After a string of singles including Coffee & Codeine (which was released alongside their own coffee), This House and Protect Yr Own, BRUTALLIGATORS have releseased their long-awaiting debut album titled This house is too big, this house is too small. Coming from a very specific place, a lot of the songs on THITBTHITS were started in a period of intense loss and heartache at the beginning of 2020. For frontperson and lyricist, Luke Murphy, what started as an outpouring of grief, anger, hurt and loss, ended up as a study of the dying years of a relationship, ultimately leading to acceptance and understanding, both of the situation and themself.
The Hertfordshire based pile of limbs, Brutalligators, formed in the dying embers of 2016 by vocalist Luke Murphy, guitarist Paul Wade, bassist Simon Lee and drummer Rhys Kirkman. Taking cues from midwestern emo bands like The Promise Ring, high-energy punk like PUP and heart-on-sleeve Australian indie like The Hard Aches, Brutalligators mix it together to play energetic and happy sounding songs about heartbreak, life going wrong and all of the injustices in the world today.
Today, we’re stoked to give you an insightful, full commentary for each and every track from this conscious, confident album that marks a clear step forward for the band and stands as a firm proof of Brutalligators‘ developing talent.
Produced by Tom Hill (Muttering, Death Goals, Modern Rituals, Cassels) in 2020 between lockdowns, the album features friends of Brutalligators, Lily Rae of Fightmilk and Leah Sidebotham lending their vocal talents, and Tom Hammond of Lakes providing brass tracks after guesting on the 2020 Christmas single, Drunk Christmas (Forget This Year).
Luke: The Holiday is one of our simplest, yet most ambitious songs we’ve tried to write. This track started as a blatant Weezer homage, with four chords and lots of shouting. As we started playing with it and putting more light and shade between the sections, we realised we’re going to have to layer this up as much as possible. When we were in the studio we acted like kids in a candy store trying to add anything we could get our hands on in the quiet bits. My personal favourite is Rhys’ piano. The man can touch just about any instrument and make it sound good. The final piece was the intro. We wanted to have a big entrance, as it was always meant to be the album opener. We recorded a terrible one-take my vocals into a tape player, played it back into a microphone and viola.
Lyrically, this sets the tone for the album. Most of the lyrics I write are a mixture of reality, washes of feeling or sentiment and complete fiction, all mixed up together. The Holiday is one that is almost wholly based on a single moment in a bedroom in Japan; a conversation where the bomb was dropped that my marriage was ending. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it took me a few months to accept that. This song was written in that period and was completely born out of anger and a refusal to accept what had happened. Now I read it and think I sound a bit like a petulant child…
Coffee & Codeine
Paul: I wrote the riff for this a few years ago when I was determined to write something in drop D, I think i was probably listening to a lot of Jimmy Eat World at the time. The lyrics for the chorus came first and came about while I was going through a pretty intense break up that left me feeling pretty bereft for a while. I’m sure its a heartbreak cliché but I literally couldn’t bring myself to do anything during that time let alone cook a meal or look after myself, and so I just tried to disassociate from reality as much as possible. The codeine I just happened to have left from an ankle op certainly helped with that. It was a grim time but hey, we got a good song out of it.
The final track is actually sped up about 5bpm using varispeed on a tape machine. I was reading an oral history about the making of ‘So much for the Afterglow’ By Everclear (big childhood record!!) and they talked about how they would record everything first and then speed it up sometimes as much as 10%, and I found that mindblowing. At that time it was slightly irking me that we‘d recorded Coffee a few bpm too slow. So we found a guy that could do it, we tried it and it worked great. Plus it was much cheaper than re-recording it.
Paul: This was a song that took a while to get right. I had the structure and an idea of the vibe I wanted for it but we struggled to find a way into it lyrically for a long time. Luke and I both suffer from anxiety and depression and so we wanted to find a different way of talking about it in a song. One of the things that we have often discussed is our reactions to different meds and how finding the right one for you can sometimes mean a bit or trial and error, and weighing up some of the pros and cons of each one.
One of the most common side effects to certain meds is a lack of sex drive or changes in sexual ‘performance’, and since a lot of music in our genre tend to shy away from explicitly talking about sex in songs we saw it as a fun challenge. We tried to make that first verse as double meaning-y as possible, but it’s pretty blatant. This also meant that I had the opportunity to use my pitch shifter pedal for an erection gag which made the purchase totally worth it.
Luke: I think this is the closest we’ll ever get to doing a straight up emo song. The choruses always remind of Taking Back Sunday for some reason.
Luke: Another post-breakup song. One of the best pieces of advice I received during the breakup was to unfollow my ex on all social media. Of course, I ignored it for ages and spent hours looking through old posts, beating myself up about how great it was, looking for signs for where it went wrong and feeling desperately hopeless. For the second verse, I really wanted to capture the feeling from the other side of the relationship, but also knew it would be a bit gauche to try and write from a woman’s perspective. Step in the amazing Maisie Sayer, who sat on the phone with me for a few hours during lockdown writing the second verse, and unintentionally giving me a couple of hours of free therapy. When it came to recording, we knew we wanted a second voice in the mix, especially for the second verse. Help came from Leah Sidebotham, who lent her perfectly sweet vox to the mix.
Musically, this is probably one of the most indie-adjacent songs we’ve written (It sets well alongside D-Word from the last EP). It was definitely inspired by listening to too much of The Hard Aches, and the inspiring duet with Georgia from Camp Cope on Happy.
Your side of the bed
Paul: This song was definitely the one that I was most nervous about recording, as it felt quite different to our usual sound when we were writing it but, personally, it turned out to be the most fun to record. Because we were recording on and off during 2020, it meant that I ended up going into the studio on my own for a day with Tom, our producer, to track some guitars, which meant we could really spend our time experimenting to get it right. I really wanted this to have a kind of 90’s alt rock vibe, like Brutalligators doing Pavement or something, so we really leant into that and went big on the grungy guitars.
