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 #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 #16: Man In Armour

I’m glad it was my turn to write this week, because this is probably my favourite track of all Art Fact songs.

Listening to it now on SoundCloud, it’s easy to see that even though the track clocks in at 4:06, the actual song part is only about 2 minutes. It starts of with a 1:30 long intro, and ends with 30 seconds of synth sounds. No wonder we never got a record deal! Per Gessle would be ashamed of us.

The man in the armour!
The man in the armour!

I remember that the intro was a different piece of music, that we discovered could work as an intro for Man In Armour if we tweaked the last chord. Since it was another sequence on the D-20, and there was no way of merging sequences, we first recorded the intro on track 1&2 on the Fostex X-26 portastudio. Then we loaded the Man In Armour sequence, armed track 3&4 and listened back to the intro. Then Måns pressed the Start button for the D-20 sequencer just at the right moment. I think we had to try a few times before we got it right. Track 1&2 were then used for the vocals, which required some (not so exact) tweaking of levels, pan and reverb settings during mixdown. Everything was not better in the good ol’ days!

The chord sequence was very much inspired by Depeche Mode’s Behind The Wheel. It uses the same formula of 3 harmonic chords, and then a fourth that is slightly off. I think the whole song was written by Måns by himself. The only thing I remember adding is the metallic touch to the snare. The bass sound used the D-20 pizzicato sample, and the melody in the middle 8 sounds a bit like a clarinet. These two more acoustic sounds are then contrasted by the gated drums and the resonant synth in the outtro.

What I like about this song is mainly the driving rhythm, Måns’ lyrics, and the few seconds just after the first chorus. At this point an extra bar combined with a slight change in the vocal rhythm shifts my whole perception of where beat 1 in the chord sequence is, which is a bit like a magic trick. I don’t know if we did it on purpose, but it still fools me every time.

Although one of our favourite songs, it did not end up on the vinyl record. We didn’t want to argue with the guys at Dödsdans’ selection, and keeping it off the record also opens up the possibility of releasing it separately somehow in the future.

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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 #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 #10: No, No, No!


Jonas photographed from some video experiment.
Jonas photographed from some video experiment.

Another personal favourite from In Fact, this track has some nice features that show that we were getting better and better at writing and producing songs. First of all, we used the fact that Olle could also sing really well. It is he who sings the backing vocals in the choruses, which probably means that we used all four tracks available for once.

Second, the middle-8 part is really good and serves its purpose. There are some nice chord changes and melodies (including a nice FM bell from the Yamaha V50). If we would have been even better at producing we would have cut the last verse after the middle-8 and gone straight for some finishing choruses. The song feels a bit long now.

The chord sequence in the verse is sort of an extended 12 bar blues, which works pretty good with Måns’ pseudo-bluesy vocals. I don’t know where we got this influence from, maybe from Yazoo who at least I listened to a lot during this period. This song was probably written mostly by Måns, so maybe he also did.

Finally, the intro and ending, or outtro as we used to call it (still do actually). The intro was once again some kind of field recording sound, in this case Fröken Ur, the national speaking clock. I don’t think there was any thought behind this selecting, it was just one of the few things available to record. The outtro is, just like the middle-8, a bit more elaborate than usually for this period. I think the fast arpeggio was recorded using the V50 step sequencer.

Overall, this song is an indication towards a more mature style and expression (if you can say that about 15-year-olds) that was more developed on the second cassette Nowadays.

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A song a week #8: Problems

Bild 30-003
Måns walking past the square outside what much later became rock club Debaser in Stockholm.

It’s hard to remember how some songs were written. On these early tracks it was mostly Måns who came up with the general form, while we others had opinions on details I would say. This sounds like a song that was created in the sequencer rather than on the piano. It has som awkward seams between song parts, especially every time the intro comes back. It sounds like the song grinds to a halt.

Listening back to it now, my favourite part is the chorus (if you can call it that) when the the drum fills answer Måns vocals. I find it rather groovy for being Art Fact! Also Måns bluesy slides on some notes in the verse are nice, and quite typical.

We often had trouble coming up with a middle-8 part, and in many songs we would just do a drum break or something without new chords or melodies. Here we at least came up with some new weird bass notes and something similar to an arpeggio with a filter sweep, but I wonder if the song wouldn’t have been better if we just cut that part out.

