Formerly the drummer for The Drones for a decade-long stint, Mike Noga has also peeked out from behind the kit long enough to record three solo albums – the latest of which, KING, has been released today.
Described as a “dark, psychedelic concept album” in three parts, it’s based on an 1830s play, Woyzeck, by German writer George Büchner, and features dramatic narration by actor Noah Taylor aka the man who chopped off Jaime Lannister’s hand in Game of Thrones.
The record was produced by Something For Kate’s Paul Dempsey, and “tells the tale of one man’s descent into madness and the bloodshed that follows”, described in detail below.
KING is out today through Cooking Vinyl, and Mike will be touring Australia throughout September, dates below.
The first song I wrote for the album and, fittingly, the opener. Whilst living in london last year I was asked by immersive theatre company Punchdrunk to write a piece of music in response to their latest production…
A re-imagining of Georg Büchner’s famous, unfinished play from 1836, ‘Woyzeck’. I wrote this on the set, which was a 1950’s Californian town in the desert. I spent the day sitting on the main female character’s bed in her caravan in the desert. Although I was aware from time to time that I was actually in a Warehouse in Paddington, for the most part it was a very surreal and strange experience.
I took the song home, listened to it, liked it, an decided to have a crack at my own version of ‘Woyzeck’. Mine being set in 1950’s small town Australia and focusing on Jack and Mary, a struggling couple… and Jack’s eventual descent into jealousy induced madness.
This is the first time we hear the wonderful Noah Taylor’s narration. Noah sets the scene for us. “Mary lives on the outskirts of town in the house that her and Jack used to call “home”. She dreams… small dream” etc. He then goes on to tell us that Jack has been hallucinating and that “something’s not right”. Which is a good line to describe the overall feel of the album. There’s a certain menace, an undefined unease, underlying each song.
Nobody Leads Me to Flames
I used an oft-seen film technique and decided to put the pivotal “murder” scene at the start of the album, and then go back and introduce the characters and start the story. This is Jack fleeing the scene of Mary’s murder.
Running through the forest, completely mad, hallucinating and hearing “voices from above”. We went for a 1950’s Elvis / rockabilly type sound here. Two drum kits playing at once. A healthy dose of slap-back… and one hell of a nutty sax solo. You don’t see enough of those these days.
Act 1 – Friday Night
Don’t Fall to the Ground
The official “start” of the story. Here we meet Jack and Mary for the first time. It’s Friday night and they’re in their lounge room in the house on the outskirts of a working class town. Mary is getting drunk and dancing and putting on her makeup. She wants to go out and party.
Jack is slowly getting drunk in front of the TV and although there is hope in this song for the pair of them, the last line, ” and everything’s alright”, is actually an allusion to the fact that everything is indeed NOT alright. A little bit of the other Elvis here. Costello. With an early Tom Waits-esque fairy tale ending.
All My Friends are Alcoholics
Jack has left the house in a rage and has gone to the local pub, where a mysterious man slips him a pill. A pill he probably shouldn’t take. A bit of a bar-room sing-along this one.
People seem to like this song when I play it live… I think they can relate to the title? Things are still relatively upbeat here… but not for long.
This is a “Mary” song. Told through her eyes. She is at home alone now and is feeling strong and confident and that she has the will to leave Jack. She can’t take his fits of jealous rage any more. She’s “turned herself into a beam of light”… she’s a “lampshade to a storm”.
Although this is Mary at her best, the song unfortunately ends with a spoken work monologue detailing her death in the forest. A pretty sad moment. First time we hear synths on the album. We were going for a Bowie/Prince kinda feel. Something really sad that you can dance to. An 80s drum sound and some falsetto complete the picture.
Act 2 – The Murder
Love Meets No Stranger
A cover of a song by a guy called Gaylen Adams who I can find nothing about on the internet. From what I can tell, dude recorded one song in the 60’s then disappeared. The original is a lot more upbeat than this.
I’ve slowed it down and made it kinda sexy. At first we hear a crackly radio in Mary’s kitchen. She’s flicking through the dial trying to find something to listen to when she stumbles across a news report about a female body being found in the forest nearby. A prophecy of sorts. The DJ then introduces “Mike Noga with the Gaylen Adam’s classic “Love Meets No Stranger”.
I wanted to incorporate theatrical elements across the album and here’s a classic case of “breaking the fourth wall”. And yes… I will be wearing more black turtle necks and glasses from now on. And sporting a sweet goatee.
Runnin’ at the World
This is where Jack starts to lose it. He’s returning to the house to kill Mary. There’s all sorts of voices in his head telling him to do strange things. Lizzie, Jimi, Freddie etc. That pill is kicking in.
The end of this song, where Jack has completely lost his mind, sounds quite terrifying to me. I like it. Pretty heavy Bowie swagger with the bass right up and the drums washed out. My favourite track on the album. Again, danceable and menacing all at once.
I Wanna Live in America
Part 2 of the “murder scene”. Jack is completely overcome with hallucinations. The voices in his head (played by Noah Taylor) are telling him he will the King of England OR a Hollywood movie star if he kills Mary.
Both things this poor country boy that works in a factory dreams of. This is the most mental song on the album. The drum machine sounds like a heartbeat / heart attack. The guitars and sharp and brutal and the vocals frighten me… and I’m the one that sang them. Poor Dempsey had to sit through me singing this about a metre away from him over and over. I hope he had nightmares.
Down Like JFK
A flat out, 12 bar, rock n roll song full of violent imagery. Lots of blood. This is Jack in celebratory mode… believing he is now the ‘King’.
Act 3 – The Fog Lifts / Regret
Jack is starting to come around and realise what he’s done. He’s panicking but at the same time there’s still faint voices in his head. I wanted a feeling of confusion here, hence the four separate vocal tracks all singing at once. There’s a sneaky reference to Elvis here too. The King.
We approached this song almost like a hip hop track. Stripped back beat. Some synth. Lots of room for the vocals. The one note tinkly piano makes another appearance in this song. It’s something that threads through the whole album, linking pieces up. The progression is the same as the opening instrumental track… hence the ‘reprise’.
Greys to Reds
The quietest moment on the album. The calm after the storm. Jack is sitting in the gutter in town as a marching band goes by. A shell of man. His girl dead. Pondering whether to take his own life.
We went for a very stripped back, almost Johnny Cash feel for this. It didn’t need much more than my vocal and an acoustic guitar. It’s a heavy country song. Jack wants to “turn all his greys into reds”. He wants to undo what he has done.
This is For You.
The final chapter. Strong Velvet Underground / Scott Walker influence in the way we recorded this and sound we were looking for. Here we see Jack and Mary re-united in a kind of fairy tale type scenario where Mary is waiting at the house for him to return. He pulls up in his car.
They eat and drink and dance the night away and she asks him to stay, which leaves the listener asking the question, was the murder and everything we’ve just heard all in Jack’s head and THIS is the real song… or is it the opposite? That he really did murder Mary and this song is the one that is in his head. I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
The final sound we hear is quite scary, hinting at an unhappy ending… until the album draws to a close with the final “CUT” from the director. Who’s been directing?
Mike Noga Tour Dates
Fri 16 Sept – Brighton Up Bar, Sydney
Sat 17 Sept – Bearded Lady, Brisbane
Thurs 22 Sept – Grace Emily, Adelaide – (solo)
Fri 23 Sept – Four5Nine, Perth – (solo)
Sat 24 Sept – Odd Fellow, Freo – (solo)
Thurs 29th Sept – Northcote Social Club, Melbourne
Fri 30th Sept – MONA, Hobart