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Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 156
Wed. June 13, 2012

“Nursery Rhyme/Breathe”
UNKLE featuring Badly Drawn Boy
1998

“♫ It’s electric
ballroom love/ keep me
quiet/ won’t you sing
me a nursery rhyme/ to
keep me quiet while
you’re on fire
[…] ♫”

Who remembers the first UNKLE album, 1998’s Psyence Fiction? The collaboration by San Francisco turntablist DJ Shadow a.k.a Brad Davis and Mo Wax label head James Lavelle. One of the most innovative electronic albums of the 1990’s was famous for the partnership of UNKLE and Thom Yorke on the legendary—“Rabbit in your Headlights.

But Psyence Fiction was more than just a one off Thom York collaborative track. Did you know that Mike D, Richard Ashcroft and Kool G Rap all contributed to UNKLE’s first dynamic record?

James Lavelle conversed about the original conversations about Psyence Fiction when he said—”All the tracks evolved out of discussions we had about films and hip-hop and people that we knew.”

James further went on discussing the initial intention of Psyence Fiction when he explained—
Originally, I wanted it to be the archetypal trip-hop album. After all, that’s what I was known for. It was meant to be quite entertaining, y’know – fun in a beatsy kind of way. As time went on and more people got involved, it turned into something completely different. Quite intricate and heavy.”

Speaking of heavy—Psyence Fiction’s heaviest track, ironically enough, has songwriting troubadour Damon Gough a.k.a Badly Drawn Boy. For those of you not accustomed to Badly Drawn Boy’s more rockous sound will be ferociously surprised.

Jim Abbiss was the unsung third wheel member of UNKLE. Abbiss explained how he recorded Badly Drawn Boy’s vocal for Psyence Fiction.
When we initially recorded Damon’s [from Badly Drawn Boy] vocals for the track ‘Nursery Rhyme’ you could hear every nuance of his voice over a drum track that sounded like it was recorded through a sock! So I put him on a hand-held mic and stuck it through a Sansamp fuzzbox, then through a tape machine on a delay. The result sounded horrendous but it was what we were after.”

Curious to why Lavelle contacted Damon Gough to sing on Psyence Fiction, James explained when he said—
I was desperate to get a central character and I’d heard [Damon’s] 7″ and really liked it. We met up and presented him with the ideas and at the time thought he’d become involved in a lot more tracks. Josh was working on a hardcore track for somebody and it felt right for him. If Damon’s kind of lo-fi in the way he records himself then ‘Nursery Rhyme’ is the most fucked up sounding so the two work well together.”

Fucked up is a great word to describe “Nursery Rhyme/Breather” because it’s like 360 degrees away from his tender Hour of the Bewilderbeast sound from his first Mercury Prize winning album.

Ever wondered what made Damon sing with UNKLE—I’ll let Badly Drawn Boy explain—” I’ve been true to myself, and I’ve never relied on bombast and cool, like a lot of these bands do, because the subtleties get lost if you do. I’ve tried to do things that some people might think are cool, but are also extremely beautiful, like some of the best film composers do — like Angelo Badalamenti, who David Lynch works with and whose music has this mystery within the beauty. That’s what I strive for, and I think I’m on the first rung of the ladder to achieving that.”

Early in Damon’s career, Badly Drawn Boy was originally pigeon held as a 21st Century Nick Drake- acoustic/singer/songwriter kind of artist. Damon’s contribution with Lavelle and Davis blew that notion away with this monster cut.

Who’d want to be, like, just another band, doing a set that sounds just like the album and then going off without a care in the world? I try […] with little moments of spontaneity where I could fall flat on my face. I get a thrill out of that […] and you wonder, ‘Did he plan that? Did he debate it in his own head until the last second? Or did he just do it?’ […] and when something spontaneous happens, that gets misunderstood by a lot of people. They think my tomfoolery detracts from things, and maybe it does to their personal taste. But for me, the only way to go forward is to live on those survival instincts.”

It’s difficult to describe “Nursery Rhyme/Breather” to Damon Gough fans. Think if Badly Drawn Boy unleashed with electric riffs, frantic drum beats and fuzzbox vocal made Damon’s track with UNKLE one of the most dynamically memorable cuts on Psyence Fiction.

All you have to do is crank up “Nursery Rhyme/Breather” and let UNKLE’s vicious rhythms and Damon’s mad vocal trip you away with feedback that needs to be experienced for you to believe. Yes, this is the same Badly Drawn Boy who wrote and recorded “The Shining!” Don’t be afraid; let this explosive Psyence Fiction track detonate your head-phones today!

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