Roger Mason - Token Angels

Roger Mason

Roger Mason chose the song Token Angels as some of his best work.

Token Angels is from Wendy Matthews 1990 album Émigré.

This is an edited transcript from Roger Masons interview on Some Of My Best Work.

I guess you’d have to go back to the time during the Models, in which I was a keyboard player, the band was kind of breaking up around ‘87’.

We had a pretty good run, but there was just too much friction from the two lead singers James and Sean.

There was a competition between James and Sean as the two alpha males of the band as to who was going to claim her (Wendy Matthews) as their own.

And she actually chose Sean (Kelly), and the fact that James (Freud) was married was irrelevant. So anyway, that created a lot of friction in the band.

They were both in this bitter rivalry for artistic authenticity.

When the band split, everyone was kind of lost.

When you lose a band, it’s a pretty odd thing, because you live and play and in this intimate proximity for years, you know, you bond, you fight.

You share it each night, you get up and you play your heart out, because that’s why you’re there, it’s that uniting force that keeps you all together until it just doesn’t it doesn’t work anymore and falls apart.

The band split in ‘87’.

Not only did we have no income, but we had a $60,000 debt at the end of the band that we’re all personally responsible for.

It effected us differently. Because, as I said, James and Sean had a bit of money behind them, Barton (Price) and I didn’t.

 

I just found myself sitting in my apartment for three months building a model boat.

I kind of had this, I guess, this minor little break down or just a, I’m just going to do something completely different as a distraction.

At the end of that, that little weird period in my life where I built a boat in my lounge room, I thought I’d better check my bank account, and I realised that I had nothing in there to pay the next month’s rent.

I had to actually start doing something about establishing a new career.

I kind of fell into this idea that I should start writing songs because I’d always had an inclination to write music.

I found composition, actually quite easy. Songwriting and lyrics were hard.

Within, I guess, about two years, it was ‘89’, actually, when I had a small bunch of songs that I’d pulled together.

I started tossing them around, and I approached Wendy, if she wouldn’t mind singing on some of those tracks.

James Valentine had a wedding coming up, and he asked Wendy to sing at it, and asked me to play.

I accompanied her singing couple of songs at this ceremony.

Just before I flew out the door, while my partner’s screaming at me, because we were so late, I just managed to throw together this middle section for a song I had been working on. Token Angels.

I was watching the news one night, it was ‘89’ and it was the Grafton bus crash.

Shortly after that, two or three months after that, there was another one.

 

Australia had never seen anything like it.

The reason I started writing the song was because there was a this very small, little article that happened after that incident.

There was a young copper who attended one of the incidents

He was so traumatized by the event that he took his own life a few months after.

That made me aware for the first time of hero’s remorse or PTSD, where people put themselves in danger, to help others.

They often suffer the worst consequences.

Because there’s something traumatic about those events that they just can’t shake, and they go into depression.

It’s too much for them to handle.

The song is basically a product of that article.

Because it’s about loss. And it’s about grief, but it’s also about sacrifice.

I remember playing it to Wendy, she very generous because I wasn’t a recognized songwriter.

I was just a guy who played in the Models and a host of other bands as a keyboard player.

She came along and sang on the demos, and there were two or three songs that she actually liked.

She pulled that one out, (Token Angels) and said, I really like this one, I’m going to take that to the record company.

She took it, they played it, they came back and said, “yeah, we like it.”

 

“We want it to go on the album. And we want it to be the single.”

I thought they were mad. I couldn’t see it.

I just thought it’s not a single it’s an album song.

As a single it had good critical success.

It wasn’t a huge hit.

It actually generated a lot of interest and not only for Wendy’s career.

It also brought me to the attention of a lot of people, not only in the music industry, but in the film industry.

I’d already decided that that’s where my heart was, in the film industry.

Because it came easier to me, Token Angels was one of the easier ones to come together as obscure as it is.

This story continues below.

“A lot of people don’t understand what the song is about.”

Roger Mason on Token Angels.

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Listen to this story on Some of My Best Work, a free weekly podcast hosted by music journalist Jane Rocca.

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.

I remember Wendy being interviewed, and they asked her what it was about. She said it was about angels.

It’s really about someone seeking solace and peace after the loss of a loved one.

The token is, well, some people invent their own tokens in order to make the path easier for them.

 

Some people believe in angels. Some believe in the afterlife. None of us know.

We put our faith in things that will lead us to a sense that, our departed, live on in the care and grace of another, possibly poses the idea that we may meet them again one day.

It’s just these are the things we invent, or these are the things we need to believe in, in order to deal with bereavement.

It’s like most pieces of art or paintings or songs you bring your own experiences to these things.

Even if they’re not specifically laid out for you, you interpret them in your own particular fashion.

There is a deliberate obscurity to the song I still do these days, but a lot of things and I do it in my scoring as well.

Where, if it’s a sad scene, I try and interpret it broadly.

I don’t make it sad. I try and make it plaintive or bittersweet.

Because it’s far more nuanced that way, life is more nuanced.

It’s not just black and white, there can be within sadness, there can be beauty.

So that’s also what I tried to bring about with that song.

It doesn’t have to be dark and sombre just because it’s a song about death.

 

There was something beautiful about his contribution.

There was actually this small, ridiculous bidding war going on.

So, I had a choice of publishers, I had interest from film people, and I had the first opportunity to score a feature film.

This was all within the same 12 months of the single being released.

Little things like that started to generate and allowed me to move more into this other world.

Then the film happened.  (Aya, 1990 Aya Film ) 

The film generated a lot of interest because it was about a Japanese war bride in the 1950s brought back from the Australian the Allied occupation of Japan after the Second World War, and how she was trying to adapt to the Australian lifestyle.

It had a Japanese theme to it, but without being overt.

That was the trick even back then I was trying not to make it too much of a rip off of the culture.

That was nominated for an American Film Institute (AFI.)

I was pipped at the post because Miles Davis was up for an award at the same one for Dingo.

He died just a couple of months later.

I tell everyone, “He got the sympathy vote,” I would have won.

That was the culmination of the path that basically Token Angels had set up for me.

It had a very long term effect on the rest of my life.

Listen to this story on Some of My Best Work, a free weekly podcast hosted by music journalist Jane Rocca.

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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