Between the Lines: I Don't Mind
I’ve never enjoyed being present in the moment. Either people are lying when they tell you that’s a good way to live or I’m just way too nervous to share their enthusiasm. It’s why everything I write is set either immediately before the action or some time after it.
My songs can be quite literal. Evergreen is about a broken-down train and a night swim. But others, like I Don’t Mind, can be harder to place, flicking rapidly through disparate scenes and symbols in the hope that some meaningful pattern might emerge. Imagery that doesn’t fit one song will often begin the next, which is why I end up with these recurring motifs.
I had the music for I Don’t Mind before I had any of the lyrics. To me it felt like a wobbly old love song, which is a form of songwriting with its own long-established language. I wanted to twist those hokey romantic sentiments into something more recognisably modern and complicated. Each line of the first verse derails into a very specific reference to a micro-moment in a relationship that isn’t going well, but isn’t quite ready to be abandoned.
We kiss like you’re on my side
We caress like we’re made of gin
And we touch like it’s going out of style
And we spend the night on either side
I don’t mind
Here’s what I mean by very specific: ‘On my side’ is a line from an old argument. The ‘gin’ is what she drinks. ‘Going out of style’ is one of the idioms she is guilty of overusing. ‘Either side’ is the side of the bed (the subject of much debate), but also the continuous switching between a state of romanticism and restlessness. Specific references often get me into trouble, but to me, their narrowness makes them feel more universal. It’s all so earnest, but right now I’m trying to be less ironic. I worry that irony has been hijacked by people with nothing to say.
It’s hard to stay away from exactly what you think you want
And if you go away I’ll follow you into the lake
And we’ll swim like a big explosion
And we’ll sparkle like a chunk of glass
This second verse is about a love you perceive to be big and true and explosive because those are all the things you are told to expect from romance. I was 26 at the time, and like all 26-year-old boys I was absolutely unwavering in my indecision. When you feel young, with a lot of youth ahead, it can make you cavalier in the way you co-opt the time of others. So with the benefit of hindsight, I was taking aim at the idea of self-sacrifice and the emotional terrorism we pursue in the name of fate.
And we’ll grow up with the grace of ghosts
Who turn up drunk at your doorstep, then disappear into the night
I don’t mind
These ghosts haunt everything I do. But the truth is, they’re not even ghosts. When I was in Portland, Oregon, I accidentally stumbled upon an installation called Banquet, which showed goats living in an inner city block eating an urban diet of dust and M&Ms wrappers. Feeling as out of place as the goats, I spent the afternoon with them. We took some photos together. We ate my sandwiches. And then I wrote the line in another Volcanic Hazards song, Hello World, that goes “You are the bird and I / banquet with goats,” which was a reference to the girl I had been dating who had just moved to Europe. The animal imagery was a hat tip to Timothy Blackman, who was in Portland with me, and who is the undisputed king of animal imagery. I tried to live with the goat reference for months before I changed the word to ‘ghosts’. Then ghosts began to appear everywhere. They were never ghosts. They’re just friends who feel out of place everywhere they go.
Now it’s 7am and you say it might be time to go home
Cause you’d like to be in love but you only like to wake up alone
I don’t mind
The last lines are about a completely different scenario, a different person – definitely one of the ghosts. Which is why I wanted to fold her into this composite ‘you’ character. Volcanic Hazards of Auckland is all about relationships and memories that lie dormant around the city. So it was important to me that some of the love songs ended unresolved. Resolution is much too convenient in a world with Facebook. Nobody moves on and never looks back.
This is a song about someone who is deeply in love with a person he probably doesn’t know yet. We hope it works out for him because he seems so young and naïve. We hope it doesn’t because he seems so young and despicable. I hope when people hear this song they imagine themselves at that age, alive with the best kind of regrets. Living like there's no tomorrow, when of course there is. Always making the wrong choices for what we’re almost certain are the right reasons.
Between the Lines is a series where songwriters take us into the writing room
Read (and listen) to the rest of the series here