To fill the desert with water

Free des(s)ert for everyone

The situation in the world in the preceding months created something that – judging from its title –seemed to stem exactly from the song by INA INA: a desert. Social interactions were and still are restricted, and especially artists of any kind, relying so heavily on coming togehter with other people, couldn’t perform. Many creatives lost most of their income.

An outcome of the lockdown, on a positive note, was a huge increase in productivity for many of us. New art has been created, brushed, cleaned up and released in such a vast number like never before. For how long that’s going to go well, and if free downloads and streaming concerts are to be the new normal is another story.

Personal desert

Long before this crisis arose, INA INA released their song Desert. The band and I played a double concert back in 2018 when they were still going by the name EXCRM. We instantly liked each other, and not long after I had the idea of doing a remix for the band.

Desert, equipped by the way with a beautiful video, is a somewhat easy-going indie pop track about longing, looking back and coming back. The underlying sweet melancholy was what got me in the first place, giving the song a shimmer of elusiveness.

Kill your darlings, fast

Most of times, I’m starting off songs and remixes with a tiny idea. It’s often just a starting point from which I depart and get somewhere completely different. Like a sketch, bearing not much similarity with the actual outcome later. Often it hurts to say goodbye to ideas you worked on for hours or days, when you finally realise it won’t fit or is in the wrong place in the song.

Desert is hugely based on the lead singers’s vocals using the typical autotune effect. To me, this overly technical approach of autotuning always creates kind of a distance, as if someone is singing through acrylic glass. In my own production, mostly for other people, I use it sparingly on backing vocals, or over-obviously in-your-face.

The compactness of the original, derived from the quiet, peaceful dynamics and the tuned vocals, challenged me to do two things. Firstly, to not cramp it up to a dance-able 120BPM+ party version, but keep it relaxed, and secondly, to seek for vivid elements to bring a new shape to the song. Would I be able to write on the story of yearning and the promise of coming back and being together? Or would I simply kill someone else’s darling?

Bear your darlings then

With this remix – or rework, as the intensity of re-doing the original suggests – I developed a soulful guitar sample as accompaniment and a relaxed beat, swaying somewhere towards Downbeat and Trip-Hop, unified by a groovy bassline. Normally, the sound would be too euphoric and drained in melody for proper Trip-Hop. As I was gathering the basics for the remix, I decided to go a new way – to transport the spirit and the lyrics further and write a rap that tells my perspective on the (alleged) story of the song. I reminded myself of 90s Massive Attack, when they combined Downbeat with rap – so it’s kind-of Trip-Hop again.

Dazer with my laser

I had never written rap lyrics, especially not in English. Pop songs, over-generalised, tend to be differently designed in terms of text size and effort, more comparable to poetry. Shorter, compressed, and only to a certain degree linear and plainly comprehensible.
With such a toolkit you’d have a hard time confronting the task of writing a rap. Rhythm and rhyme are essential (many of my songs bear a rhyming structure), without a continuous and developing flow it ain’t gonna hit it. And I couldn’t work with shortened, poetry-like hints of text, a lot more content was needed, even for one single verse.
Since English is not my mother tongue, I had a rhyming and an English dictionary lying on my desk, waiting to be utilised.

Honestly, no real idea how well I did. I still like my lyrics, and my first attempt, and even the idea of not taking the text format too seriously. Not being to obvious and not too definite (‘What is the author trying to convey?’), kind of still keeping my own place in it. I also added some background (and foreground) vocals after the rap and pushed in a bit of gospel feeling. A vocal solo which I recorded finally got ditched (so much for darlings) and brought back as an short autotuned sample in the end.

Heard the song yet, folks? It’s out as a free download and stream. And soon with a micro music video.