The Director's Cut: Pink Skies - SPECTRA

Pink Skies, the psychedelic-pop solo project from Oakland raised Arieh Berl, breaks down his new album 'SPECTRA.'
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Pink Skies

Pink Skies

Pink Skies, the psychedelic-pop solo project from Oakland raised Arieh Berl, has released a new album SPECTRA. The hazy and psychedelic album is compact and resplendent, bursting at the edges with color. Beri starts by taking us to space, but also keeps us very grounded with stories of love and heartbreak. He did write a song apparently standing in his car (possibly taking inspiration from The Pack and their legendary track “In My Car”), so anything is on the table with this album that has the exuberance of a carefree summer.

Given the current state of the world, there had been some debate by Berl about whether or not to release the album today. He decided to go ahead with the release, but he left the following message about Black Lives Matter and how we can use this chance not to just be active once, but to become activists permanently. 100% of merch sales for the rest of June will go to The People’s Breakfast, a grassroots organization that serves the houseless community with essential resources in Oakland, USA.

To get a better understanding of the album, we had Pink Skies explain it in a Director’s Cut to get the stories behind the songs. He breaks down the tracks and the meaning behind each one. Get your copy of the album here and stream now. Read on for his own words on this record.

"SPECTRA really started to come together at the end of 2018. I had been playing a lot of shows over the summer with TV and Boy Pablo and Viceroy, and I was coming off of my first project - an EP called Does It Really Matter?. I was dead-ass broke working at a coffee shop in Echo Park. I’d been storing voice memos on my phone, even before the EP released, and I started working on those songs again.

A friend invited me to record at this secluded house on a wooded island up North. It was the middle of winter. It was the perfect way to focus and finish a record, and really be in a zone. I managed to get up there on some frequent flyer miles. First stop, we went to a Guitar Center to buy (and later return) everything I needed. That was the last civilization I saw for three weeks."

01. Cassini

I knew going into the writing process I was thinking about space. Not really in a specific way, but more like how space represents nothing and everything all at the same time.

I stumbled upon this article about a satellite named Cassini. It had been orbiting Saturn’s moons for 20 years, and when NASA was done with it, they destroyed it by having it descend into Saturn’s atmosphere. That’s where the song name came from.

Cassini is really about space and time, and how time moves so quickly. I never really stop to look back and think about what I am doing. What would my 13-year-old self playing guitar in my basement in Oakland think of me now?

02. Mirrors

“Mirrors” has a lot of great sounds. I wrote this one pretty fast, it came really naturally. I used a lot of sounds from this old Buchla synth I sampled. It started with the bass line, which is dirty and has a lot of attitude. Lots of new sounds on this song. It was one of the first songs I finished.

I wrote “Mirrors” while driving. It always makes me feel like I’m standing up in a car with my head through the sunroof. It kind of coincidentally loops in with similar themes from Cassini, with a tint of nostalgia about how life is simple when you’re a kid. You have nothing to worry about, whereas now I'm older and still looking for a direction to call me.

03. Waves

This was the first song that was finished for the record. I worked on this one a lot with Yianni AP, who co-produced the entire album with me. We finished this one at his studio in LA.

I grew up playing the drums and so I always think in terms of what a drummer would play. This was the first song I made where I was thinking more like a producer. So there are lots of things like crazy delays on the hi-hats. As far as a beat goes, to me it’s all about the bassline. So drums & bass on this one knocked from the get go. I also sampled a lot of my vocals, which was new. We had to rewrite the bridge section a bunch of times and did a lot of vocal manipulation. I think it was a vocoder plugin, bounced, sped up, auto-tuned and chopped up. We went deep. Then we added a part of a different bridge at the end.

Waves came from a place of questioning - am I happy with where I’m at? Is there something better out there? How can I get there without losing who I am?

04. Spectra

I wrote the lyrics to “Spectra” pretending to be Dr. Seuss. These were the last lyrics written and recorded for the album.

The song is called “Spectra” because it’s the whole theme of the album to me, soundwise. There are a lot of moments where every single frequency is being hit. It’s maximal, it’s a lot of big mind melting moments. It’s full spectrum, and “Spectra” is the plural of spectrum - multiple full spectrum.

As far as production goes, I used a lot of field recordings of static sounds and people walking in crowded places. The ending is literally the verses reversed. I brought in the gnarliest sub bass tones I could create. They blew my speakers up. I made this entire beat in a day.

“Spectra” has a pretty psychedelic sound in my opinion. Psychedelic to me really just means surprising. Like you wouldn’t expect it to happen that way. So that’s what I hoped I achieved - just a lot of nonsense.

This song is one of my favorites.

05. Do You Feel High?

I found this harpsichord synth sound, and that was pretty much it - off to the races. It really sounds like Dracula to me. Like I’ve always thought Count Dracula played this part.

My favorite part of this is the crazy bridge section with all these sparkler synths. I stretched out all these space sounds and added a ton of stuff to create a truly maximal, mind-melting moment. It was definitely inspired by Kanye West’s song “Power.” There are a few Kanye moments on this album. Honestly, to me this section is really the peak of the album. It’s fully absorbing and just goes straight to the dome. If you listen closely you will hear a full orchestra during this part.

06. Portland

This song was about a really loose long distance relationship I was in. We got really into each other right when I graduated school and then moved back to California so it was always this long distance thing where we would only see each other a couple of times a year. There are a few other songs about this that were on the INFINITY EP. It’s just like I would be better off alone but I didn’t have it in me to end anything because we still liked each other. I just happened to write the song when I was in Portland. A lot of my family lives up there so it’s a special place to me. This song sounds like Portland. Inside on a rainy day, memories decorate time...

07. Silver Surfer

This song is pretty much the end of the loop. It’s really about how everything is changing, and nothing is in our control. The line “take it in only as it comes,” is like the full circle of the album. There are a lot of big synths on this song, once again it’s maximal every frequency is being hit. My friend Kendrick went onto the mainland and he came back when this song was done and I remember he was like “Whoa, what have you done?!”

08. St. Tropez

I started writing “St. Tropez” when I was feeling really lonely, and also still being hung up on someone. The double-edged sword of getting hurt in relationships...I feel really bad, but I end up writing a bunch of really good songs. At least it’s turning negative feelings into a positive output.

I love the bridge of this song. Things get really spaced out, and then it comes back into a new section. I was learning how to DJ and I think I accidentally ended up looping a section and then decided it was cool and just went for it from there on out.

09. I’ll Be Here A While

I had just broken up with my old girlfriend and that had me in a really bad place at the time. I was supposed to go to Sao Paulo, but I somehow ended up on the wrong plane and spent two months in Belo Horizonte… But it was an amazing experience. I wouldn’t give up for anything.

I went back to LA and then over the next six months or so, Yianni and I worked on the album, really just tweaking everything up. Yianni is one of the best producers and mixers I know, and we are best friends, so we work really well together. He knew exactly what I was going for. Our drummer Kendrick was on the island with me and helped a lot, always letting me bounce ideas off him. Also, They Like Them’s Gabriel Torrone, helped me write the ending for ‘Spectra’ (the title track), and tons of friends and bandmates helped me out along the way.

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