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Track by Track: Rob Hirst & Sean Sennett ‘Crashing the Same Car Twice’

Midnight Oil drummer, Rob Hirst, and pop surrealist Sean Sennett walk us through their new garage rock collaboration.

Following a songwriting partnership that goes back several years, Midnight Oil drummer Rob Hirst and Brisbane-based singer/songwriter Sean Sennett recently released their debut collaboration, Crashing the Same Car Twice. As Michael Dwyer points out in his review, the result is a rollicking garage rock record, with Hirst’s “pummelling propulsion” matched by the sinister and surreal twist Sennett takes to his usual pop lyric palette.

“They write songs about crashed cars and crushed hearts”, Hirst states of the partnership, continuing his third-person perspective of their raw, minimal foundation by adding that “they play songs that start before the band is ready and end before the neighbours complain.”

We recently sat down with Hirst to find out more about the tales behind the tracks of Crashing the Same Car Twice (with the former Oilsman happy to continue his external examination of his own work.)

All words below by Rob Hirst and Sean Sennett. ‘Crashing the Same Car Twice’ is out now.

“When Darkness Comes”
“Just as the band were about to pack up their instruments, on what turned out to be the final day of recording, Jason Millhouse recalled a song than Sean had played him a few days earlier on an acoustic guitar. Rob sat back down on the drum kit and Sean demonstrated the tune. The song was recorded in a take or two. The lyric was inspired by a story of a coal miner in the North of England who had survived three cave-in’s leading up to WWII.”

“Call to Arms”
“In the mid-seventies two rival bands lit up opposite ends of Sydney’s Oxford Street, Radio Birdman and Midnight Oil. ‘Call To Arms’ is the first song ever to be co-written by key members from both of those bands. Deniz Tek’s killer riff seems to capture what the Rolling Stones were up to around the time of Paint It Black.”

“Who’s Sorry Now?”
“Rob and Sean first met at a songwriters workshop at Mt Macedon. They had dinner and the next day set about writing a song. Rob brought his omni-chord: which he had previously used to write such Midnight Oil staples as ‘Mountains of Burma’, ‘Outbreak of Love’ and ‘Bedlam Bridge’. Together the pair wrote ‘Who’s Sorry Now?’ in a couple of hours. They recorded a demo in Michael Gudinski’s country house and underlined the song as being one of the first they would commit to tape when they got around to recording Crashing The Same Car Twice.”

“Crashing the Same Car Twice”
“The title track was recorded at Black Box Studios in Brisbane with Jeff Lovejoy (Powderfinger/Regurgitator/ Tex Perkins) playing guitar and recording. The song captures a certain ‘Brisbane’ sound that emanated from the city around the late 70’s. There’s a swagger in the playing that matches the intensity of the performance. The song was finished off by the pair in a disused printers workshop in Fortitude Valley.”

“The Thing That Gets Me Down is Boredom”
“This song somehow captures the sheer joy of four grown men in a room playing primeval rock and roll. It should be stressed, this isn’t rock we’re talking about. This is rock n’ roll that was inspired by the original architects of the genre such as Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. If ever Hirst and Sennett play the Reeperbahn, they will open with this song.”

“White Phosphor Fireworks”
“‘White Phosphor Fireworks’ sounds like a sonic tip of the hat to Rob’s favourite band, the Who, and also manages to sound like a lost Midnight Oil classic… mixed with a power pop chorus that recalls Big Star. Rob has described the song, the most political on the album, as ‘unapologetically complaint rock’. ‘The Americans, the Russians and the Israelis have all used white phosphorus weapons,” he explains, “bombs that cause terrible burns – against enemy soldiers and civilians. Chemical warfare is inhumane and unconscionable: it must end’.”

“Beautiful Girl (She Sleeps on Her Breath)”
“If any song shows Rob and Sean working alone and together as songwriters, it is this one. Sean wrote the verses, which thunder along in true garage rock fashion, while Rob wrote the refrain which acts as a wonderful sonic counterpoint. Sean’s lyrics focus on an obsession with lust and materialism, while Rob has woven in lines that were in part, ‘attributed to the native American Indians, when they first saw a settler use a blow-up mattress’.”

“B Is For Bright Light”
“A first take. ‘B Is For Bright Light’ is built on a mutant play on the Bo Diddley beat. The lyrics were connected using each letter of the alphabet in a cut up technique. The inspiration is revealed on the line ‘She’s all the letters from A to Z’. There’s something thrilling about this recording as you can hear the changes being called live ‘off mic’ on the final mix.”

“Jane Asher Said”
“Jane Asher is an English actress who has had songs written about her before. Sean wrote a new one which is built around ‘Jane’ asking a series of questions, making statements and observing the world around her. ‘Good morning Señor Magritte’ refers to the fact that surrealist did visit her street sometime in early 1960’s, though it’s unlikely the pair met. The tune showcases Derek Haas’ fine work on bass.”

“You Don’t Know Me”
“You can file this one under ‘garage rock’. It’s here Hirst + Sennett capture the vibe of proto-punks The Seeds and drag it into 2015. Jason Millhouse’s guitar is searing. ‘Caught myself driving down the wrong way/caught myself chasing the white line”… yeah, we’ve all felt like that at some point in our lives.”