The Director's Cut: Shallou - Magical Thinking

Shallou breaks down his new album 'Magical Thinking.'
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Shallou

Shallou

LA-based producer Shallou has released his new album Magical Thinking. In the same vein of the big melodic tracks that blend bass, ambient music and a touch of house, Shallou has established around ambient indie-electronica that easily translates in a variety of situations and moods. His album looks to expand on the soaring melodic tracks with collaborations that push the envelope into pop territory. It often works on this album for mellow pop records, but still remains true to the ambient and downtempo sound he has cultivated. There are some more upbeat, housey numbers like his collaboration with The Knocks, “Endless.”

To get a better view of this album, it’s many collaborations and the search to find one’s place in the world, we asked Shallou to break down Magical Thinking for a new Director’s Cut feature.

Read the full feature from Shallou below and get your copy here.

Context:

After a few tragic losses in my girlfriend’s family and learning some harsh truths about my own mortality, I’ve learned that life seems to pass on no matter what happens - like the seasons. It's a weird feeling, because there’s a certain comfort in knowing time just moves on. My aim over the past two years was to pour all of the emotions, sounds and ideas I’ve had - into the world of this album, to kind of clear all that out of my head. I used foley recordings in the album to paint a picture of seasons changing (leaves blowing in the wind, kids playing in snow, birds on a spring day etc). I also recorded a few spoken word bits, and created floaty, meditative instrumentals for this record. All of these things I hoped to use as tools to create this changing world for the listener, like they’re experiencing a year inside the album. My music has always been closely tied to nature and travel experiences for my fans, so I wanted to keep that element alive in a mature way.

1. Forget

The album begins with “Forget.” I tried to show the progression of the seasons throughout the album, starting with fall. The sound at the beginning of the song is leaves blowing in the wind, and a teaser of the melody of “Magical Thinking.” I wanted to grab the listener with some triumphant chords right off the bat. I recorded vocals to the song a few steps down, then pitched my voice back up with Little Alterboy from SoundToys. I wanted to give the album opener a big dancey drop, using Izotope’s vocoder in a Daft Punk-esque style. The lyrics are about longing to hold on to a memory.

2. Mutual Love (feat. Zachary Knowles)

“Mutual Love” is probably my most collaborative track to date. I started it with the guys from Before You Exit. Riley had written a little melody and lyrics, and I started adding ambient sounds and layers under that, resampling my own voice and Riley’s. To keep the energy going, I wanted to create a fun bouncy chorus. I used a couple sounds from Reaktor Prism and got extra Kalimba layers from LA producer Jordan Palmer. We sat on the song for a while - over two years, which is the longest I’ve ever spent on a track. Sometimes you just get stuck!

I spent a while trying to pitch for the right voice to connect with the rest of the album, and was introduced to Zachary Knowles. His voice had just the right amount of vulnerability and pop sensibility that it worked really well. The song is super cute lyrically, but the bridge calls back to that “hold on” line that’s omnipresent in “Forget.”

3. Silhouettes feat. Vancouver Sleep Clinic

“Silhouettes” features Vancouver Sleep Clinic and myself in a sort of duet. I’m really happy with how well our sounds complement each other. The second verse, which I sing on, is meant to illustrate the regret that comes from cutting oneself off from people even though you love them. That’s something I really struggle with and I don’t hear in lyrics that often. The “hotel rooms” line relates to the loneliness of being on tour and missing home, which VSC and me bonded over. Jumping back to the seasons theme, I used the sound of kids playing outside, like a callback to recess as a kid.

4. Try (Interlude)

For “Try” I asked my girlfriend Julia to read a little dialogue I had written over a strings arrangement for track 5. Its a message for people who are going through the grieving process, The sounds of a ski lift start out the song for a brief second to imply seasons changing to winter.

5. Lethologica

“Lethologica” is about my fear of memory loss and things getting hazier as we get older. My girlfriend Julia suffered the terrible loss of her father last year and something we always talked about was not wanting the nice times had with him to fade from memory. I think it’s the most beautiful song on the album because there are just so many emotions in it. I started the song with this electronic acoustic guitar thing when I was stuck in a hotel with just my laptop and a MIDI keyboard. When I met up with Andy Seltzer to work on the record, I played the demo for him, and we immediately jumped in adding guitar layers over that. I came up with the lyrics and melody that day. My favorite part of the track is the real string layers I got from a quartet based here in LA. I composed some parts and we tracked some passes. Being the skilled musicians they are, they asked to do an ad-lib pass which I used a lot of, particularly the great pizzicato cello line in the bridge. I snuck the Magical Thinking melody in again at the end to tie everything together.

