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 #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

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!