Welcome back to How It Was Made, our exclusive feature where your favorite artists break down the tools and tricks they used to create their latest work. This time, we are joined by rising Australian electronica artist Willaris. K, whose recent string of festival gigs came after supporting none other than RÜFÜS DU SOL on their Solace world tour. Below, he walks us through the creation process of his new record "5 O'CLOCK," out on Astralwerks.
Words and photos by Willaris K
"5 O'CLOCK" was started right around the time when I was leaving my job as an electrician and began making music full time in March 2017. It was the week I was playing my first ever Willaris. K Melbourne show and also the last week living at my parents’ house before moving into my house. A lot of change going on and "5 O’CLOCK" feels like a reflection of that. This is the voice memo I recorded on an upright with iPhone voice memos on March 15th which ended up as the intro -
This is the second take which I ended up taking the lead top melody from up to the last section -
That would’ve been in the last week or two of me working at the HV substation when I first wrote the chords. At the time I was doing piano lessons/sessions every Wednesday afternoon at 4:30 pm. Sometimes I’d go in with a rough idea in my head then flesh it out, sometimes I’d just go in and play around with some chords and see where it took me then record takes on my phone. Then I’d either work with that audio or send the chords/melodies out to my synths at home. This particular lesson was at 5 o’clock which is what I called the take/eventually the song. I remember going in just wanting to work in Eb major so I learned the scale then started playing around with some chords. I actually dug up the page from the day my piano teacher was writing in as I was playing. The chord progression at the top is the intro and the melodies down the bottom are other ideas that ended up becoming the lead in the last section.
I didn’t touch the recording again until I was in my home studio in Tweed Heads about a month later. It was the week after I’d left work to do music full time and I'd just moved out of home into my house. Originally it was just a piano piece that I layered with some software piano (Piano V from Arturia).
Then one day my friend Liam had left his Prophet 08 at my house and I started jamming the chords from the song on an arp I’d made with the Prophet and got lost in it for a while just tweaking. Eventually, I recorded a take and that first take ended up becoming the arp thing that comes in around 1:18 and goes throughout the whole song. That was pretty foreign to me as I’d never used a take of me playing it especially first go. I usually send the midi out and tweak with both hands or automation with a soft synth but think that limitation is what made it what it is. I was drawn to the rawness and imperfections, all the automation was done on the go in between chords with my left hand. Then I added the drums and bass line, at this stage this was being done in its own project separate from the piano. The first drums were in Maschine and the bass was the Bass Station (that's the pitch bend at 2:06) and Monark as the main bass. It wasn’t until a few days later I thought I should combine the two ideas and do it as a part 1/part 2 which became "5 O’CLOCK." It was the first thing I’d made where I knew it would be on my album.
It sat on my computer for a year or two and I’d go in every so often to do some processing/layering. Then in March 2019 I went to Bristol for a few days to work with Ali Chant - his studio is incredible. While I was there I re-recorded the bass on Ali’s Mini Moog Model D, layered the existing software drums with his drum kit and re-recorded the piano parts on his Yamaha upright (the exact same one I started the idea with) and also replaced the breakdown pad with a Juno 106.
Since then I'd just been refining, mixing, automating and processing things on it, combining what I'd recorded in Bristol and the existing ideas. My most used plug-ins are definitely the Soundtoys stuff. They're all good but my most used on "5 O'CLOCK" would be Decapitator, Echoboy, Radiator, and Microshift. I also sampled some rain hitting my roof on this one with my phone, it starts out as a rain sample but when the song picks up it turns more into a hi-hat/top groove. In Ableton, there's a feature called "beats transient" within the audio clip, I set that to 1/16, brought the amount down, which chops it up into 16ths and becomes a part of the groove. There are a few layers going on with the drums, the main kick/snare consisting of Maschine, a drum kit, the rain, and the break-y part is some shit I chopped up, smashed with FX (mainly the Soundtoys ones listed above) and resampled a few times.
By the end it was a big wall of sound then my guy George Nicholas came in and mixed it and Wayne Sunderland at Suture Mastering mastered it.