Studio Campfire Stories: ‘Tales From the Land Of Milk and Honey’ Edition – “Disappear”

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“Disappear” is actually one of the three songs on Tales From the Land Of Milk and Honey that wasn’t a result of one of the two marathon studio sessions that Nicolay and I scheduled (in February 2014 and April 2015). Like the song “Count To Five” from my ManMade album, the drum pattern came to me while driving in my car …in silence. My phone’s voice memo is always something I use to capture ideas as SOON as they pop into my head because 9 out of 10 times if you don’t record them right then and there… you forget them later – I don’t care how dope of an idea it was. Even if I don’t forget it, I want to go back and listen to the idea exactly how I had it so that if I need to tweak it once I record, then I have the freedom to do so. I always feel like, whatever the idea was must have been dope enough for me to want to record it on my phone, so I want to listen back to it exactly like THAT. So in March 2014, probably feeling inspired from the work that Nic and I had completed just a couple of weeks prior while at a stop light… I opened my voice memo app and “beatboxed” this drum pattern exactly the way I heard it.

Boom KLACK! Boom……… KLACK!Boom, KLACK! Boom………

When I took that pattern in to the studio and started working on it, the demo that I laid for it was much more mid-tempo than anything, but it was workable enough so that I could sit down and figure out chord progressions. The first progression I worked through was one that involved a bassline that was on the busy side, BUT it fell in line with what the drums were doing. The second piece of the music I worked through involved hits on the one… I knew that the song would need dynamics and something that would make it sound interesting when played live and the hits sounded like a perfect solution to me (I actually still have voice memos with the recorded drums AND of me playing those first two parts on the Rhodes). Those hits while another chord progression was happening created a bit of a song climax AND it went right back into the original form pretty easily. To be honest, I think it even took me a week or so to even record the rest of the song officially because I wanted to sit on the demo version and make sure that I didn’t hear anything else on it. I wanted to go in and record all of the ideas I had in one shot (letting stuff sit and “figuring” it out is not a normal practice of mine as it may lead to overthinking in the studio, which is a NO GO). I finally went in to record the music and upon hearing it again, it seemed slow to me… So the first thing I did was bump the tempo up some. A loop of the drums was already recorded so I then patched in the Moog Minitaur and recorded the synth bass part. Once I laid the bass, I added a second part that bounced between two chords at a time… This was to serve as a vamp, or even a “part two” (shouts to The Isley Brothers who were the masters at doing this). Once that was finished, layering began. Synth pads, sprinkles of piano in the verses, and a soft Rhodes pattern was added to aid in the song’s movement. But things got real definitive once I added a lead synth via the Moog Voyager, which appears at the very beginning of the song in the melody line that introduces the entire piece. Having that lead part kinda tied everything together musically… ESPECIALLY on the hits. I definitely remember getting hyped as SHIT when playing the synth lines over the hits. Once the music was finished, I named the instrumental “March Sadness” – a play on the NCAA’s “March Madness” which was in full swing at the time of the recording.

Where normally, I send music to him as soon as I finish it, I sat on this one for a couple of months before letting Phonte hear it. The instrumental was my new favorite, BUT we weren’t in full “record” mode for anything just yet. Because of that, he didn’t hear this one until early May when +FE was in town for our show at The Howard Theater in DC. Before we left my house to go play the NPR Tiny Desk set, he and I got up in the studio to check some new ideas I had been working on. “March Sadness” was the first thing I played to which he responded with…

“Man, go’on and send me that shit…”

BET.

I ended up passing him that one and two other instrumentals, if I’m not mistaken. And just for demoing purposes, I even opened the mic up for him to record a very rough scratch vocal on it, where he kinda sang and hummed his way through the melodies and changes just to get an idea of a songwriting cadence for later.

Fast forward to February 2015, Nicolay and I received an email from Phonte with the subject title, “Disappear” and the message read…

“2015 here we come”

Now at the time, Phonte and I were working on something else COMPLETELY separated from anything +FE, so we had no idea that this email contained the first song for an upcoming +FE album that would be finished and released just six months later. NONE. But when I opened it and recognized the instrumental, I got hyped immediately… Then hearing Phonte’s verse and remembering that it loosely matched the cadence of the scratch vocal that he had recorded back in May 2014 was real dope. But the icing on the cake here was that damn Carlitta Durand. I swear man, her vocals win every single TIME. When she came in on those pre-hook hits?!?!?! I damn near lost it… That part had so much “punch” behind it now to really take it over the top……. Then when her verse began, that same voice took on more of a “delicate” role, it was crazy to hear that contrast from the same vocalist within the same piece. But MY part?! …MY part is the “…catch 22 I keep falling for your touch” line. Good GRACIOUS I got goosebumps off of that shit the first time I heard it (and still do now even after having heard it 3,892 times). She NAILED that line.

Once the vocals were finished, Phonte was telling me that he wanted Nic to work with the second part of the song – the “part two” I described earlier. So I sent Nic the song’s original Pro Tools session and after hearing what he ended up doing with the drums and additional synths… I was sitting there like, “YooooooooOOOOOOO!!!!!!” He took the drums and flipped them so that the momentum of the song continued on a huge high, but the swing was different – AND it had his signature on it. I honestly wish I was in the studio with him to have actually seen how he did what he did with those drums. He also added more layers of synth in the form of arpeggiated parts and some additional pads. And I haven’t even told Nic this yet (I’m sure he’ll find out once he reads this story), but MY favorite piece of the second half is what he did between 3:49 and 3:59…. That eight bar ride out?!?! Fucking CRAAAAZY. There’s really something to be said not only about our complementary styles but the sheer confidence we have in each other to just pass an instrumental between the three of us and still end up with a uniformly, solid piece of music that contains distinct signatures from Nic, Phonte and myself. I actually think the same can be said for the entire +FE album, but “Disappear” in particular was one where within that 4:26 worth of song, you can literally “hear” the baton being passed. I think that’s REAL dope and hopefully it makes for a more intriguing experience for our listeners.

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