28. The Divinyls - I’m Jealous

I’ve always thought the Divinyls were amazing. Chrissy Amphlett’s voice is so sexy and sluttish, and her accent adds a raspy illusion which makes her sound like a smoky voiced prostitute in a King’s Cross junkie choir, all attitude and enigma! Mark McEntee is her perfect foil, with his razor edged guitar tones and riffs, and the passion and magic between her voice and his guitar was so sublime, it seems that they were always destined to be lovers, which they were for a long time. When I first heard the Divinyls, I was blown out of the water; like an inedible rainbow reef fish dynamited off Hin Muang in Thailand's Andaman Sea. I must have listened to the Temperamental album, which Mike Chapman produced, a thousand times, and can hear it in my head now without playing it, with it’s armadillo mix all spiky and tight - one of  Bob Clearmountain’s perfect mixes. The title song, the gorgeous Punxie, Hey Little Boy with it’s sixties “hoo-hoo” backing vocals..... what an album! So, when Peter Collins asked me to stay in Nashville and record a new song for the band, I was delighted. We moved into Woodlands Digital Studios to set up the session on July 20 of '94, just a few days after I’d wrapped up the Bon Jovi “Always” sessions, and were ready and waiting for the band - who sauntered in the following day at about four in the afternoon, obviously just woken and driven to the studio. The air was so tangibly thick with tension right from the beginning, you could have cut it with a knife - thicker even than Los Angeles summer smog, but a lot cooler in the artificial air-conditioned studio environment. Drummer Charley Drayton and bassist Jerome Smith came into the studio, and I got them to play a little, and set up the sounds for them for the session. Jerome was very animated, and Charley was more reserved, but very professional. I, as usual, tried to be very upbeat to give the session a sense of urgency and fun, but it was a mime song and dance act for the blind! Chrissy came into the vocal booth to get a sound, and muddled along - trying to find the key and learn the lyrics of the song from a cassette of the demo in a very non-commited way, and then she disappeared. Mark came in about half an hour later, and noodled around on the guitar - seemingly in the dark as to the song’s structure, composition or arrangement. It was patently obvious that the two of them were not talking, and I was to learn later that this was the first time they’d been together since Mark had broken off their romantic relationship, and no one was happy. Mark had his new blonde Australian girlfriend with him at the studio, and Chrissy was with Charley - and the song we were recording, was a song written by Chrissy (with Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly) about the breakup of their relationship.

     You got a new girlfriend But I still love you
     I can't stand the thought of her Having a piece of you
     What’s she got that I don't
     What’d she do that I won't
     You must be blind
     Take a good look at her - She's not your kind
     I don't' know what I'd do If I saw her with you
     I'm Jealous, I'm Jealous, I'm Jealous out of my mind
     I come around and see you Cause I want to remind you
     But what if she's there... How would I find you?
     You've got a new baby But I want you back again
     I'm liable to do anything - I might kick her face in!

It’s all there in the lyrics! Anyway, we finally got the band all together and started running through the song. I was blown away by Charley’s feel on the drums, and was later quoted in Modern Drummer magazine as saying he was the “best drummer” I’d ever worked with; but I was about to make a blistering faux-pas. In a light-hearted attempt to keep the session alive, I had remarked that Charley and Jerome were sounding amazing, and added that “it must be that natural rhythm”, which unbeknownst to me, didn’t go down at all well with Chrissy, who thought that I was making an ugly racial stereotype - which with my “South African” heritage was tantamount to discrimination. If anyone had bothered to find out anything about me, they would know this to be without any validity, but in the self-centred, insular and very frosty environs of the sudio; no-one even cared.

Cutting the basic tracks was straight forward enough, I think two or three takes would have nailed it, as Charley’s pocket and groove were flawless, and Jerome just stuck to him like chewing gum to a boot on a hot day! Recording Mark’s guitar was quite a bit more difficult, but his ideas were great, and we finished the guitar without Chrissy hearing a note of it.
When it came time to do the vocals, Chrissy didn’t even bother listening to the track in the control room first, she just went into the booth and we ran over the vocals quite a few times, and she went home. Peter and I stayed on to compile the vocal, and then I Fedexed a copy to the songs writer, Billy Steinberg, as Peter wanted his opinion on the vocal. I was surprised, because I’d never seen anyone give the songwriter that respect in the studio - and Billy replied first thing the next morning with some very salient points about adjusting the melody in the chorus, which Peter took note of, and then he had Chrissy resing the parts. The difference was very positive and the song came out great. We’d an ocarina session player come in and lace some ethereal parts all over the song, but I’m not sure they were ever used, as the band hated the sound of it! The ocarina is an ancient shell shaped flute-like instrument, and is probably most famous now as the instrument played on the Legend Of Zelda video game.

