Early this year I recorded vocals and some glitchy Rhodes for Dustmotes‘ song ‘Horror Vacui’. At that time I was working full-time on Sonic Bloom so it was a welcome creative outlet. Writing the lyrics was very easy, because the dark winter mood fit perfectly.
Now Dustmotes’ new album is out on the netlabel Dusted Wax featuring me on the title track.
There are always people asking what sound is what somewhere in my songs. So how about a little making of blog post for each new song here? For now written, maybe later as little video blogs. Enough, let’s dive right in:
I don’t think I have to say anything about the subject matter. We’ve all been there and even though I don’t spell it out in the lyrics I think it’s quite obvious.
The piano part of In Time has been around for quite some time. Whenever I have time for it I just sit down and play and when something nice emerges I quickly record the idea (yes, I have quite lot of those sketches and hopefully some of them will turn into fully fleshed out songs in the (near) future). I also already had a vocal melody (they usually come all by themselves), but if I don’t have matching lyrics songs tend to be tough to work out. It’s synergetic thing for me.
The dark – or as a friend called them – psycho sounds at the beginning and end (in between as well) and the cello-like bits are me playing my Epiphone Les Paul (electric guitar) with a violin bow, partly pitched down an octave (don’t have a bass which would have been better). All the small ‘electronic’ sounds are actually made from array mbira or piano. Then of course there’s the mbira. I didn’t use it much on Minutia, because by the time I had the money together and got it, most songs were already more or less finished. You can expect quite a lot more mbira on the next EP or album from me though. I just adore this instrument. The darker sounding beats are made by stomping on my wooden floorboards. The ones that sound like brushes are eggbeaters on a canvas bag filled with paper strips, very closely micced.
So apart from the piano (I don’t own one yet) everything on In Time is made with real instruments or field recordings. I’m planning to re-record the piano parts once I have enough new songs with piano passages and found a good one to record them on. An idea I’m having for the next release is using no MIDI instruments on it as the real thing always sounds warmer. If a song asks for a full orchestra though I won’t be able to make that happen. We’ll see.
I don’t know when I’ll have the next release finished. If I do it the usual way – release it as one body of work – I seriously doubt it will come out this year. A possibility I’m toying with is to do a subsciption-based release. Different packages starting from 10€. Subscribers would get a new song each month. Even then I’d have to have a few finished before the whole thing could start as it takes me about 2 weeks from start to finish for a song and there’s always so much else to do as it’s just me. What do you think (comments here are welcome as are tweets or emails)?
I’m here at my parents and since there’s nothing much to do here tonight I thought I’d finally catch you up on what I’ve been up to. I don’t want to apologise for not writing for so long… I’ve been busy finishing the album and living my life. If you want to know what I’ve done you can check my Twitter page that I’ve updated regularly.
I’d completely underestimated the amount of time it takes to finish 12 songs. I don’t use a compressor nor a de-esser for the vocals because I can’t afford good ones for now so I have to adjust the levels manually. Neither do I have a DAW controller so I can only use my mouse for the mix instead of faders. Not having those things admittedly slows down my recording and mixing process. I was stressing myself to get everything done quickly until I got to a point where I didn’t enjoy anymore what I was doing. I made stupid mistakes, my vocals sounded strained. And then I thought: What am I doing? I’m supposed to savour this experience. This is what I’ve always wanted to do. And how am I supposed make the songs sound great if I don’t enjoy working on them? So I took it down a notch, started calling friends before they forgot I existed and just lived a little. That really helped. Now there’s seven finished songs and I reckon I’ll be able to finish the other five within the next week. Finished are ‘The Tide’, ‘Chaos & Order’, ‘Zero Tolerance’, ‘Paperheart’, ‘In Unison’, ‘Scaredy Cat’s Lullaby’ and ‘Webs’. I’m really happy with these songs now.
