Between the Lines: Pedestrian Support League
I am JAFA and proud, except for when I’m not. I was born and raised in Auckland, but I’m constantly polarised by it. It’s a vacuous cesspool filled with all of the things and people I love. Coming back when it became time to write Street Chant’s “dreaded sophomore album”, I didn’t have to look far for things to write about, and the process became as conflicting and difficult as the subject matter.
'Pedestrian Support League', the first single, is one of the more obvious songs that I’ve dedicated to life on the isthmus. When I wrote it, I had just come back from a long stint of touring overseas with only occasional trips home, and I’d moved into a crummy flat in Grey Lynn. I felt an extreme sense of ennui amongst my peers, and especially in myself, around that time. A few years ago, I had felt excited for the future. So had most of my friends: now they were "seeking existence, or just commitment, or even just a job". Now, I was paranoid that my flatmates were stealing all my margarine.
The chorus: “enrol to vote and so it goes, everyone dresses like us nowadays..” expresses the mixture of amusement and dissatisfaction I felt with my surroundings - I was amused because I felt like I was living out some “food for flatties” cookbook cliche, but watching National win another election added to an inescapable feeling of apathy and sadness. In turn, this got compounded by my seemingly endless ability to stagnate and self-destruct.
Lyrically, the song is quite straightforward: just your typical Kiwi shithole flat life filled with paranoia, depression and anxiety. One of my favourite lines is “you’re stealing my soap, and don’t think that I don’t know”, which stems from me laughing in my (black mould-infested) shower, thinking about how my flatmates all spend time in this place but never together, and that I would actually have no idea if they were stealing my shampoo.
Another one of my favourites in the first verse, goes “outside, couches complaining ‘it’s always raining, except for when I want’”. I imagined that the couches on my front porch were like Statler and Waldorf from The Muppets, people-watching and passing judgment, thinking the same thoughts as me, self-pityingly wishing that it would rain.
Each chorus has 2 extra bars than the last. which I think creates a cool kind of tension - and in the final one I sing the double entendre “I swore I’d only do one more line..”. Of course I don’t, and the song ends on an pretty lengthy outro by Street Chant’s standards, which is hopefully as post-rock as I’ll ever get. The outro seems to go on for a different amount of time whenever we play it live (although Billie thinks she knows the real length) and over the top is a sample that I got from an old episode from the 90s children’s TV show You and Me where Suzy Cato is explaining the names of body parts in Māori. It’s pretty creepy when paired with the music. I hope one day she could do it live with us, although that sample isn’t exactly legal so it’s probably pretty unlikely.
Our album, the rest of which I wrote around this time, is called Hauora. I can’t express what a struggle this album was to write and complete. Writers’ block, poor band dynamics, substance abuse problems... you name it. I especially struggled with the lyrics because, half being a perfectionist and half being just plain lazy, I would go for weeks at a time without writing even a phrase.
Almost every night for about a year I would have this nightmare that I was pregnant and that the baby was some half-alien creature. In the dreams I would be trying to find some back alley termination clinic. or even trying to perform an abortion on myself. Sometimes the baby would be born and incredibly disfigured. Every morning, I would wake up bewildered and relieved that these vivid sequences hadn’t actually happened. As soon as I finished the lyric writing portion of the album, the dreams stopped. I couldn’t have been more grateful, and also really proud of the end result - birthed from so much struggle.
The word 'Hauora' in Māori represents the four walls of the whare, with each wall necessary for health and stability. The four dimensions are your physical, spiritual, social and mental well being – things I struggled with a lot at the time of writing. Hauora, and especially the track ‘Pedestrian Support League’ is about about a return to domesticity and the mundane, and maybe even finding comfort in that. Because sometimes you have no other option.
Between the Lines is a series where songwriters take us into the writing room
Read (and listen) to the rest of the series here