A song a week #15: Powerplant

Here we go, this is track four from “Nowadays” and it’s a special one. This is the one and only Art Fact-track where Måns is not the lead singer. This song was written and performed by Olle, and we thought it was great to leave his vocals on there after he had recorded them to show me how to do it. :)

Olle is pondering his life options on a back yard in Östermalm during a Nowadays photo-shoot.
Olle is pondering his life options on a back yard in Östermalm during a Nowadays photo-shoot.

It’s also a great song I think, with some cool samples! We were experimenting with a sampler that Olle bought for his Amiga computer, but we didn’t have MIDI capabilities for it, so all the samples had to be triggered live-to-tape with the mouse. All the samples are from the 80’s epic bad movie “Mac and me“, simply because it happened to be on the TV when we were recording. During the chorus we used some servo motor sample sounds from the movie, and I think it works really well with the song.

Other than those samples, the song is 100% Roland D-20. The very typical gated kick makes another performance, and the bass line is also one of those digital sounds attempting to emulate analogue synthesizers. It sounds weird today, and probably would have been much better with an actual synthesizer instead, but we had to work with what we had at hand.

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A song a week #14: Mind Controller

For once I have some actual memories from the making of a song! This one started out by me doing most of the music at home on the D-20, and then at some point playing it over the phone to Måns. Yes we used to sit with the receiver pressed up against a speaker and play the whole song through, effectively hogging 100% of our families telephone bandwidth. At least this part of teenage parenting has been improved since then.

Anders outside our "studio" in the school Måns, Jonas and Olle went to.
Anders outside our “studio” in the school Måns, Jonas and Olle went to.

I think it was in the early summer of 1990 that we borrowed the student’s lounge at Adolf Fredriks music school, also known as the Piano Bar, to record the bigger part of what was to become Nowadays, and this song was recorded there. Måns had come up with the vocal melody, and written the first verse. I remember him and me sitting and writing the second verse together (but maybe Jonas and Olle were there too). For me this was something new, I had never participated on writing the lyrics before (and didn’t much later either). I wanted to write songs completely on my own, but didn’t dare even trying to sing, and could never understand how you decided what the lyrics was going to be about. I had nothing to say, really.

One detail I remember is the line “And every time you are saying no / You’ll have a longer way to go” which was a result of me identifying the spirit of what needed to be said to continue the logical flow of the preceding lines, and Måns, after thinking for a minute or so, coming up with the line, with rhyming and everything. A bit like julklappsrim! I remember the feeeling of success, but today the lyrics partly seem like the result of some Bowiesque cut-up technique?

The song is centered around a riff in E minor to F, using open fifths. I still think the riff is pretty good, but these harmonies are difficult to write melodies to (unless you are Björk of course). Maybe that’s why the chorus is instrumental. The synth sound playing the riff is probably the closest we got to mimicking a classical analogue synth sound, before actually buying one. The D-20 was not a good synth to start learning about synthesis, since it is a confusing hybrid of a rompler and a digitally modelled analog synth. At this point we more and more ditched the sampled stuff and used only the synth part.

Another detail I remember is that I, after a lot of hard work tweaking the D-20, managed to come up with a percussive chipping sound similar to that in World In My Eyes by Depeche Mode. A complete ripoff!

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A song a week #13: I’m Here

Here we go, right after the somewhat weird intro to “Nowadays”, we are smack in the middle of classic synth-pop with the second track of this cassette, “I’m here”.

This is 100% Yamaha V50, but you can clearly hear that we’ve picked up some production tricks at the time, because the quite brutal arpeggio sound is lower during the singing and higher in the bridges. This must have been done using the V50’s sequencer, which feels impressive today.

Jonas and Måns shopping for the latest in second-hand synth fashion.
Jonas and Måns shopping for the latest in second-hand synth fashion.

The V50 also had quite a few nice built-in effects, and the “gate” effect was so heavily used on this track that it feels like the whole song was put through a dampening filter. You can hear another weird slap-back delay effect on the drums, still using only the V50. Drums was really the achilles heel of the V50, and I really think that’s why we started to think about using the Roland D-20 for drums while still wanting to use the bass sounds from V50. This led to having to learn how to hook our two machines up to each other using MIDI, which we’ll hear in later tracks on Nowadays.

