Ladonna Rama - Animals - Track by Track
The first track on my new album is the title track “Animals”. It’s a slow builder that conjures darker, sweaty images of clubbing in dingy underground Sydney bars around the late 90s. When I was writing it I was thinking about Club Kooky at 77 on Sunday nights and every other night of the week at Phoenix Bar. These were my staple diet amongst many others. As the 90s moved into the noughties Kooky continued its transformation through various guises and locations and has since transcended to legend status. The Phoenix became more about newer parties like Loose Ends which also continues as if it’s bursting at the seams. I wanted to capture that immersive dark, disco journey that we crave and die for, intertwining disjointed flashes of dear dancefloor friends and fiends. See if you can identify the characters in the track. All the party animals have their formative years on the dance floor. These are mine.
2. Zentai Suit
I released it as a single (with a video of me writhing around in an electric blue zentai suit) in early 2020 on the cusp of COVID mania and called it "a sci-fi house anthem for ambiverts". While this sounds well and good the hunnies from Yeah I Know it Sucks had other ideas in their classy and heartfelt review. Read on!
"The incredibly clever Ladonna Rama has come up with an intelligent solution that will avoid embarrassing stares and keep you completely covered from unwanted virus exchange! Ladonna Rama uses an all enclosing Zentai Suit to go into the health hazard that is the outside world and the jungle that is the local supermarket, fully protecting this performance artist from top to toe and probably still freaking out some people along the way, possibly providing a nice smile here and there on the hidden faces of other shop-for-your-life shoppers! It used to be unthinkable or considered super kink, but in times like these it’s simply a smart move. Tadaa! Kink has saved the day! The kinky mind of Ladonna Rama is saving lives! Who would have thought?"
3. Get up on It
This one has been hanging around for a few years. Must have been early 2018 when this one materialized. I’ve been asking people their favourite album tracks and this one comes up a lot! I worked it over a few times and hesitated to release because I imagined it to have more lyrics and the arpeggiator sounds a little too close to my 2016 single “I’m on a Mission”. But I’ve been listening to it for a year on my phone to and from work on the train and got hooked on the current mix/master. There’s another version of this floating around with extra lyrics that I belt out Pete Burns style which will probably surface over the next few months. PS I’ll meet you around the back...
4. Sharon Says No
Aaron Manhattan is the Sharon of "Sharon Says No". The first time I saw Aaron was at a performance night organized by Justin Shoulder in the back bar of the Imperial. From (hazy) memory she was wearing construction site overalls and literally lighting matches on stage to Maniac (please correct me if I’m wrong). Where was the first time you saw Sharon? The first time we had a proper conversation was when she squeezed into the queue for the secret Lady Gaga gig in one of those dreadful bars on Oxford St. Aaron declared that Lady Gaga had created the ultimate pop album with “Born This Way”. Who was I to disagree? When I played Sharon this new track she said she really liked it. “You know I love this sorta shit” were her actual words. So if YOU like a bit of camp, minimal house with a roll call of names go check it out and judge for yourself! Perhaps you’ll find you like it or maybe it’s a no from you too? Word to Sharon - who made you the monarch?
5. Scream Louder
Not many lyrics on this one. More focus on the dance floor grind! Made this one when I was at Hardie St in Darlinghurst, recording the vocal hook from the bed. That room was cavernous and cold. Full of strange reflections. So the best place to record vocals was either in bed or under the doona (literally) for the soft surroundings and a dry take. Trust me it gets hot under there with all that equipment buzzing 🤤@gladbeast said the vocal reminded him of Divine which hadn’t occurred to me. I really love that unapologetic Divine sound and SAW production and want to emulate it more obviously in a future track. I released “Scream Louder” in January with the techy/acid @multicoremusic Mix featuring @altin__gmusic guitar work. The music video is probably a little disturbing but I wasn’t intending that. Was thinking more about sensuality, skin and surfaces rather than penetration and sticky insides but hey! My favourite part of the song is the change around 2:45 when it kicks up a notch. I see myself going further inside somewhere out there in the disco zone... distant synthetic guitars crash behind the beat... dancing inside my headphones in my bedroom with the door closed.
