Each week, John Moyle brings you the best examples of new Australian songs and music videos. This week: Catherine McQuade’s ‘Life Is Elsewhere’.
Catherine McQuade’s new single ‘Life Is Elsewhere’ may be a Covid metaphor, or just a plea to escape, but it is also her most accomplished work to date.
Having relocated from Sydney to Melbourne some years ago after the disbanding of Deckchairs Overboard, McQuade and her partner, filmmaker Brendan Young, refused to let Melbourne’s stringent Covid lockdowns cramp their creativity.
By thinking outside the box McQuade has realised a four track extended play, also titled Life Is Elsewhere, accompanied by Young’s stylish and somewhat dystopian video showing the singer trapped in a state of isolation before finding consolation somewhere else.
“I have long suffered from a condition commonly called wanderlust and I was a big fan of the Czech writer Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being), and going through his writings I came across his book Life is Elsewhere,” McQuade told the Sentinel..
“When Covid came along and we were locked down, it really crystallised that longing to be anywhere but where you are.”
Since the demise of Deckchairs Overboard in 1985, McQuade was involved in providing the singing voice for two of the lead actors in the groundbreaking ABC-TV series Sweet and Sour, where she would start to find her voice as a featured instrument, after years of supplying support vocals for Deckchairs.
“When I was younger and working in the rock industry, there was a real pressure to have a rock chick voice, everything had a percussive hard edge, and I knew that I never had that,” McQuade said.
“It was a journey to find the more smoky and intimate aspects of my voice, which is where I wanted to live.”
In Deckchairs, McQuade was known for her slinky bass style, but she knew that she wanted to broaden her musical knowledge far away from pop.
In 2018, she released her first solo CD Perfect Storm, a dark collection of wrought tales of love and loss, musically spanning classical, jazz and Latin genres.
That same year McQuade, composed and recorded the score for Brendan Young’s 30-minute noir thriller The Widow, which gained her 14 International film festival awards for the music. (The film itself garnered 180 awards.)
“A few years ago, I studied jazz harmony because I wanted to learn more interesting, harmonic ways of moving around songwriting,” McQuade said.
“If you look at the verse, the bridge and the chorus of ‘Life Is Elsewhere’, they all move in different key centres and that makes the song feel like it is developing.
“I can play a drum programmer and a bit of guitar and play bass and do the singing and hand percussion, but there is something that happens when you engage someone to be part of the project,” McQuade said.
With McQuade writing on piano and building the song on Logic, she then felt that it was time to call in ex-Crystal Set keyboardist Davey Ray Moor and ex-Wet Taxis guitarist Penny Ikinger.
Of Ikinger, McQade said: “She plays feedback and works her guitar in a way that I wouldn’t know how to do – it’s more sonics than notes and feedback is not easy to contain.”
Davey Ray Moor now lives in the UK and plays with London-based band Cousteau.
“Davey said that the drums were letting the track down and he sent back a file with this real theatrical timpani and snare roll, and it was so different from the way that I had conceived it, it just took it to another level,” McQuade said.
For Brendan Young, the challenge to making the clip was set against some of the harshest lockdown laws ever enforced in Australia, something they both supported and are grateful to the Andrews Government for implementing.
“The important thing about the clip is that it is there to complement Cathy’s song, and it was born out of pretty severe lockdown circumstances, and it was this massive challenge to make the clip under these circumstances, “ Young said.
“When we were in lockdown there was a strong police presence on the streets and in public spaces.
“What we were facing meant that there had to be no crew because of issues with the police, and there was also the fact that you need permits to shoot in most parts of the city.”
Young, who has a long career as a director of big budget television commercials, TV series and documentaries, was used to handling big format cameras and large scale equipment – but suddenly found himself having to shoot guerrilla style, with just McQuade as the focus.
He found himself producing a stylish and high quality clip, that is in perfect simpatico with McQuade’s song, on his iPhone 12, using custom lenses, a small DJI gimbal and a drone.
“In this way I could be standing on a street corner and I would unfold my gimbal, place my phone and look around and then shoot Cathy,” Young said.
“If we saw cars coming, we would quickly mask up and I would put the gimbal under my large coat.
“I have worked on all scales of production but this got to the point where I found it really exhilarating and liberating.”
In some ways Covid assisted the clip, as some of the city shots, such as those in the Parliament underground railway station, would have been otherwise impossible, as thousands of people would normally be in the station at any one time.
Travel restrictions meant that just a handful would now disembark, allowing Young to capture McQuade in the futuristic looking tunnels.
“We were loitering with intent,” Young said.
Like the drive off at the end of Blade Runner, the clip for ‘Life Is Elsewhere’ ends up outside the urban environment in lonely redwood forests located outside of Melbourne.
“I wanted to introduce this dreamlike glide with an element of disruption as Cathy dreams her way to another zone,” Young said.
“The idea was to be there when no-one was there, and we ended up in a forest devoid of humanity.”
Life is elsewhere.
Song: ‘Life Is Elsewhere’
Album: Life Is Elsewhere EP
Artist: Catherine McQuade
Music video: Directed, edited and photographed by Brendan Young
Licensed to YouTube by CD Baby (on behalf of Catherine McQuade