Mitchell Museum released their hotly awaited (and excellent) new album ‘Skinny Tricks’ back at the tail end of May 2020.
We’re delighted to host this in-depth track by track guide from the band’s lead singer Cammy Macfarlane.
You can buy the album on vinyl or CD right now via Scottish Fiction here:
The Oldest Instant:
“It’s gone in the library”
We’re all screaming at the internet…all of us…I’m doing it right now. We’re all uploading ourselves to Twitter feeds and documenting our lives via Whatsapp videos.
I wanted to somehow convey that sound of us all fighting to be heard through the digital rabble. I decided to do this by filling the whole album with audio snippets of my friends and family that I’d extracted from many many hours of social media video footage.
I didn’t want to make the audio too obvious though so I stretched and pitched the samples until it’s difficult to work out what’s being said and in doing so, kind of turning everyone into a one big weird collective instrument. I think this song probably has the most extreme version of this sound…we did that intentionally though…we wanted to throw you straight into that sound…it’s like a warning of what’s to come.
The first thing you hear on the album (if you listen very carefully) is my girlfriend saying…
“It’s gone in library “
That’s also the last thing that you’ll hear on the album. I like that as it kind of sums it up… all my friends and family have been documented and have been uploaded to the Skinny Tricks library.
“Have you been talking to the dead?”
So… I feel a bit weird about the lyrics to this one right now. The first thing I sing here is “have you been talking to dead?” and then I sing something about an electronic grave.
This song got played on the radio last week and I felt bad about it… I mean…I was delighted that it was on the radio but I don’t know if people need to hear me singing about death during a pandemic.
The lyric was taken from a Ted Talk that some guy (I can’t remember who he was) was delivering a speech about how he doesn’t trust clairvoyants. The song originally had a direct sample from that speech but then I realised that it would be a lot of hassle to try and get in touch to ask the guy if we could use his speech in our song…so I sang the lyric instead.
This song was what kicked off the whole feeling of the album. I originally wrote it for Raindeer (my brother and the drummer in our band) as a birthday present. He told me that we should turn the “birthday demo” into a Mitchell Museum song and to write more songs like that… and so that’s what I did.
At the time of writing the song it was about how life doesn’t always go according to plan but at least we aren’t living through something like the second world war (I was reading The Book Thief at the time) … so… it kind of loses its meaning giving the current circumstances we’ve found ourselves in.
Observation Room 6
“I’ve been monitoring you”
I had a total mental break down when I was 19 years old. I hallucinated rainbows and thought that I could talk to the ghost of Jim Henson. Anyone that knows the first Mitchell Museum album might be a bit like
“Alright Cammy that was so album 1”
Well…yeah…yeah it was, but you try having a manic episode and see if you’ve maybe still got a few things to say about it or not. I was studying to be an actor at the time of the breakdown, and I was really into method acting.
I pushed the method acting too far and broke my brain. I was sectioned and the doctor that was treating me at the time diagnosed me with schizophrenia. He told my parents that I would never function in society again. My parents weren’t very happy with that diagnosis and demanded a second opinion. They got the second opinion and they were then informed that I had actually experienced a manic episode.
Way back at the start of writing this album I had a weird nightmare that started with me still being in my old hospital room (room 6). In the dream I somehow ended up in a pub where I regularly meet my friends David and Peter…we were all very upset…I can’t remember why though. In the dream there was a nurse watching me the whole time to see if I was behaving oddly.
When I woke up I started sketching the dream into a song. After writing the song I found myself focussing on that time in my life again and so I decided to write about that in the next section of the album…
(FUN FACT- Raindeer used a bag of M&Ms as a percussive instrument on this song)
This Is 18th September
“Excuse me sir, I don’t bend that way”
The 18th September was when I got sectioned. I was a total pain to deal with as I was dealing with some really extreme manic energy (I was behaving like a more annoying and more insane Jim Carrey).
I was picked up by the police because I was behaving oddly in the street (I was trying to turn my jacket into a flying carpet). I was taken to hospital as it was clear that I was mentally unstable. There weren’t any beds for me at the hospital so I was put in an ambulance and taken to another unit.
