A Song A Week #37: Dandelion Puff

This is it! The final episode of our A Song A Week series. Are you still waiting for the twist? Sorry, there won’t be one ;)

Dandelion Puff is an instrumental track, and the last song on the Nuclear Princess cassette. I actually don’t remember much about it. It’s mostly a collage of samples, with a windy loop being the foundation. The spoken samples were recorded with a microphone in front of Jonas television. It’s not like we searched for the perfect sample, the cartoon just happened to be running at the moment. Turned out fine, didn’t it?

DandelionPuffSince there were no lyrics, the naming of the track was an open question. I was always on the lookout for good-sounding English phrases, and this one came from the name of a Winnie the Pooh drawing. Quite wimpy for a synth band that wanted to be cool, it was originally intended for the indie band I also played in.

So the Song A Week series stops here, but we might have more stuff from the archives waiting in line… Until then, have a great summer!

A Song A Week #35: Lies

This song was written towards the end of the Nuclear Princess sessions, during a phase where we just wanted to finish it. And you can tell this by the result; the different parts in Lies doesn’t really gel. We probably started with the instrumental chorus, which is actually pretty good. A nice melody line (or “slinga” as we say in Swedish) with some DM-influenced chord changes, and a really nice resonant bass line (probably courtesy the Roland Juno 106). I like that part!

Doh!
Doh!

But the verse and intro are a bit below par. The verse is a return to the more bluesy chords and vocals that we used on In Fact, which is nice. But it’s really stiff, and rhythmically doesn’t fit between the intro and chorus. And yes, the intro… As far as I remember we did it first as kind of a joke, with acoustic sounding drums (sort of forbidden) from the Roland R-8 and a sampled trumpet from the Roland S-330. But in a combination of being quite tired of our own gloom, and desperate to finish the lengthy sessions, we decided to keep it. In hindsight, humour is a tricky thing in synth pop. But together with the sample (from a cartoon, recorded live with a microphone in front of the TV-set ) it at least has a sort of weird Yello-like atmosphere.

In conclusion: we should have worked harder to make the best of the original chorus idea, and kept away from humour.

A Song A Week #33: Drift

 

I remember coming upp with the riff for this song, just noodling around on one of our two Juno 106s in our studio (a.k.a Jonas’ brother’s bedroom). It was one of those moments where you know that one little idea will last for a whole song.

Bild 35-011The title was probably set when saving the sequence in the computer, long before any lyrics were written. I have a vague notion it was inspired by the Twice A Man album (and live show) Driftwood, that at least I was very into at the moment.

Besides this there are the usual suspects: Roland Alpha Juno 1 on bass, Roland R8 on drums, and the Roland S-330 playing some noise probably sampled from TV. Altogether a minimalistic yet powerful soundscape. The overall feeling is very gloomy, including Måns’ vocals and lyrics (“The sky is so grey” etc). A bit like the February weather here in Stockholm at the moment actually!

My favourite part of this song is the bell “solo” towards the end. I think it was played live and improvised by Måns. It’s a nice mix of being almost sequenced, but with some variations that stick out. Is there an arpeggiator with some randomness? Would be great.

A Song A Week #31: Separated Bodies

I guess this song is somehow inspired by Depeche Mode’s Blasphemous Rumours, at least when it comes to the mood. It started out with a loop of the metallic noises in the intro, and just grew from there. I think it’s all made using the Roland D-20. By this time we knew this synth inside and out, using our favourite samples over and over again, but also pitching them a lot to make them sound fresh.

Bild 11-032 retuschSongwriting-wise I think the best part is the middle-8, where Måns takes the melody up some steps to raise the intensity. It creates a nice turning point for the song.

This song messed up our CDs. The Nuclear Princess was our first demo mastered on DAT and burned on CD-R, a brand new technology at the time. Jonas’ brother Johan worked as a sound engineer at a theatre where they had a CD-R burner. It worked at 1x speed and the discs cost $30 a piece! The track numbers were created automatically on the first sound detected after a few seconds of silence, which worked OK in most cases. But the silence after the first metallic sound on Separated Bodies was long enough to trigger a new track number. So on our CDs Separated Bodies were both track 7 and 8 :)

Recently Separated Bodies  was included on the Swedish Electro #2 compilation by Swedish Electro Scene. Check it out, 36 great songs for free!

