Posts Tagged ‘harmonies’

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quiet storm track walkthrough (part i).

October 27, 2009

Hi there everyone! Thanks for the love you’ve shown my new album Quiet Storm.  I really appreciate it, from the bottom of my heart. ♥ If you have yet to download it, then you can get it here… –

(clicky) Quiet Storm (album download) (clicky)

This is gonna be the first instalment of a track-by-track rundown, so you can learn a little bit about each of the songs!  I’ll cover the first ‘arc’ of the album today, which are tracks 1-6! 🙂

1. Open

This is the album intro!  I wanted the title to have two meanings, one which was obviously the album intro being the ‘opening’ of the story / journey, but also for it to encourage listeners to enter the album with an open mind, open attitude and open heart.  The idea of “open your body / open your mind” was to combine the physical and mental, as some of the album songs are very much about physical sentiments such as sex, money and fashion; others are more to do with thoughts, emotions and relationships and our feelings and beliefs surrounding those situations.  It was also meant to have a somewhat mysterious feel, which is why my voice stutters and distorts at various parts. “I’m coming in” is your sign to get ready!…

2. All Night Long

…as I ask at the beginning of this song, “Are you ready?” The journey is beginning!  I wanted the album’s opening track (i.e. this is the first song proper) to be a slow, sexy song for two reasons: I thought it would be striking to open the album with a slower song, as all too often the temptation is to go in boom! bang! bang! with your uptempo.  I wanted the album to rise and fall in a more genuine way, and not to be front-loaded with club numbers.  I think that interspersing the album with uptempos, midtempos and slower songs throughout makes it more genuine and ultimately more engaging and cohesive.  This song was inspired by two songs: “Discipline” by Janet Jackson – but I hadn’t actually heard the song at this point! I’d read that there was an S&M theme, that it was a dark, slow song and I was inspired by those thoughts to make a song that I thought sounded like the essence of ‘discipline’ (hence its namecheck in the lyrics – “I exhibit discipline”); and “Mary Jane” by Mary J. Blige, from her seminal My Life album.  The hook of the song is a resung version of that song’s hook (which I’m aware is not the original use of that hook anyway, but it’s the version I’m most familiar with), but I slowed down the tempo and tried to do something a little bit different with it.  I also was tempted by the idea of putting this song first as it’s the most explicit, sexual song on the album – it’s the perfect start to the night-time, as Quiet Storm was largely inspired by the nocturnal, both in its soundscape and artwork.  And by getting the sex out of the way, we can focus on deeper things!  This actually being one of the very first songs I completed for the album, I don’t 100% remember how the beat breakdown came about now, but I love it and I felt that it was a really striking way to end the song… The breakdown is picked up by one of the songs at the album’s close, which also makes the album come full circle.

3. If I

Another one of the first songs I wrote for the album, this is probably the most dance-based song on the record, and it has a very nocturnal, dark feel again, as emphasised by the harmonies at the beginning which are nearly-but-not-quite off-key! It gives the song a mysterious introduction, which combined with the dance beat, makes it sound almost menacing.  The subject matter explores the fact that we all go to such lengths to please other people, and what would happen if we were just who we naturally are, rather than striving to meet others’ expectations?  At the end of the day, I’m just a young guy who wants to have fun and be happy and enjoy life!  Isn’t that what everyone wants?  Why should I put myself out for you?  What would happen if I did to you the things you do to me?  How would you feel about that?  That’s the main thematic of the song, and it’s one of the songs main uptempos.  The repetitive hook is actually quite en vogue now, but at the time of writing it, I really thought I was onto something and I felt that it was a little bit fun and kooky (as well as quite hot)!  But I generally liked the combination of the pulsing beats and the quite revealing lyrics: we all feel like a prisoner of other people’s “unrealistic expectations” and pressures at times, and although by living up to them we keep the peace and excel, to what extent do we sacrifice ourselves?  We all need to cut loose sometimes.

4. Hook Boy

I love this song!  It was a song I wrote lyrics to quite early on, but I just could not get right for ages!!!!! Ultimately, it was one of the last songs I completed for the album, as it was in work-in-progress stage for possibly a year!  This song is about swag, and also about songwriting prowess – I am still learning and honing my craft when it comes to singing, writing and producing, and I appreciate that on Garageband there’s only so much I can do. But at least I have total control of my music, and I’m pretty pleased with what I produce at this stage.  I can say, hand on heart, that this album is something I am very proud of!  And to be in charge of all these aspects of my music is very important to me, as it pisses me off to see certain stars who’ve made it big without much talent to speak of.  So I’m bigging myself up on this song, and although you could read it in terms of sexual prowess or swagger, to me, it’s really about being the best singer and songwriter I can be, and trying to offer something fresh.  Being a “hook boy” refers to being able to write a decent, catchy hook!  But as the coda of the song says (where the beat changes and becomes a little more complex – another end-of-song development I love!), sometimes people take your ability for granted, and at the same time as we may be skilled and have swag and talent, we have to make sure that people don’t take us for a ride without appreciating who we are and what we do.  We need to be proud and confident in ourselves, and it’s nice for others to recognise that, but we also need to make sure that people don’t take advantage of us.  So there’s an extra layer in there.

