A Song A Week #36: Building

Ah yes, here we go. We’re getting very close to the end of Art Fact’s “career”, and this song is probably our most well-known song, or at least it was before Rain in the South was featured on a Minimal Wave CD

Building was the first song of ours that made it on to an official release, when we sent it in to a brand new label called Memento Materia. We were very excited when Building was selected to be on a compilation CD called Illuminative, which today is something of a classic in the Swedish synth scene. Later, when Memento Materia turned 20 years, the song was once again on a compilation of theirs, this time for a “best of” called  Get Electrofied, which again made us very proud.

Måns
Måns

Building is a song built around two main things. First of all, the heavy timpani drum sound from the Roland D-20 which is prominent already in the intro, and then throughout the song. It really sounds great: a heavy, thundering boom to set the mood. Together with the thin metal beats it creates an almost industrial feel to the song, which probably made us name the song “Building” even though the lyrics have nothing to do with construction. :)

The other thing is the brilliant synth melody in the break. Anders wrote that, and if memory serves me right, this particular melody was initially written for DKW, but when Anders was trying to write a melody for Building, he thought that the one he came up with would be better in DKW, so they switched places. Today, it’s hard to imagine the two melodies switched back.

I think Building is a pretty good song today, but it is suffering a bit from our heavy-handed approach. It’s got a good melody, and an actual chorus, but the vocals are a bit sour and boring. When we reunited Art Fact last year to perform live for the first time in 20 years, Building was on the shortlist but didn’t make it to the live show, much to the dismay of some fans.

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 #34: Pain And Rage

Here is at least something which sounds a lot more like a classic synth pop song on this cassette! We were working so hard to make ourselves sound “harder”, but here we have a nice tune that we managed to squeak through anyway.

We’ve got an unidentified synth doing the bass line, it could be the trusty ole Juno-106, but it doesn’t sound like it. The Juno is definitely there though in the pads. Also, the S-330 sampler is working hard again with both sound effects and drum patches.

Jonas combining two of his passions, synth posing and aeroplanes.
Jonas combining two of his passions, synth posing and aeroplanes.

For once, we also made the second verse something else than a cut-and-paste of verse one, at least in the soundsphere. We’ve got a nice arpeggio which sounds like another Juno-106, adding some texture and movement to the song there.

The vocals are nothing to be happy about today, I sound totally crappy, and without emotion. This was definitely by design, but it was one of those choices we made back then that I wish I could go back and change. We wanted to be cool, but ended up taking away a lot of the “soul” in our music that had made Art Fact what was different.

Lyrics are forgettable as well. The “blocked by fear” line is ripped off from the Front 242 song “Gripped By Fear”. Oh well.

/Måns

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 #32: And The Seasons Changed

Leading off the “B-side” of the cassette we have the track which gave its name to our compilation vinyl released by Dödsdans Rekords a couple of years ago. I don’t know why the nice guys at the label decided on that name, but I quite like the title actually. Somehow it lends a nice atmosphere to the song, and it goes well with the sound.

We start off a bassline I don’t remember which synth it cam from. It doesn’t actually sound like any of our regular sounds, but it might have been the Roland Juno-1, since we were using that a lot during this time. During our The Nuclear Princess era we experimented a lot with sampling, and the intro has a submarine sonar sample going during the bass line. Then we immediately go into the beat and the very narrow pad, again I don’t really know what synth that is.

Måns, eating Pez, carrying a table tennis racket.
Måns, eating Pez, carrying a table tennis racket.

During the verse, I can hear a weird reverse-pad that is most definately a Juno-106. And we’ve got a slow verse which finishes in a hilarious turn which I know Anders hates and I am fond of. :) We only had one effect unit to use for the vocals, an Alesis Microverb. Since we really wanted the reverb in the chorus to be as large as possible, but we wanted a shorter reverb during the verse, we had to manually switch the effect during mastering, which makes the reverb “die” at the end of the first verse and start over in the chorus. It sounds weird, but somehow I think it just adds to the relative minimalism of the track.

During the break we take an actual break, and listen to sea gulls. Yep. That’s the kind of stuff we were into. I don’t remember why, or  how, but the sea gulls are all alone on this track for a good 15 seconds and I guess we wanted to make the listener feel something. Do you?

All in all, not a very memorable song, and I think it could have been a lot better. The bass line is very nice, and the vocals are pretty good, but the drum beats are too monotonous and boring.

/Måns

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

 

B20621

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 #29: Put Me To Sleep

This is, as Anders just told me, possibly the “best production” we ever did. This song has a long build, from the slow intro all the way to the massive end, complete with choirs, strings and all.

I wrote the song based on an idea of singing around just one note for the whole song, and then branching out towards the end. I think it “opens up” the song in a nice way when you finally get to that sweet moment where the chords change.

Måns under the bridge.
Måns under the bridge.

The lyrics are OK too, I can picture myself as a teenager in my room trying to go to sleep but finding my head too full of thoughts, listening to the cars outside my window and the TV my parents had on in the living room. The ending is almost like a prayer, a plea for help with “sleep”, this mythical figure.

Anyway.

Nice build, nice tune, nice lyrics. We used our full arsenal at the time – I hear our Ensoniq EPS in the strings and the choir, I hear the Roland S-330 in the samples, I hear the Roland Juno 106 in the bass pad, I hear the Roland Juno-1 in the bassline and some of the other sounds.

Is this the best song from “The Nuclear Princess” then? Possibly so. I still like it today, and there are not many songs from TNP I can listen to without shaking my head. :)

/Måns

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 #27: Speeding Up (Coming Nearer)

Oh, we are well into the nineties now. This is the first track on this demo that really departs from the classic Art Fact formula in that it doesn’t have anything resembling a catchy tune, or even a chorus. It’s more a collection of “cool” sounds resulting from the fact that we now had samplers to work with.

Måns getting up from sequencer programming.
Måns getting up from sequencer programming.

In the intro we have a pitched-down breathing sound, a coin rolling to a stop on a glass surface, and another breathing sound. Add a couple of more samples and a lonely Juno-106 droning on, and that’s almost the whole track.

I remember that we wanted to have the vocals recorded over a phone line, and this being before cell phones I walked to a payphone nearby and called the house where the boys played the song over the phone and held a microphone to their end while I tried to sing in the phone booth. This ended up not working at all, so in the end we just treated the vocals with EQ to make it sound “phone-like”.

All in all, I guess this is a pretty boring track, and it’s certainly nothing we ever considered playing live or submitting to compilations, etc. Around this time we started having more ideas about what we should sound like rather than focus on writing great songs. This was a mistake, but we were so caught up in wanting to be cool. Too bad.

/Måns