Q&A Scene: Track-By-Track: Brendan McMahon

New album ‘In The Moment’ out November 15.

Lost My Way

The idea for the track came from an Echidna who walked into the back yard of our home one Sunday afternoon. I was doing some work and noticed the Echidna wandering close to a rose bush. Our house backs on to a nature reserve and on the odd occasion the Echidnas get a little lost and end up in our yard. I went to the shed and put on some thick gloves with the intention of picking him/her up and returning it to the reserve however, when I got close it dug its way into the roots of a rose bush and wouldn’t move. I didn’t want to hurt the Echidna so I waited until it got comfortable and started exploring again then rushed over, picked it up and returned it to the safety of the reserve. The whole process took around 60 minutes, so while I waited, I grabbed a notepad and started writing the story of “Lost My Way”.

I write all of my songs on acoustic guitar and develop them from there. When I went in to the studio to track the song, I had the drummer, bass player and guitarist work on the track with me. It was evident the track would have a Celtic feel so that was the direction we went with the song. After tracking I overlaid mandolin & banjo tracks but felt it still needed something more. I had already organised a string trio from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra to play on a couple of other tracks on the album so it was the perfect opportunity to get the violinist to add a “fiddle” style piece to finish the track off… I was very happy with the result.

The musicians on the track

Peter Maslen                       Drums & percussion

Jason Vorherr                     Bass & backing vocals

Danny Spencer                   Electric guitar

Sarah Curro                         Violin

Brendan McMahon           Lead & backing vocals,

acoustic guitar, mandolin

                                                & banjo

Steve Vertigan                    Production & engineering

Limitless Fluidity

Every now and then I write a track that doesn’t come from a conscious thought, it comes from somewhere deep inside… Limitless Fluidity is one of those tracks. This song came about while sitting in my home studio strumming on my acoustic guitar, I wasn’t purposely sitting down to write. I built the song up from the opening chord progression and it was one of those songs that came together very easily and quickly, maybe 60 minutes in total. I’d be very satisfied if this song takes people on their own journey, allowing them to make their own minds up on what the song is about… this way the listener gets to “own” the meaning of the song which can mean something very personal to each listener.

The character of this track was strongly influenced by Jason Vorherr with his mesmerising bass riff and infectious backing vocal hook. Another feature of the track is the keyboard arrangement by Steve Vertigan in the 3rd verse… it adds a really nice dynamic to the song.

The musicians on the track

Peter Maslen                       Drums & percussion

Jason Vorherr                     Bass & backing vocals

Brett Kingman                     Electric guitar

Steve Vertigan                    Keyboards   

Brendan McMahon           Lead & backing vocals, acoustic guitar

Steve Vertigan                    Production & engineering

I Am

A song born from a childhood fantasy about running away to an easier life…!

I remember a time when I was a kid, maybe 11 or 12 years old and I decided it would be cool to run away from home. I had no reason to do this as I had a great family and a nice home to live in… I was bought up in a small country town of around 2,500 people near the Barossa Valley in South Australia. We were a typical working-class family, not a lot on money, but happy. Still… one night I just decided it was time to go and look for some adventure out in the big wide world. I did the Huckleberry Finn thing and grabbed a broomstick and a towel to wrap a few cloths in and hang them from the stick over my shoulder. Once I was all prepared, I went to the window which I was to escape from and took a look outside, it was dark, cold and raining and that ended my plans abruptly…! I unpacked and climbed back into my nice warm bed and didn’t really think about it again until I wrote this song.

A footnote: I’ve recorded around 60 songs at Soggy Dog Recording Studio with my Producer/Engineer, Steve Vertigan. Steve has a dog called Charlie who frequents the recording sessions. Steve asked me one day why I hadn’t yet written a song featuring Charlie, so if you listen to the lyrics in the 3rd verse you’ll hear that Charlie finally makes his debut on this track.

The musicians on the track

Peter Maslen                       Drums & percussion

Jason Vorherr                     Bass & backing vocals

Sam See                                Electric guitar

Amber Ferraro                    Backing vocals

Anthony Barnhill                Piano

Steve Vertigan                    Keyboards   

Brendan McMahon           Lead & backing vocals, acoustic & electric guitars

Steve Vertigan                    Production & engineering

                        Charlie

Relate

I still find it hard to believe this track was developed from its acoustic guitar origins… it’s dark, moody and big… massive drums, distorted bass and effected guitars… it rocks…! I really like giving the session musicians the latitude to add their own character to my songs so it was great fun developing this track in the studio, it just seemed to grow and grow as we jammed it out. Maz, (Peter Maslen) did several passes on the drums until we clicked in to the syncopated drumming in the chorus’, followed by the big bold fills to take them out. Jase (Jason) then introduced the grungy bass riff and the track came to life. The final piece in the track was the tension filled slide at the end. I knew the song was almost there but just needed a little extra so I played in the slide guitar part just before adding the lead vocal. Interestingly, this is one of the only tracks I have ever recorded without any backing vocalists.

