Hi everyone this is Conan neutron of Conan Neutron & the Secret Friends and I am going to take you through a song by song walk-through of our new record Dark Passengers out on Learning Curve Records. the band consists of myself Conan Neutron, Tony Ash on bass Dale Crover on drums and Toshi Kasai producing. This is either the third or fourth record depending how you count it as there is singles compilation entitled Protons and Electrons. The whole thing is a concept record about mental health, depression, imposter complex, anxiety and things of that nature. Ok, ready? Here we go.
An impossible task is a commonly overlooked symptom of depression it manifests in such a way that that often mundane activities and tasks that should be relatively easy just become absolutely not possible for the person to be able to do. Things as simple as washing the dishes, not being able to go to the post office etc. etc. It could be something you even enjoy doing, such as working on songs, writing or other creative things along those lines. It is a symptom of depression that really hasn’t been articulated and talked about all that often. The song itself I think it’s one of my favorite riffs I’ve ever written, frankly. I played it for Tony and he was over the moon about it, which is not reaction they normally given Tony Ash. This is a favorite one to play live and has been played in the live set (remember those?) for a couple years before recording which is actually incredibly atypical for this band, Recordings always come first before any of touring. The idea here is to give voice to the complexity of emotional states that involve people with depression and mental health, myself inclusive. That’s what this record is about. Oh yeah, last thing Toshi called the background vocals in this one the “En Vogue” part, and that makes me to smile every time I hear it.
First ever title track I’ve ever done on any record i’ve been involved with and definitely Secret Friends. This is the song Dark Passengers off of the record Dark Passengers. Calling this the title track is a big deal and I don’t take that lightly. The lyrics on the verses are not so much free association but more like a conversation with myself and not being very happy about where I’m at. Life things, past actions that I’ve done etc. and and just living with the fact that there’s this thing that rides with me all the time. They always take me for a ride. The ones on the inside. Musically this one takes a while to develop, that was the point with this record. The songs take as they need. The Joe that I reference in the second verse is Joe Cannon, of WORK, Check engine and Resurrectionists. He plays in the live band a lot. “Relentless uplift”. I really labored on the lyrics for entirely too long. There are some lines I like a lot. “Like a bounced check for the soul for suffering and pain” I think that’s a good one and ultimately just a discussion about what to do with these dark thoughts, mental pressure and sorrow you ride with. “Two words simply stated: the words are ‘not today’”
This is the only one of the record that I don’t sing, the singer is Lindsey Charles the incredible band The Cell Phones. She is such a powerhouse and she wrote the lyrics in this one as well. When you have these mental health issues and you have these things you deal with all the time, if you were to medicate them to take this curative action to change your chemistry to get past them with could that take away the drive and spark that makes you creative? This is based on a conversation that Lindsey and I had an something. I think about it a lot, and I’m not espousing a belief one way the other but it it is something that in popular culture is dealt with now and again. She directly addresses it here with her own lived experience in a way that’s really cool and of course are her vocals stand out in this this one, while the guitar has a feeling of creeping dread in the verses that I like a lot in a soundtrack rock kind of way. This is the first song recorded for the record and originally was gonna be a Protons and Electrons single and then as the record developed I realized that it was for Dark Passengers and even an integral part and I think it’s important to have another voice articulating these thoughts and ideas. Hey, I got to write a song for one my favorite singers and and she knocked it out of the park to my taste!
This is about imposter complex, something that I suffer from. That tends to surprise people as I’m somewhat known as go-getter and do-er of things if you will. Meanwhile there is this internal conversation and with this cartoon Angel and the Demon on my shoulders. And the demon is just basically talking trash “you’re not any good” “you don’t belong here.” “What you do is terrible” “you aren’t cut out for this.” The idea of the different voices interweaving and there’s kind of a different vocal melody that starts in as it plays out. This is something that happens a few times with them the album, it is like a conflicting conversation and what it feels like when you are afflicted with imposter complex. There’s a line in there that’s i dig, “A coalition of frauds, faking our way through.” which is an acknowledgment that this isn’t something that people suffer from alone. I really like how this one. There’s an acoustic guitar part at the end that you almost have to strain to hear it but I like it, and like how all this uncertainty is kind of wrapped around the parts around it.
One of the most unabashed rockers I think we’ve ever done. Almost sounds like Judas Priest to me but I don’t know anybody else heads that. Its up-tempo and you know this is just in the name “Misery Machine”. When you suffer from depression it really can feel like you are a well oiled machine that produces woe. There is a really cool solo here in this one and it starts off like general shredding, and just gradually devolves into Data Corrupter madness. I love it.
This is another kind of mission statement of the of the record very different kind of songs from what Conan Neutron & the Secret Friends has done before. A lot of repetition in this one and it becomes expansive, swells, and changes. Things come in and out. There is also the acappella intro and bridge thing which is from my love of harmony vocals and coming from that place. When it comes back in for the bridge, right for the guitar kicks in… that’s probably one of my favorite moments of the record. Props to Toshi for for catching that. Lyrics here are like internal narration right? “you can’t unbreak a window, you can’t unsay words.” Really happy with that line. “ I close my eyes tightly just to stay awake. I hide away for my own sake”. Hopefully we are fortunate that the context of this record that all this works. It is almost the total opposite of the Protons and Electrons stuff. Which was all singles, quick development. Quick reward. It is kind of a minor miracle that it ended up only five minutes long! It was longer originally. Anyway, this is about bipolar syndrome dysfunction and depression which I have. I am a high functioning manic-depression. That sometimes supremes people. But as the line says “it’s not the manic part, you have to worry about.” There’s some very different, but cool to me, guitar stuff here. Leads turn into vocals and vice versal. I think I used a Roland jazz Chorus on this one. Anyway, this ends side A if you listen on vinyl.
