Posts Tagged ‘Quiet Storm’

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2526: track by track

November 26, 2012

As stated in my previous post, my latest album 2526 is a loose diary of the last 2 years of my life, and focuses on love, and a range of facets of that emotion. I’m now going to take you through each track and tell you a little bit more about them all.

1. My Way / Sincerity

As one might surmise, these were originally two separate songs. “My Way” was a response to the burdens of parental love and pressure from those around you who know you best and suffocate you in their desire for you to achieve the best – at the same time as you love them for wanting the best for you, you can’t help but know that ultimately you’ll end up disappointing them. Try as I might, I could write a bridge for this song, and it was unfinished for ages. “Sincerity” came from wanting to write a song called “Sincerity”, and wanting to use the classic, hard-hitting beat from the remix to “It’s All About The Benjamins”; there seemed to be a real contrast between hard and soft.  But I couldn’t write a bridge for this song either, and it went unfinished for ages as well. One day, it dawned on me to just put the two together – the subject matter of the songs went well together, and while the overall tone of the songs is one of defiance and determination, there is also love and vulnerability. And most importantly, no bitterness.

2. Distance

This is one of my two favourite songs on the album. I was heavily into the song “I Miss You” by Beyoncé (from her masterpiece 4), and the night that I received the instrumental from Citizens of the World, I had been looking forward to Toby coming down to Bristol for the weekend (this was before I had moved to London) – we hadn’t seen each other for a while and I really missed him. Except that same night, he had called me to say that he probably wouldn’t be able to make it (in the end, he did). I was feeling melancholy and yet selfish as well, and the lyrics and melody to this song subsequently came in about 15 minutes. The lyrics so vividly capture the emotions I was feeling, and the vocal delivery is something that is supposed to be downbeat and yet sincere and heartfelt. The production is perfect. I am so grateful to have recorded this song.

3. Delete U

This song was written not long after Quiet Storm was done, and the piano intro is supposed to be reminiscent of Prince / The-Dream. I remember breaking up with one of my previous dalliances and just removing all trace of him from my life. It was intriguing that rather than tangible memories, we store a lot of initial information about friends and relationships digitally and so it’s all about “pressing delete” rather than throwing things in the trash. The use of terms such as “Facebook” and “Twitter” automatically date this song (probably to its detriment, although I personally don’t think it rings as unnaturally as the lyrics about getting off the Macbook and Facebook from Brandy and Monica’s otherwise-very-good “It All Belongs To Me”), but when I’ve dated my entire album through its title, it doesn’t really matter!

4. Important

I am well aware that this song sounds really similar to “Broken-Hearted Girl” by Beyoncé, but it’s not a bad song to use as a template and I really wanted the piano and drums to be straightforward – the vocals and lyrics are supposed to occupy centre stage in this song. I wanted to talk in an honest way about how it feels when you don’t know what is going on in a relationship, and whether your priorities and feelings really mesh with those of your partner’s. Are you on the same page? I left the song open-ended – we don’t know if the couple in the song stay together or break up, because although I personally tend towards the latter, the whole point is that life and love is not clear cut and the things we think we should do, we don’t always do.  Love is complicated.

5. Unforgettable

This song is a remix of / my spin on Drake’s “Unforgettable” from his first album Thank Me Later, and I loved the melancholy production. The chorus of my track I guess is a bit more reminiscent of the Nat King Cole classic; I wanted to have a rap song on my album, like “Armani Earrings” on Quiet Storm, but less incendiary and more vulnerable. The sample of Aaliyah just made Drake’s song so perfect. Mike has played such a big part in the last 3 years of my life that I didn’t know how to feel about it when he moved out of Bristol. Even though we worked together, it felt like we were drifting apart and I was sad about it. I wrote this song to encapsulate all of my emotions about the relationship with one of my best friends developing and evolving. Ultimately, I ended up moving a lot further away! I have grown up so much over the last 3 years, and I wanted to pay tribute to someone who had a considerable role to play in the man I am today. Friendship is love too, after all.

