Titling a pair of albums Meat and Milk is a statement.
For Hawksley Workman, it signals a suite of aggressive, masculine songs that are balanced with a corresponding vulnerability.
For example, You Don’t Just Want to Break Me is a “lucky moment” captured on record — an intense performance coaxed from Workman by his co-producer and studio engineer, Stew Crookes. The pair were drinking beers in the studio, brainstorming how to approach the vocal delivery. Originally written in Tasmania, the track was conceived on a long walk home after a particularly aggressive Nick Cave concert.
“I wanted the song to be on par with (Nick Cave’s) delivery. I never sing notes that high, so they are the result of me being a bit inebriated in the studio and trying that. It does something to my voice —tightens it up a bit,” he said. “I’m a bit worried about how to perform that song live ... Stew (Crookes) is a guru — one of those guys who always has the recording button engaged at the right time.”
Compared to its counterpart, Milk (which was produced in Stockholm by an “electro-pop guru”), Meat is a banging record that often recalls TV on the Radio or Justice. Workman said the album’s sound was inspired in part by Crookes’ hero David Friedman, who crafted the sound of neo-psychedelic groups like The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev.
The goal was to apply Friedman’s style to a “bombastic, belligerent sound,” and the resulting mix of intensity and tenderness comes across in songs like Depress My Hangover, where gospel singers counterpoint gritty production. Workman grew up listening to Motown, and wanted the song, which tells a story of a couple living in a cheap downtown apartment “locked away from the self-importance of the outside world” and drinking away their days, to reflect that spiritual passion.
Perhaps the cleanest-sounding song on the record is album opener Song for Sarah Jane. Recorded backstage at the Union Chapel, an old church in London, England, Workman wrote the song for a friend of the same name.
“I was sitting backstage there, and recorded that song there using a little handheld recorder,” said Workman. “I played the song on a piano backstage, while the tech guys were loading a PA onto the stage — that’s what you hear (in the background). I knew there was no way I’d be able to record it again like that, it was so honest, so I kept that version.”