Exclusive, The Untold Story Behind "Tomorrow"
By Pete Walton
When three aspiring musicians from Merewether, NSW entered a demo
competition sponsored by an Australian TV network, they submitted a
four-song cassette which included a rambling, nearly seven-minute tune
which would one day become an international hit record.
British film director Robert Hambling had been working on a freelance basis for SBS, the network which held the competition, interviewing artists such as Henry Rollins and Primus when they came to Australia. Hambling, who directed documentaries for England's acclaimed Channel 4 and was responsible for live and recorded video productions by many of the world's major bands, was drafted to help with the judging.
One song in particular, Tomorrow by Innocent Criminals, caught Hambling's immediate attention. He later told Rolling Stone's David Fricke that he believed the song "could be a No. 1 megaworldwide smash hit."
But there was a problem.
According to Hambling's friend and neighbor, Nick Launay (producer of hit albums for Midnight Oil, Public Image Ltd. and For Squirrels, among others), the other SBS employees who reviewed the contest entries did not agree.
"No one really liked it -- they didn't get it," Launay said in an exclusive interview with the silverch@ir page. "Their taste was more in dance music, they wanted this dance band from Melbourne to win. And [Robert] was going, 'Can't you hear this guy's voice? Listen to this, this is something really special! Forget the whole thing of winning this competition, this is something special.' He was just so passionate about it.
"So he got really pissed off and really frustrated, and called me up and said come and have a listen to this, and I think he also played it to Rob Hirst from Midnight Oil 'cause we all lived walking distance from each other. And Rob and I thought it was great, and I heard it and I listened to the whole tape, and we both kind of agreed that the song Tomorrow was the best song, [but] it was too long, it was like seven minutes long and really meandered, it was not a good arrangement.
"So that's when I suggested [to Robert], why don't you edit it down and I told him which bits, I drew a kind of map on paper of the song arragement and said chop this bit out, chop that bit out and move this bit at the end of the song to the middle, which is a major kind of thing, it was actually quite a serious change. And while I was explaining it to him, he was going, 'How am I gonna do this? You're telling me how to do it, but who's gonna actually do it?'
"I had a Revox at home so I said look, give me the cassette and I'll go and copy it onto my Revox and I'll edit it and bring it back. And I did it that afternoon, and when I actually arranged it, chopped it up, played it, it was like a killer, I mean it really sounded great to me. I was sucked in totally to the song and the whole thing with the band. And I don't think at that point we knew their age.
"Robert went back and said to the SBS people, 'Have a listen to this, we've chopped it down, Nick Launay edited it,' and I'd had quite a lot of success in Australia, so my name was kind of known, so I think that made them kind of take it seriously. So then it became like, 'all right, they can win then. But can Nick do the session, will he go in the studio with them, and can we film them doing it?' They wanted to make a big thing out of that. So Robert called me and I said sure, I'd love to, and I then went out and played this edited bedroom version of Tomorrow to a couple of record company people who just didn't get it, much to my surprise. They liked it, but it was like 'so what,' and then when I mentioned their age, because by this time we knew their age, they were not interested. And Robert did the same thing. Of course all these people now are killing themselves ever since."
Though Launay had a previous commitment to record a band in Chicago in the U.S. the next day, he arranged to join engineer Phil McKellar at Australia's Triple J to record the Innocent Criminals. However, it was not meant to be.
"I got really, really ill, like two of three days before the session," Launay said. "I couldn't even talk and I rang up Phil and told him I can't speak, I can't tell the band what to do because I can't speak, and I was really pissed off. I really was looking forward to it. It was just one of those things, there was nothing I could do.
"I did have a conversation with Phil about how it should sound, how the guitar should sound, that maybe he should double track the vocal in the chorus, and it does need a kind of solo which it didn't have originally, not a solo, but kind of a guitar bit."
Q: But that arrangement that you did as far as physically editing the tape, that's the arrangement of Tomorrow that we know now?
Q: That tape that they gave you, that's just something that they made, right, on a cassette? Did it sound all right?
NICK: It was rough but it was very vibey, it sounded great, you could hear everything, but I think it was literally done in their bedroom. If it wasn't done in their bedroom, it was done in the loft above Ben's father's garage, which is now a proper kind of little rehearsal room that they have.
Nick went on to recover from his throat ailment, and fulfilled his commitment in Chicago. On the Quantas flight back to Sydney (where the British native has lived for several years with his wife Nadya, son Lee (age 9) and daughter Lana, who's 7), Nick was listening to the airline's in-flight entertainment system and heard a familiar song.
"The guitar came in and I thought, this is familiar, this is something I've done. Then the drum came in, and I guess I have a distinctive drum sound, I've a way of recording things and the drum sound didn't sound like my kind of drum sound, so I thought, no, no I didn't do it, and the vocal came in, and I was like, ah, this is that Innocent Criminals thing!
"So I quickly looked up in that booklet thing you get, I couldn't find it. It was so ironic because here was this band that epitomized everything that I wanted to work with, a band who had it together, could go in and record very quickly and they were loud and with loud, distorted guitars, which is exactly what I wanted to work with, and here I was, I'd just gone out to Chicago to work with a band that weren't quite that kind of a band. So it kind of just really got to me. But I thought, never mind, it doesn't matter, move on. Then I got back to Australia, and there it is, every newspaper you opened, they were even on the news and everything."
By this time, the Innocent Criminals had evolved into silverchair. Despite his disappointment at not being able to work with them at the outset, Launay went on to produce their re-recording of Blind for the recent soundtrack of The Cable Guy and is the producer of their second album, which is due for release in February 1997.
[Thanks to Olly Sharwood and Melinda Simons for their contributions.]