The idea of the song is a pretty simple one, when you break up with someone and they move out you are left with all these spaces that they used to occupy and they can serve as constant reminders of what went wrong. And there’s something inherently tragic about the idea of now having the whole bed to yourself, but still finding yourself sticking to the side you occupied when you were together. It can feel like sleeping next to a ghost.
I think the final 35secs are possibly my favourite part of the record. I wanted it to sound like a real release of pain and frustration and i think we nailed it. Ultimately I really like making noise and I really like layering loads of guitars so this section was very fun to do. Also shout out to Tom Hammond who added some first class trumpeting. The lyrics for the last spoken-word rant were actually stolen for another song that was a blatant rip-off of ‘The Sea Is A Good Place’, but they worked so well here that it just made sense to use them.
Luke: I feel like This House, Helpless/Hopeless and The Holiday are the most personal tracks I’ve written. Lyrically, this was written on a train in Sydney before I even knew the marriage was falling apart. In hindsight, I clearly knew things were wrong but had a blind optimism that I could somehow make everything fine again. The first verse started out as a ‘he said/she said’ duet, with the man pleading that he can fix it and the woman saying it was too late. It was all a bit on the nose (another case of Luke thinking he can write from a woman’s perspective), and we decided to completely rewrite it (which also allowed me to get another Japanese reference in there). The biggest tragedy was that most of Lily Rae from Fighmilk’s delicious vocals ended up on the cutting room floor. You can still hear her in the song, primarily in the harmonies for the outro.
Rewriting the first verse gave the song way more energy, and ended up changing the whole way Tom mixed it. It now mirrors the feelings you get when things are going to shit. Those moments of going between sheer panic and utter despair.
Protect yr Own
Paul: It’s become a bit of a tradition to have a 90 sec rager on our releases, so we wanted to carry on that tradition with the album, especially since there are no shortages of issues to rage against. I think it’s fair to say that we are not fans of the Tories in this band. Boris Johnson is a sorry excuse for a prime minister and a human being. There were many times during the pandemic where it felt like the government was actively trying to kill us with their unique brand of incompetence and total lack of empathy. So we wanted to write a song in response to that. We keep talking about doing a whole release of short punks songs like this.. maybe one day.
Luke: The chorus lyrics are a mish-mash of ridiculous quotes from Boris during his pandemic-era speeches. They’re just so pathetic. We really wanted to include the quotes from his school reports, but they didn’t fit in, so instead, we can do it here: “I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else.” What a twat.
Don’t talk to me
Paul: We had been playing this one for a while before we recorded it so we had a pretty good idea about how we wanted it to sound going in. It was one of the first songs we recorded and its all high energy and big gang vox so id say its pretty much in our wheelhouse as a band.
Luke: We wrote Don’t talk to me around the same time that Yr Poetry released Sons, and it comes from a very similar place (now we can add Comedy by Bo Burnham to the list too). There’s so many straight white men in the music scene, and it gets really boring after a while. Add on top of that that there are so many problematic straight white men, and it becomes really depressing. But then again, I was just another straight white man bitching about how awful it is that there are so many straight white men around. Is it better to call it out and push for things to get better, or should I just sit down and make space for someone less ‘white, penisful and privileged.’
This was also around the time I started to question my identity and whether I really identify as a straight man, and I think that’s pretty clear looking back on these lyrics. I feel like I now need to write a blatant queer anthem.
Luke: Touch Knees is another one that’s been around for years. It was actually written about how I met my ex, which made it a bit of a weird one to include on an album that felt like it thematically centred around the divorce. I really struggle to write positive songs, especially romantically positive songs. The whole knee touching thing is an obscure reference to Kate Miller-Heidke’s I got the way.
I’m a big fan of soft songs on albums, and I think this is a lovely respite at the end of the record. Paul and I often get into a soft sad-boi style whenever we cover songs, so it’s nice to have a second soft-boi Brutalliriginal after Christmas in July. Maybe after the short punk EP we can do a soft-boi EP?
Luke: This was hands-down the hardest song on the record to write. It was also the last song we wrote and recorded, and I’m pretty sure that the gang vox at the end was the absolute last thing we did with Tom in the studio. As I mentioned before, happy romantic songs don’t come out of my head easily, but we knew we wanted to finish the record with a moment of hope. We had the chorus for months (inspired by a line in David Nicholl’s Sweet Sorrow), but the verses really struggled to come out. We wanted to capture that feeling you have at the beginning of an amazing relationship, where there’s uncertainty but also bucketfuls of hope and happiness.
Having met just before lockdown, I spent the first part of my current relationship driving back and forth to London for socially distanced walks. That hour in the car there and back meant constantly overthinking everything, both good and bad, and listening to the sappiest of sappy songs and finding new meaning in them. Shout out to the most obvious reference to the most obvious romantic emo song (which is still one of the best of course).
The outro was the last thing we wrote, and I was really conscious that this was the end of the record. It was a chance for me to put a close to all the themes of the record, and so ‘ok, that’s done. Now it’s time to start something new.’ I ended up pulling out lyrics from songs in the record and flipping them to say something positive. “We can figure it out” became “I figure out how to do this”, “this is the holiday where my dreams all ended” became “give myself time to work on new dreams” and “the house is slowly crumbling” became “build a new house up from nothing.” It’s all going to be ok.
And the title? That was from the cringiest opening line that I sent to my partner on the dating app: “Most important question: Who’s your favourite pussycat from Josie and the Pussycats?”