6. Phoenix Rising

This song evokes love as empowerment. This was the first track from Citizens of the World that I wrote to, and I had Nicole Scherzinger’s Killer Love album on repeat at the time, hence the namecheck in the first line. The production was ethereal, and I wanted a melody that really soared on the wings of the track. It was a challenging vocal to sing – particularly the end note! – but recording this track was really enjoyable because I got to do different and interesting things with my voice.

7. U Gotta Go

This song was much more fun and more upbeat – when I received the instrumental, it sounded so happy and pop! I immediately thought of “I Wanna Go” by Britney Spears – but I didn’t want to do something completely featherweight, so I flipped the song to make it a breakup anthem with some sassy lyrics about dumping a car in a lake that I cribbed from Tamia’s “Go” (aside: she is such a ridiculously talented singer!). I also wanted to make a poppy track that had some good vocal riffs in it – so I did that.

8. Sabo

This is my other favourite song on the album, because it is very personal and meaningful. Obviously, it’s addressed to Toby and it’s about him and us. I am so deeply, romantically and truly in love with him. He bought me a ring from Thomas Sabo for our 6-month anniversary, and I still wear it every day – I love it (black and silver are my favourite fashion colours, after all!) and I am so proud of it. I wanted to write a piano ballad the old fashioned way – chords and lyrics on top, no digital production – so that’s me playing the piano (the microphone isn’t great for recording the piano, so that’s why it sounds a bit honky-tonk). I was also in love with Beyonce’s “1+1” so I wanted to have some powerful vocals in the bridge, that really pulled out the soul that I wanted to express. The song turned out exactly how I wanted it to (honky-tonk aside), and I always knew it would be the end song / finale to my album.

Once again, I hope you enjoy the album!

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2526. (my new album, at last!)

November 14, 2012

This album has taken me a lot longer to get out to all of you than I had originally anticipated! After I finished working on Quiet Storm (deep breath) 3 years ago, I wanted to take a deep breath and a little bit of a break, in order to decide what I wanted to do next. I went through a lot of pretty massive life changes (all documented in this blog – thank you for coming along for the ride with me!) such as completing my postgraduate education, starting my first “proper” full-time job working in careers guidance, falling in love with my wonderful boyfriend, passing my driving test and buying a car, moving to London and working for an international school, becoming more or less self-sufficient and “adult” (or as adult as I’m going to get), moving in with Toby… Life has been incredibly hectic!

After some reflection, and listening to a lot of Toni Braxton and Sade, I decided in early 2010 that I wanted to write classic R&B ballads that were heartfelt, and that talked about love.  I remember discussing this with Nick in Caffè Nero in House of Fraser in Cabot Circus, and thinking that the world lay ahead of me. I was so amped to create new music again! Little did I know how much of a rollercoaster was in store for me, and how genuinely the journey of the following two years would take me through the ups and downs of love. Within this rollercoaster, my free time more or less disappeared, and I had hoped to complete this album ages before this, but singing and producing time was just extremely hard to come by. Hence the lean tracklist of 8 songs that you have here.

Nevertheless, time has given me maturity (I hope) and more experience to draw from than I had ever anticipated! It also provided me with the wonderful opportunity to work with a fantastic songwriting/production/music-artistry team Citizens of the World, as well as to share musical insights with them through Twitter. They produced the instrumentals for three of the songs here, and I am extremely grateful to them for providing me with some creative rejuvenation along the way – I can’t wait to do more and I hope to have the opportunity to do so in the future. I was hoping to have at least two more songs finished to bring the total up to double figures, but it was not to be – and I wanted to release the album around now. Through the fullness of time, I serendipitously discovered that if you type the name “ALAN” on an old phone with a keypad like this:

… the numbers you press are 2-5-2-6. (aside: we all remember having a Nokia 3310 phone right? I used to be a demon at playing Snake.) And this album is effectively a distilled diary of my 25th and 26th years of life. Hence the title “2526” – which thus has a double meaning, of sorts, and seemed fated to be the title for this project. Having recently turned 27 and now officially in my significantly less glamorous “late 20s”, I think that this album will be the first and last example of me incorporating my age into a title. Unless I do a Janet and halve my age when I turn 40, releasing my own 20YO. My recent birthday also spurred me to release this album, because I wanted to draw a line under 2526, and start afresh with new music to come.