I’ll leave it up to the listener to interpret the lyrics.

The musicians on the track

Peter Maslen                       Drums & percussion

Jason Vorherr                     Bass

Brett Kingman                     Electric guitar         

Brendan McMahon           Lead & backing vocals, electric guitars

Steve Vertigan                    Production & engineering

No Rush Today

Staring out to the ocean while sitting on the deck of a bungalow in Tahiti… no better place to write a song call “No Rush Today”! Having the opportunity to swim in the ocean with hump back whales, sharks and stingrays is certainly song-worthy. The mythical figure in the lyrics, the dragon, was simply my imagination one dark night when I looked at the mountain behind our bungalow and the lights coming from the homes nestled in the hills – they looked to be the eyes of a dragon. This, coupled with the jagged ridge of the mountain cascading down to the sea depicted the back and tail of the creature – cementing the illusion. I thought it would be pretty cool to have a dragon watching over the village, protecting it whilst everyone slept.

The tribal drums, fretless bass and the dreamy guitar played by Dave Leslie (of The Baby Animals) really gave this track a roomy, almost “Doors – Rider On The Storm”  feel. When we came to the backing vocals, I asked Amber Ferraro to wail through the entire track, then I finished it off with some “Led Zeppelin style” 12 string acoustic and a ships warning bell to take the song out. I hope this song takes the listener on a journey as they sit back with their eyes closed imagining the sea.

The musicians on the track

Peter Maslen                       Drums & percussion

Jason Vorherr                     Bass

Dave Leslie                           Electric guitar

Amber Ferraro                    Backing vocals        

Brendan McMahon           Lead vocal, 6 & 12 string acoustic guitars

Steve Vertigan                    Production & engineering

Only Highs

Relationships can be hard at the best of times, there are lots of outside influences that can affect them. This song tells the story of “one perfect moment” in a relationship of mine that was powerful enough to alter the course of it and start it on the road to recovery. This is also the first time I’ve given another singer the opportunity of a lead vocal part on my albums. Amber Ferraro is a very talented vocalist and I’ve had the pleasure of working with her on my last 3 albums. When Amber came in to the studio to record backing vocals on this track it dawned on me that a lead piece would add enormous sentiment and strength to the song, and also give her the chance to showcase her talent… I think it added a really nice touch to the song. Amber also features in the video clip for the track. 

The musicians on the track

Peter Maslen                       Drums & percussion

Jason Vorherr                     Bass

Brett Kingman                     Electric guitar

Anthony Barnhill                Piano

Amber Ferraro                    Lead & backing vocals      

Brendan McMahon           Lead & backing vocals, acoustic & electric guitars

Steve Vertigan                    Production & engineering

On This Fine Occasion

Must be my Irish ancestry that brings out the Celtic sounding tracks. Although this track has a light and carefree feel, the message is a serious one… let’s stop fighting and start accepting all races, religions and beliefs as one global family… “the zoo is a mess so let’s clean it up, let’s see how good it can be”.

After all “our lands are all joined, you ask how can this be, our borders are one but under the sea”. A track I penned looking out the window of a hotel room somewhere in Bali watching people of different backgrounds and  beliefs all enjoying each other’s company around a swimming pool. This was a very easy song to write and hopefully when people listen to it they will tap in to the underlying message in the lyrics.

Footnote: For some reason I have always named my current album with the title of a song that does not appear on it, it always ends up on the following album. For example, my third album was called “On This Fine Occasion” yet the song of that title appears on my fourth album. My current album is called “In The Moment”, the track of the same name will be on album 5.

The musicians on the track

Peter Maslen                       Drums & percussion

Jason Vorherr                     Bass & backing vocals

Sam See                                Electric guitar         

Brendan McMahon           Lead & backing vocals, acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo

Steve Vertigan                    Production & engineering

Tethered

The idea for this song came from a passage in a book I read many years ago by an author who called himself T. Lobsang Rampa – his most famous book was called “The Third Eye”. In one particular passage I read, he described astral travel – the process of separating one’s conscious body from the physical body but remaining attached by a thread also known as an out of body experience. The passage told of a time when he was held captive during a war and would astral travel to help deal with the pain of torture…. this concept fascinated me.