Once I’m done with all the songs I’ll go and visit some friends, play them the album on their stereos and takes notes of possible weak spots in the mixes. Actually I’ve already started doing that. It’s a good thing to do because everyone’s stereo sounds different and you want to make sure the mix sounds as good as possible on anything from an expensive home system to a car stereo to a cheap boombox. Also two friends of mine are sound engineers and they’ve both happily agreed to listen to my songs and pinpoint me to how I could perfect the sound.
I’ve also found a photographer who’s gonna take the pictures for the album artwork and some press photos. He’s a friend of mine. I’d never seen his pictures until I asked him round to my place, cooked a lovely dinner for the two of us and looked at his portfolio. I’d suspected I’d love his photos by the conversations we had about photography and art. And I really do. I won’t have to pay for the pictures either, but design him a new logo instead. He asked me what I had in mind for the artwork and I realised I hadn’t really thought about that yet. After mulling it over for a couple of days I’ve still only got a fuzzy idea, but I’ve got a few ideas about the clothes I want to wear. I’m gonna design and sew them myself. At least partly. More on that once I’ve got a better concept.
Also I’ve got my lovely array mbira for over a month now and I love it. I guess it’s my favourite instrument. I can already accompany a couple of my songs, but I’ve yet to learn how to play fast intricate patterns and melodies. I’ve decided to add some mbira in ‘A Little’ next week.
I’ll try and add some snippets of the songs over the next few days and also a picture of the mbira. That’s it for now. More soon. Hopefully!
Been a busy bee singing singing singing. Then listening back and editing. I’m starting to get sick and tired of hearing my voice all the time. One day I love what I’ve recorded, the next I don’t like my voice. Major mood swings. For the next album I have to remember not to record all vocals in one big chunk. Anyway. Still love the end results.
Edited the vocals I’d recorded for ‘Hearts First’ and ‘A Little’. Recorded tons of vocals for ‘In Unison’ which took me two days including editing. Some parts had been pretty sketchy before what the vocals should be like. I changed the backing choir melody which now consists of four different layers. Makes the song sound sorta sacred with a twist. Added a brand new ending, too.
Also got the warblings for ‘Paperheart’, ‘The Tide’, ‘Chaos & Order’ and almost all for ‘Zero Tolerance’ done. Screamed on top of my lungs for the latter for some effects. I’m surprised that no neighbour came knocking. That leaves ‘Euphoria’, ‘Unspoken’ and ‘Webs’ and some missing bits in a few other songs.
One more thing. Last night I got a message that my friend Taylor is gonna pick up my spanking new mbira today and he’s gonna be here with it by the weekend. Maybe even Thursday. I was so excited I found it hard to fall asleep. At the same time I can’t imagine it’s really happening after dreaming about getting one for years now. Taylor’s gonna stay at my place. That’ll make it harder to just work so I better hop to it now and get as much finished till he arrives.
After writing last time I gave myself a four day break from my music. Spent the days cleaning and tidying up my flat (couldn’t stand the mess anymore), clothes shopping (it’s sale after all) and visiting my grandparents for the first time in ages. Taking time off helped getting some distance to see more clearly what still needs more work. So I’m going to do the same thing for three days again starting tomorrow. I’ll have a nice little holiday at Usedom together with a friend. Getting away from the heat of the city seems a good idea already. Might be the only holiday this year for me.
I haven’t been only lazy though. On Monday I started recording the vocals for ‘Paperheart’, just to realise that the song needed to swing. Made the song so much better, especially when I speeded it up a tad. Of course, that meant that I could throw the vocals in the bin. I also had to readjust the beats, but I’m very happy with the way the song turned out. Here’s a little bit of it (by the way, all the beats are made of paper):
On Tuesday I’d planned to record the vocals again, but the guy from the hostel opposite got his power tools out and kept being a noisy bugger until today. So noisy in fact that the sawing and what not kept bleeding into the mic recordings. Gotta be flexible, I told myself and finally got around to recording all the piano parts for the songs. Namely ‘Paperheart’, ‘Breathing Underwater’, ‘Hearts First’, ‘Zero Tolerance’ and ‘Euphoria’. Makes such a big difference it’s incredible. It’s as if the songs have finally come alive. I think I know now what ‘Hearts First’ still needs and it is less then I thought.
