Over the past month, we have been releasing track-by-track descriptions about how the songs on our self-titled record were written and recorded. Here they are all in one place!
The "[introduction]" of our album was created principally by Jake Pinto and Jacob Blumberg, using woodwinds played by Jas Walton. The woodwind excerpt was lifted from the bridge of the following track, "The One". The intro was made during mixing sessions in Long Island - fittingly, Jacob paired the woodwinds with sounds of water and the beach. The band liked the feeling of having a serene and palate-cleansing introduction to such an intense and wide-ranging record. "[introduction]" also begins similarly to "Stutter," the first track off our 2012 release, but it is orchestrated completely differently - with a woodwinds section instead of a horn section - acknowledging that there has been a sonic shift for the band. There was a debate on whether the intro would lead into "The One" or "Same Thing," but ultimately the band decided the bellowing and ominous beginning of "The One" was a better compliment to the seemingly peaceful introduction.
"The One" was written largely by Miles and recorded by the band in New Jersey at Javier's family house. The intro of the song originally started with a busy horn part over the big bass hits. The horns were then muted and slowly faded in, as you hear, which revealed a more mysterious beginning vibe. Jake's keyboard soloing at the top of the song was performed live with the rest of the band on his Univox (the Wurlitzer stuff in the verses was also recorded live). Overdubs were done at Mason Jar Music in Brooklyn, where the middle bridge section came together with many different instruments being layered on top of it. This is also when the various claps and electronic auxiliary sounds were added to Miles' drum beat (Tempest, handclap pattern, SPD-S, Casio RZ-1, etc). The vocals were recorded last, in Miles' basement in Greenwich Village. The guitar parts take large influence from Fela Kuti and Chico Mann. The vocal arc was inspired by Talking Heads, especially songs like "Slippery People". Production wise, the band wanted a heavy backbeat amidst all the other layers, a la Zapp & Roger or the Cheiron pop sound that dominated the 90's. The horn parts are all staccato, coming from the funk horn soli's of songs like "Workin Day and Night" or Tower of Power. The keyboard and drum soloing at the end of the song was all performed %100 live in the original sessions for the song.
"Come Back to Me" went through many different incarnations before it became the song that was released on the record. It started as a barebones drum machine-oriented track that Miles wrote with the DSI Tempest and a whole bunch of layered guitars. Then Jas and Miles expanded the song together, writing the horn parts and performing the song with a huge funk orchestra in the summer of 2013. Then the song came to EMEFE, and it was recorded live as a full band in the studio. In the editing/mixing process, Jake experimented with manually cutting up the drum track beat-by-beat, leaving only the kick/snare backbeat and none of the busy stuff in-between. This was a subconscious return to the original drum-machine-esque sound, and allowed space for the various other percussive elements to shine through - except it wasn't a drum machine playing, it was Miles playing live (our mixing guru Jacob Blumberg put in a lot of work to cut up the drum track so precisely). There was also a lot of deliberation and experimentation with where the song goes after the 3 minute mark - the original song was much longer and featured a long horn soli in the middle. There was a debate about whether the song was too extensive and hard to follow in its original form, and whether it should get to the point more succinctly. Ultimately, after hours and hours of trying different things, the band extracted the horn soli and made it into "CB2M Reprise," and the final "Come Back to Me" felt just right.
"CB2M Reprise" was an excerpt extracted from the middle of "Come Back to Me". The beginning guitar/talking section before the horns come in was created principally by Jacob Blumberg - it was one of many options we created as a bridge leading into the horn soli section that follows. We ultimately decided on having a 'club-next-door' sound to the drums, along with Miles layering the various guitar parts he wrote for "Come Back to Me," mixed with voicemails from Miles' phone, and topped off with edited horn excerpts sprinkled in here and there. The horn soli section that follows was written by Miles and Jas earlier on in the writing process. Jas recorded a tenor saxophone solo that Miles then edited down, and then the two went through each moment of the solo and added stacks of harmonies and other new phrases that weave in and out, thus leading to a huge horn sectional solo (or soli!). The horn soli is also bolstered by heavy guitar/bass tracks playing some of the lines under the horns. While the band was editing and mixing the album (which took more than a year), two of the horn players parted ways from the group (the great Ray Mason and Zach Mayer). The role of the horn section in EMEFE had begun to change (and continues to evolve today), so it was difficult to figure out how much to highlight the horns on this album in light of those departures/changes. Ultimately, horns have always been a huge part of our development and sound as a band, and we wanted to dedicate this one track to the very special horn section that recorded it.
In its original recorded and written form, "Same Thing" had a more traditional (and busy) afrobeat drum pattern. After the band recorded it, Miles experimented with a different groove concept that provided a simpler and more spacious rhythmic base for the song to live on. They muted Miles' drums and Miles replayed the beat on his DSI Tempest, and that became the beat for the bulk of the song. For the middle vocal section, they kept Miles' original hi-hat track, sampled and re-placed his original snare drum, and performed a new kick drum pattern underneath. The new "Same Thing" beat was born! This track went through probably the most change out of any song, seeing that the original drums were completely muted, chopped and shifted. The drum muting experiments were fascinating, though, because it showed how beautifully the rest of the band gels around the drums. Once the drums were muted, you could almost still feel the drums within the other instruments. That feeling is best represented on "Same Thing". This song also features the Ramos family, who you can hear hollering throughout the song (we all listened to the song together in the studio and turned the mics on, recording them partying with delight!) The tape outro (the breakdown, then the disintegration) was created mostly by Jacob Blumberg and Jake Pinto.