I’ve wanted to introduce a string section to some of my songs since my first album, and this track was the perfect opportunity. I was very fortunate to have a string trio from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra come in a record with me (which was amazing). This song starts with a simple acoustic riff and finishes a bit over 6 minutes later with a crescendo of layer on layer string sections intertwined with an almost unnerving, gritty, tension-filled slide guitar solo.

The musicians on the track

Peter Maslen                       Drums & percussion

Jason Vorherr                     Bass, backing vocals

Danny Spencer                   Electric guitar

Anthony Barnhill                String arrangement

Sarah Curro                         Violin

Gabi Halloran                      Viola

Paul Zabrowwarny            Cello

Belinda Parsons                  Backing vocals        

Brendan McMahon           Lead vocal, acoustic & slide guitars

Steve Vertigan                    Production & engineering

Rescue Me

Inspired by a train carriage, Rescue Me is a call for help to escape from the sometimes mundane and repetitiveness of life. A driving country rock track with shades of Bryan Adams, Jimmy Barnes & Bruce Springsteen all wrapped up together. It’s a traditional, tried and true recipe of a driving rhythm section, chunky guitars, big chorus and huge backing vocals. Possibly the hardest track on the album to get the right structure on which may seem surprising, given its simplicity. When Steve and I were arranging this track, we hit a brick wall – the song was not reaching its full potential. I suggested that we start a new edit of the track called the “let’s f**k with it” edit… as soon as we did this, the song came together in a heartbeat. Although not easy, sometimes throwing out preconceived ideas and starting all over again can be the answer in the studio… and in this instance, it worked.

The musicians on the track

Peter Maslen                       Drums & percussion

Jason Vorherr                     Bass & backing vocals

Dave Leslie                           Electric guitar

Steve Vertigan                    Hammond organ

Belinda Parsons                  Backing Vocals       

Brendan McMahon           Lead, electric guitar

Steve Vertigan                    Production & engineering


Scars Of The Past

There are thousands of children from broken homes who are taken in by foster care families. Many of these kids have lived through unimaginable violence and neglect whilst growing up, leaving them physically and emotionally scarred. I wrote this after speaking with a close friend who looks after some of these kids, helping to patch up their lives by giving them a safe and loving environment. The track perspective is from several angles:  first the inherent self-preservation of a child who has been conditioned to distance themselves (for fear of being hurt again), then the child’s indestructible bravado on the outside whilst suffering incredible doubt and anxiety on the inside. There is also the harbouring of a deeply confusing and conflicting need:  the love from their biological parents (despite all the anguish they may have caused). 

The string section in this track adds intense emotion and power and is in line with the see-sawing sentiment of emotion that these kids live with every day of their lives.

The musicians on the track

Peter Maslen                       Drums & percussion

Jason Vorherr                     Bass, backing vocals

Kim Kelaart                          Hammond organ

Anthony Barnhill                String arrangement

Sarah Curro                         Violin

Gabi Halloran                      Viola

Paul Zabrowwarny            Cello

Belinda Parsons                  Backing vocals        

Brendan McMahon           Lead vocal, acoustic and electric guitars

Steve Vertigan                    Production & engineering

Hold On

“Locked inside without release, hoping for internal peace”.

One of the terms used to describe the effect of dementia is “the long goodbye”. It’s very hard to watch this horrible disease slowly diminish the physical and mental capacity of a person who was once strong and independent… they become a shadow of their former selves. I wrote this track as a message of support for someone who had no choice but to transition a loved one into a care facility, knowing they would never leave. “Hold on, hold on, hold on to me”.

The musicians on the track

Peter Maslen                       Drums & percussion

Jason Vorherr                     Bass, backing vocals

Danny Spencer                   Electric Guitar

Anthony Barnhill                Hammond organ

Belinda Parsons                  Backing vocals        

Brendan McMahon           Lead vocal, acoustic and electric guitars

Steve Vertigan                    Production & engineering

A bit about the amazing musicians

Peter (Maz) Maslen           Drums & percussion

Maz has played with the who’s who of the Australian music scene. From Kylie to The Seekers, Jimmy Barnes to James Blundell and so many more. His mainstays have been as drummer in Boom Crash Opera and Mark Seymour and the Undertow.

Jason Vorherr                     Bass & backing vocals

Jason has played with many iconic Australian bands including Russell Morris & Band and Brian Cadd & Band. Jason is currently the resident bass guitarist for Daryl Braithwaite as well as performing his own acoustic gigs.