I must admit I haven’t recorded any vocals this week in the end. The way ‘Paperheart’ seemingly worked itself out was just to tempting. Although I at least edited the vocals for ‘Scaredy Cat’s Lullaby’ today. I really love the choir created by layering my vocals on top of each other. I checked all the songs in detail. Muting and soloing tracks. After while I sorta lost track of what I’d already done and what not. Last night I started drawing up a big chart to have the progress of each song in black and white and did bits and pieces here and there – everything that didn’t take that long. Quite a few boxes already ticked off. Good feeling. I guess the chart is also gonna be a good motivation tool to make it through the finish line with the album. I can almost see it by now.
I have finally decided on an mbira which I will get in only three weeks. Very excited. Patrick, who’s doing the customer service, is such a nice guy, extremely helpful. He’s sent me a picture of the mbira I’m gonna get. Still a bit unfinished. Looking lovely though. It’s made from African Sapele. Here’s the pic:
Yep, that’s me. Busy trying to finish the album. It’s finally time for warblings and I’ve once again locked myself in the studio. And for the cave, well, since I neither have an acoustically treated room nor a vocal booth I’ve built an improvided one made of blankets. It reminds me a lot of what we used to build as children to play in. Just bigger so I can stand upright in it. Did that on Monday. Took me a while to set it up including drilling holes and testing where the best position for the mic is. Works wonders. No darn reflections off the ceiling or the walls anymore. And I must say it’s kinda cosy.
Monday evening I recorded all the vocal bits of ‘A Little’ that make up the ‘instruments’. Nice clean and crisp sound… no annoying background noise either. Edited it and did a rough mix. Yesterday I recorded the main vocals for it and also for ‘Breathing Underwater’. Today for ‘Scaredy Cat’s Lullaby’ and ‘Hearts First. Most of them for the latter at least. The former needed vocals that are sotto voce. Almost whispered as if you sang a child to sleep. It isn’t called a lullaby for no reason. Works well. Of course, I’ve only recorded the vocals. I still have to cut out the bits in which you hear me walk from the computer to the mic, creaking floorboards and such. Then I have to make sit nicely in the mix, add some subtle effects etc. bla bla. Still a lot of work.
At the weekend I worked some more on ‘The Tide’. It might be finished apart from warblings and final mix. I’ll see. I thought I might be finished with the album by the end of July, but I’m not so sure. I’ve been depriving myself of sleep, not only to have more time for the songs, but also to get a better sleeping pattern for the vocal weeks. I don’t want to annoy my neighbours. So working till dawn just won’t do. Although it’s the best way to be creative. Ah, the quiet hours of the night.
Off having a nice relaxing bath now and then to bed early tonight. More news soon.
Another week gone by. It was great visiting friends and family once more even though I have to admit I didn’t get as much done as hoped, but at least as much as expected. Thursday morning I returned to Berlin and spent the next two days rehearsing some more. Unfortunately I had overwritten some files with older versions when I copied them onto my Macbook in a hurry before I left. So I had to redo some preparations. On Saturday I did a somewhat late spring cleaning, cleared out my wardrobe and sifted through most of my things to see what I could sell at the fleamarket on Sunday. I also went to see the German beatbox master with his mates play live at the Fête de la Musique and some guys with their electronic live set. One of them used Ableton Live with a toylike looking selfmade MIDI controller. On Sunday I tried to sell some stuff at the fleamarket, baking ten hours in the sun. To top it all off, the girl I went with told me kinda last minute that she had no space left in the car and I had to haul my stuff there by public transport. Not a nice gesture! Should have cancelled then and there. I felt like being badly hungover on Monday, unable to do anything but trying to get better. Drinking would have been more enjoyable! I still have a stiff neck now and was fighting a persistent headache all day, spending some time on my couch, my neck and shoulders propped up against a hot-water bottle and a wet cloth. I even fell asleep in between and dreamt of how to continue with my song ‘The Tide’.