Between being moved I was given a drug to calm me down and this song is meant to emulate the woozy sensation that I was experiencing during the journey. Although I was given that drug to slow me down, I was still being a nuisance in the ambulance and one of the paramedics restrained me, but he used a bit more force than I think was necessary.
I still remember saying to him “Excuse me sir, I don’t bend that way”.
“I can’t turn off the rain…though God knows, how I’ve tried”
After a couple of days of being in hospital and being given drugs to slow me down I started to feel more normal but my mood became dark. I didn’t feel quite right but I still wanted to create. I obviously didn’t have any instruments so I wrote poems…not very good poems.
I wrote one poem that had the opening line “I can’t turn off the rain…though God knows, how I’ve tried”. I know the rest of the poem was rubbish but I liked that line. I remember staring out the window in my hospital ward wishing for the rain to go away… Really wishing… like a child trying to wish a dying fairy back to life…it didn’t work.
I love the way that Kris’s bass sounds in this song. It’s so growly and matches the sampled bass vocal so well. I think the song is almost an unpleasant listen but it’s meant to be that way to reflect the way I was feeling at that time. It’s called Grandfather Tapes because my Grandfather gave me some tapes of music to listen to whilst I was staying in hospital. I listened to his Frank Sinatra album’s for hours and hours.
(Fun fact 1 – The original version of this song was actually a ballad…imagine that!!!)
(Fun Fact 2 – When we play this song live Raindeer plays both the drums and the guitar at the same time and it looks insane)
“Replicating perfect footsteps”
So I got out of hospital and it was clear that I didn’t have schizophrenia but I was far from okay. Although my new doctor had come to the conclusion that I had suffered a “one off” manic episode, the first doctor had already put me on medication that’s used to treat schizophrenia and it really messed me up. Some of the side effects of the drug I was taking were…
“uncontrollable muscle movement “
I seemed to have them all and It was hellish. I didn’t know what to do about these side effects. The depressed mood was really hard to deal with, I’d forgotten how to spend my time and because of the agitation and twitching I had completely forgotten how to move naturally. I felt like a sad robot with an anchor around its neck.
One day I was desperate to walk properly and naturally. I asked Raindeer to show me how to walk normally, like a real live boy. I’ve got this very clear memory of us walking up the road to my parents house, Raindeer doing his best to walk “normally” whilst being completely aware that I was walking behind him trying to emulate his movement….we looked ridiculous…and we laughed a lot. It was a relief.
If you listen to Raindeer’s drum part you’ll notice it sounds quite mechanical and like his drum kit’s developed a stutter, as the song progresses the drum part gets more intricate, that’s meant to symbolise me learning to walk again.
In the middle of the song you hear me sing
“I will take you in small doses, I will hide you beneath my mattress”
That’s a reference to fact that I was desperate to lower the dosage of my schizophrenia medication. I was told that although I didn’t have schizophrenia I would still have to take the medication as my body would have become reliant on it.
My mum would give me the medication each morning. After a month I stopped taking it and started hiding it under my mattress…not too long after that I was back to normal. Medication absolutely works for mental conditions, but I obviously should not have been on medication for an illness I didn’t have.
I’ve never suffered another breakdown or anything like it since then… That doctor was an idiot.
Sunday Documentation File
This song was a surprise. I wrote the piano part within the last 5 minutes of a band practice. We were supposed to be packing up, but I got distracted by the piano and started improvising a little repetitive phrase on it. I started recording the part into my phone. The next day I played the recording back to myself and worked a new song around the piano piece.
The recording quality on my phone is excellent but not perfect, when the time came to mix the song David Robert Simpson (the guy that mixed the album with me…well…I didn’t mix the album he did.
I sat next to him saying things like “Can you make that sample of Susan’s nephew talking backwards louder etc…not only is David extremely talented he’s also very patient!!) suggested that to compensate for the less than perfect recording that we replayed the whole recording through an old 4 track tape recorder. That’s what gives it the slightly haunted analogue sound.
Ray And The Blackhole Killer
This is the rock song of the album. Somebody told me the other day that it sounds like the Beatles have become very angry and are having a bit of a difficult time processing their feelings… I liked that.