This song was clearly all produced using the Yamaha V50, its sound is very distinctive. All synth sounds are very dry. I don’t think the V50 had any onboard effects, and it doesn’t sound like we added any later. Since there is only one vocal, I guess we only used 3 of the 4 tracks available in the Tascam Porta 05. That’s minimal!

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A song a week #6: Shirt

Olle and Måns on the subway.
Olle and Måns on the subway.

This song existed even before I joined Art Fact. Måns and Olle went to music school, and had already started a band called Cairo. This was in 1987 or so. Måns recorded some songs, including this early version:

This version uses his Måns’ father’s Tascam Porta 05 portastudio, Roland TR-505 drum machine, piano, and Alesis MicroVerb. I think Olle later added the synth line intro using his Casio VL-1 and loooots of reverb. There are lot’s of similarities between the early demo and the version that ended up on In Fact, but two (in my opinion) major hooks were added:

  1. First of all the drum fill intro. Måns played some drums at the time, or at least he had a practice kit set up in his room. He knew how to play the standard drum fills on toms, which in 99 cases of a 100 go from smaller (high pitch) to bigger (low pitch). But when programming the intro to the song he came up with a fill that in all its simplicity I’ve never heard before or after. The upwards motion works really well as an intro, and leads the way to…
  2. The drum beat. Most drum beats have a snare on beats 2 and 4, but the early version only had it on beat 2, and the In Fact version only on beat 4. This gives the song a sort of half-beat feel.

The last hook on my list is the same in the two versions, and that is the lyrics “I am clean and you are dirt / You tell me to wash my shirt”. I have no idea what this really means, but it’s a line that has stuck in my head for many years.

The In Fact version again uses the Tr-505 but then mainly Olles Casio CZ-101. Those who owned one can easily identify it’s sound in the break.

At the time I was extremely impressed that Måns and Olle had written and recorded songs of their own. Not just by the musical skill to pull it off, but also by having access to a portastudio and drum machine. Back then, this was more or less rocket science and really expensive. I knew I had to team up with those guys….

A song a week #3: Rain In The South

This is both a personal favorite, and one of our most played songs. In 2011 it was included on the Hidden Tapes CD, which was really flattering for us to be part of.

The songs from this period were mostly recorded at Olle’s house, where we used to meet after school to drink soda, play synths and computer games (on Olle’s Amiga). This song probably originated with the arpeggio, generated in the Yamaha V50. The water drops in the intro was recorded in Olle’s bathroom, straight to tape. Must have been tricky getting enough signal :)

Måns running through Stockholm city.
Måns running through the streets of Stockholm ca 1989.

Once again I’m amazed how minimalistic our productions were, compared to how music sounds today. This sparseness leaves a lot of space for Måns’s vocals and the lyrics, which is a bit more epic than usual. I have a faint memory that Måns wrote the verses, but couldn’t come up with anything to sing in the choruses, and that I suggested the “rain in the south”-part which has little to do with the rest of the song but has a nice ring to it (if I may say so myself).

When preparing this track for the Hidden Taped CD, we recorded our old cassettes into Logic and used the Denoiser noise reduction plugin to get rid of the hissing and humming. The difference was quite remarkable as you can compare in Måns’ blog post on the process.

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A song a week #1: Whom Are You Dancing For?

Starting today, we will try to say a few words about every Art Fact song. Starting with Whom Are You Dancing For?, this was far from the first song we ever wrote or recorded, but it’s the first track we released (if you can call hand-copied cassettes “releases”). Listening to it now it sounds like one of those tracks that started by just tinkering with some drums and bass sounds. There is quite a lot of borrowed stuff in this song, from the typical octave bass (from Depeche Mode´s Photographic) to some lyrics like “life in itself” and “they can’t get no / satisfaction”. On this particular track I remember that Måns showed the lyrics to his English teacher, who wanted him to change the title to the more grammatically correct “WHO are you dancing for?”. Claiming his artistic freedom, Måns refused to change it.

The track is done using just the Roland D-20. It was probably completed at Olle’s house. The drums are quite busy, but at this point we didn’t use any hihat since that sounded too much like a rock drummer. I remember that we recorded the harp-like arpeggio by hand, slowing the tempo down quite a bit. We also automated the stereo panning a lot, which still sounds pretty good I think.

Overall it’s a very minimalist track. In the chorus it’s just drums, bass and vocals! But at the time I think we didn’t know what else to put in there.

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