Track Of The Day #694: Vienna Ditto - Long Way Down

Vienna Ditto- Circle (Track by Track Commentary)

Even though a lot of albums are successful in their ambiguity and mixed messages and should be forever a riddle, the seductive and mysterious “cosmic gospel”: ‘Circle’ the debut from Reading’s Vienna Ditto casts listeners under the spell of curiosity and made us want to know more. Fortunately, we caught up with wizard Nigel Firth from the trio, who gave us an insight into the concepts and production behind each track on Circle.

‘This is Normal’

This is one of the few tunes we recorded as a proper band, with drum beast Scott Lawrence. We tend to do naive ‘country’ (with a small c) songs or nasty ‘city’ songs, and this is one of the nastiest. It’s about getting into the wrong situation with the wrong person and realising that you have no morals whatsoever. There are some nice sirens on it (I think).

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‘Feeling Good’

Without Scott we started to experiment with different kinds of drums, played quite badly by yours truly. We love that junk percussion sound, like Einstürzende Neubauten and Faust get, so in addition to our tiny stylophonesque drum machine we added some bits of bric-a-brac, including a large metal pan that I use to wash my socks. We also snuck into a deserted hall nearby and recorded bits in there for the fabulous reverb- the funny thing is we’d tip-toe in there so no-one would hear us, and then proceed to bash the hell out of all this stuff and make a noise to raise the dead. Didn’t get caught though. This song is about party fun bags and other short-term pleasures.


This one’s a country song and was inspired by footage of Scott’s doomed Terra Nova expedition, just the image of them dragging their equipment across the snow… It’s about the moment that you have to face up to the fact that one of you has to go so the others can carry on. Or when the wolf has to abandon her mate who’s leg is caught in a trap; the point where love and loyalty gives way to survival and self-preservation- which is never that far away.

‘Oh Josephine’

Is an ode to legendary dancer Josephine Baker, who went on to be decorated for her work with the French Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement in America. Actually it was inspired by her, but it’s not really what the song’s about; it’s written from the point of view of a yearning lover she has discarded along the way. Which makes it a cross between a country song and a city song. It’s a kind of motorik thing, but more like Cluster than Neu! We were trying to get a sense of continuous movement in it, with various sounds coming in and out, like you’re in a car and it’s the scenery whizzing past.

‘A Happy Car is a Stolen Car’

This is a metaphor. But the verses don’t understand what the chorus is going on about so they take the literal meaning of the title and run with it, dig? The music is a kind of punk junk cha cha cha made using primary school percussion, the kind that comes in a plastic box with a lid and when the classes end you have to put the instruments back in the box. Actually we nicked some recorders too.


‘Long Way Down’

Is the first song we ever did together, kind of a psychedelic surfing song. Hatty wrote it when she was 18 and it’s probably our best song. I don’t remember so much about the recording, apart from I’d been listening to Clinic a lot, I liked that dark Rock ‘n’ Roll with the bubbly synthesiser under it, like in Voodoo Wop. We’d found an incredible amplifier in a skip in Camberwell- a 1964 Vox AC50 with no earth, so a potential killer- which only operated at extreme volume; I used a 50p as a plectrum too; so it sounded pretty harsh.
‘Pale Horse Rider’

“And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed.” Revelations 6:8 This is a country gospel ballad thing with slide guitar. Its part of an ongoing experiment to do a twelve bar blues with ‘space chords’, which are certain minor chords that make me feel like I’m floating in space. We’ve got some of the big recorders on this one; they sound to me a little like pre-Spanish-conquest Peruvian panpipe music, before it got ruined by European cadences and those horrid little guitars.
‘Hold On’

This is a jive number, and mainly for dancing; I could imagine it in some cabaret in Weimar-era Berlin. I do quite like the synth in the chorus, which sounds like horses. Actually it sounds a bit like Crazy Horses by The Osmonds, which is an absolute tune and all about pollution- It’s the reason we don’t have pollution any more. Hurray for the Osmonds!
‘Wheel Within a Wheel’

This is quite a strange song, I’m not sure I really remember what it’s about. Actually I think it’s about indecision. The title comes from Ezekiel’s vision of God’s chariot by the River Chabar and the music is maybe a little like The Silver Apples. If you’re into synthesisers, we used a Roland RS202 string machine, a DSI Tetra, a Minimoog, and Arp Odyssey and a Korg MS20 on it, and on some of our other tunes on this album. As well as far too much tape echo, from a WEM Copicat. We also used a Volka Beats drum machine, a Casio DH100 plastic electronic saxophone and a Yamaha SU10 which is a comedy sa-sa-sampler. So there you go.
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‘Hammer and a Nail’

This song is a bit more Gospel-Psych stuff. At the time of writing it I wanted to destroy the Earth, which is hard to do and will inevitably lead to one’s own downfall, especially if one succeeds. It’s got some nice sounds in it; the snare drum is a fire extinguisher being hit with a rock and there are real trumpets (courtesy of Stephen Cutting) and some synths that sound like Egyptian Lover, who is a bit like Afrika Bambaataa but even sillier. When we recorded it we’d been listening to a lot of Chicha; which is Psychedelic Cumbia from Peru, so there’s a bit of that in it too, all the snakey guitars and percussion.


‘Liar Liar (Quietly)’

This is a single we released a couple of years ago, but done in the ‘Nancy Sinatra Bang Bang’ style that we sometimes apply to our tunes, with just voice, guitar and spring reverb- and all done live, which was refreshing. You can hear me shush Phil, our projectionist, at the beginning.


‘I Know His Blood’

We got into this whole Gospel business largely thanks to Blind Willie Johnson, a firebrand Texan street-preacher who did his thing from the 20s to the early 40s. This is an Industrial/Gospel cover of a fantastic tune of his. He really had an extraordinary impact on us; it was like hearing Robert Johnson for the first time, although obviously Robert was in hock to the Devil, but Blind Willie was a man of God.

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