Finally, six months after our recent teaser, Dundee folk punk rocker Derrick Johnston (aka TRAGICAL HISTORY TOUR) is finally ready to unveil his new work called “Aphorisms” (Make That A Take Records, Aaahh!! Real Records, Team Beard Record), and we’re thrilled to present it in its full glory below!
Recorded and produced by John Harcus (PMX), “Aphorisms” tells intimate tales of life, love, loss, death and redemption with slashing punk chords and folk-influenced finger-picking, like Leatherface covering Leadbelly, defined by Derrick’s distinctive warm gravel tones and unique dual-octave vocal delivery. We have teamed up with Derrick to give you the full insightful tour through the themes and stories embedded into “Aphorisms” and you can learn them right away through the track-by-track feature below!
FIGHT FOR LIGHT
I’ve been performing as Tragical History Tour for fifteen years now and “Aphorisms” is the first full-length I’ve ever made. It’s been a long path to get here, through broken bands and relationships, life, death and everything in between, so this song is my endeavour to lay the table and set out my stall. I grew up in a small town in Highland Perthshire called Alyth, literally “A Light”, and this song is my attempt to distill fifteen years of history into one song. My late father was a golfer and “Fight For Light” is full of referneces pertaining such. It’s also quite literal, when I was homeless my father gave me refuge. To my mind, this is my version of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. Like it or not, Coleridge will always occupy some of my brain space.
COME ON HOME, HERO
This was written the day after the Brexit referendum and released the day that the UK triggered Article 50 to begin the process of leaving the European Union. I believe in the right to self-determination, but I also believe in the power of self-destruction, something that I’m initimately aware of. I’ve spent the last year playing this song across the length and breadth of the UK, to some interesting reactions, varying by region, much like the Brexit vote itself. There seems to exist the preconception that as someone who is pro-Scottish independence, one is anti-English, which to me is just a nonsense as my father was English. I need no more reasons to self-loathe, I’ve got that one in the bag. This song is very much an expression of exasperation and frustration. It’s also pretty much the only straight-up pop-punk song on the record and one that is really fun to play live, especially with the full band.
I never met my father’s mother and my mother’s mother lived with dementia and passed when I was a teenager, twenty years ago this month. This song is my imagined conversation with my two grandmothers, telling them what I’ve been up to over the last fifteen years on the Tragical History Tour and how my depression is something that I’ve learned to live with and process over the time they’ve been gone. I don’t really remember the process of writing this song, it came out in a stream of consciousness that I think is reflected in the lyrics. “Old Words” was released as an EP with three b-sides recorded live at Kesbri Studios back in October. For me, it’s one of the key songs on the record and, while I acknowledge that self-harm, mental health and a non-cyclical song structure doesn’t necessarily make for single material, for me, this song has a power and with it, I aim for healing. I’ll never forget the words my grandmother said to me in her moments of lucidity and I’m forever grateful. This song is my attempt to say “thank you”.
To me, this song is a brutal reminder of where I’ve been and where I never want to go again. This song was written by me and Jamie from Uniforms, and was indeed originally a Uniforms song that originally appeared on the “Pink Couch” EP, which was never “properly” finished, as it was released after Uniforms broke up, the irony now being that Uniforms are back together. I’ve played this song acoustically more than it was ever played with the band, and it was for that reason, after many discussions with my bandmates, that it was recorded for this album. To me, it’s a very important part of the narrative; it’s about a near-death experience in Denver, Colorado and the subsequent madness that ensued on our US Tour with Loaded 45 back in 2012, when we flew to the States the day after my father’s funeral. That tour was simultaneously the greatest and very worst experience of my life, a physical and mental challenge the likes of which I hope never to face again. Playing this song feels like transcendence, exploring the outer reaches of consciousness when letting fly with the vocals at the end. Every time I play this song, it feels like an exorcism. Slay your demons.
WHAT WOULD VINNIE MAC DO?
The title of this song is a pro-wrestling reference; the show must go on. I wrote this song the day after Uniforms broke up in early 2015. That band shaped our collective existence for the four super intense years that we were together; we essentially lived in a van together and bonded in a way that is difficult to articulate to others and my devastation at our demise was tempered only by my resolve to plough ahead on the Tragical History Tour. I’ve always played in punk rock bands whilst also performing as Tragical History Tour, from the pop-punk of The Try Hards to the raging ska-core of Joey Terrifying and the asphalt-burning desperation of Uniforms. This is a song about having no regrets, about being grateful for the challenges that we face and being thankful for having been afforded the pleasure of the experience in the first place, and refers lyrically to “The Fear” by Uniforms. I wrote this song to process grief, for my best friend and for myself.