I sincerely hope you enjoy this record. For those who found Quiet Storm a rather lengthy musical journey, I hope that you will find this album more digestible! I will do a track-by-track soon – but to summarise in a nutshell, this album is about love in its various forms: romantic love, well-meaning but misguided love, spurned love, anger, breakups, friendship, irresistible attraction, and true love.

Download here! 

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important.

April 11, 2011

First of all, a gift / apology for not having written in such a long time! This is a new (well, new to you guys!) song called “Important”, which I did nearly a year and a half ago now – just after I finished and released Quiet Storm, so it was too late to put it onto that album. I was inspired (as is probably evident) by Beyoncé’s “Broken-Hearted Girl” musically, while the lyrics were part of my attempt to delve a little bit deeper with my lyrics. One of my aims for my new album is to talk more eloquently and honestly about love and relationships, because over the past 18 months I have experienced love, experienced relationships and friendships in such a new way. In that respect, this song precedes the timeline for my inspiration, but still fits the brief 😉 It’s just a demo version and still needs a little polishing up (and of course there is no guarantee it’ll make the final tracklist) but I like it and I hope you do too 🙂

One of the things that the song talks about is knowing your priorities and having them straight, in a relationship and in friendships. I have lately had to reprioritise my own life – financially, my car has pretty much taken over and if I am going to London to see Toby, running my car, paying rent and affording all my unavoidable expenses, I have had to accept cutting back on luxuries. I go out for coffee / dinner / cinema less, which is a shame because that means I see less of my friends. I spend less money on clothes and entertainment, and although my lust for them is undiminished, I can’t entertain getting a pretty designer thingummy any time in the near future because I just need to spend the money on other things. Once I move to London, even though my salary will increase, the need to budget intelligently is only going to intensify. I was saying to Toby yesterday that perhaps although I was rationalising at the time (with a grin on my face as I never thought I’d have to go through with it), I am glad I got my fancy jewellery and phone and sunglasses and all my designer things over the last couple of years, because they are things I treasure and now I have to make them last – now that I have them, I don’t need to get any more! My iPod (which I have had for 2 and a half years – the longest surviving iPod yet!) recently started playing up, which greatly irritated me – especially as I got a brand new car stereo so I can plug my iPod into it and play whatever music takes me mood – and I have had to spend quite a few hours over the past few days fixing it, because I can’t survive without music and I simply can’t afford another one right now.

Beyond material things, I need to treasure my friendships and my relationship. The inconveniences I have listed above are just that – inconvenient but not life-threatening! A couple of years ago, I could literally not survive without my iPod. But now, I think I could do it. I wouldn’t like it, but I could do it – other material things such as my phone, my laptop, my car have taken precedence. But my priorities have changed also. What’s important to me is keeping my relationship with Toby happy (which it seems to be up to now, and I realise that this is something to truly cherish), being a good friend and keeping a good circle of friends around me (which I feel I now have), and moving to London and building a career and a life for myself. All of a sudden, having a nice place to live in the city, having a good job and financial stability are important considerations. When did I become a grown-up?

