Welcome back to another installment of How It Was Made. Stepping up for this latest edition is rising Berlin-based talent YokoO, who gives us a deep look into the creation of his new album 'Nothing Can Compare', forthcoming on Lee Burridge's label All Day I Dream. Simply being on this label means you already know this is a deep, soulful, and rich audio experience. Below, you will find a couple of tracks from the album, as well as full details of the album creation process.
Words by YokoO
Ableton Live 9 & 10 were used as the main DAWs and sequencers. Many of the samples heard were captured throughout my travels and daily activities with Zoom’s H4N field recorder. All tracks on the album were designed with the help of Native Instrument’s Maschine Studio (creating grooves and recording live jams), Roland’s TR8 (layering sporadic drum loops), Dave Smith’s Prophet 08 (adding atmospheric sounds), SE X1’s cheap microphone (recording some vocals, creating complementary effects and atmos as well as drum elements) and a whole bunch of virtual instruments (Diva, Ace, Sylenth, Soundtoys, Fabfilters, Valhalla Vintage Reverb, Minimoog V, Rob Papen Suboombass, Native Instruments Kontakt 5, The Drop, Absynth, Alchemy, etc.). All external sounds and instruments were run into Fireface’s UCX soundcard. Everything was then monitored through a set of KRK VXT 6s. The set up looks as such:
Additionally, the featured artists brought their own magic and sometime own gear to the equation.
- Seth Schwarz (You & I, Rain On Frisdom, Acatalespy): Yamaha SV-255 Silent Violin.
Seth and I met at a gig in Amsterdam in 2016. I heard him perform and the sound of his violin blew me away. It wasn’t long after that I invited him to my place in Berlin for a jam. All happened in a very organic manner. Nothing was planned. That day, we recorded many a take including the one featured in “Rain On Frisdom”, “You & I”, and “Acatalepsy”. Seth instantly understood the feelings I wished to express through the music. It was magical and one of the reasons he is such a strong feature on the whole album. All I did was to cut bits of the recording out, organise all to create dynamics within the pieces, and mix the violin with EQ, reverb, and delay.
- Sten Erland Hermundstad (The Days I Miss You): Native Instruments Alicia Keys VST .
I reached out to Sten via email, as I loved the emotions carried through his pieces. Him and I worked remotely, and never met physically. The keys heard in “The Days I Miss You” were recorded using Native Instruments Alicia Keys VST and Protools.
- Frouzan (Duality): Roland Go:Keys (TBC), Microphone TBC
I do not remember how Frouzan and I first crossed paths, however I recall us catching up in Berlin early 2018 when we decided to give our collaboration a shot. Duality turned out to be a winner. I have no information as to how her voice and piano were recorded, nor do I know where on Earth she is hiding at the minute. Pretty sure she used the Roland Go:Keys for the piano melodies though.
- Fatima Njai (Vulnerable): NT 1-A Rode microphone.
Fatima and I met at Kater Blau in Berlin a few years back and somewhat kept in touch after that. She showed me her work, which I really enjoyed. It did not take us long to start exchanging ideas and collaborate. Vulnerable is one of them. Her vocals were recorded in her Berlin home studio using Ableton Live and the NT1-A Rode mic.
- Iván Muela (Without You): Steinway grand piano, AKG C 451 B microphone, Urei / Universal Audio 1176 Compressor/Limiter, Warm Audio WA76 studio compressor, Empirical Lab Distressor EL8X, Neve Portico 542 Tape Emulator, Lexicon reverb, Roland SDE2500 Digital Delay, Eventide Eclipse harmoniser.
The main element is a Steinway grand piano. This was recorded with a pair of AKG451, placed extremely close to the hammers, about two or three inches away. This alters the harmonic balance of the piano in a very interesting way, magnifying any little movement from the hammers and providing a lot of energy when playing really quiet.
The piano was recorded through a pair of UREI 1176, and possibly another compressor. Ivan usually uses one "creative" compressor to achieve an interesting effect and then a second compressor to simply control the dynamics.
The ambience that surrounds the piano motif is a combination of improvised electric guitar lines recorded straight through a DI box, a double bass recorded with a Calrec CM600 wrapped in foam and placed under the instrument's bridge and even extra effects layers made out of the main piano track. A lot of these sounds were achieved re-recording these overdubs through a long chain of outboard gear and modifying them in real time. There were a bunch of compressors (like WA76 and Empirical Lab Distressor) and saturators like a Neve Portico 542, and some key spatial and modulation effects such as a Lexicon reverb, a Roland SDE2500 and Ivan’s favourite piece, an Eventide Eclipse harmoniser.
There was not much processing in the DAW besides automating the volume of all these sound layers. Sonic Toys' Echo Boy and Decapitator were used quite a lot as the main tone-shaping plug-ins.
Mauve: 1970's Hand made Alhambra classical guitar, Zoom H1 handy recorder & jOKe: Manuel Rodriguez electro-acoustic guitar (Yet Another Day Thinking About You)
The song in the making was quite a process. It all started after a young Australian hippie stranger (Mauve) contacted me to share some of his guitar riffs.
I was mucking around with just my laptop during a never-ending layover in NYC, waiting to fly to Ibiza from Montreal and came up with the essence & groove of the track. I sent it to Mauve who ended up recording a beautiful layer of swingy guitar using his handy recorder.
I then connected with jOKe, a friend renowned for his light vocals. We spent a few hours in my Berlin home studio. I gave him the low down on my situation at the time. He got an instant grasp and came up with the lyrics in a few minutes.
The recording took quite a bit of back and forth. We eventually had this track with much more appeal to the general public.
Something was missing though. A few months later, jOKe recorded a few guitar licks to add on top of the main swingy part.
We then left the project aside for some time.
It was probably two years after the track was originally started that jOKe came to me to record more vocals and try nail the missing bits. As he walks out of the train station that day, he hears the sound of an accordion player, and falls in love with him.
It didn’t take long until Djorde, the young Serbian accordion player who didn’t speak a word of English, walked into my place with Jonas.
We played him the song. He jammed over it about 3 times, and walked out of my studio, fading away in the infinite space.
A truly magical way to finish the piece, and the album.
YokoO's 'Nothing Can Compare' will be released on All Day I Dream on April 5.