The song then. It’s not bad, in fact it’s a nice synth-pop tune with some dramatic twists, like the weird “outro”. We were beginning to figure out different ways to sound “heavier” having begun shifting our musical influences from Erasure to Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb. This would have adverse effects on our song making later on, but at this time it simply meant we were very concerned with trying not to sound too childish.

The singing is OK, but I’m wondering if it was done in a rush. For some reason I can’t picture where we recorded this track, which I ususally am able to do. Especially on the high notes I think it sounds like I’m pushing it a little hard without hitting them. Of course I could just have been singing while running a cold. :)

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A song a week #12: Let’s Make Story

Hold on, because this song exist in three versions!

It’s 1987. Thirteen-year-old Måns sits at home on Västmannagatan 33 in Stockholm and writes an uptempo song. He records it with what he has available: a piano and his dad’s TR-505, Tascam Porta 05 and MicroVerb. The result is a catchy but somewhat confused production.

A year passes. Måns has now teamed up with Olle and Anders to form Art Fact, using the songs recorded as a proof of concept. The first song to be tackled is Let’s Make Story. Anders owns a Yamaha PSR-70, and Olle a Casio CZ-101. Together with the TR-505 these synths are used to make the song sound more like a synth band. The result is even more hectic than the original, with a pumping octave bass and a nice monophonic synth hook. The arrangement is slightly less whimsical and clocks in at 1:40 instead of 2:19.

Fast forward to 1990. Art Fact are working on their second full-length demo cassette entitled Nowadays. Having trouble getting enough songs together, Let’s Make Story is once again remade, this time using the Roland D-20. As it is probably the most uptempo song in their repertoire, it is decided to put it as the opening song. A very long intro (including Anders’ brother counting backwards in Russian, as well as samplings from a aircraft carrier documentary and a Richard III movie) opens up to a slightly calmer and more structured version of the song, clocking in at 3:05.

Måns on Grevgatan where Anders lived and the shop Artefacts resided.
Måns on Grevgatan where Anders lived and the shop Artefacts resided.

What more can be said? Hearing the first version of this song was really impressive I remember. I also remember playing back the second version to a friend at school, and being disappointed when he didn’t like it as much as I had expected. I mean, it had drums and a cool synth line! What’s not to like?

I have no clue what the lyrics are about, but using a word like “history” seemed very grown-up and cool at the time. The out-of-character kick drum and tom fills have survived even into the final version, being somehow an essential part of the song. The drum sounds on the final version are very typical of the D-20, and not a favorite now.

Overall, this song was a milestone in Art Fact’s history. It got the band together, it was the first song we recorded as a group, and it opened up Nowadays, maybe our best effort.

A song a week #11: The Dust On Your Floor

Olle is looking moody on a Stockholm back yard.
Olle is looking moody on a Stockholm back yard.

We’ve made it almost all the way through “In Fact” and the very last track of this cassette is a nice one. I think it gives quite a good insight into what is to come in the future, since it’s got more of a dark mood and classic synth-pop vibe to it.

It begins with the intro, which uses a lot of percussion sounds to create a moody landscape leading up to the timpani drumbeat.

This song is all Roland D-20, with some creative drum parts where we used the rim sound for once. But what’s really interesting here is the very sweet melody going in the bridge. We were always trying to combine nice melodies with a dark atmosphere and mood, and in this track it really paid off, I think.

The vocals sounds sort of forced, and they were recorded using a drum microphone, so there isn’t a lot of full vocal sound there to work with in the first place. There is nothing wrong with my singing, but the sound is very sharp and piercing.

After using our synthesizers separately all through “In Fact”, we were now learning how to hook them up to each other using MIDI. This would give us a whole new range of sounds to combine for our next cassette, “Nowadays” which had a lot of truly great tracks on it.

With this, we leave “In Fact” in the (quite literal) dust and move forward into the 1990’s! Next week, we start with a song that leads on “Nowadays” but is actually from the “In Fact” era. More on that soon!