I watched For Colored Girls today, which I had been desperate to do – and now I am desperate to read Ntozake Shange’s original choreopoem, which I shall probably purchase tonight or tomorrow. It reminded me that all of us have our own issues, our own baggage and our own insecurities which we need to conquer, but too often we struggle alone with these burdens rather than shouldering them with our friends and family to both help us cope and draw us closer together. I saw my friend Sarah yesterday whom I hadn’t seen since November, and while it was really good to see her, I found that I didn’t really know what to say to her to connect and recapture the friendship we had at university. Hopefully this is just a blip and next time we get together we can have a more effective catch-up; after 45 minutes, she had to go, but before she left she told me “not to leave it so long next time!” My life has become busy to the extent that try as I might, I can’t see all of my friends as much as I would like. And this is a shame, because when I’m at home in Bristol I can easily get lonely and no matter how much music, how many possessions I have, how many films I watch or PS3 games I play, I still feel bored and cabin-feverish. So I cherish my friendships, I cherish my relationship and how lovely it is, I cherish the things that I have, I cherish my emotions and both my ups and downs. And the real priority is making sure that I remain grateful and don’t become complacent about everything that I have. I may not be satisfied, because I have so much more in my life that I want to accomplish – but I am somewhat happy with my life and that is a really Good Thing.

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25.

October 24, 2010

In 2 hours, I will be 25 years old (and so will my twin Ciara – wish us both a happy birthday!). One year ago, I released my album Quiet Storm on this very blog! In the absence of new music (as I still haven’t bought my new microphone yet), you can stream my album on Soundcloud! Go and give it a listen if you haven’t already. 🙂

This is not the only accomplishment I have to be proud of. I am taking my driving test this coming week after finally making the decision to get back on the horse and get back in the car and get my licence. I hope that I pass; I wish I could visualise myself passing! I am a secret pessimist about it, but at the same time I also know that I am driving better now than I ever have, and that I really should pass. So hopefully I will be able to actualise this ambition and get a car. I also made a new best friend and I have a proper job, at last! Again, not too much that I can talk about with regards to that on here (in the interests of professionalism), but it feel good to have a decent salary and foot on the professional ladder. My other aim, apart from a car, is to move out and get my own little flat. So this year has been pretty sweet, and in 2 months when I do my roundup of 2010, there will be many, many positive things to it, and hopefully I can add even more to my current list. After all, in 60 days, who knows what will happen?

This is the first birthday that I have been in love with somebody who truly loves me back. Toby and I have been together for nearly 10 months now, and in the grand scheme of relationships, it’s been pretty plain sailing. I had a wobble early on, but this relationship has given me so much in terms of teaching me to overcome my own fears and insecurities about being loved, deserving love, and being able to love someone back. Toby is utterly amazing, and I really look forward to seeing him on Friday when it’s his birthday and he opens his gifts. Long distance hasn’t been that difficult, because I guess that somewhere along the line I grew up and discovered that this is what I want. No drama, no second guessing, no rulebook of dos and don’ts, no playing hard to get; when you truly love someone and someone truly loves you, you just be together and love is simple and straightforward and wonderful. Relationships take compromise and work, but at the end of the day if the love is there then the compromise and work is easy to do. Toby and I are both working towards the same goal, we both want the same thing, and therefore any obstacle in our path gets trampled over without much difficulty. The only thing that causes me heart pangs is how much I miss him. Originally, when the prospect of Toby going to London first appeared, I thought that the space would be good, that seeing each other every other weekend would be a good thing as it would mean that we both have our own lives and wouldn’t suffocate one another.