5. Focused (Interlude)

This interlude is thrilling to me because I finally got some harmonies exactly how I wanted them – there are about six layers of vocals in this!  It’s short and sweet, and essentially segues between the three beat-driven songs we’ve had so far (slow, deep sexual beat; mysterious, menacing dance beat; midtempo, stuttering beat) and the next song which will be the album’s first proper ballad.  “I’m too focused on the beat, gotta focus on the melody!”

6. Secret

This song is one where I wanted my voice to stand out, and that’s why it starts off acapella – I wanted it to be a stark contrast to the songs which came before, and to really be melody- and vocal-focused.  A good melody can make or break a song, and I wanted the heartfelt nature of this song, the album’s first romantic track, to really come through in the melody.  I also wanted a song which was vocally-driven, as I want to reinforce that I am a singer and confident vocalist first and foremost.  I was inspired by Delta Goodrem’s “Believe Again” – although that song has a more electronic, dance undertone than this track, I loved how the beats and effects built up through the song, so that was something I sought to replicate here.  After the second verse, the beat chips in, and it’s sorta off-kilter (not a straightforward 2/4 or 4/4).  It drops out again completely for the bridge, leaving my voice to carry the song to its finale.  I wanted to emphasise the vocals and the vocal melody line as the spine of the song, especially as the lyrics are so romantic and heartfelt.  It’s quite possibly the most purely optimistic song on the record – it’s a very positively romantic song not coloured by heartache, and brings the first arc of the album to a satisfying close, while seguing into the next songs…

… which I’ll cover in part 2!  Enjoy and keep it locked, and download Quiet Storm if you haven’t already! 🙂 Thankyou xxx

(clicky) Quiet Storm (album download) (clicky)

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about high fashion.

October 1, 2009

Just a quick track-by-track run-through of all the songs on my High Fashion mixtape!  I hope you enjoy it and this fleshes out the stories behind the music for you all 🙂

High Fashion

The photos for this mixtape were actually the last thing to get done! I had a lot of ideas for it, but basically it involved playing dressup and taking lots of fun fun pictures of me pouting in designer accessories and too much lip balm and radiating attitude! Trust me, some of the pictures were horrendous, but I was pleased that I got some decent ones that I chose to use.  In contrast to the Quiet Storm artwork, which incorporates a lot of dark blues, purples and blacks with white type and layered translucent textures (evocative of the intimate, nocturnal atmosphere embodied by the album), the artwork for the mixtape is very bright, very immediate (no gloss or photoshopping!) and very tongue in cheek – I do not dress that ostentatiously in real life!!!  But it was a lot of fun 🙂

Official Boy

This song was recorded a year ago – obviously, it’s a cover of Cassie’s song “Official Girl”… I seem to be the only one who loved that song!  I was obsessed with that song at the time because I could relate – I was semi-dating somebody but didn’t know where I stood. (It turned out to be nowhere.)  So I got the instrumental and decided to rerecord my version – in the process, I learned a lot about creating vocal layers and harmonies and counter-melodies, and I appreciated how densely the original song is constructed.  I also wrote my own rap, which was really fun.  I really liked Cassie’s latest material, as I did a cover of this song and “Touch Me” samples another Cassie song, “Nobody But You”.

Touch Me (see post!)

Hook Boy (Remix)

This song uses the instrumental of Day26’s “Imma Put It On Her”, continuing the love for Bad Boy artists.  I have always been impressed by Diddy’s production skills and most of the Bad Boy tracks that have come out over the last 12 years have had really solid music and production.  It’s a remix of the song “Hook Boy” on Quiet Storm, and so I changed up the melody and some of the lyrics somewhat, but the basic skeleton of the song remains the same, though this remix has a more celebratory, uptempo feel to it, relishing being in the club and being with the one you love.

Get Me Home (Interlude)

I liked the harmonies on this one, but I have an interlude called “Focused” on the album where I did a superior job of a similar type of harmony, so I removed this track from the album and kept it for the mixtape.