Brett Kingman                     Electric guitars

Brett is one of Australia’s best-known hired guns when it comes to electric guitars. He has worked with industry icons such as James Reyne (who he currently tours with), Ross Wilson, Joe Camilleri, Vika and Linda Bull plus many more.

Dave Leslie                           Electric guitars

Best know as the guitarist in Aussie rock legends, The Baby Animals. Dave and his band have supported some of the biggest rock bands on the planet such as Bon Jovi and Van Halen.

Danny Spencer                   Electric guitars

Former guitarist with Rogue Traders, Danny now tours with the likes of Jimmy Barnes and Richard Clapton.

Sam See                                Electric guitars

Multi-instrumentalist, Sam See played in bands such as Sherbet and Fraternity (Bon Scott as lead singer prior to AC/DC) and later forming Stockley, See and Mason.

Anthony Barnhill                Piano & Hammond organ

Currently the Associate Music Director for the 2019 international tor of Westside Story, Anthony is one of Australia’s leading young musicians. He is a versatile pianist, composer and conductor and has been described as “heroic” by Wilma Smith, concertmaster of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and an incredible showman by Tina Arena.

Kim Kelaart                          Hammond organ

Touring with the likes of Human Nature and Kate Ceberano, Kim is one of the leading Hammond organ exponents in Australia.

Amber Ferraro                    Backing vocals

Fronting acts including The Amber Ferarro Quartet and Honey, Amber is a highly talented young singer who has worked with many of the Australian music scenes legends.

Belinda Parsons                  Backing Vocals

Belinda is a graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts, and The University of Melbourne completing a Bachelor of Music Performance in Voice.  Belinda’s professional credits include:  Cats World Tour, The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Eureka, Mack and Mabel (Production Company), Hello Dolly, The Sound of Music.

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

Sarah Curro – Violin,   Gabi Halloran – Viola,   Paul Zabrowwarny – Cello

Sarah Curro graduated in 1994 from the Queensland Conservatorium, where she was winner of the Conservatorium Medal for Excellence. In Australia, she has performed with the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Queensland Philharmonic and Symphony Orchestras, Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Victoria and is currently a full-time member of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

Gabi Halloran studied viola at the VCA with Lawrie Jacks and at the Mozarteum Salzburg with Thomas Riebl. During her time in Salzburg, Gabi performed in various chamber ensembles, including concerts in Paris for the Mozart Bicentenary in 1991. She has been a member of MSO since 1993, and performs regularly with MSO Chamber Players.

Paul Zabrowarny is a cellist with a strong interest in contemporary repertoire. Paul completed studies at the Elder Conservatorium and the Australian National Academy of Music along with the Ian Potter Foundation and the Australia Council to undertake a Masters of Music Performance at the Conservatoire de Lausanne, Switzerland specialising in contemporary cello techniques.

Steve Vertigan

Steve is a multi-instrumentalist who has performed with many international acts such as Peter Allen, Christine Sullivan, Colleen Hewitt, The Victorian Opera, The Victorian Police rock band and many more. Steve is the owner and head producer/engineer at his studio “Soggy Dog Recording”. Steve has been recording musicians for over 20 years.


Growing up in the small town of Kapunda near South Australia’s Barossa Valley, Brendan McMahon discovered his love of music at the tender age of 14 after being “awed and floored” seeing Jimi Hendrix play on television; amazed by the sounds that Jimi could pull from a guitar and captivated by the iconic performer’s showmanship.  Borrowing money from his mother (and paying it back at $2 a week) he promptly bought himself a $60 guitar and amp rig from a mate.

Initially wanting to be a glam-rock superstar in the 80s and 90s (think Van Halen, Kiss, Def Leppard), McMahon later transitioned to the more storytelling driven tunes of songwriters such as Paul Kelly, Harry Manx, Richard Thompson and Garth Brooks, artists that continue to inspire him today.

Spending his late teens and early twenties as a lead singer/lead guitarist in rock cover bands playing across Adelaide and country Victoria, McMahon honed his skills the hard way – in front of demanding Australian pub and club crowds.  In 1998, and now bitten by both the songwriting and performance bug, McMahon released a 7-track EP called ‘Picture This’ with his band The Cunning Stunts.  ‘The songs, mostly pop rock, now seem too cluttered and uninteresting compared to the music I write today, but I still love to listen to them once in a while as they bring back great memories.”