This song was originally slower. Quid Pro Quo on the Art of Murder also was quite a bit slower In demo form, as opposed to on the record. Lyrically the idea is that it’s you starting from zero. There is a line in here “Every once in a while a stare at the mirror on the wall, I look at who I am and it is not enough at all”:and that entails yeah the mindset here. Anyway, it’s a rocking song with some riffs, so even if you don’t care about all that it hopefully still works. It is a rocker, there are riffs. The idea is having to start over again and again that any progress you made towards anything is just irrelevant, it doesn’t matter
Anhedonia Is a very interesting concept. The inability to feel pleasure it’s not that you are upset or even feeling bad necessarily you just feel nothing. So the title is a nod to that, funny because how can you have Anhedonia Blues, right? Feeling blank. I have always enjoyed the “something or other” Blues school of song titling. This song began with a baseline from Tony and I deconstructed what he what he wrote and added to it. Starting with a baseline isn’t uncommon with this band but not in this exact way if that makes sense. This conceit of this record is to make a record about depression and mental health and not have it sound depressing. This is a decent example of that, I’d say.
If you just read the title you might think this is a flippant topic, it really isn’t. I’ve lost quite a few friends and musical collaborators of late. Too many. Pretty easy mission statement. “Let’s get old. I’m still here and so are you.” I like the idea of not trying to fix someone necessarily, but building long and sustaining stakes to stick around. The chorus does a seven count and kind of drops one which I think is interesting and kind of fun, just weird enough to catch the attention hopefully. The ending piece, which is sort of Slint like, features a Ben Verellen device called the Electromagnetic Bringer of Stormy Weather. A really cool electrified reverb tank I’m a box that you can whack with impunity and it makes this wonderful racket. It is in the intro too.
I rewrote this song at least 5 times, and early on I thought THIS ONE would be the title track. Except that this one fit the theme of DP, not the other way around. I developed a contentious relationship with this one, almost hating it by the end because I couldn’t get it the way I liked. Changed the key of the whole thing right before recording. All kinds of dumb things. The overall idea with this one was the burden of command. The uncertainty in everything including the title is important. What does it mean when you’re the one in charge? What does it mean when everybody is relying on you? Are you up to it? Are you good enough? Can you have a complete freak out internally while still holding the angle? In some ways I think this song is me coming to terms with being a bandleader, something I’ve done for quite a while now. But it’s also about the struggle of inside and outside. The album is the most autobiographical thing I’ve ever done, but the hope was to write it in such a way that others can get something out of it.
“So, all eyes on me… this is happening I’m terror stricken, unprepared and bound to start choking Hold the angle, grit your teeth, confidence is key Just gotta remember that I’m my own worst enemy. There’s no one coming, I can’t believe they want my voice My voice is cracking, I wish there were a better choice Hold it together, show a brave face, keep the panic stealth Maybe I was the captain, maybe it was someone else?”
Musically? A lot of repetition on this one, but I think it establishes mood well. It is a pretty wordy song though.
The main riff I have had since Replicator and it never never worked for anything. And in this case is the foundation for an entire song! What a Time to be alive. Anyway the pacing of the song is deliberate, and The double drum part by Dale is pretty cool, it’s regular drums and an overdubbed toy drum set. The idea was this could be a cool thing live where we have two drummers and stretch the part out. If you aren’t familiar with the actual concept of Spite houses it’s quite fascinating people put all this effort and time into making this edifice constructed or substantially modified something to be obnoxious to the neighbors and such. Sometimes it is due to weird property lines, sometimes it’s just because “screw you, that’s why”. You don’t have to have a reason for it be that it is a good weird, bizarre concept that has produced strange edifices that are designed to serve a purpose, evoke a reaction or even as simple as obstruct a view. Strange paint colors or something, is one of the most common ways it manifests. My favorite one is the Topeka Kansas house that’s it’s called the Equality house, painted a vibrant rainbow and it neighbors the Westboro Baptist Church. Who picket gay funerals. The idea here is you put all this effort and time into something that this or the purpose of annoyance or statement. The subtlest and unignorable revenge. It also doesn’t need to be a physical spite house but you could do that emotionally and doing that such a way that you want someone’s eyes to choke on that what you’re seeing just to be noticed. Grim! There’s that long section with a double drum part in the idea that live it could be extended as long as needed or wanted just to build up the spite house of the song WITHIN the songs. I was very happy to include “a visage of teeth” into the sign as a phrase, even if I had to torture the pronunciation. Anyway, the end goes on for a bit and just seem like that’s that that’s the way to end it but if you listen real closely the very and we let it just hang for like the absurd amount of time then we decided spaz out a little bit as musicians will do sometime for the hell of it. It was important to end it on a hopeful note that way because even though this is an album about mental health and depression, the idea was to explore and not wallow. You don’t have to let the Dark Passenger drive.