This is the one-taker on the record. I wasn’t keen on putting this song on the album in the first instance, as it was also a Uniforms song, but John Harcus (PMX, producer) talked me round to giving it a go. This is another example of a song that became a THT song rather than a Uniforms one, and it was indeed originally written acoustically. I was massively on the fence about it until John encouraged me to give it a go, I was fairly grumpy about it but relented, and I’m massively glad that I did so as, to my mind, this is the definitive version of the song. I’m exceedingly grateful to John for encouraging me to do so, this song is such an important part of the narrative and my journey, as it was one of the first written when I got sober, after my final brutal near-death experience. It’s about playing punk rock in pursuit of wellness, how music can be that transcendent place where we can lay our demons to rest, to eviscerate ghosts that haunt us and to find a place of comfort within the existential suffering. Music can set you free and heal your pain. This is my attempt to give myself to that process.
IT’S COOL, I’VE GOT THIS
This is a diffcult one for me and it touches on several fairly dark themes; violence, repression, tradition, denial, abuse; but ultimately I think it’s a positive exhortation and meditation upon accountability. Transformation is real if you give yourself to it, we are not pre-determined to behave or present in a particular way, these things are walls that we build around ourselves. This song is my attempt to face down some of the darker influences in my psyche, a way to process trauma and reconcile being true to oneself with the expectations of others in a world of suffering. This is possibly one of the more existentialst songs on the record, where I feel I’m at my most naked, exposed and vulnerable. For that reason, I think it’s an important song, a reflection upon the preconception of stoicism being “alpha” and how that perception is not reflected in my reality. To me, this is a seismic moment, reconciling twenty five years of otherness, and a means of conquering fear.
MY LITTLE RAY OF SUNSHINE
Every classic hip-hop record has a beef song and this is mine. More often than not, we want to give the people we care about the benefit of the doubt, to afford others the same compassion that has been afforded ourselves, to do what we can with what we’ve got and to give ourselves completely to something, be it a project, an idea, a relationship, a vision or whatever else. I fall short of my ideals every day and am intimitely aware of my shortcomings; it’s something I and everyone else has to face on a daily basis. The struggle is real. I’ve used the phrase “I’m an all or nothing motherfucker” so many times in the past and I know I’m guilty of projecting those same values on others, which often-times leads to disappointment, something that I know comes with carrying the weight of expectation. This song is an expression of that frustration, both with oneself and another with whom you are emotionally involved, and regret at the best-laid plans falling apart. Songwriting is the method by which I filter the noisy chatter of my brain and heart, a way to process what I actually think and feel. Writing this song allowed me to emotionally process disaster whilst cleansing my palette for fresh challenges. This was a really fun song to record and John encouraged me to indulge some of my sillier musical ideas, including a key change at the end. Ye cannae beat hip-hop beats on a cajun drum!
“To thine own self be true” is a direct quote from “The Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous. I “enjoyed” a glittering fifteen year alcoholic career, destroying not only thousands of brain cells and obliterating thousands of pounds, but also corroding relationships, friendships, career opportunities, possibilitiies, hopes, dreams and very nearly life itself. I’ve been sober for over four years now, the best choice I’ve ever made, but when the time came it really wasn’t a decision or a choice at all, it was stop or die. Death is easy, life is hard. This is my affirmation to life, a personal manifesto of sorts, and a plea for accountability, unity and togetherness. I couldn’t have attained sobriety for myself, those who loved and supported me through the absolute worst period of my life will always have my loyalty, love and respect, but I could never have gotten to that place at the behest of others; I had to come to that moment of realisation for myself. Hence, “no advice”. One must learn, analyse, conclude and live for oneself. Nobody can do it for you. “All paths to the end”; a Kaddish reference and broken-hearted desperate attempt to try and make sense of senseless suffering. Stopping drinking was the single greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I could not be more grateful to be alive.
THE FINAL INTERVENTION
Energy doesn’t die, it transforms. This is a plea for peace, a call for total liberation and an attempt reconcile ideology with reality, and to tie together the hands of time and lived experience, to acknowledge and accept the interconnectedness of all things. We face grave existential threats, mental illness, alienation, desperation and hopelessness. This is an attempt to transcend fear. I learned to sing in school, taught by a wonderful lady named Janey MacFarlane, to whom I shall be forever grateful, and sang often in church as a boy,. Church was where I had my first apocalypse fantasies as a child, something that periodically persists to this day, especially when my depression hits hard. This is my attempt to reconcile those childhood experiences, which often come back to me in the most unexpected and inappropriate moments, with both my own lived reality and that of the world at large. For me, despite my atheism, I can’t shake biblical imagery and, indeed, studied English, Religious Studies and Philosophy at university, something that has always spilled over into my writing. If humankind has the potential to create paradise on earth, then we’re squandering that potential, turning the garden into purgatory. Possibly for the first time, however, I feel there is hope. Transformation is real, we must fight to do so, to create new opportunities and be the change we want to see in the world. Despite the existential nightmare of human existence, we are our own agents of change in the battle between hope and faith. To me, “The Final Intervention” is an affirmation to life and love. We are all we have.