Ray is a friend of mine that I used to work with. One day he was telling me about some psychopath that he used to know. He kept referring to this person as the Blackcoat killer. I misheard what he said, I thought he was talking about a Blackhole killer…which is a very weird and cool thing.
The rest of the song lyrics are fragments of what I can remember Ray telling me. Ray is probably one of the most intelligent people that I’ve ever known but the way he tells a story can sometimes be quite intense and hard to follow as he jumps from one topic to the next really quickly, I tried to copy his story telling style in the lyrics.
When I was originally writing the song I got annoyed at the lyrics I was writing in the middle of song. I felt it sounded a bit like teenage poetry and thought it would be fun to mention this in song…looking back I think that I’ve been a bit too harsh on myself, but I quite like that I’m telling myself off midway through a song that other people will actually hear.
THE HUMDRUM FINALE
The last three songs on the album are intended to be thought of as one large piece but hopefully they are just as enjoyable as individual tracks if you can’t be bothered with listening to the whole thing.
We decided to call the finale section The Humdrum Finale…
Double Doubting Preacher
“Screaming at the internet is far from pretty”
This song nearly didn’t go on the album. There was a point when I was rehearsing this with Kris and Raindeer when I told them that I just didn’t like it. Amazingly this is possibly my favourite track on the album now. We kept working on the song in the practice room and it eventually clicked into place for me.
When I was writing this song, I was fed up. I’d finished writing all the songs about my mental breakdown for the first half of the album and I was suddenly having a difficult time trying to work out if what we’d created was actually material that people would actually want to hear on an album.
We’d already covered some of this “mental health stuff” on the first album… would people want to hear more of me going on about that? I started to really doubt that anyone would actually want to listen to something so bleak. I’d already written half of the album though, and I personally liked it and so did Raindeer and Kris…surely it would be daft to go back bin everything we’d written so far.
I decided to write a song about this whole doubting process I was going through. In this song you’ll hear me going on about screaming at the internet again and being annoyed at my ambition. I’m frustrated in this song but I’m glad I wrote it and that Kris and Raindeer convinced me that it was a good idea to keep the song on the album.
100 Types Of Sorry In A Deep Blue Moon
“I made this. I saved this. I created this for you.”
This is our epic song and that’s what we used to called it…”The epic song”.
We stay with the theme of ambition and regret here. We’ve written a lot of songs and spent so many hours writing music. I write songs in the hope that it will help people escape and feel better (in much the same way that my grandfather’s tapes helped me in room 6.)
There is so much in this song that I just don’t have the word count to go over it all….I think I’d rather you listened to it and came to your own conclusions on what it’s all about.
(Fun fact – It used to be 4 BPM faster and that nearly gave Raindeer a heart attack when we played it….and he’s very physically fit.)
“I need you to stay alive”
The final song takes us back to the start of the whole process of creating the album. After we finished writing the second album I found it really hard to write another song for some reason. I felt like all my creativity had all been used up. I had been trying to write the new album for a while but I wasn’t getting anywhere.
I had been given a book as a Christmas present that I hadn’t gotten around to reading that I decided to look at to see if it could inspire me in some way. The book inspired me in a way that I did not expect. The book was Into The Wild, it’s a true story about a young guy that decided to get rid of all of his material possessions and disappeared into the wilderness.
Whilst reading it I was reminded of how I was feeling at the point of my breakdown. I remember I wanted to disappear and go on a great journey, but I really wasn’t well. When I was thinking about this, I realised that it was coming up to the anniversary of the breakdown and it was around then that I had the nightmare about the hospital ward from Observation Room 6.
That book triggered something in me and I believe that was what sparked the inspiration for the whole album. I was so annoyed about what happened to the person that Into The Wild is about. Things don’t work out well for the person in that story and it made me think about what could have happened to me if I had chosen to go on the terrible “adventure” I was planning on going on whilst I was in my manic episode.
The writers block had been cured and I knew what I was going to write about…but I felt uncomfortable about the fact that I was once again going to be screaming into the internet with all my thoughts and ideas….but..but… isn’t that what everyone’s doing? We’re all doing that right?….
We’re all in the library….