Shona Mona Mae
"Shona Mona Mae" started life as simple bluesy chord pattern on the acoustic guitar that I came up with in the studio while my producer Joe was mixing another track we were working on. I kept playing it over and over, trying to come up with a melody that fit when Joe chimed in with what would become the opening verse. I have no idea how he came up with the name 'Shona Mona Mae', but it sounded like a good beginning for an old-school blues-rock song about a girl who drives you crazy, so we went with it.
It ended up being the first song we ever wrote together (and only the third song that I've ever co-written with someone else). Between sessions we would email each other with lyric ideas, suggesting tweaks and alternative lines, and when we met in the studio we would jam through it and figure out the structure and arrangement. I'm very proud of the final track, particularly the ending, which departs from the blues-rock feel of the bulk of the song into something more hazy and atmospheric - it's a bit like the coda of my song "Down Days" (with added "Great Gig In The Sky"-apeing falsetto ad-libbing!)
Four Chords Max
This song grew out of a throwaway gag on one of the 'Making Of' videos I made while I was recording 'The World Through A Mirror' (it's 9 minutes 55 seconds into Part 3) - we were recording a song which only used four chords, and when I tried to add a fifth one Joe pointed to a crude sign on his wall which said 'Four Chords Max(imum)'. I thought about how that could also be someone's nickname, and so I tried to come up with a song about this mysterious 'Max' character.
In keeping with the title, I tried to limit the number of chords in the song to four (I even mentioned the chords I used in the lyrics - E minor, D, G and C, although I slightly cheated by using Cmaj7 as well). This song was also my unashamed attempt to write a Bob Dylan-style ballad, using a simple tune to tell a story. I originally intended for it to an extremely-stripped down arrangement (just vocals, acoustic guitar and harmonica, like a lot of Dylan's early recordings), but, as always, Joe and I couldn't help but embellish it a tad - the final arrangement includes three guitar parts, two harmoniums, a piano and drums!
Lyrically, it's a story about wandering busker with the ability to make magical music despite his technically limited skills (not a big-headed reference to myself, I promise!). When we were arranging the middle 8, Joe pointed out that the military-style drumming and the chorus of whistlers we added implied that Max was a vagabond army veteran seeking a happier, simpler life through music. That hadn't occured to me when I was writing it, but I like the extra dimension it gives the song. Like most 'simple' songs Joe and I attempt to record, 'Four Chords Max' was very hard to get right (the volume of the whistling and the reverb of the kick-drum were particularly troublesome), but we got there in the end.
Similarly, the cover of the single, which looks very simple, was also incredibly hard and frustrating to make. I wanted the three double-singles I released in 2015 ('Mae & Max', 'Young & Old' and 'Merry & Happy') to have covers that were a variation on a theme, and my original idea was to take photographs of male-female couples on a park bench, to represent either the characters or the themes of the songs. However, finding people willing/able to pose for the pictures and trying to schedule the photo shoots was a nightmare, so in the end I found a program online where you can create custom avatar faces and I designed what became the final cover. Part of me wishes I had persevered with the original idea, but I'm very happy with the new covers, and they certainly have a simplicity and consistency that the couple photographs probably wouldn't have had.