song stories #3 The Drones, 'Shark Fin Blues'

The Drones’ song, ‘Shark Fin Blues’ is – turbulent.

It begins deceptively, an edgy calm, before becoming a roaring, rough swell, big waves threatening to pull you under kind of song.  

The Drones @ Sydney Opera House 24/05/15 / Photo By Prudence Upton

The Drones @ Sydney Opera House 24/05/15 / Photo By Prudence Upton

Lead singer/songwriter Gareth Liddiard seems pretty laid back, but on the subject of this song, he’s irascible saying he wouldn’t mind dropping it from the set because he’s sick of playing it! The fact it’s become iconic – voted the best Australian song ‘ever’ by Australian musicians in 2009 – is a little ironic. And I think Liddiard would dig the irony.

So why has it captured people’s imaginations?

It’s potent, full of drama and Liddiard’s singing is intense and compelling. You get sucked into its maws as they bite and clench your gut and squeeze. It’s a song that takes you for a ride and spits you out.

The song whirls with darkness, unease and a kind of desperate futility. Drenched with a hypnotic, emotional undercurrent, it grabs you, willing you to surrender to the wild and darkly teeming waters.

It’s a song to get lost in. It’s powerful and passionate.

When Liddiard wrote the song he admits he wasn’t in a great place as his mother had recently passed away. The tone of despair and loss permeates the song as the protagonist/sailor ruminates about his impending demise. To write it, Liddiard employed a songwriting trick of writing his own lyrics over an existing song by Karen Dalton, ‘Same Old Man’ (1970). He kept the meter and rhyming pattern of Dalton’s song as well as one line, ‘I’m floating away on a barrel of pain’. At the end of the songwriting process, Liddiard had created something completely different.

Regarding his songwriting, Liddiard says it’s like, ‘biting off more than I can chew - then chewing like crazy’.