Jump Off (Part I) (Snippet)

The original version of a song which is on the album (appropriately called “Jump Off (Part II)”), this is a very straight-up R&B ballad, no frills.  The lyrics have been kept more or less identical between the two songs, but Part II has a much more R&B, nocturnal feel which I fell in love with and which suited the feel of the album as a whole much more.  I might finish this version eventually, because I think it has potential, but I kinda left it by the wayside in favour of Part II, which is one of my favourite tracks on Quiet Storm, and very lyrically honest.

Don’t Look Now (Game Over)

This song was written after I was seeing somebody who just suddenly disappeared with the excuse that “I need space”… BULLSHIT mayne!!!   I decided to channel my irritation positively, and this record was a cutting, dance-type response to that whole situation.  I like the lyrics in it, which pay a nod to “Bad Girl” and “Pretty Boy” by the now sadly defunct Danity Kane, as well as Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable”.  My favourite lyric is “dangerous and brokenhearted”, and I briefly considered that as an album title.  I love the ring of it, but ultimately there is something about the song that meant it couldn’t hang with the rest of the tracks that made the album, so ultimately it got relegated to the mixtape!

Pronunciation (Interlude)

This was just a big big laugh… it sets the scene for the next song, “Armani Earrings”, which is a track on Quiet Storm that I just had so much fun writing, as it really epitomises swagger!  The idea came from the “learn Italian” tapes they play in the bathrooms at Frankie & Benny’s restaurants, and working in The Perfume Shop and getting irritated at how many designers names got mangled by customers on a regular basis.  So this interlude is a play on all of those things, as well as a lead-in to the next track.

Armani Earrings

… you’re gonna have to wait for the story behind this one!!!  Just enjoy it for now 🙂

Can’t Play A Playa

Originally I was so excited about this track, with the military gunshot-style intro and the catchy hook… but somewhere along the line, although I tried out a lot of different ideas such as having a rap in the middle of the song instead of at the bridge, and multiple hooks and stuff, I felt it lost the sparkle and drive I was aiming for the song to have, so I didn’t feel it was strong enough to make the album.  I like the song, but I just couldn’t execute it the way I wanted to so I kept it back for the mixtape.

Wild Heart

During my time at Oxford uni, I became friends online with a guy who got into trying to write and produce his own songs.  He sent me this track that he’d written and produced (the production is a slightly different style to anything I’ve done, though the song itself I like), and asked me to resing it.  I went a bit crazy with it, attacking it with different melodies and ad-libs, and when I sent it back he was like “WOW you have CHANGED it!!!” I really liked the way it turned out, but I think he was somewhat taken aback… I never really considered this song for the album, especially as my only input into it was changing some of the melodies, harmonies and structuring, but I like it nonetheless so I thought that there was no harm in putting it on High Fashion.

Role Model

The first element of this song that I had was the bassline, and then I just started adding lyrics to it.  I remember half of it was written in my head on a car journey with my parents, and the minute we got back in the door I rushed upstairs and spent an hour creating the song.  I like the sung chorus element, because it really expressed how I don’t feel that I fit easily into many categories that people try to pigeon-hole me into.  In terms of the music I listen to, my educational background and my sexuality (among other things), I don’t really feel that what is widely portrayed in the cinema really represents me, and I wanted to put across the fact that just because there is a stereotype for these things doesn’t mean that everybody necessarily fits them.  Although it’s not my finest hour rapping (and I like to think that the rhymes on “Armani Earrings” demonstrate how much I’ve improved), the lyrical subject matter is very true and I am positive I am not the only young person who feels misrepresented.  You have to be who you are, for the sake of who you are.

Broke WIthout Remedy

I was listening to Erykah Badu’s most recent album New Amerykah and wanted to do a song which was a bit more unstructured and organic sounding, so I hit up Garageband and started playing with samples. This is the result! I was near the end of my university degree at Oxford, and I was kinda frustrated because I didn’t know where I was going next and I was in a lot of debt and I was just like “what happened? I thought this degree would solve all my problems and it’s just left me with more!”  With my new uni course and being so happy and that being beyond me, the perspective I now have of Oxford is perhaps more balanced and I can appreciate the quality of degree and the good friends that I got from there, but at the time of writing / singing the song, I was feeling quite down.  Towards the end, my voice cracks and I kept it in as evidence of too much cigarettes + emotional despair = raw vocals!

I Want To Know What Love Is (see post!)

High Fashion (Acapella) (Outro)

Another little acapella taster of the “High Fashion” track on my album.  The Intro uses some of the backing music, and the outro uses the first verse and chorus of the song.  Although I’m not 100% happy about ending the album with 2 acapellas in a row, I definitely thought that these last two songs both deserved to be on the mixtape and both fit at the end.

So there you are!  Once again, you can download the mixtape HERE and I really hope you enjoy it! 🙂