6. Technicolor Wave feat. Erika Sirola

“Technicolor Wave” features the incredible songwriter Erika Sirola. I had this M83 inspired, sprawling instrumental that I had written some nice vocals for. I just thought her voice would sound incredible on it, so we made it a duet. When we write together, I like to play scenes from films to inspire lyrics and mood. At the time I was playing scenes from HER, one of my favorite movies, to generate a sci-fi love feel. The scene that always stuck with me from that movie was when Joaquin Phoenix’s character meets up with his wife to sign their divorce papers, and there’s this silent flashback to all the best times they had together. The emotion in that scene goes so perfectly with the production, so we wrote about missing someone. This is the point I feel where the album transitions into spring.

7. Make Believe

“Make Believe” lyrically is about taking some time to escape into your own daydreams, to avoid the difficulties of life. This song only took a day to make which is really unique for me; it's a nice bridge between the sound of the first half of the album and the second, dancier half. I enlisted the help of some members of the Sunday Service choir out here in LA to layer against my voice for the “ooh” sections. I snuck in the Magical Thinking melody at the end too. In the bridge, I added some birds foley to illustrate spring.

8. Fading

“Fading” is probably the first time I revealed my voice on a track since the Souls EP came out. Bob Moses and I got together in between Coachella weekends to write together. We were inspired by all the bleak climate change news when writing this and we wanted the lyrics to reflect this - I thought it would be interesting to make it have a double meaning for the environment and a relationship. The fear and sadness that comes with hearing about beautiful animals going extinct and people losing their homes all over the world really pushed me to share my feelings through music. This song is an analogy for climate change, using the tropey lyrics of a break up song. It feels like humanity is falling out of love with the world we inhabit and losing touch with nature. This is one of the harsh truths of getting older - tying back into the album theme from above.

9. Endless (feat. The Knocks)

“Endless” was created with The Knocks purely over the internet. I sent them a short demo I was working on and they had unearthed a really cool old school house sample for it. I thought we would have to clear the sample, but Ben explained how he and JPatt craft their own vocal breaks to sound that way, which I was super impressed by. I found a great appreciation for house music after living in Chicago for a few years, and it has always influenced my music in small ways. I’d wanted to try and make something more in that world since then. When I was working with the Sunday Service choir, I had one of the singers Siku just improvise over the instrumental sections. That’s her in the second half of the song.

10. Older with Daya

This song is about the loss of love and the question of if the narrator can ever really find it. Written with Erika Sirola, we were both in kind of down moods that day, and had this image of someone sitting alone on a park bench, in a beautiful place like Central Park or Paris - which informed the production a lot, giving it this whimsically sad feel to it. There’s a hope reflected in the lyrics still, that as we get older we change and hopefully can grow. We sent it to Daya and I was so excited to finish it with her. I really like to share the female perspective in some of my songs, letting the writing and featured singers shine. It feels like another piece to the multidimensional story of this album, and I love playing the producer role and tying it in with everything else I’ve made.

11. Good Together (feat. Ashe)

Ashe and I got together in LA to write something, and I had this very emotional ascending chord progression that I couldn’t figure out what to write to. To keep with the theme of the album and the previous track, “Older,” we wrote about love changing like the seasons. It feels like a metaphor for experiencing life, maturing and the acceptance of that. The beginning of the track has some summer rain samples to bring the progression of seasons full circle. We decided to make it a duo to give more emotional impact.

12. Magical Thinking

“Magical thinking” is the idea that one’s thoughts and desires can affect the world around them. Some examples are superstitions, rituals and the concept of good or bad luck. The inspiration for this title came from the loss of innocence I feel like I’ve had over the past few years - I’m 27, there’s no hiding in my own head from the world anymore or behind the assumed invincibility of being a kid. I’ve learned I can’t change things just by hoping for them. The dialogue piece of the track in the intro is based on this. I’ve loved the idea of voiceovers with music after becoming a fan of Terrence Malick, particularly the Tree of Life. The album culminates with the Magical Thinking melody becoming fully realized. I thought it would be a nice signature to throw in the melody from my early song “Last Day” to tie my whole discography together.

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