A song a week #17: Stains


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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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 #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!

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 #9: Tell Me Why

The whole gang during our first photo-shoot in 1989.
The whole gang during our first photo-shoot in 1989.
From left: Jonas Embring, Anders Ljung, Olle Söderström, Måns Jonasson.



Oh, yes! I’m so happy that it was my (Måns) turn to write this week. This is definitely one of the very best songs from In Fact, and I have very vivid memories of recording this song too.

“Tell me why” stands out as a great little pop ditty with, for Art Fact, very well-defined song structure. There is nothing hidden in this track, nothing left to the imagination or that could have been done that wasn’t done. Simplicity, pure pop. I love it! Of course, this is pretty far from synth-pop and I’d say that our influences from Erasure are very clear in this track.

This track is made with Roland D-20, although I am fairly certain that there was an earlier version made on the PSR-70, sadly gone today because it was probably never recorded. There are a couple of cute quantizing errors very typical for how we worked with the D-20, because we never knew if we should quantize in 1/16 or 1/32. Sometimes we did it wrong and there are a couple of off beats in this one.

The bass line is classic octaves, in a bouncy, sort-of slap bass sound. A weird choice maybe, but it works. One thing that is very different here is that we allowed Anders to add a GUITAR to the chorus. Again, I blame Erasure since Vince Clarke was dabbling with guitars at this time as well, at least in the “Sometimes” video, which we loved. I know that Anders doesn’t like that guitar sound any more, but I think it really works and blends in nicely.

Vocals then. The vocals are, in my own opinion, probably the best ones I recorded on In Fact. I did the recording in my bedroom in my parents’ home at Västmannagatan, and I remember that it was fairly late so my little sisters were sleeping and I sang so loud that my step-mother came to tell me to quit. Anyway, I got it done and today I still really like how they turned out. Blues-y, and really “on”. You need to remember that I was only 16 years old or so, which is the main reason I’m impressed today.

The lyrics are nothing special really. It’s all about rejection and not understanding why, in a teenage angst sort of way. The up-beat music doesn’t really match the lyrics.

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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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