The Scaramanga Six‘s Worthless Music was the only release of 2021 to make it onto the ‘album of the year’ lists of more than one of our writers, captivating both Andrew Wood and Joyzine editor Paul Maps with its exhilarating prog-punk theatrics (read Andrew’s revew of the album here). So, having caught our breath, we got in touch with brothers Paul and Steven Morricone to talk us through the record track by track.
P: This was the first song written for this album. ‘Big Ideas’ was the working title for this set of tunes and we’d give ourselves the brief to ‘embiggen’ our sound with more solid double-beats, blocks of guitar sound and weird solos. As it happens, this is the only one where we cut loose with a solo – that’s me being cut up and processed towards the back end like I’m feeding my guitar into a blender.
P: What’s the song about? There is always someone who appears and tells you to stop being so clever. Often that person is yourself. This song is all about the scourge of self-doubt where the voice in your head materialises before your very eyes to tell you off. Only in this story, that person bears a striking resemblance to Blake’s 7 villainess Servalan.
P: We wanted to base a song around a big, strident riff at full strutting pace where the listener can play along as if on an early version of Guitar Hero. It starts off simple until you get to the dismembered guitar solo which chops and changes in several directions at once. Try getting past that on expert level.
S: Deciding a running order for an album is a delicious dilemma, however there was never any question that this would become the opener.
An Error Occurred
S: There is defiance in drudgery it seems. Passive-aggressive cleaning routines, give the mirror a talking-to by all means but keep your head down and your big nose clean – that’ll show them. Amongst the cutlery drawer chaos, flecks of pride nestle alongside baked-on food particles.
S: The Scaramanga Six have long featured kitchen sink melodrama in their unrelenting punky attacks. What starts as a plinky plonky piano refrain is quickly bludgeoned in true schizophonic style into thundering cacophony. The Six dictate that a bass guitar must be used as a weapon. The rest of the scratchy guitars are bolstered in this case by our Julia’s ear-tingling giant stylophone. Repetition is the key – this song hammers a riff so far in, it would take a lobotomy to remove it. I’m on lead vocal duty on this one with a scatter-gun of sloganeering.
P: For my guitar-playing, I thought to myself – what would John McGeogh do? As I often do…Then of course Julia is left to add the shrillness to the guitar sound along with her added giant stylophone.
Decade with No Name
P: This song is about the 2010s. Most recent decades have a distinct style – the eighties, nineties, even the noughties. But they can’t even find a good word to call the last decade. The tens? It just about sums up that this is a period of such shifting sands that no-one can put their finger on what it was all about.
This has also been the decade where misinformation and misdirection has really played its part in keeping the populace well and truly in their place. A trick that has played well and truly into the hands of a government and media-controlling elite who would much rather you were looking the other way.
Where was the angry music? The kids were too busy in their home set-ups cleaning and polishing sounds to be so clinical that even Persil couldn’t match the brightness.
S: I understand our Julia originally poo-poo’d this song, declaring that she would rather die than play on it. I think her main gripe was that the chorus was too ‘happy’, so she suggested a different chord sequence and Robert is your father’s brother: Here it is.
P: I’d written and recorded my solo album Cruel Designs at the same time as we did this bunch of songs. To me it’s all the same, but in the two records there’s a marked difference in sound from a more orchestral croonfest of the solo record to the more abrasive punk sound of Worthless Music.
There were many songs that could have straddled either – and this is one of them.
What or who is the protagonist singing about? Are they even human? That’s for you to decide.
S: You should all definitely get Paul’s Cruel Designs album – it’s absolutely magnificent and I had nothing at all to do with it, which is probably why it’s absolutely magnificent.
Horse with No Face
P: What it’s truly about is anybody’s guess, but imagine you find yourself sat atop a beast with no brakes and no means of control. Aimless, faceless and unable to stop, you bound on relentlessly anyway. Also imagine a galloping double-drum assault underpinning some scratchy Fall-esque guitars, fuzzy vocals and stupid falsetto BVs. This was the first single we put out as an oblique introduction to a new album consisting completely of curveballs.