6. Move Your Body
Sometimes I need to give myself a boot in the derrière, shut down the mind shit and get my body moving. I often go through periods of inertia and yeah it’s valid or whatever but I know it’s about not taking responsibility for myself. THE VICTIM is a theme I revisit in my songs blah blah blah. It’s an easy/lazy option to relinquish control. Is it a privilege to recognize it... to be able to step away from it? Probably. I’ve trained myself to acknowledge toxic and tiresome thought patterns that I need to SHAKE out of. Literally! Like many of us, dancing is one of the tools I use to free myself. I mean, I used to dance in front of the mirror for hours but I haven’t done that in years. There’s nothing tooooo deep going on here but a funky groove and an arpeggiated synth hook that I duplicated and transposed down for the bassline. Throw in an overused ONJ reference and some tacky positive-affirmation mantras lifted directly from a self-help blog for the pre-chorus and Bob’s your uncle, Jill’s your aunty! Had somebody close to me in mind when I started writing this but how dare my ego get all preachy! As often happens I realized it was all about me anyway (and you).
7. Stuck in the Groove
I released “Stuck in the Groove” with a video shot during the first soft lockdown in Tokyo. A Ladonna lockdown day in the life inside her tiny apartment. There’s never really been a strict or enforced lockdown in Tokyo, only guidelines and suggestions, but for the most part, when the govt ask people to do something they generally follow suit. It’s only been recently the govt introduced an 8pm curfew for bars and restaurants. I imagine Uber Eats are laughing but the Karaoke bars aren’t. A few pollies resigned after getting busted drinking at a girlie club and pachinko parlors that don’t comply are NAMED AND SHAMED (that kinda backfired by revealing to gamblers exactly where they could get their fix in these “trying times”). Anyway... I found the melody and groove of the track when I was singing in the shower. It started out as pop/soul/funk (major key) in the vein of George Michael’s “Star People”. I could see hot, well dressed, background singers, getting into a stripped back version as I belted out the lyrics perched on a stool. As I tapped my tambourine on my thigh, relaxed and happy, performing my mid-to-late career MTV Unplugged session in a well lit studio, an intimate audience of die-hard fans sang along, clapping in time. As the song developed I was writing midi parts with an electric guitar plug-in and realized I could really inject some SEX into it with the real thing. I was lucky to find @altin__gmusic the Working Guitarist on Fiverrr. He replayed the parts and added some of his own hot licks. The result makes me salivate. Take me back to lockdown. Make it hard not soft.
When my Japanese teacher was looking at photos of me in drag she said “I know a good word for you - abazure”. It means loose woman, floozy or slut in Japanese. I released “Abazure” at the end of last year with some really hot remixes by @hectictracks , @multicoremusic and @ivinmusic and a video showcasing the Ladonna Mask insta filter designed by @n40m1o. I had the bones of the instrumental ready to go for a few years but hadn’t sequenced it. I wanted to add some lyrics. Nothing too major. Just a few vocal hooks with a bit of a sexy vibe. I wanted more focus on the dreamy arps and a mood inspired by 80s/90s techno artists like The Orb and 808 State - trippy and synthetic. The whistle melody you can hear at the end is a vocal line pitched up about 5 octaves. I generally assume a more dominant voice as Ladonna on most tracks (cos she’s a bit like that) but for this one she’s a tad coy and flips a little. By the end of the track I imagine her there alone in her boudoir crooning and whistling to herself...
9. Dirty Mirror
“Dirty Mirror” is based on real life stories of when I used to dress up and go looking for trade. The quotes in the story come from two guys in particular. One of them I met when I was living in Darlinghurst on Bourke St during a bit of a wild alcohol-soaked period. I met him at the Oxford Hotel and took him back to my place. Soon after we were getting down I went to remove my wig cos, ya know, having sex with all that shit on isn’t very comfy! He said “honey keep your wig on”... so I did... He proudly revealed later that he was getting married the next day (this was before gay marriage) and I was his last fling. I think it was his way of telling me I was special but I doubt I was his last “girl”. I asked if his fiancé knew he was into “girls” but I already knew the answer to that. I was just twisting the knife in but ya know... who was I to judge? The second guy was a lovely soul I met while clubbing at an infamous night called Kaos at Stunners in London - an incredible club where admirers meet the girl of their dreams and slip out to the backroom 💦 @maxempson took me there. This guy was being hit on by some gay dudes which really annoyed him. He said he was only into girls like me. I was wearing my leather jacket, fluoro green hair and matching dress borrowed from @the.blonde.spirit 💋 Kaos reminded me of that old goth club Sanctuary that was in Wynyard station yonks ago - heavy, dark, industrial dance but without the trans girls and their admirers (or the backroom). I made the instrumental a few years earlier for a friend’s fashion show. He wanted something minimal, dark and cerebral. It was originally called “Retention”. I love it as an instrumental but it was begging for a story and I’ve always wanted to tell this one.
