In many ways, much has changed and stayed the same for Tough Age since the release of their sophomore LP, I Get The Feeling Central. Paring down to a three piece, the band’s founding members Jarrett Samson and Penny Clark relocated to Toronto from Vancouver and recruited drummer Jesse Locke. With that, the trio began exploring influences off of Flying Nun Records that led their sound towards streamlined indie-pop with room for their incendiary experimentations to fill in the margins.
To celebrate the release of Shame, we had Tough Age break it down for us track by track. Check it all out below and order your copy of the record now via Mint Records here.
To start things off on a suuuuuper pretentious note, this song was inspired by two likely-mistranslated takes on a single Tomokawa Kazuki album title I I found around the age of 18 (one of which was “Dreams Die In Everyday Life”). A song about how we’re all doomed to be failures, musically and thematically spinning your wheels– the vocal burst signaling what should be a catharsis, but it’s all about how you’re never going to get anywhere. All our lives are banal. Happy birthday.
The lyrics of this song were originally (in a slightly different form) written as a poem, hence all the repeated words running over the same terrain. This is as close as I can get to writing an abstract song (which is weird considering how much I love Guided by Voices), a direct attempt to have lyrics that aren’t as on-the-nose or straightforward as my songs usually are. It ends up being a grab bag of commentary on relationships, mental health, anxiety and modern art. The song’s name is a dissolved take on a short-lived (and cursed) Tough Age side project, Peek Freans. Music is often seen as ‘lesser’ in the world of art, and this song is about how that’s unfair but also completely true.
More lyrics where I was trying to be cloudy regarding what they might mean, but really the only bright spot lyrically on this record? It’s very specifically about my relationship, and relationships with anyone you’re close to– seeing in them all these things you admire that are missing in yourself and working to see those traits in yourself. Yeah, this is the happy one.
“Me in Glue”
This song is about the points in life when you feel miserable and you’re trying to shake yourself out of it but it really feels like it’s just going to stay the same forever and it feels like it’s your fault that it is that way. And by “you”, I mean me, but you too if you want. –Penny
The title is an obvious nod to The Clean, who are one of the most influential and defining things to ever enter my life (alongside the entire rest of the Flying Nun/Xpressway/NZ-in-general scene). Unclean deals with a lot of issues I’ll get into more in the song Shame– periods when you are just acting in obvious self-interest, usually masking hurt. A misanthropic disregard for anyone’s wants but your own– the narrator (well, me) isn’t sad he’s hurt anyone, he’s just mad he got caught. The second verse gives way to a shame (there it is) that can’t be denied but you’re not yet interested in changing your behaviours, you just want to drive everyone away and burn all your bridges until you’re alone and can delude yourself into thinking that solitude is the same as tranquility.
One of the only story-songs I have ever written– I wrote and directed a few plays once upon a time and this is about the characters from one of them, set years beforehand. A dissolved relationship that is being held up by its occupant’s insecurities and self-hate that they can’t place on the shoulders of anyone else. This kicks off the B-side of the record, which is just a miserable side thematically, and I wanted to try a style of song I’d never attempted before.
The sort of warbly, distant background noise was created completely by accident when I plugged a guitar into the effects send channel on a reverb tank plugged into a Wurlitzer amplifier. The noise at the end is the little heater we had to keep turning on and off while recording that I demanded have its moment in the sun.
I’m pretty sure this song is about trying to be liked by other people and also about the presence of absent persons. I don’t know, I don’t always think about the meaning behind my songs very much, sometimes I just say what feels like the right thing to say in that moment. -Penny
Often people talk about how they write songs to ‘purge’ their emotions. I think that’s total bullshit. I write songs about my worst moments so that I’m forced to live with them every time I play those songs, and by confronting those feelings I can remember the person I used to be and make sure I never become that person again. That’s what this song is about, the moments in life where the weight of your past actions come back to you and threaten to swallow you up, and how you can engage with that to grow. You deserve to feel shame for what you did. Use that feeling to change yourself.