A song a week #18: Nowadays

This was one of the first tracks written for the Nowadays cassette, and we were so happy with it that it set the tone and the title for the rest of the songs.

Earlier, when recorded  In Fact, we all listened mostly to more melodic and softer synth music like Erasure and Howard Jones. Round about this time (1990 or so) our biggest influence was Music For The Masses, and Måns and Jonas listened more and more to Front 242. We wanted to change our sound, to sound harder and heavier. Especially we wanted to replicate the big drum sound from Music For The Masses.

I remember coming up with the bassline at home on the Roland D-20. It’s in F#, a key which has a very distinct sound (just like How Soon Is Now, with no other comparison). I also pitched some drum sounds down to make them sound more like Music For The Masses, and was quite pleased with the result. But after listening to the bassline for about 200 times (like you always do when writing songs using a sequencer) I still had no idea how to continue. It didn’t sound like the bassline wanted to go anywhere, harmonically. Finally I just tried playing the same bassline but two keys up, in G#. Wow, that sounded cool! Ok, so back to F#. And then, lets try two keys down, in E. Wow that’s also cool!

Without really knowing it, I had stumbled upon a technique quite often used by more minimal synth bands like D.A.F. (which we rarely listened to at the time). These bands used early and more primitive sequencers that often could just remember a single 16 step pattern. But they had a transpose knob, so that you could move the pattern up or down in key to create some variation. The sequencer in my D-20 could remember an almost infinite amount of notes, but I ended up using the same limitation, because it sounded good.

Måns, staring at the sun.
Måns, staring at the sun.

I think the other guys were around when we wrote the chorus and break. The key moment was when we found the sound and notes for the repeating melody in the chorus. It sounds like three notes played in a row, but is actually some VCA modulation (if I remember correctly). When that piece of the puzzle was added, we were euphoric! It sounded ten times better than anything we had done before, and almost as good as Depeche Mode themselves (to our not so trained producer ears). To top it off we more or less copied the live break from Master And Servant, using some metallic samples. We were ecstatic! Oh, and then Måns came up with a melody and wrote some lyrics ;)

I still like this song, even though I now have to admit it doesn’t really sound as impressive as Music For The Masses at all. A nice detail that we didn’t think about at the time is that all three parts (verse, chorus and break) have their own distinct rhythm pattern, that also go well together. I think this is needed in a song that is not so varied harmonically.

A song a week #17: Stains


After last week’s synth pop glory, we will take the opportunity to show that “Nowadays” certainly had its darker moments. The last track of side A on the cassette was “Stains”, a song that was really about a homeless man in Stockholm we used to run into a lot. He was very dirty, very confused and probably really should have been in some sort of mental institution. He would say the most hilarious things when we were talking to him, but even though we had fun at his expense a lot, we still felt bad for the man, and was wondering where he was living. The story he was giving people was that he was living in a hollow oak, and so on the cover of “Nowadays” he is thanked as “Thanks to Emil in the oaktree”.  The lyrics go through meeting this man, and asking questions about society’s responsibility for him. Pretty heavy stuff for our regular teenage angst fare, but there it is.

Now to the song! This time around we’re using our trusty Roland D-20 hooked up to our Yamaha V50 for a combined sound that is much wider than when using just the one machine. The awesome bass line that enters in the second verse is the V50, but the iconic metal clang loop is a pitched-down effect on the D20.

It’s got a nice vocal melody, and a pretty interesting more or less random melody being played in the background, probably improvised and recorded in one go into the sequencer. For me, the great thing about this song is the very last part of the verse, or if it really is the bridge, where we hit that major chord, leading nicely into the chorus. The words in the chorus are stupid and all just thought of to rhyme with each other:

no guilt
no shame
no filth
no pain
no pill
no gain
no bill
no stains

Complete lyrics to Stains are posted here.

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A song a week #16: Man In Armour

I’m glad it was my turn to write this week, because this is probably my favourite track of all Art Fact songs.

Listening to it now on SoundCloud, it’s easy to see that even though the track clocks in at 4:06, the actual song part is only about 2 minutes. It starts of with a 1:30 long intro, and ends with 30 seconds of synth sounds. No wonder we never got a record deal! Per Gessle would be ashamed of us.

The man in the armour!
The man in the armour!

I remember that the intro was a different piece of music, that we discovered could work as an intro for Man In Armour if we tweaked the last chord. Since it was another sequence on the D-20, and there was no way of merging sequences, we first recorded the intro on track 1&2 on the Fostex X-26 portastudio. Then we loaded the Man In Armour sequence, armed track 3&4 and listened back to the intro. Then Måns pressed the Start button for the D-20 sequencer just at the right moment. I think we had to try a few times before we got it right. Track 1&2 were then used for the vocals, which required some (not so exact) tweaking of levels, pan and reverb settings during mixdown. Everything was not better in the good ol’ days!

The chord sequence was very much inspired by Depeche Mode’s Behind The Wheel. It uses the same formula of 3 harmonic chords, and then a fourth that is slightly off. I think the whole song was written by Måns by himself. The only thing I remember adding is the metallic touch to the snare. The bass sound used the D-20 pizzicato sample, and the melody in the middle 8 sounds a bit like a clarinet. These two more acoustic sounds are then contrasted by the gated drums and the resonant synth in the outtro.

What I like about this song is mainly the driving rhythm, Måns’ lyrics, and the few seconds just after the first chorus. At this point an extra bar combined with a slight change in the vocal rhythm shifts my whole perception of where beat 1 in the chord sequence is, which is a bit like a magic trick. I don’t know if we did it on purpose, but it still fools me every time.

Although one of our favourite songs, it did not end up on the vinyl record. We didn’t want to argue with the guys at Dödsdans’ selection, and keeping it off the record also opens up the possibility of releasing it separately somehow in the future.

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