“Akuma” means devil or evil spirit in Japanese. It’s track 10 on my new album “Animals” and I sing most of it in Japanese. The bassline came first. As often happens, it popped up in the shower! I was listening to INXS “Kick” a lot and singing “Need You Tonight” at karaoke. I think that slow, raunchy vibe has rubbed off. I worked out the lyrics in a very different way. I wrote out a story to a lover (in very simple English) detailing a typical week together to express my current happiness. As the story progresses it becomes a little darker. I admit to past mistakes and offer an apology touching on alcohol abuse. I took the lyrics to my language teacher and we worked out a way to translate them and get them to rhyme. A little back and forth between my teacher and my best friend Google Translate and voila a new song was born! This was a really exciting way to work and a great language learning exercise lol. Go have a listen to my best gaijin pronunciation (actually I’ve improved since then haha).
11. Bona Fide
I’m gonna keep this one short n sweet cos this is the shortest track on the albu, clocking in at 2:12 making it my shortest track ever. It’s very downbeat and a little dramatic. The first verse (if you could call it that) was written about 20 years ago. It’s a play on the “someday my prince will come” trope. “Bona Fide” came about after listening to Daniel Johns’ “Preach” on repeat but I think it turned out more like Portishead. My hard drive is hiding a vocaloid version that Miku Hatsune sings on and a piano version duetting with @n40m1o 💋 It’s all a bit Tori Amos! Can’t wait to share them with you.
This one started out as an instrumental in major key. A friend needed an epic, Tim Burton-esque, ice-princess anthem for a doco. He either hated it or didn’t open the email. I took it as a sign to push it further, switched everything to minor key, changed the arrangement and kept it for myself. It all sounded a bit fragile and gorgeous with the harps and mallets so as I started adlibbing over it I came up with the phrase “I’m as fragile as a boy can be”. This was a way into the story as images of paranoia, dread and insecurity surfaced (mine and others). I remembered a lover from a very long time ago, strung out on speed, clinging to me in bed, convinced his enemies had travelled interstate and were waiting for him outside my bedroom window. He knew it wasn’t rational but he knew they were there. The image in the outro is of thawing out and melting into a reluctant acceptance. It isn’t really a happy ending but it’s honest in its recognition of the predicament. Wow that all got a bit heavy! It’s not all that morose! Go have a listen if you love yourself some campy harps, mallets and strings 🎻
13. Deliver Me
This one is mostly about the rising synth arpeggio. Now, it’s no secret I love myself a hot arpeggiator plug-in. I was messing around with Ableton one evening a few years ago in my bedroom at Hardie St in Darlinghurst and this one popped out! Yes, I’m a bedroom producer. In fact, I like to say I’m a bed producer. Literally. Yeah, I know we’re told never to work in bed but c’mon. Also, if you don’t have much of a set up for recording vocals it’s a good spot with all the pillows stacked. Whack on some noise reduction and voila! When the synth hook materialized I jumped out of bed and turned this baby up for a bedroom boogie. Adlibbed the “deliver me” refrain while I was boogying and later on wrote a few couplets about repeating toxic patterns. I have a lot of songs about that... maybe it’s time to hang up that theme...
So yeah! Thank you for reading my song stories! It’s been a lot of fun reflecting on the tracks. Useful too. Go stream my new album “Animals” everywhere AND hold on to your fascinators cos there’s tonnes more stuff screaming to be released from the confines of my hard drive! Thanks so much for all your support! It feeds me.