Feature: Utopia Give Us A Track By Track Of New Album ‘Shame’

With their new album out today we caught up with John Bailey from the band to give us a low down of each track and how it all came together.

All the music that I write starts with a rhythm. In fact, it actually starts with a metronome tempo in my head. I think about the tempo that I’m feeling at the moment and then either a riff or a melodic line or any rhythmic or bass ideas might follow that and open up the song. It’s really hard to explain how it happens but it’s rooted in well over a decade of writing, performing and playing jazz music. I can access weird sounds and ideas fairly readily but the music needs to also have an emotional quality which comes when I arrange the ideas into levels of tension and release. All the musical elements have tension and release it’s just figuring out how long you want things tense for and how deeply you want to release them.

Most of the time, things are pretty tense in this music but it’s fairly easy to hear where things are building or where they’re resolving to something. Machiavelli – This song is a reflection on the Florentine philosopher and political writer of the same name. Machivellianism is an interesting concept which you can expand out from its political origins into the personal lives of people. It probably exists within most people and corrupts people’s potential to act or behave morally. There are ‘micro machiaveliianisms’ which see people aim to cling to their own positions of power or influence. It’s observable in friendships groups, music scenes and way beyond.

Shame – This is the title track of the record. The psychological idea of Shame is something which most people deal with. Shame can manifest itself in many different ways and can be linked to individual misdemeanours, ideas about identity, relationships with other people and can really be drawn from a huge amount of sources. The album is really based on a suggestion that people should give themselves a break and not let Shame pollute their minds and corrupt them in other ways. The world is hard enough to navigate without piling extra stress and pressure onto an already strained set of mental resources. It’s easier said than done, but I think it’s a very useful thing to bear in mind.

Check out the video, below:

Waking Visions – This is a sort of hallucinogenic song. Its premise is vision beyond just our recognised sight vision. I guess imagination. The song deals with people are not in any way interested in creative thinking or attempting to understand other people’s concepts. Again this all leads to concepts of logical fallacy and small-mindedness. I try to stay largely unpolitical but I guess this is aimed at things like the Conservative Party and The Daily Mail, who are probably actually two of the most Machiavellian institutions in the country. They pedal a narrative which is built of ‘culture wars’ and aim to divide people. 

Withering Away and Laughing – The song opens with a quote by Wittgenstein. ‘Whereof one cannot speak, one should remain silent.’. I think that people are far too quick to form solid opinions of things without gaining a full understanding of the facts. I tend to reserve my ‘opinions’ for very specific things that I have a very good understanding of and everything else almost permanently resides in the ‘under review’ part of my brain! It’s a bit multi faceted really. The title of the song is about the shame of not fulfilling my own potential and failing to get the opportunities which I think I need. If my mind isn’t stimulated in the right ways then I quickly find myself getting very depressed. It’s incredibly frustrating and is a feeling shared by lots of people. Withering Away and Laughing is an image of myself just withering away and laughing manically because nothing seems to make sense. It might actually just be linked directly to my view of the music industry!

Check the video out, below:

Social Contracts –  This song is based on the concept of the Social Contract which was a theory by Rousseau. It basically deals with human’s responsibilities to one another and how we maintain a society. While on the surface of this its a way of protecting individuals and to some degree this is right but I think that certain people have more or less engagement with the social contract based on the fallacy of meritocracy. Those in power are often in power because some nepotistic relationship or a degree of independent wealth. It means that some people, from birth, are lucky enough to not have the same issues as other people. It also means that some, psychopathic people, are able to take advantage of people with good will and altruistic natures. They are also able to buy themselves out of trouble. If two people were convicted of murder the one with the most expensive lawyer would stand the best chance of freedom or at least diminished punishment. How do we engage with society when we know it’s not really a fair one?

Sun Damage – I think the original concept behind Sun damage was a notion of Nietzsche’s philosophy with regards to pain and personal development. I truly believe that hardships can enhance and individual’s ability to deal with the world. Obviously, there are limits to this idea. I think a conscious effort to work on yourself and to scrutinise the way you think about the world and behave to other people will result a more happier life eventually. The last part of the lyrics is about ‘hitting rock bottom, the only sure thing’. To me this just means that rock bottom is something that strips you of most extraneous emotions, hopes, dreams and leaves a sensation of complete hopelessness and emptiness which can be fertile ground to try and rebuild yourself in a stronger way. 

Zither – This song again references concepts of Shame and of Nietzsche. ‘Look beyond good and beyond evil’ references his book Beyond Good and Evil. This is another interesting idea to explore with regard to religion, personal autonomy, moral based shame. There is a lyric ‘a patient recovering, learning again’ which refers to the idea of stripping away all the unnecessary moral characteristics of organised religions or in fact of general societal constructs that we’re born into and often never fully evaluate. Im absolutely not claiming to have and any answers to any of these questions, just to point a very logical (logical in the Wittgenstinian sense, that is of linguistic understanding and clarity) finger at yourself. Id love to say that this is easy to do but it’s something that I fail at doing horribly every day!

The Gift of Failure – This song continues the themes from above. Nietzsche once again comes into the scene. The gift of failure is simply a way of looking at failure, mistakes, misjudgements etc without casting a shameful eye on yourself. It’s just the recognition that these are in fact opportunities for development and growth. I’d love to say that I can think like this all the time but I can’t! It is, however, something that I try to engage in myself when I’m faced with difficulties. These are simply concepts that I try to explore to improve the quality of my mental health. 

Never Argue With an Idiot – Is part of a Mark Twain quote. ’Never argue with an idiot, they’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.’ I love this quote and it’s worth considering when someone insists on having a hot debate about politics or the general world. We all know people who just can not engage in a sensible unbiased discussion and who have ‘made their minds up’ already. Confirmation bias and a terrible propensity to consume news or general information from deeply unreliable sources tend to be at the root of these kinds of discussions. I’m a comfortable fence sitter on most things. I know where I lean towards but I’m always prepared to keep an open mind if reliable good quality information and data is available. Many people are just not capable of having good faith conversations though and have ‘crosses to bear’ on most highly complex subjects.

Moving Gently Towards The Grave – The album culminates in this massive tune. It’s slower and more hypnotic and just represents our combined movement towards one place, the grave! I’m acutely aware of the fleetingness of life and how the days seem to just fall away. Years fall away. I’m terrified of this and am constantly reviewing my own ambitions and hopes and dreams. Again this ties in with notions of Shame and self worth and I find that as time passes by my values of self worth feel more and more strained. The song has a strong D major arpeggio which runs through the whole thing on a synth while the guitar plays a riff made of complimentary notes from a D harmonic major scale. I love this scale there’s a darkness to it which if you’re patient with it in this context an be really effective.

Find out more via the bands Facebook

Pre-order the album here

Upcoming live dates:

  • 8th March – Newcastle – Lubber Fiend
  • 22nd March – Preston – Ferret
  • 24th May – Guildford – The Holroyd
  • 21st June – Rotherham – The Hive
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