Jas Walton penned the horn composition "Sun Spat" and brought it in to a rehearsal with the horns and Miles. While the horns played through it, Miles came up with his drum arrangement, and they demo'd it with the iPhone. Miles then took that demo and wrote the guitar/bass/synth parts. It quickly became known amongst the band as "Stutter 2.0", referencing the opening track from their last album, Good Future. When it came time to record the song for the album, engineer Dan Knobler had the band record it all together, contrary to "Stutter," which was created more in sections. Later, Miles added drum machine sounds to bolster the drums, and Jake added extra synth parts here and there. The horns doubled (sometimes tripled!) the horns in some sections. The outro features layers of upright bass performed by Mike Harlen, beautifully woven together by co-producer Jacob Blumberg.
The seventh track on our record, "Summer", also underwent many arrangement changes after it was initially tracked as a band live in the studio. In live shows, this song was always fairly long and featured extended solos, letting the band 'stretch' - harkening back to the afrobeat extended song style that the band played for years before. We played the song in the studio just as we did live - the original cut of "Summer" was 10 minutes long. Once we were editing and mixing, though, we questioned whether including such an extended song on a studio record was interesting or overkill. Taking a lead from Jake Pinto's imagination, we began experimenting with different arrangement ideas. It was difficult to let go of how we were used to the song going, especially when it came to shortening sections (for example, there used to be an extended keyboard solo once the beat drops at the beginning of the song, leading up to the first horn melody). Ultimately we landed on a 6 minute version that felt natural and not rushed, and now, a year later, we are all completely accustomed to this version (though we do extend the song significantly live).
You can hear us singing all of our rhythmic parts in the very beginning of the song (a pre-show ritual). The drums were muted in the intro, and in the beginning of the tenor sax solo (you can hear them faintly in the background if you listen closely). The spacey middle section of the song features reversed vocal bits from the rest of the record, among many other bits and pieces. The outro features a double drums track - one where Miles is playing the main heavy beat, and a second track where Miles is playing as crazy as possible. The outro cuts completely off just a few beats before the band hits the last note, in honor of one of our favorite recorded moments in history (which we'll let you figure out).
After the bulk of the record was finished, it needed some sort of breather interlude in the middle. So, Miles created "Listen Closely". A few of the guys sang background vocals and Doug doubled Miles' bass parts, and the rest is played by Miles. The interlocking guitar and bass parts are lifted from an earlier composition that never made it to the album. The first element to be tracked for this were the layered voices singing the guitar parts that you can hear faintly in the background. They were tracked without a click, so the rest of the song is based around those vocal parts. Then, the claps/snaps and the percussion were added, followed by the guitar and the bass. The main vocals were then tracked last, and Listen Closely was created.
“Free to Scream” was originally an instrumental song that we had been playing live for a year or so. The vocals were then written shortly before we went in to record the song. This was one of the first tracks recorded for the album - it was recorded separately from the rest of the songs, a couple months prior to our main New Jersey sessions. A lot of the keyboard work throughout the song responds to the vocals we had written, but completely new vocal melodies were written after recording -- they melded so well with the original instrumental melodies, though, that we decided to keep both elements in the final mix. The sax solo, tracked live with the band, originally happened on top of drums and the whole band playing underneath - when we mixed the track, we muted the band underneath and left only the sax solo, and created a new more spacious sonic bed for the solo to rest on. This highlighted the solo’s long and winding melodic crescendo, and made the climax at the end of the solo so much more powerful once the band drops back in.
Perhaps the song that changed the least from initial recording to final mix, "40 Watt" was already staple of live EMEFE shows by the time the record came out. Michael Fatum's beautiful and crazy trumpet solo was performed completely live with the full band. Originally the horn melodies were a bit more heavy-handed, played by the entire horn section - but we changed the melodic texture to piano and vibraphone, with some horns lower in the mix. We shaved a lot of fat off the drum track to simplify the beat to mostly a kick and snare backbeat, which you can hear most in the opening minutes of the song (every once in a while, there is a hi-hat or toms hit that we unmuted to keep forward momentum and capture Miles' drum ornamentations). The biggest studio addition to "40 Watt" was the live piano played by Jake Pinto that instantly became a major textural element in the song. Once the album song order was decided, we needed a bridge from "40 Watt" to the last song, "Dream Your Life Away". Miles recorded the layered vocal outro in his basement, and Jake added grand piano, to calm things down and set the stage for the next and last song on the record.
"I wrote Dream Your Life Away at the end of 2012, a few months after we released the Good Future album. It was the first song I wrote that mixed the instrumental funk aspect of EMEFE with the pop songwriting approach I had grown up with. This song showed me that EMEFE's sound could evolve into something different than what we were used to. This song paved the way for the next phase of the EMEFE sound. When the song was adapted for EMEFE & recorded in the studio, a bunch of orchestral elements were added to form the bed of the song: clarinets, xylophones, prepared piano, Wurlitzer, Rhodes, acoustic guitars... not to mention the layers of synthesizers, vocals, guitars, and horns. Recording this song was a deep dive into our Beach Boys influence ("Let's Go Away For Awhile" was one of my obsessions at the time). Somehow Jacob Blumberg mixed this monster, with Jake and I at his side. We have never taken a true stab at performing this song live, probably because it was such an emotional studio experience to create it. Maybe someday, though." -Miles