It is always great when you listen to something in your inbox not from a PR agency or from a star and it is good. Indianapolis-based producer Fennec sent us his album Free Us Of This Feeling two months ago and I immediately fell for it. It has strong grooves, loads of weird samples, soul and a mix of dancefloor and at-home listening. This is all held together by gentle melodies that come and go on the album.
With the new album out today, we decided to ask him to break down the project track-by-track on its various influences, how each song was made and any samples he used. There are a lot of pretty random samples used from TV shows, reality TV, outdoors and elsewhere.
Stream the album below and get your copy here.
1. This Is All There Is:
Starting the album off with this track felt right because it's got a little of everything in the rest of the album as if it were an overture of what's to come; there are samples, there are strings, there's sub-bass. Even though it's the first track, it was made about halfway through the whole process. The opening sample is a pill bottle being shaken on Silicon Valley manipulated with a delay. Almost all of the samples in my music come from what I happen to be watching at the time so they're very much a slice of my life at the moment. The words of the first dialogue sample say much about the starting place of the album. This place is great, so why not stay forever? It'd be nice to remain in comfort, or would it? There's a great old Twilight Zone episode with a plot exactly about that.
I also included some "tribute samples" by recreating bits from artists I admire, specifically DJ Koze (the intermittent low-mid bass I've also heard DJ Sprinkles use that I've referenced before in my track “Phantom”) and Shinichi Atobe (that click-clack sound halfway through which is a pitched downsample of a playing card on a bicycle wheel). Those sorts of samples are scattered throughout the album.
That crunchiness in the samples is a Volca Sample processing the intro piano samples and the various chops later in the song. It was a very fun machine that I got midway through making the album. The core of the tune came together in about 15 minutes, the only tricky thing was the bassline. One thing I've found is that you have to balance busy elements and simple elements; not all parts can be busy or simple. Here, the sample is pretty chaotic so the bassline is just 3 notes that aren't even that audible unless you've got a sub-speaker. The sample chops also subtly change throughout the whole thing so that by the third round or so you finally get full phrases coming out. My favorite sound in this whole thing is the mournful horn hit at 5:26, taken from near the end of the Kevin Smith movie Red State. In second place would be the one from the K-drama This Is My Love.
3. So Far Now:
I played with distance and movement in this track by trying to hold off on the main vocal as long as possible, bringing it in and out with volume and EQ. The piano is also constantly morphing with the vocal as both are processed through a Moog filter. I wanted to keep things moving whether you realize it or not. Finally at 4:47 the vocal has been completely transformed by the Soundtoys Echoboy and a few other plugins. One last gasp and it's gone forever.
All of my music comes from a place of loss and longing and this song is no exception, although perhaps this album is about freeing yourself from that cycle. A shout out goes to the Village Green Vinyl record store in Muncie for this track as the source for the main sample though there are a quite a few layers; the vocal, the guitar at the beginning is a separate sample, the drums are made up of 2 or 3 samples, and then some sound effects, and vocals. It's one of the shorter songs, but it likely has the most samples in it.
I had a Boiler Room set on while walking around my house doing some cleaning when I had a vocal stuck in my head that sounds exactly like you hear in the song. Then I went back to listen to it and the vocal in what was playing was completely different so I was like "Ok, let's make the song in my head." I had to do some digging on the proper "ecstasy" samples to make this sound right because every sample emphasizes a different part of the word. There's the original sample made famous by Joey Beltram's “Energy Flash,” and then I composited a couple of others for the "T" and the "C."
The pad you hear at 3:46 to the end of the song took me the longest of any other component here. It is made up of like 4 synths with 15 plugins, each playing different parts of a chord and being modulated and was originally a much larger part of the song. The whole second half of the track was going to be this ambient wash. In the end, it was only used as a 15-second outro.
6. Frontier Identity:
This track captures my musical output up to this point. There are samples taken from some of the first tracks I ever made like the thunderstorm at 1:21 and the "wah wah wah" sound that is panned around at 1:26 and plays throughout that I think is from Silent Hill. Sampling like that is heavily influenced by the philosophy that DJ Sprinkles has promoted in about purposeful samples that speak to the concept of a track. What does that actual sample source have to do with the statement or message that the new artist is now trying to make whether it be a direct commentary or subverting a message? The monologue in this was taken from an interview with a poet on the nature of his work and is cut in with lines from a poem he reads in that same interview. If I had to place this in a narrative of the album, it would be about facing your surroundings, facing what you've become, and being on the border of change whether that be by yourself or with someone else.
7. You'll Be OK:
Originally started for a friend's soundtrack that I composed music for, but it didn't fit there so I developed it into a sort of miniature story/palate cleanser. The vocal sample halfway through is taken from an episode of The Bachelorette, of which I am a big fan and frequently live-tweet. There are no guilty pleasures; it is genuinely good entertainment! Juan Pablo? Sucks. Arie? Also bad. Nick, Sean, and Ben? I support!
This was the song made mostly in my classroom when I was probably supposed to be working on grading but instead was filtering out the hi-end of a sample to harvest out a bassline. With the vocal, I was going for a "breathlessly vintage" sound by having the vocal modulate in and out with the help of another Soundtoys plugin the Filterfreak along with some crossfading of the sample. There's a lot happening in the mid-range with the piano and string and samples so to clear out space. I read something that Drake's producer 40 does that may or may really work: I bitcrush/reduce the fidelity of these elements to both low-pass and strip out non-essential frequencies thereby making room for the vocal. This is my favorite track of the album and sounds most like the mood and tone I've wanted to capture this whole time.
9. They Literally Only Want One Thing:
I wanted to create a narrative/back & forth between the two vocal parts here with the first "character" leering after the second character and just kind of riding out the fun of the chopped up vocal. We have vocal 1 by itself, then vocal 2, then vocal 1 again but vocal 2 is cutting in and out like a spotty broadcast, vocal 2 comes back in, and then vocal 2 controls the rest of the narrative. The second half of this track was me wanting to "play" a vocal sample as much as I could; I chopped the vocal and mapped it to a keyboard so I could play it like a piano. What you hear is basically the second or third take of me messing with the keys.
10. Elysian Dust:
I made this originally as a DJ tool for a gig I was playing where I wanted to go between 2 tracks but didn't have the exact kind of vibe I was looking for on-hand to connect them. Then after the gig, I liked it enough and the way the kick/bass sounded on the big subs that I fleshed it out further in my classroom (much like the track “Together”). I played around with the vocal, which is 2 samples stitched together to sound like 1, to get it to rhythmically hit on the beats I needed it to which is pretty common. I'll use Ableton's warp/stretch feature to drag around syllables to where I think they should hit in the measures. The piano/chime that loops throughout is taken from a piece of interstitial music in the reality show Newlyweds with Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson, a very good show.
I came up with this after having 50 Cent's lyric about having a "bottle full of bub" stuck in my head. You got a bottle of champagne in one hand, a blunt in the other. You're just swinging your arms back and forth like Ron Swanson with his little hat, having a good time. Or that 90's meme kid dancing in the European nightclub with the sunglasses. The vocal sample in the middle came from an education conference where this person was showing us a video about the NASA moon landing; I had zoned out but then this sample was in the video and all I could think about was how perfectly it was going to slot into this track when I got back to the dorm.
Take the vocal part at the end about remaining where you are and compare it to the vocal at the beginning of this album about staying somewhere forever. It's the same person. Not really, but it is though. It's perfect here now, but is it forever? And when you realize it isn't anymore...what's next?