A Song a Week #30: DKW

 

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I don’t know why we named this song DKW, but at the time me and my brother actually owned a DKW car. It used to belong to my grandfather, and for a long time we kept it, thinking that we should fix it up. But since I didn’t get a driver’s license (until I was 30) we eventually sold it to a collector. It was really good-looking, had a 2-stroke engine pumping out 38 hp, and three gears. Our grandfather (a retired fireman) used to drive us all across Småland in it, and I can still remember the smell of the oily gasoline, and the distinctive sound of the indicators. Unfortunately it lacked tiny details such as seat belts.

Anyhoo, I think this song started with the resonant pad sound (from the Juno 106) playing the E to C chords in the chorus. The verse is a bit bluesy, and the other 106 synth bass actually has som filter automation (programmed via sysex I think). The drums were sampled into the Roland S-330, and I think the kick drum came from hitting a sofa by hand. The voice doing the weather report on CNN was not sampled as much as recorded straight to tape.  The lead in the (instrumental) chorus is actually the same sound as in Nowadays (B24 Echo Pan from the Roland D-20) but with a more resonant filter setting.

As we already have mentioned many times, Art Fact often has a very minimalistic sound and production. Mostly this was only due to our incompetence, but in this case there was actually a plan to keep the track sparse. For once we didn’t try to sound heavy and powerful, and I think the result is kind of nice. And luckily Måns  made the title a little less random by adding the final lines:

Follow me away / My car will take us there.

Someone made a video for this track as a school project, with some footage from a gig at a classic Stockholm venue called Tre Backar. In this version we had added the classic Funky Drummer loop, but sampled from Sinéad O’Connor’s brilliant song I Am Stretched On Your Grave. This was before REX-loops and warp markers, and I remember that we had to offline-stretch the sample in percent to fit DKW’s tempo, which was like mad science to us. The good old days were not that good actually!

A Song A Week #28: DF

So what can we possibly say about this little ditty? Clocking in at about 45s it is probably the shortest of all Art Fact tracks. As you know by now, we were really inspired by Depeche Mode, and just like them we wanted to have some shorter instrumental tracks between the regular pop songs.

The S-330 editor.
The S-330 editor.

I’m not sure, but I think this track was mainly created using the Roland S-330 sampler. Jonas’ brother Johan bought this for a considerable amount of money from a (then rather unknown) Swedish musician called Wille Craaford. During this period his backing band was called Pondus (I think he was doing some sort of Bruce Springsteen-like music, and wanted his own E Street Band), and we had lots of disks with “Pondus” written on them. Later, Craaford would change style and was a part of Sweden’s answer to Beastie Boys: Just D.

At the time, the S-330 was really impressive. Although not as cool as the Akai S1000, it still was 16 bit 12 bit (sorry!) and also ran its own editor in a green glowing monochrome monitor. With this and Opcode Vision running on a Macintosh, we probably had better equipment than the median Swedish synth band at the time. And what did we make of it? A loop with three samples!

A Song A Week #26: Can You Believe?

This songs starts off with what I think is two Roland Juno 106s, one playing a little arpeggio and the other a fat drone bass. I remember that the bass patch was A33, the same we used on Building and possibly other tracks as well. We had a note taped to the synth’s front panel called “Det Holy Sounds” with a list of patches that were never to be overwritten, and A33 was the holiest of them all. Besides the 106s I think there is an Roland R8 drum machine (playing what might be the crappiest drum fill EVER as the verse starts), and the Alpha Juno 1 playing the blobby bass.

Jonas and Måns making a stand outside Globen, April 26, 1991.
Jonas and Måns making a stand outside Globen, April 26, 1991.