We looped a recording of some bouncy drums then Gareth played along to them, doubling them up to be two full kits. There is a looping pattern to the beats throughout the song. The aim was to create a moronic, brainless gallop to evoke the mental image of the beast in the title.
S: Great fun making the video to this by the way – Julia actually managed to get thrown by a stationary fake horse. It is also worth mentioning how we navigated the recording process for this album during the testing pandemic times. Essentially we worked out all our parts remotely from demos and then layered them extremely quickly in separation at the studio. I think I put down all of my bass, vocals and extra parts for the whole album in a day and a half, having never played any of it with the rest of the band. While I was up, we also fitted in filming four music videos and a knackered photo session. Now that’s economic!
S: This song was written almost entirely on the bass – one of those riff-based tunes that usually goes nowhere, but it seems a cut-and-paste approach with bits of other foetal songs yielded an unexpected result. The howling crescendo of guitars 4 bars in from the start is a blatant attempt at emulating the assault of Sonic Youth, but as with any of our musical Jackdaw-isms it always ends up sounding like something else. All the extra arrangement on this track is lifted directly from the shit Garageband demo done on a phone, including oriental percussion, bad drum machines and a hotel desk bell.
S: The downtrodden protagonist of this song is based on a ridiculous observation whilst visiting Disneyland with my family – of all the main classic Disney cartoons, it’s still baffling that Goofy is actually a giant anthropomorphic dog, but Mickey Mouse also has a pet dog (Pluto) that is in no way man-like. NOBODY ever questions this.
P: I thought I’d try and add to Steve’s canine transformation story with some sparce slabs of guitar and wasp synthesiser. Julia then did the same, often hitting her guitar rather than attempting to play it. Gareth came up with the drum fill bit that feels a little bit like the Grandstand theme and Julia doubles the surf lead guitar with a wasp synth.
Get a free download of this track on the Joyzine Advent Calendar
P: Welcome to the era of the cult of personality. A time where those who feel they should, do. A space where someone is always on hand to helpfully divulge pearls of wisdom in their news feed in the hope that they will garner more followers, or even better, a sale. If you’ve ever been involved in networking then the business space is full of these people. Some of them don’t even bother with things like self-respect or dignity. There’s probably someone out there vlogging about this very topic.
The lead guitar part can be played on one string using only one finger. That’s our kind of musicianship. And the song is basically one finger too.
S: Enormo-fun to play! There is probably an obvious alternative title for this one.
Death Mask of the Unknown Lady of the Seine
P: This for me is the centrepiece of the album. Everything musically we had aimed for on this album in one unfolding epic. Gareth and Steve keep a rhythm section tight ship throughout, allowing me and Julia to go off and things on the guitars.
This is a well-known story about the origins of Resusci Anne or Resuscitation Annie – the familiar face that greets every person on a first aid course throughout the world. It is both tragic and heroic – in death, Annie continues to breathe life.
Such was our determination to completely musically rip off our new wave influences, we had to ditch the earliest lyrics to the song in favour of this macabre story. The first verse was originally:
New Wave Colins, reading Stranglers Magazine.
It’s a mere pseud mag, Ed. Know what I mean?
S: We try to make sure there is at least one song on our albums that has a long instrumental overture, so we allowed ample space and time in this one for just that.
P: A lovely song with truly downbeat lyrics. I love doing that. It’s a song about the utter pointlessness of your life. Yes, you.
S: This one has turned out wonderful. I think it’s the closest we’ll get to the melodic splendour of XTC, so I tried to ‘Moulding up’ the bass part to the best of my ham-fisted ability. Julia’s guitar solo in the instrumental verse was originally a little exposed, so Paul went in again and hey presto!: layers of baritone sax and strings were conjured.