This theory makes sense, in theory. However, in practice it’s getting harder to say goodbye at the end of each weekend. I am ready to be closer to him, and I think that he feels the same. One thing is that I never take this love for granted. I always wanted someone to love me, I always wanted to have somebody to care for and to reciprocate that, and now I have it. I feel like I am on top of the world. I saw my friend Helen this weekend, whom I haven’t seen in two years, and she said two things upon seeing me: that I look so thin (in a good way!), and that I look so happy. And I am! Although there is still stress in my life, this is one thing that has fallen into place so naturally and has really brought me peace within myself. In the past, dating felt like such a gamble, such a procedure like walking on eggshells just in case somebody’s nose got put out of joint (either mine or the other person’s). With Toby, this just didn’t happen, really – okay, at first it was a little bumpy while we got to know each other, but I always felt that our courtship was relatively straightforward, and every hesitant thought I had was of my own making. Those are gone now; I know what I want, and while I know that nothing is guaranteed, I feel that I have relaxed into my relationship and I can appreciate how happy it makes me with no apparent downside! I don’t believe that you need love to be complete; I am still working on completing myself, and I have many more personal and professional goals that Toby cannot help me with. But Toby has shown me that I am capable of and deserving of so much, and I hope that I give him as much happiness and serenity as he has given me. That has been the greatest benefit of all this year.

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ave maria.

September 21, 2010

Above is my cover of Beyoncé’s “Ave Maria”, which I made for Toby as a 6-month anniversary gift.  The lyrics speak for themselves. After originally keeping it special for him, I thought that nearly 3 months later it’s time to let y’all hear it. I hope you enjoy it; I don’t think my microphone did it justice and I think that Beyoncé’s version is untouchable, but I am nevertheless pleased with how it turned out.  And Toby really liked it, which is the most important thing.

However, my other reason for posting it up here is to say that I have opened a Soundcloud account! It can be found under http://soundcloud.com/onyxparadise and I am currently in the process of uploading the entirety of Quiet Storm, as well as some other tracks. In the future, I will be uploading my new tracks there! 😀 I am starting to get excited about creating new music, and the concepts and themes of my new material will be quite different from before, I anticipate, and reflect my various life-changing experiences over the past year. In many respects, the past 12 months have been eye-opening, soul-shattering, emotional and have inspired a lot of growth.  It’s been without a doubt the best year of my life. I’ll share more on the concept of my new material as I create it and feel confident enough to expose it to the world. But the idea of it is forming in my head and has been for a while, and I am very excited. To this end, on Friday when I get paid, I will be paying off my credit card and buying a brand new microphone so that the quality of my recordings is much improved. Watch this space!

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Quiet Storm Inspirations II. (download)

August 1, 2010

As promised, here is the “sonic mood board” that inspired my album Quiet Storm (which you can download here).  Where the last “Inspirations” album was comprised of songs that inspired particular facets of songs on Quiet Storm, this one is more indicative of what music I was listening to when I was inspired to create the concept of the album: nocturnal, sexy, emotional, romantic, soft and tough, vulnerable and strong in one go. As you will see from the tracklist before, it’s an R&B compilation through and through; I’d go as far as to say that these are some of the best contemporary R&B songs over the last 15 years (interestingly, quite a few of them are early Missy Elliott / Timbaland productions… I miss those days!).  Of course, the list is not exhaustive and I had to cut down from over 50 songs to the 19 that you see here; anyway, I hope that you will enjoy downloading the album, listening to the songs and perhaps discover some artists or some songs that you didn’t know, or hadn’t heard in ages.  Download link is at the bottom underneath the tracklisting.  Enjoy!!!

1. Aaliyah – We Need A Resolution (f/ Timbaland)
2. Ginuwine – Pony
3. Mariah Carey – The Roof
4. Ryan Leslie – Addiction (f/ Cassie & Fabolous)
5. Kelly Rowland – Flashback
6. Omarion – Ice Box
7. Janet Jackson – Empty
8. Toni Braxton – Rock Me, Roll Me
9. Shola Ama – (I Don’t Know) Interlude
10. LeToya – I Need A U
11. Dru Hill – Beauty
12. Nicole Scherzinger – Whatever You Like (f/ T.I.)
13. Nicole Wray – Make It Hot (f/ Missy Elliott & Mocha)
14. Brandy – Come As You Are
15. Total – Rain
16. Mýa – For The First Time
17. R. Kelly – Feelin’ On Your Booty
18. Rihanna – Question Existing
19. Sugababes – Maya

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