When Aaron off-handedly asked me if I’d like to do a remix of one of his songs, I did what I naturally do…suggest doing something that is a lot more work. I don’t know why I do that, since I was the one who would have to do it. Nevertheless, I thought it would be fun to do an entire remix EP. My appreciation for electronic music has grown in recent years and has revived my past dormant love for the 80s (Tears for Fears “Songs from the Big Chair” is one of the best albums of all time), which I vastly prefer to the muddy, dry 70s (let the stoning begin).
Still, when it comes to electronic music, and remixes in particular, I prefer to take a song-based approach, as opposed to a 10-minute, 8-bar looped club version. And since I didn’t figure Aaron would be throwing an all-night dance party anytime soon, I stuck with remixes structured like songs.
For the music and recording nerds out there, I’ll get some details out of the way here (so for everyone else, skip to the next paragraph). Everything was recorded into ProTools through Brent Averill Neve and Avalon pre-amps. I use a DBX 160x compressor for kicks (and still have multiple copies of one kick with different EQ and comp settings in-the-box as well). I also don’t use soft-synths much so most everything is from a Nord Lead 2x, Korg Microkorg, Moog LP, Yamaha Motif, or Roland JV-1080 (with a few supplementary Reason tracks here and there). All the mixing was in-the-box. I also have to thank my friends Joel and Troy at Studiotte who mixed The Resistance for me as a favor.
The Resistance is the most obviously 80s inspired. One, this is because I love that music and it came back into fashion for a time (and is nearly out again already…boo). Two, I was listening to M83’s “Saturday = Youth” album. A lot. So besides using very 80s inspired sounds, such as those electro toms that kick it off, I didn’t sequence anything. It was all played by me, with the slightly imperfect, and human, timing issues left in place. I didn’t want it to sound too modern. In addition, I used general MIDI drums from my old, early 90s Roland.
This was the first one I tackled. I nearly completed an entire remix before scrapping it – it was too similar to the original and the mix was awful. So two weeks in, I started over from scratch. Once I had the synth riff figured out, the rest fell into place in a few days. Ultimately, this is one of my favorite remixes on the EP.
I asked to do this song. The melody is only a few notes so I knew it would give me a good opportunity to play with the chord progression. As the original is a little dark and quirky, I thought it’d be fun to turn it into something bouncy. I wanted to make it more celebratory – a bright neon pop song. So I turned the first half into a one-chord wonder, bouncing back and forth between D and Dsus2, with a wandering Moog bass line. Probably my favorite part was turning the then-spooky backing “ahh” vocal into something catchy (and recording a mono synth to act as a harmony with that vocal). And, for anybody with a really keen ear who is a fan of Daft Punk…yes, the breakdown between the two halves of the song is my tribute/nod to “Robot Rock”.
The drums, with the exception of the handclaps sampled from an old Linn drum machine, are all taken from the original track. I chopped up a few bars, looped them, and applied some heavy EQ. The second half of the song is just an isolated kick and hi-hat taken from the original and looped into a disco beat. Basically, I feel almost every song is improved by a disco beat. It could even make Hotel California listenable (let the stoning continue). Ultimately, I liked the idea of having natural, and very room-sounding, live percussion backing up a heavily sequenced synth song.
To be honest, and with all due respect and love, Aaron’s songs are…well…long. Really long. Seriously, the man has a love affair with 5-6 minutes. So the biggest thing I wanted to do with You Are is create a Cliff Notes version – a tightly compacted electro-pop song. I figured that if people wanted to hear the original, the original is always available. Why repeat what already exists?
In addition to modifying the chord progression for most of the song and cutting out vast chunks of it, I recorded around 20 instrumental tracks that ended up getting tossed out. The simpler it got, the better it seemed to get. So there are now only 6 synths in total. A vast number of the “instruments” in the song are actually Aaron’s vocal reprocessed and edited. I chopped out the phrase “you are” and ran it through a vocoder, partly so it would match the new chorus bass line and partly because I like vocoders. In addition, I took a few syllables, of different notes, to make the stuttering pattern in the chorus (in your right ear if you listen on headphones). The hiss sweeping from right-to-left in the verse is actually a delayed copy of Aaron inhaling. And, yes, the vocals in the bridge and chorus are auto-tuned. Aaron dislikes the effect and I don’t love it myself but it worked with the robotic nature of the song. It’s like if Basement Jaxx, the Black-Eyed Peas, and Rob Bell were mixed in a blender. Perhaps not literally.
Changed (LCD Radio Remix)
Changed was the hardest to do mostly because it seemed difficult to change (no pun intended). This song started with the pulsing pad. The Radiohead aping bass line was next and that kind of informed the tone for the rest of the song. Because it felt low-key, I dropped the bridge in favor of pitch-shifting Aaron saying “Changed” to accompany a hand bell solo. The only other dramatic change was auto-tuning his ending vocal down a note so the music could continue (as the phrasing in the original is drawn out at the end of the song). This was the first version of Changed that I did and it turned out nothing like what I had in mind when I started. So, I thought I’d give another version a shot. Again, it turned out nothing like I planned.
Changed (Hipster Nightmare Remix)
I felt like I should do a remix that would work well when Aaron does his step-aerobics (and, yes, he wears the leggings). I get a kick out of euro pop (and sincerely love new retro groups like Alphabeat) and the style just seemed to work. When remixing, I don’t like radically changing tempos (you can hear it in the vocal) and Changed is too slow as is and can only be described as “peppy” when double-timed (which is what this remix is). So while this version is kind of a goof, I’m still happy with the way it turned out. I’ve actually considered moving to Germany and doing this full time.
Lastly, for no good reason, here are three remixes I think are fantastic: Phoenix “Lisztomania (Alex Metric Remix)”, Passion Pit “Sleepyhead (Neo Tokyo Remix)”, and Bloc Party “Signs (Armand Van Helden Remix)”.