On Christmas day 2014, local bloke Darren Ponman broke his neck while surfing in Hawaii. Looking to make the most of an ordinary situation, he decided to record an EP while he was rehabilitating.
The single from the EP, ‘A Million Ways’ (above) is the first song Darren wrote after his accident. Most of the song was written as bite sized epiphanies from Darren’s bed in the Hawaiian trauma ward, under the warm embrace of high-doses of Endone and OxyContin, and recorded on his trusty smart phone to ensure they were not sacrificed to the Endone gods upon his re-entry to the world of sobriety.
We caught up with Darren for a chat about the recording and his recovery.
Have you always lived in the Hunter?
Darren: Yep, I am a very proud Novocastrian. Have travelled quite a bit and worked out of town for a few years, but will always return to Newcastle.
Tell us about the recording process for the EP
Darren: A couple of months after the accident, I became mobile enough to get out to my studio, which was a welcome move after being stuck staring at ceilings and movies for so long. I decided to record a solo album to get down some of the deeper concepts which had occupied my mind since the accident. Also, it was a great way to keep myself occupied through the recovery process, work on regaining my motor-skills and take advantage of the time away from my day job to record some tracks I’d written over the years which had not made it to the CORTISONE or Gemini Project albums.
I began with ‘A Million Ways’. The tune and first line of the chorus had been stuck in my head since the trauma ward in Hawaii. The Ukulele was always going to be the most prominent instrument for a number of reasons. I wanted the song to sound happy, it also ties nicely with the fact that a lot of the song was written in Hawaii. Most importantly, at the time of writing the song the uke was ergonomically the only instrument that I could play due to impaired movement from the neck brace etc. I wrote and recorded the Uke and vocals, then called Jake Miller in who has played drums in all of the projects I’ve been involved with over the last 10 years. He and I bounced around some production ideas such as when the drums should come in and the refining of the bridge chord progression. He laid the drums down, then I spent a few days locked in the studio putting overdubs and bass onto the track. It was written, recorded and mixed in about 4 days. By this stage I was starting to get more fluid movement in my arms and finding the project a welcome distraction from the pain and discomfort, so decided to keep going. I spent the next 6 weeks in the studio writing and recording the rest of the EP in a similar fashion. Mostly, I would record vocals and guitar, then bring in friends to complement each track, depending on what the track called for. There are cameos from 5 different local guitarists, 2 different bass players, a keyboardist and Jake played the drums and percussion for all tracks. All of the fantastic Musos and folks from Sawtooth Studios at Mayfield, who I’m lucky enough to count as close friends make a cameo appearance. All round, it was an excellent opportunity to have a beer with great friends and have some of Newcastle’s best musicians playing on my songs. It was all very low pressure, the only stipulation was to have fun and celebrate the fact that we can come together and create music. The emphasis was more on enjoyment than ensuring every note was perfectly quantized.
I have now finished recording and mixing the final EP and decided to release them as singles, one-at-a-time via the Youtube channel P.I.T.N.S. Im trying the purely digital distribution route this time, and figure the P.I.T.N.S. channel will be the ‘album’. Liner notes containing the story behind each song, credits and purchase options, will all be available on the P.I.T.N.S (Pain In The Neck Sessions) channel.
What’s your relationship with the ocean like now?
Darren: We’re on speaking terms. Unfortunately Ive been instructed by my neurosurgeon not to surf anymore as the main break in my neck has not healed and most likely never will. Im not disappointed by that, it’s a small price to pay considering I can walk and breathe again. Besides, as much as I loved it, I was a pretty shit surfer anyway
What sort of guitars are you playing at the moment?
Darren: I have a trusty old Maton acoustic which has served me well for a lot of years. I also have a fairly new Jack’s Ukulele which I love; from Jack’s Music at Lambton (They didn’t pay me to say that, although a discount on strings next time Im in there wouldn’t go astray if your reading this Phil:). Those are the main two instruments I play on the EP and I throw in a bit of my Epiphone Tony Iommi SG through an Ashdown Fallen Angel amp when I need to growl.
How did you get the idea for the film clip?
Darren: I was always going to have the handwritten lyrics over the top, as that was something I decided to use as a theme on all of the clips for the solo project, early on. This was because the process and result of lyric writing has always been really important to me, and is especially so in this case. I wanted to ensure the lyrics were featured in an organic way through the digital medium. For the content, I had a brainstorming session with my cousin Brett (a co-conspirator in The Gemini Project album) as I usually do when searching for inspiration; around getting footage of people doing extreme sport type things, jumping out of helicopters to ski down slopes and the like. This seemed on the right track, but not quite right. Then it occurred to me that I should just ‘help pop eat itself’ and decided to use some of the bazillions of hours of footage on Youtube. I went trawling and gathered clips which went with each lyrical moment in the song and pasted it all together. Once it was done it just seemed like it couldn’t have gone any other way.
The next clip is called ‘Roll’. It’s a dirtier, bluesier and darker song and my personal favourite from the project. It has received awesome reviews among the pre screenings Ive held. It will be released in the second week of September on the P.I.T.N.S. Youtube channel. The link will be posted on the CORTISONE Facebook page, so give the CORTISONE page a like to see the clip as soon as it’s released.