Between the Lines: Lance's Tape

Edward Castelow on the origins of Dictaphone Blues' new single, 'Lance's Tape'

To share in laughter is something that I love. The most candid moments in my life have often been in the midst of one-on-one laughter with a friend. It goes back a long way, probably to the first time I was standing at a urinal as a school boy. The bell’s gone, you’ve got dirty knees from bullrush, both socks slouched, there’s a small ball-like amalgamation of glad wrap and crusts in your pocket, and here’s your best mate, Steve Noble, waving his ding-a-ling around like a lightsaber while flailing shards of wee shoot off in all directions.

Explosive laughter ensues as you begin a dangerous duel, all the while your reflections shimmer and mumble back out of the stainless steel trough. Urinal cakes race to the plug. It’s this catalyst to create a humorous stir that I really dig. Creative humorous riffing we’ll call it. My tummy jumps when I think of or remember something that will blow a pal’s mind, or alternately when I know that I’m about to be told something that will blow my mind. This is equally as great.

I was relayed the story of Lance’s Tape in my kitchen when I was living with Stu Harwood (who presently plays with Anthonie Tonnon, amongst others). We were cooking and just generally being nerds with a riff that we had been grooving on for a few months, one that would start with “back in the day…”

We’d service these particular lines of conversation with tales of yesteryear that seemed iridescent in their hilarity in comparison to our adult comings and goings. At some flicker of shared experience, we would both exclaim “yesssss”!

I threw down on the porno tape idea, bemoaning the ease of access nowadays, how it’s all Pornhub, Redtube, 4Chan… yada yada. But before the internet; if you were an inquisitive young kid with a gleam in your eye, where did you go to find this stuff? Who was the guy that had the goods? Surely there was someone at your school that had the business? Were you too scared to walk into the adult section of United Video? Who was thy saviour?

At the high school that Stu had attended, it was common knowledge that if you wanted such a thing and were bold enough to ask some questions, you asked the right person and they lent you this tape. The only thing on the label was “Lance’s Tape". Lance! Lance, you shall be thy saviour! Me: mind blown forthwith full stop. We laughed.

I got to thinking about it sometime not so later on and it struck a chord with me that there was a type of innocence in an adolescent having the urge to view something of this ilk. Not the viewing of it, obviously - more the determined curiosity, the impetus to get hold of the tape. I wanted to write about it, and like an echo of the original conversation it had to start with “It was back in the day before the internet…” It sets the controls for a scene that seems like a distant past. It has the sheen and haze of simpler times.

The song came along when I was already recording Mufti Day, the album I put out six months ago. I had half of the songs written and recorded, but I still hadn’t set any of my new material to this one particular groove I was really into. It’s the same classic swingy soul beat that artists like Iggy Pop (Lust For Life), The Pretenders (Don’t Get Me Wrong), The Strokes (Last Night), Tom Petty (American Girl), David Bowie (Modern Love) all used to great affect, the one that just gets you bopping.

So I sat down on the back deck one evening and came up with the melody and chords using this groove and the lyrics that I had written. When I’m putting words to melody I like to have the words rolling off my tongue in ways that feel interesting - back in the day when I’d listen to the radio or tapes, I often wouldn’t really know what the singer was singing. I could sing the fucker note for note, but being young you didn’t have a very rich vocab, so words would often become just sounds when I didn’t know what they were singing. I’m sure we’ve all been there.

This memory continues to be an inspiration for me when writing lyrics, and I found fooling round with the phrasing of the lyrics a lot of fun in this one. I also wanted to be lyrically inspired by events or stories, but not be constrained by the inspiration literally. It was ok to twist it up a little and accentuate fictional imagery to benefit the song. So in “Lance’s Tape”, I imagined a couple of scenes and exchanges that could have gone on during the process of getting the tape, the two VHS recorders hooked up together to dub it, the whole debacle of getting a stiffy and trying to hide it around your friends(that was a classic back in the day). They’re all used to embellish the picture of that weird early teenage time, with tongue firmly in cheek.

For me, when a song is immediately popping off the page and into the aural realm, it will keep going till it is done and “Lance’s Tape” did just that. Track by track, it quickly got recorded in this order: drums, bass, percussion, acoustic guitar, synthesizer, vocals, electric guitar. Each time. I set about getting an individual sound for each of these things - close enough to what I was hearing in my head. It’s great when that happens.

Dictaphone Blues are playing up and down the country to commemorate the imminent release of the "Lance's Tape" music video over the next month. As follows:
Auckland: Friday 22nd May at Whammy Bar w/ Racing
Wellington: Saturday 30th May at Moon w/ Emily Edrosa
Dunedin: Friday 12th June at Chicks Hotel w/ Kane Strang
Christchurch: Saturday 13th June at Darkroom w/ Transistors (FREE SHOW)
Tickets available at Under the Radar.

Between the Lines is a series where songwriters take us into the writing room
Read (and listen) to the rest of the series here

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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