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 25: A New Book

All right, with last week’s depressing “Wasted Minds” we are done with our cassette Nowadays and move on to our last “real” demo, “The Nuclear Princess”.

The cover for the cassette "The Nuclear Princess"
The cover for the cassette “The Nuclear Princess”

I don’t remember how much time passed between finishing “Nowadays” and starting on the songs for this demo. Something that is obvious right from the start is that we had a bunch of new equipment. We had started working more on a regular basis out of Jonas’ home where his brother had a studio set up with more stuff for us to borrow.

On this first track from TNP, we are using almost the full battery of new equipment. We have a slightly-out-of-tune (we didn’t hear that it was sour until after mastering) Roland Alpha Juno-1 playing a whining pad in the intro, and we were also using a Roland S-330 sampler, together with an Ensoniq EPS and our trusty Roland Juno 106.

We were also using a computer with sequencer software for the first time. A version of Opcode Vision made it easier for us to make our songs more complexed and layered, but it also made it easier for us to get bogged down into details.

The opening track then. “A New Book” continues on the anti-religion theme from “Nowadays” with lyrics condemning people following the letter of the bible. I don’t know why we chose this song as the opener, but it kind of sets the tone for the whole demo and new sound of Art Fact. Slower, darker and supposedly deeper. At least that’s what we thought at the time.

This song is not one of my favorites, but it’s not the worst either. It has a couple of nice melodies and cool reverse sampled speeches. My vocals are OK, doing the job but void of most of the emotion present on our earlier songs. This was very much the idea at the time, but now I think that was a bad choice. We had more of a unique sound going on when we had my “blues-y” vocals on top of the electronic sounds than when we tried hard to sound more like every other Swedish synth act at the time.

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 #23: Please Turn My Face Away

We have arrived at the last track on what was probably our best effort, our cassette demo “Nowadays”. And it’s a treat, because this song is one of my favorites. From its slow, sweeping sound over the intro through the strong chorus this is a very good showcase of what made Art Fact good.

Anders is unhappy with the selection of foods available at McDonalds.
Anders is unhappy with the selection of foods available at McDonalds.

The lyrics for this song came to be when I was watching the news on TV. I can’t remember exactly what it was that got me thinking about it, but something was so grueling that I wanted to look away, but couldn’t. Nothing to deep here, but a couple of nice phrases came out of this, especially the title, “Please turn my face away” which I still think is great.

Anders had written and produced the whole song on the Roland D-20, and I think we just completed it with a new bass sound from the Yamaha V-50. The breathing sounds in the extremely short “break” was just me and a microphone.

I think what really makes this song for me is the wonderful intro which sets the mood instantly. Once the drums start, we also have a nice little melody from the D-20 going on. The verse is a little boring, but every time we come back to the chorus, the song really opens up and becomes larger and better.

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!

A Song a Week #21: The Initial Merge

Anders posing for the Nowadays demo cover

Yes, it’s time once again to pick up the “song a week” theme here at artfact.se. Before the summer, we ended with a track in the middle of our cassette “Nowadays” and so we go back to 1991 and continue where we left off.

“The Initial Merge” is a very nice “in between”-track, that if I remember correctly was made by Jonas and Anders. Over time, it has become one of my favorites from Art Fact, as it is timeless. We used it as a link track between two songs with very different style and tempo, and as such it works great.

It is an instrumental track, using all Roland D-20 (I think), and has a very slow, suggestive tone which always makes me think of the Depeche Mode track “Oberkorn: It’s a small town”. I don’t think that was the idea at the time though.

 

A song a week #20: Welcome To Boredom

Jonas looking his part as a synth band member.
Jonas looking his part as a synth band member.

This song was written and recorded during the session at Pianobaren, together with Mind Controller. Listening to Welcome To Boredom now, I think the anecdote about Måns coming up with a line for Mind Controller based on my vague description was actually about “Feeling like saying / yes when they say no” from Welcome To Boredom. My memory is good but short.

Once again Art Fact sound a bit bluesy. Both in the chord changes, and in some blue notes in the melody. The main riff is quite efficient, and the rhythm change in the chorus makes the song move along despite its low tempo.

The choir in the middle 8 was most certainly inspired by Pimpf, but instead of sounding really powerful, our D-20 version sounds more like Donald Duck. Still, it was the best we could do at the time. When the drums kick in afterwards they sound quite powerful, and that’s my favourite part of this song.

To summerize, the title says it all. In our quest to sound harder and less poppy, we started to sound more dull and boring. We drifted more into low tempos, pitched-down drums and low-energy songs. We also wanted to sound more “professional” with a fuller sound, but didn’t know how. The one-note-pad in this song is a typical example of this.

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A song a week #19: Get A Deal

Måns and Jonas in our "studio" working on a new track.
Måns and Jonas in our “studio” working on a new track.

Here is maybe the first track on “Nowadays” which is hinting to what is to become of Art Fact later. This song should be great, in fact it has a wonderful intro, hook, bridge and chorus. But there is something in the sound and most of all, my own vocals, which make it slightly stale and boring. I’m not sure what happened, but for me some of the energy we had is lost in this track.

But let’s talk about the song now. Anders made this track pretty much on his own on his trusty Roland D-20. The sound in the intro is also D-20, even though it sounds nothing like it. By this time, we were getting pretty good at creaming everything possible out of that machine, and this track is probably the best example of what wizardry we could make the very limited workstation perform. Apart from the very stale snare drum, most of the sounds are great and sound more analogue than should really be possible with the D-20.

We’ve got backing vocals on this track as well! Olle was invited to the microphone to enhance some of the lines, something we really should have done more often! The lyrics are not great, and I’m not sure we even had any idea behind them. It probably just sounded cool.

As a pop song, this track has great composition and balance between the verse and the chorus. I have to say that between Anders and me, we actually had some good songwriting going on. We should have just kept our youthful ignorance and never tried to sound “heavier” or “tougher”.

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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

Nowadays_inside

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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