Although the second track on the cassette, I think this was one of the later songs written. My memory is shaky here, but I think this was written by Måns on piano first, when we were all suffering from some form of writer’s block, and only later dressed in electronic sounds. At least it sounds that way; there is no element in it I remember as the starting point besides the chord sequence and melody.

The chord sequence in the verse is actually one of the few highlights of the song when I listen to it now. It starts off pretty basic, but the last chord in every second turnaround breaks away from the norm. With the arpeggio synth maintaining it’s notes there is a nice effect. Another highlight is that we actually have some harmony vocals! Even though (or maybe because of) Måns, Olle and Jonas, singing a lot in boy choirs we rarely used this.

Otherwise I think this is a typical example of us forcing our song ideas into low tempos and heavy sounds. If we were to produce it today I think we would be better at recognizing it as the pop sense in the chords, and creating more contrast between verse and chorus. And raising the tempo a few bpms ;)

A Song A Week #24: Wasted Minds

This track was recorded just after Nowadays, but for some reason didn’t end up on the following cassette The Nuclear Princess. Maybe we didn’t like it enough? And listening to it now, it is not one of our best efforts by far.

As I remember it this track was more of a collaborative work. Someone came up with the main riff for the intro and verse, and then we finished it together, Måns writing the lyrics as usual (continuing the religious topics of Nowadays). To me the song is an indication of us focusing more and more on mood and production as opposed to melody and pop structure. To put it bluntly: the idea behind this song is that you can tune the kick drum! (Which in some other cases can be more than enough, just see the Classic Albums series on how Peter Gabriel came up with Don’t Give Up.)

Måns walking across Karl Johan's Square. Soon-to-be-closed rock club Debaser in the background.
Måns walking across Karl Johan’s Square sometime around 1990. in 2002 the rock club Debaser opened here.

It is also an indication of the gloominess that was to dominate The Nuclear Princess: low tempos, static bass drones, vocal lines that closely follows the chords etc. I think this was our attempt to sound harder and more mature, but the result was not so successful. Round about this time we began struggling with some form of writer’s block. We started questioning what we did a lot more, and the songs didn’t come as easily as before.

The song still has some nice features though. The glitchy sounds in the intro and bridge came through the discovery of aliasing in the Roland D-20 when playing loops pitched up a few octaves. Also it switches from 6/8 to 4/4 for the outtro, which is pretty cool. We might have been influenced by the Nitzer Ebb track “Godhead” which sort of does the opposite. I do remember we didn’t know how to set the D-20 sequencer to 6/8, so we recorded it to a 4/4 beat and quantized our performances to 8th note triplets instead. Same shit, different names :)

A Song A Week #22: I Don’t Mind

 

This is a straight forward pop tune, whose simplicity should really make it more suited on In Fact rather than Nowadays. As far as I can remember, I wrote the music for this at home on the Roland D-20, but we finished it during a week-long session at Pianobaren, the youth centre at Måns’ and Olle’s school.

Måns and Olle doing some serious BBS patching on the Amiga.
Måns and Olle doing some serious BBS patching on the Amiga.

During this period I would often bring “complete” songs to Måns, and then it was up to him to find a melody and write the lyrics. This backwards approach worked quite well for us for a while (and also for The Smiths I might add, with no other comparison), but in some cases such as this you can somehow tell that the music was written in advance. It follows a pretty rigid verse/chorus structure, and the middle-8 seems almost pasted in place.

Still, I like the groove and the bass sound in the intro. Måns’ breathing was sampled into Olle’s Amiga 500 computer, and live-triggered when we recorded the D-20 to tape. You can hear the Reverse program from the Alesis Microverb on the breathing once the drums kick in. I wish I had one of those now, or if Alesis could remake them as Rack Extensions for Reason.

Apart from the intro, I also like the chords and melody in the chorus but I would have liked if we had added some drum fills and more synths to make the chorus more powerful. Once again our minimalist approach was less due to aesthetics than to our lacking production skills.

And last but not least, I think the opening line…

Haven’t slept for a hundred years
I hope my eyes won’t close for good

…is really great, especially coming from some 16-year-olds!