Here is at least something which sounds a lot more like a classic synth pop song on this cassette! We were working so hard to make ourselves sound “harder”, but here we have a nice tune that we managed to squeak through anyway.
We’ve got an unidentified synth doing the bass line, it could be the trusty ole Juno-106, but it doesn’t sound like it. The Juno is definitely there though in the pads. Also, the S-330 sampler is working hard again with both sound effects and drum patches.
For once, we also made the second verse something else than a cut-and-paste of verse one, at least in the soundsphere. We’ve got a nice arpeggio which sounds like another Juno-106, adding some texture and movement to the song there.
The vocals are nothing to be happy about today, I sound totally crappy, and without emotion. This was definitely by design, but it was one of those choices we made back then that I wish I could go back and change. We wanted to be cool, but ended up taking away a lot of the “soul” in our music that had made Art Fact what was different.
Lyrics are forgettable as well. The “blocked by fear” line is ripped off from the Front 242 song “Gripped By Fear”. Oh well.
Leading off the “B-side” of the cassette we have the track which gave its name to our compilation vinyl released by Dödsdans Rekords a couple of years ago. I don’t know why the nice guys at the label decided on that name, but I quite like the title actually. Somehow it lends a nice atmosphere to the song, and it goes well with the sound.
We start off a bassline I don’t remember which synth it cam from. It doesn’t actually sound like any of our regular sounds, but it might have been the Roland Juno-1, since we were using that a lot during this time. During our The Nuclear Princess era we experimented a lot with sampling, and the intro has a submarine sonar sample going during the bass line. Then we immediately go into the beat and the very narrow pad, again I don’t really know what synth that is.
During the verse, I can hear a weird reverse-pad that is most definately a Juno-106. And we’ve got a slow verse which finishes in a hilarious turn which I know Anders hates and I am fond of. :) We only had one effect unit to use for the vocals, an Alesis Microverb. Since we really wanted the reverb in the chorus to be as large as possible, but we wanted a shorter reverb during the verse, we had to manually switch the effect during mastering, which makes the reverb “die” at the end of the first verse and start over in the chorus. It sounds weird, but somehow I think it just adds to the relative minimalism of the track.
During the break we take an actual break, and listen to sea gulls. Yep. That’s the kind of stuff we were into. I don’t remember why, or how, but the sea gulls are all alone on this track for a good 15 seconds and I guess we wanted to make the listener feel something. Do you?
All in all, not a very memorable song, and I think it could have been a lot better. The bass line is very nice, and the vocals are pretty good, but the drum beats are too monotonous and boring.
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.
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.
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. :)
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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:
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. :)
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.
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.
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. :)