When I tried out the idea it worked. So it has been a pretty creative day against all odds. I added the vocals for the second verse and refrain and fleshed out the arrangement a bit more. I thought I’d have three verses in this song, the third sung differently, but in my dream it came to me that the little dramatic bridge after the first refrain could be adapted as a c-part. When I sung the only solid lines I have for it everything fell into place. The vocals for the new part are very rhythmical and repetitive over a violin and cello pizzicato run and tribal beats. Once I have the rest of the lyrics I’ll sing them on top in a more drawn-out fashion. The whole part creates a lot of suspense and makes ‘The Tide’ sound even more dramatic. The third and final refrain is pretty quiet with almost only harpsichord and vocals and works neatly as a resolution.
Tomorrow I’ll try to finish the lyrics and refine the arrangement. Hopefully my stiff neck will be gone or at least not giving me a headache anymore. Fingers crossed!
My downstair neighbour just rang at my door. Apparently the music was too loud. Probably because I have the window open. Oops! Sorry. Off to bed then so he doesn’t get permanently pissed off with me. ‘Tis late anyway.
Haven’t really been away, but in the last week I had quite some creative ups and downs. Got stuck on ‘Euphoria’, then realised that the refrain was just not euphoric enough, but by then I was too close to the subject to see what might be right. Also I noticed when I went outside to record sounds of Berlin that either my microphone or the MD recorder is making loads of noise by itself. Quite a drawback, so no way I can make the beats I want for the song. Gotta check which one is being the noisy bugger! And then think of a solution. Preferably one without spending any money. And then after leaving the song alone for a bit get back to it afresh.
On Tuesday and yesterday I met up with the music producer I’d already mentioned. On Monday I recorded vocals for ‘Unspoken’ and ‘Webs’ so that he could get the whole picture. That and the mixing took the whole day and night. I ended up seeing the dawn and going to bed at half 7. I got a real rush throughout the next day with being so overtired and all that.The producer liked my songs and even asked me if I would like to write some songs for other people. I guess it’s a nice challenge since I’ve never tried that. Still I feel I should be cautious… He wants to try some stuff with three of my songs and I don’t want him to rewrite them and make them into something that could be neatly pigeonholed by a big record label, but that doesn’t feel like me anymore. I’m well aware that I’m very protective with my songs, but I’ve spent so much time and energy on them. I just don’t want anyone to mess with them…I guess I’ll have to wait and see what he’s planning to do with them!
Almost three months ago I started working on a song that was untitled back then and seriously doing my head in. It’s a pretty angry song and on Wednesday someone really pissed me off. On the way to my flat I thought that I should preserve the mood and have another go at this song. I cracked it! Finally! I figured out that the bass I had used was slightly out of tune, but since there was distortion on top of it I hadn’t noticed it earlier. So I just loaded up some piano sound and started playing my keyboard and within about five minutes I had the chord progression for the refrain, a vocal melody and lyrics to go with them. I quickly recorded everything and since then everything’s just falling into place. Needless to say that also cheered me up tremendously. The song’s called ‘Zero Tolerance’ now. I still have to write the lyrics for the third verse, but that should be a piece of cake after all the trouble I had with this stubborn song.
I’m just gonna write down the lyrics for the refrain so I don’t get the stupid idea and try to change them again:
zero tolerance from now on
gotta kill what’s killing me
zero tolerance from now on
no more putting up with
no more polite smiles
I then replaced the bass sound. Took me a while to create one that sounded just the way I envisioned it. I also changed the sounds for the beats. Mostly sounds of me hitting stuff. They’re pretty tribal and distorted sounding with a pinch of white noise thrown in. Working very well with the new bass. Had fun arranging some brass fills and fiddling with effects. ‘Zero Tolerance’ really screams for extreme FXing. This song might be something for the dance floor, very fast, driven. At least I have to dance around a lot when I hear it.
P.S.: Finally got a second hand bicycle. Got it on Ebay for just 20€. A red mountainbike. The girl I bought it off turned out to live near me. So if you happen to see a red flash rushing past… might be me 😉