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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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. :)
we pointed him out to the ruler himself
we looked in his eyes to see the darkness inside
i tried to disagree with you
but your cruel words put me back
i’d like to change a word with you
but your mind is far away
i met a beggar yesterday
and he reached out his hand
his palm was full of grey-blue stains
and his clothes were full of mud
the dirt will never come off my eyes
sometimes i like to save his soul
but you tell me not to
let’s help this man to ease his pain
let’s not let him go
we’ll give him all he needs to live
a normal life again
we’ll follow him just to make sure
that he keeps on the road