     What’s the definition of an optimist?
     An ocarina player with a pager!

Once the track was recorded, we moved back to Emerald studios, site of the Bon Jovi sessions, where I mixed the song, and it’s many versions (with ocarina, without ocarina, etc. It’s a very dry mix, with Chrissy’s vocals standing very proud of the instruments - and it only took me about one hour to mix. When I had finished the mix, I went out into the lounge area where the band were  sitting unforcomfortably quietly, and I said “I’ve finished the mix”. All four of them just looked up at me, said nothing, didn’t smile or make any gesture and didn’t move - so I went back inside and got my already packed bags and walked out. As I walked by them sitting in the lounge on my way out, Charley tentatively asked “Where’re you going?”, and as I got into the taxi I replied “I’ve got to go the airport, .. I’ve got a plane to catch!”, and closed the car door, and headed for the airport to go to New York, where I’d been booked to mix an album for Doro Pesch, starting the next day.

A singularly strange experience, but to this day “I’m Jealous” is one of the mixes I’ve done that is my favorite. And I still think the Divinyls are amazing.

The Divinyls - Underworld

A few months later in Sydney, Australia, MCA Records president, Chris Gilbey called me to see him in his office in North Sydney. He explained that the Divinyls had been recording an album in Los Angeles with producer Keith Forsey, but that they had blown through their sizeable advances and budget, and MCA had nothing to show for it. He asked if I would take the multi tracks, which were in his possession, and see what I could make of them, and I agreed.

I took the multitrack tapes to the now defunct Rich Studios and set to work on them. Some songs were major productions, and others were nothing more than guide tracks, with a scratch vocal and a scratch guitar track - and I genuinely put every effort into making them reflect the band, which I had enormous respect for, and represent it’s music. My thought was that it was better that someone cared for the band was doing this underhand job, than someone who didn’t really have a rock feel for them; and I managed to mix a whole album out of the tapes, and mastered them with Don Bartley at EMI in Sydney. I thought that I’d done a great job, considering the material I’d been given to work with; but sometimes the naivety of being creative hides the ulterior motives of the shaman businessman. So, I think Chris Gilbey may just have been trying to shock the band, because he sent them a copy of “their new album”, and they were not happy - not with mixes as such, but because it was their unfinished work. I bore the full brunt of their distaste and animosity, but Chris’ tactics worked, because the band reconvened in Sydney, with Charley Drayton producing, to finish the recordings properly, for what would be their Underworld album.

In an ironic twist of fate, I was working in Studio B at E.M.I. Studios 301 in Sydney, mixing the “Blue Cave” album for the Sydney garage-rock band, The Hoodoo Gurus, while on the same floor, the Divinyls were tracking in Studio A. We shared lounge and kitchen facilities, but in a silly petulant and pre-pubescent display, someone in the Divinyls camp (Charley!) had insisted we split the facilities into two halves and had a floor to ceiling partition built with gobo’s ( the eight foot high moveable modular sound insulations walls used in the recording studio for instrument separation) and and covered with ceiling to floor black curtains. Gaining entrance to the studio through the dark, velvet maze was not unlike entering a photographic darkroom. On the rare occasion we would bump into each other, either getting a coffee or just passing, it would be a total silent meeting, unless one of us was caught off guard, in which case you may have heard a faint primeval grunt eminating from me. All in all, a situation much messier than the mud soaked folk at the Woodstock festival, without that high. At one point, Mark and myself had just gotten over the grunting, and I offered him a drink as I was getting ice from the kitchen for my Jack Daniels. He accepted, and about two hours later, Charley came to find Mark, and the two of us had drunk the entire bottle, were gossiping away as only two obliterated drunkards can - off our heads -I still smell the Jjack as I write!

As it transpires, I have become very friendly with Charley and Chrissy in recent years, and respect them, both as a people and as musicians, very much. They are now married, and they share their time between Australia and New York, I’ve bumped into Jerome once or twice but haven’t seen Mark since. I have a copy of their unreleased album - which has some sublime and inspired moments on it, that in the basic simplicity surpass the final product, which appears sadly, to be the swansong of a truly wonderful band. However, nothing is over ‘til it’s over - so we’ll see.

The Divinyls web site: www.divinyls.com

Kevin Shirley