In 2015 and 2016, Brendan released the solo albums ‘Falling To Earth’ and ‘Marker 7-58’ under the moniker of Satellite Gods, and in doing so was fortunate enough to collaborate and work with some renowned Australian musicians including Peter Maslen (Boom Crash Opera), Jason Vorherr (Darryl Braithwaite), Bob Spencer (The Angels), Simon Hosford (Vanessa Amorosi) and Wilbur Wilde (Ol’ 55).

Brendan explains “I met these fabulous musicians through the recording studio I use (Soggy Dog Recording Studio in Upwey, Victoria).  Not only did they contribute their instrumental talents to these albums, they also opened up my mind to new concepts and helped me understand the importance of ‘leaving space’ in the music.”

After supporting artists such as Boom Crash Opera, Russell Morris, Wendy Stapleton and The Chantoozies in Australia, Brendan released the LP ‘On This Fine Occasion’ in 2017, which received great reviews both locally and internationally.

“Whatever it is that makes his music just so amazingly addictive, the American audience is not only ready to take Brendan McMahon in as one of their own, but they’re ready to catapult him to a level of fame that he hasn’t already previously known in his already well accomplished and hard-fought career in this business.”

– Cash Box Magazine, Canada

“On This Fine Occasion is a collection of tracks which blends a variety of multi genres seamlessly to create a sublime absorbing listen.” – Indie Buddie

Around the same time, the EP ‘About Joe’ was released and promoted exclusively to the US market, again earning McMahon stellar reviews, and was followed soon after by a couple of live gigs in Nashville.

“This EP gets top marks” – No Depression

“McMahon’s personal style of songwriting discovers a new peak with this release thanks to his continuing refinement of the cinematic imagery powering his songwriting.  ‘About Joe’ is an intensely human collection; Brendan McMahon doesn’t write about life as he would have it, but rather life as he sees it … it’s every bit as immersive as a full length release and one of the more substantive studio recordings I’ve heard yet in 2018.”

– Vents Magazine

2019, and some 20-odd years after the release of his debut McMahon, who now calls Melbourne home, is gearing up for the release of a new LP ‘In The Moment’ – an album he feels is his strongest yet.  Maturity, reflection and drawing on his personal experiences, his inspired yet refined lyrics again take listeners on a captivating journey. 

Recorded with Steve Vertigan at Soggy Dog Recording Studios, and again drawing upon Australian music royalty in its creation – namely Dave Leslie (Baby Animals), Danny Spencer (Jimmy Barnes Band), Brett Kingman (James Reyne Band), and the previously mentioned Peter Maslen and Jason Vorherr, plus a string trio from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (Sarah Curro, Gabi Halloran and Paul Zabrowarny), this powerful album embraces the essence of story-telling and leaves you thinking about the songs long after the last track finishes.

Having visited over 50 unique and varied countries over the last decade (McMahon and his wife share an extensive and adventurous bucket list), Brendan’s travel experiences, specifically his observations of history, cultures, people, architecture and nature are at the root of his creativity and songwriting.  These themes again feature prominently throughout ‘In The Moment’.

‘No Rush Today’, track five on the album was written on Mo’orea Island in Tahiti (French Polynesia) and is about the marine wildlife, the island itself and the backdrop of the mountains that appeared to resemble the shape of a dragon, while ‘Tethered’ was inspired from a passage from a book written by T Lobsang Rampa, which motivated McMahon to travel to Tibet to explore the local culture in more depth.

From Bhutan to the Baltics, Tahiti to Tibet or Morocco to the Maldives, being able to share his experiences, thoughts and conversations during these travels is what continues to deepen and drive this talented story teller.  ‘In The Moment’ is yet another fine journey to take with Brendan McMahon.

Connect:

https://www.brendanmcm.com/

https://www.facebook.com/BrendanMcMahonMusic

https://www.instagram.com/brendanmcm758/

About Mary Boukouvalas 1155 Articles
Mary is a photographer and a writer, specialising in music. She runs Rocklust.com where she endeavours to capture the passion of music in her photos whether it's live music photography, promotional band photos or portraits. She has photographed The Rolling Stones, KISS, Iggy Pop, AC/DC, Patti Smith, Joe Strummer, PULP, The Cult, The Damned, The Cure, Ian Brown, Interpol, MUDHONEY, The MELVINS, The Living End, Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against The Machine, The Stone Roses –just to name a few - in Australia, USA, Europe and the Middle East. Her work has been published in Beat magazine, Rolling Stone magazine, Triple J magazine, The Age Newspaper, The Herald Sun, The Australian, Neos Kosmos, blistering.com, theaureview.com, noise11.com, music-news.com. She has a permanent photographic exhibition at The Corner Hotel in Richmond, Victoria Australia.

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