Stranger in your Own Mind
P: This was the second song written for this album and was originally going to follow straight after ‘Big Ideas’. Same key, almost the same riff too. But then it went off on a tangent into a completely different thing altogether, so we decided to leave it until later on.
The premise to this is simple – there are many people who wake one day to find that they don’t recognise what they have become.
We added in the gang vocals and howls once we started practicing this live. At the beginning I’m doing the ‘Ay-aaah, ay-aaaah-eeee’. Steve does the higher ‘eh-aaaah’ then Julia pipes up with the ‘Eeeey, awwww’. Gareth keeps quiet but does a pose like both the drummers from Adam and The Ants.
S: This is one of those legal terms that would be extraneous in its use in everyday language but actually works pretty well as a faux new-wave song title. Sometimes it feels like your whole existence is some kind of trial where every nuance is examined rigorously and passed through a judicial body of which you are powerless to influence.
S: Another riff-based tune, this time written primarily on the piano. The actual piano part on the recording is once again recorded through a crap iPhone just in the same room as the instrument. Unlike a lot of other demo parts that make it onto studio recordings, this one suffers from the distinct lack of barking or scrabbly sounds of a geriatric poodle with dementia relentlessly pacing about on a wooden floor. I’m sorry to say that my old best pal Finnegan the poodle popped his furry clogs not long before the demo was recorded. Bless his paws. Hats off once again to Lord Alan Smyth who incorporated demo parts into our recordings at 2Fly Studios in Sheffield – he is a wizard in many senses of the word. My favourite aspect of this is us trying to do something with the drum part – he found a vintage-sounding delay/echo and applied it as is with no tweaking, immediately transforming the drums into space hoppers and kept in the mix.
P: Me and Julia didn’t bother with guitar parts in this – more just sounds. I thought Steve was singing ‘This is my autumn affair’ in the middle bit. I still don’t know what the words are.
S: Neither do I.
Kate & Cindy
P: At my funeral I have three wishes. Firstly, that they play ‘Days’ by The Kinks. Then as my coffin is wheeled slowly into the furnace they play the lead guitar solo from ‘The Light Pours out Of Me’ by Magazine. But in between, I’d like to be propped up in an open casket with a smile on my dead face as I am serenaded by the close harmony and/or unison singing of Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson – quite possibly the greatest sound I will ever hear.
S: We actually performed as a B-52’s tribute act called ‘Mock Lobster’ for a few shows not long back. That was a world of fun, but of course this song sounds nothing like Athens’ finest.
It Is the Face Wish How
P: These days it seems you have to project an ideal image of yourself. We live in a world where everyone is trying to be someone else, and in the process they forget what they were in the first place. We tried to capture the feeling of constantly being in search of something you will never find with distant, out of reach sounds.
P: Our aim was to use cinematic sounds, like the beginning of the titles of the movie you made about your life. Only you don’t recognise the person playing you. It’s also a good opportunity to bring out the three-part harmony singing that Steve, Julia and I have been doing since we went to school choir together all those years ago. We are a cinematic punk version of The King’s Singers.
Then I Met Joanna
S: We’ve all met someone who seems to naturally act as a human event-horizon, sucking all matter inevitably and uncontrollably toward them whenever they enter a room.
S: This was actually written around the time of the Chronica double-album, but just didn’t seem to fit into the vague concept or style. It barely fits on this one, and there could be no other place for it than at the end of this behemoth. Again, piano-based in origin, it seems to have morphed into some kind of skiffle/prog hybrid once the band got hold of it. The out of time bass crunch at the very end was raised high in the mix on purplepuss.
P: My aim with the Wasp synth parts in this song was to pay homage to the late, great Dave Greenfield and in particular the spine-tingling sound he created for Shah Shah a-go-go. You can get the Wasp to harmonise itself by adding in a second modulation – if you get this to be a fifth then it’s perfect Greenfield territory. RIP Dave.
Worthless Music is available now on CD or digital download via Bandcamp
Find out more on The Scaramanga Six’s official website