recorded for the album. If I remember correctly, it was only written the week before we went to the studio and I still didn’t have lyrics the day before singing it. The words came out kind of rushed and don’t make a whole lot of sense, but they do their job and, again, I understand some of what they’re trying to say but am quite happy for them to remain obscure and be what they are. I was so lucky to have such a brilliant band recording these songs. They’d never heard this before we recorded, but it came out OK. The highlight for me is Joe’s guitar solo played on Mark’s beautiful 12-string Rickenbacker that he used while he was in Ride!
Roslindale is the small suburb of Boston, MA where I first met the lady whose presence is felt in nearly every song on the album. I don’t ever recall being happier than those first few weeks with her and just tried to capture a small part of that heady confusion, joy and ultimately heartache. Musically we recorded this in Brussels before the Oxford sessions. Again I was a lucky git in having Julien Paschal and Teuk Henri from amazing Belgian band Sharko helping me out on drums and guitar. Teuk’s guitar in particular still gives me chills.
‘No Man Or Mountain (Dyana Gray)’
Dyana and I shared a house in Melbourne. One morning another housemate and I received a phone call saying she’d come off her bike on her way to work. By the time we arrived, she’d been taken into the home of a good Samaritan who saw the accident. The first line of the song refers to when we walked in and saw her sat on the floor of this person’s house, blood trickling down her chin, drinking champagne. Even in injury she managed to pull off looking cool. The rest of the song is set around a painting we had in our lounge of some mountains and forest. It’s just the kind of place I imagined bumping into her in 30 years’ time.
‘No Guiding Light’
I wrote this towards the end of my time in Melbourne, just as I was beginning to have doubts about staying. I’m not a religious person in any way and I’ve had some bad experiences with it in the past, but this wasn’t necessarily meant to be an anti-religion statement. It was more about how I was feeling at the time. I didn’t really know what the hell was going on and was just trying to find something to hang on to without passing on any responsibility to some form of higher power. Musically it came out really well, I think. Joe’s driving piano and slide and Tom’s rolling drums really help build the end section, and we even managed to get Mark to sing some harmonies.
‘A Fairer Sea’ is out now through Battle Worldwide Recordings.