Naughts & Ones - Press Information
Naughts & Ones is the anticipated third solo offering from Melbourne’s Tobias Hengeveld. Nominated for an Age Music Victoria Award for 2014’s The Daylight Express, Hengeveld remains a lesser-known, yet formidable presence in a league of Australian songwriters worth their salt.
The process of creating Naughts & Ones was one of gritted determination. Seized for many months by a stubborn bout of writer’s block, Hengeveld eventually realised that a shift was only going to happen by pushing against it. Instead of waiting for inspiration to show up, he grabbed every tool and trope to get momentum.
“Default habits and methods no longer cut it. So I kind of went back to school, using every technique I could think of to get going. I actually wasn’t prepared to start recording at all, but I had studio time booked and thought, bugger it, I’ll just start. Wherever I end up has to be better than making nothing at all!”
Armed only with notebooks of ideas and a lot of ‘throw-out’ material, nascent song sketches were coaxed and wrestled into being by Hengeveld and visionary producer (come drummer) Rohan Sforcina at Four Hundred Acres Recording Studio.
“We went into the process with little expectation. Instead of being terrifying, it was surprisingly freeing. As it turned out, sneaking up on songs arse-backwards yielded more interesting results! It demanded a willingness to try new things, and draw from a deeper musical place.”
There is indeed an unprecedented breadth of sounds and genres appearing in this new batch of songs. Hengeveld says that responding fast and instinctually brought to the fore his musical stamp; formative experiences of pop music in his childhood, in particular the weirder radio hits diffused throughout the 1980’s. His often bent, jangling guitars and rich sense of melody trace influences like XTC, The Church, Roxy Music and David Bowie to name a few.
The album opener Time We’ve Got swings and twists. A meta-meditation on our sense of how time works, it begins with a slow hypnotic vocal refrain then abruptly kicks up the pace with a panicked sense of urgency. Songs like Holy Whole and Funny Thing carry a heavier grit and twang that is lifted by the lightness and command of Hengeveld’s voice. On Separation Street the notoriously lethargic Melbourne street becomes the symbolic demarcation of a relationship lost. The striding bass, vibrato guitar, horns and swaggering beat imbue it with an 80’s west coast cool that makes you want to reach for your sunglasses and take a stroll. Long Kiss Goodnight holds the angular guitars, sharp metronomic percussion and unexpected melodic twist of many a good Spilt Enz moment. Hengeveld’s artistic influences still don’t loom large enough to overwhelm his unique interpretation, rather they seem to stand in the background nodding approvingly.
However varied and apparent the influences on Naughts & Ones, Hengeveld’s deft lyricism and oblique perspective is an integral thread that runs through the entire work. His lyrics, though personal, are not dictatorially intimate. Eschewing the directly autobiographical in order to pursue an idea or theme that he can stretch out in it.
“To chronical lived experience too faithfully is to limit the ground you cover” says Hengeveld. “I have an aversion to relentlessly autobiographical music, too much heart on sleeve doesn’t sit well with me. Apart from the fact I don’t find my own stories that intriguing, keeping some murk around a story (and who is telling it) lets me live vicariously and explore an idea without limit. It also allows the listener to project into the song unimpeded.”
All sung with an earnest clarity, most of the songs on this record could be his stories, or yours. Hengeveld’s view of the world is wide and nothing is beyond his examination. On Walking Dreams he sings an antidote to the human habit of romanticising birds and flight. Set to a perfectly stride-able beat and roaring 90’s guitar, he inverts the human assumption of the blissfully peaceful life of birds.
“It’s always struck me as a shit-show of basic survival up there, not the life of beauty, peace and light people project.” The voice in the song is that of a bird, ridiculing these notions human hold; “Yes only you have the luxury of romanticising us, as envoys of a simple love I’ve simply heard enough.”
The increasingly ubiquitous ‘Alt-Country’ genre may have been a better fit for Hengeveld’s previous two albums, with their plaintive guitars and reverie on landscape. But Naughts & Ones sees him embodying a far more dynamic and profound musical world. The strange fruits of uncertainty and experimentation have yielded an unfalteringly confident album, unabashed in its pop sensibility and refreshingly broad in its execution.
Anna Farrant, April 2019