When I think of my teenage years, the next two projects are the best parts of those years to me. I put everything into these projects.
After The Domino Effect, I began working on an album called The Thing. It was to embrace a more stark, industrial sound. The original recordings channeled the stoic nature evoked in bands like Tool and Nine Inch Nails. “Burn” starts the record with a quiet guitar and vocal passage before the band explodes in. Unlike “Select” which was lighthearted, “Burn” immediately evokes a stern tone. It was the first time I desperately wanted to be “not pretty”. It alternates back and forth between two sections, following an intro-ABABCB structure. The “B” section is noisy. The “C” section comes in to operate as a “late chorus” that feels very pretty, very Deftones-ish. The biggest flaw about this track and other attempted tracks on The Thing is that as much as I wanted to be “stoic”, teenage me only ever wanted to be pretty. The song works, but younger me trying to be serious just felt a bit trite. Regardless, I feel I threaded the needle pretty well. I wanted stoic, I wanted industrial, I wanted heavy. Unlike the aloofness of The Domino Effect, The Thing felt specific in aesthetic. Mechanical. Grainy.
There were instrumental tracks that separated the track list into sections called “Trials”. My love for more ambient textures heard on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Vol. 2 and Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill soundtracks shined through on the aura that the project was to helm. The instrumental “Trials” are actually pretty neat: they push a concrete edge and land in soundscape territory rather than ambient or soundtrack territory. It’s actually more feral than I’d push now, so I find that pretty rad for younger me. “The Frogmarch” was a tune in a heavy 6/4 timing. “Chaser” has the guitars tuned to A, following a verse-chorus-verse structure for one of the few times I did on the project. It’s bouncy, and explodes into a pretty chorus with bright guitars layering on top. “Friends” ends the album, mimicking the structure done on “Burn”. A clanking rhythmic loop starts the song. I programmed it with random sounds on my iPod Touch at the time, it sounded like metal sticks being hit on a concrete floor drenched in reverb. The track ends with a long, long drone of feedback bowing out the album in the process. Matching the album’s sound, I imagined the cover being black and white, very washed out and noisy. I remember researching the architecture used in industrial warehouses, the type of glass windows that would be used in the types of buildings. I wanted to incorporate those designs. I’d save photos of stuff I was trying to replicate.
The Thing was the first time I tried to make something specific. Given the unoriginal title, it was likely a working title I would've changed if the project were released publicly. But The Thing was what I always called those songs in my mind. Such a numb title, the project came from that type of space. My foray into more industrial tones began on The Thing.
Fahrenheit was a two disc concept album I made during my senior year of high school. I wanted this album to have all of me at full blast. It was two discs: Disc 1 was “Hot”, Disc 2 was “Cold”. The album subsides the industrial drive of The Thing and opts for a more dreamy sound: a liquidity takes precedent in the sound. Guitar samples being stretched out, tremolo guitars and distorted drum machines layered with live-sounding drum machines. I imagined the color scheme of the album being red and blue. Fahrenheit felt like it existed in its own massive world.
FAHRENHEIT TRACK LIST
(last known solid order of tracks, est. early 2015)
DISC 1: HOT
What I'm Thinking Of
DISC 2: COLD
The opener, “Extrema” featured pensive verses with a beeping, digitized pad outlining the two-chord progression before exploding into a head on chorus; the curtain reveal of the album. “Machina” and “Examination” offer more warped guitar textures, with the latter mainly featuring a bustling, distorted drum machine pattern reminiscent of Massive Attack. “Avion” opens up the second disc with parallel tremolo guitars and an irregular drum pattern. “Terminal Velocity” is a somber indie-rock tune with a filtered drum loop whistling throughout. “Colour” is a simple instrumental passage with stretched guitar samples and more filtered parts. Fahrenheit’s sound was all about layers.
Being a concept record, Fahrenheit had a story. The plot follows the main character as he is throttled into a destructive web of events by The Man in the Mask, a character wearing a sinister, triangular looking mask. During the course of the album, our main character ends up getting wrapped up in the mysterious figure and the world around him. I envisioned Fahrenheit being accompanied by an animated movie. The movie would play the album from front to back and tell the story silently. No dialog, minimal gaps. The story would be entirely visual with more specific emotions to come through in the songs. I needed the plot to be specific enough so it could be followed and understood easily. Yet, it had to be subtle enough where the songs could be enjoyed in their own right. The progression of the story was to be felt in the track list flow. Visually, it would be an intense scifi thriller, and also just feel like a stylish music video for the whole album. I would frequently daydream about the setting these songs would narrate. I envisioned a red sun that would cast down on the world's ocean. The water would carry that red tint to it. I envisioned the main character and the Man in the Mask’s escapades of chaos.
I remember watching Daft Punk’s Interstella 5555 when I was a kid. Though they aren’t the only artists to do such a thing, I was a huge fan of their take on the movie-album specifically. The entire Discovery album was played front to back in front of an original anime. Fahrenheit's other source of inspiration was actually something I didn’t piece together until looking back now: I remember enjoying Greek tragedies when I was in high school. