Recorded at The Compound, Butler’s studio in Fremantle (Australia), FLESH & BLOOD took a mere 20 days to record and though beautifully structured in sonic terms there is a rawness and honesty to the album that reflects the brevity of its laying down. There’s something really exciting about that moment when you’re writing a song and it’s flowing and you stand back and look at it and hear it and feel like it explains things that you’ve been trying to explain all your life, or it expresses something that feels universal.
After contributing a large portion of work towards the album, Nicky Bomba eventually left The Compound and the Trio to focus on his own Melbourne Ska Orchestra project and was replaced by Grant Gerathy. Flesh & Blood was produced by Jan Skubiszewski and features a vocal duet with Ainslie Wills.
Butler spoke about the song process in an interview during the band’s US tour:
But a lot of these songs on this album I kind of magpied. Magpies are this bird in Australia that takes shiny things from anywhere and builds its nest, and so that’s kind of what I do. I’ll take a little of my own experience of having some heavy party time with certain friends, and then I’ll hear some other stories about addicts or other intense relationships. I’ll put them into the mixing pot and make up these characters to explore different possibilities and emotional landscapes.
Of the approach, Butler says
We wanted the grooves to get deeper and thicker and as a songwriter I wanted the songs to be a lot more guttural and fleshier. I wanted to smell it and feel it a bit more. And my voice to be more convincing.
JB’s Track by track introduction to the songs on “Flesh & Blood”
Blame It On Me started out as Lay It on Me, as in ‘give me your truth’ but I couldn’t get enough traction with that to reveal the bones. So it changed to Blame It On Me and I kinda wrote from this point of view of a deity speaking to humans going, ‘how is it that you believe in me when it’s all working for you but when it’s not, you blame me? When really, you make your own bed and you need to sleep in it’.
Bullet Girl is about a couple who are in that stage of their life where everything is hot and heavy. And dramatic. And angsty. When it’s good, it’s good and when it’s bad it’s bad. But at the same time they are catalysts for each other; the chemistry between them is like a hot fire. It burns bright and it’s exciting… but it’s destructive and they look back with some regret.
Cold Wind was inspired by a 4WD trip I took from Freo through the guts of the desert to Uluru, where we stayed in an Aboriginal community called Mutitjulu near Ayers Rock. I’d seen footage of a man named Uncle Bob Randall, an indigenous elder who is a great thinker and philosopher who was a member of the stolen generation. We met Bob and his wife Barbara and stayed in a caravan for a couple of nights and listened to his stories, of being taken away from his mother, the hardship and things that he came up against as an individual, of indigenous inequality and injustice.
A really cold wind would come across the camp every morning at 8am – really hard and relentless. And he would say, ‘leave! Pack up and get out of my country!’ (laughs). The mixture of those two things made Cold Wind.
Devil Woman sprang up from a jam period we had for a month where I didn’t bring any of my songs to the table, we just threw musical ideas into a very open and fresh pot. Nicky came to this one jam with these Ethiopian rhythms and instantly Africa was in the room. It blossomed into this African/R&B/bluegrass thing. Devil Woman? I found another guy in the bed and this woman is killing me. I want her to get away from me before I do something I regret.
How You Sleep at Night is probably one of my more exciting songwriting moments. I wrote it and was having one of those, ‘this is one of the best things I’ve done’ moments. I was quite chuffed with myself. Then I had a dream where I’m playing the song to my manager Phil, just on GarageBand, but there’s a full video with it and the production is completely different, there’s the same melody, but different chords. So I’m listening to this song that I was so happy with, that I had written over the previous three months completely flipped and I just wake up and go, ‘wow, that was cool’. So I got up and worked out the chords. So the next day we’re at rehearsal and we were going to do the original version but Grant and Byron were like, ‘no man, let’s do the dream version first’. Four takes later it was done. It came up like the dream and where it didn’t, it was better. It never happens like that; I worked on the previous version for months. Then this dream version, in four takes, was done. It came out of the ether.
Living in the City is one of those songs that just really came out of my mouth, really. It’s just about a cat who’s gone to the big smoke to make it big and realizing he’s in the rat race. He’s in the system and he ain’t happy about it.
Only One is saying, ‘I’m a flawed human being, with a lot of shit (laughs). Somehow, you see me and you love me. For that, I love you right back and you’re amazing’.
Spring to Come evolved from a guitar riff that has been around for about five years wanting to come to light. Then on a camping trip at the Blackwood River the lyrics decided to come to the party. For me it’s a song about dealing with depression and having the faith that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. In the midst of winter, spring will come… (laughs) but how fucking long does it have to take?
Wings Are Wide is about my grandmother Phillipa passing away. She is the matriarch of my family, the one who passed me down the Dobro guitar that once belonged to my grandfather John, whom I’m named after, when I was 16. She’s the reason why I play music; the cornerstone. It’s about her going to see her man again, after all this time.
Young and Wild is kind of like an extension of Bullet Girl, but this couple is a junkie couple. They’ve gone deep… deep into each other. I’ve had my own things with addiction and hung around circles of addiction, so this is a combination of stories that I’ve magpied from everywhere to create this couple.
You’re Free is talking to the devil on my shoulder and going, ‘I see you there, and I hear you. Thanks for your time, but I’m right now, you can go. I need to get on with my life now without you on my shoulder’.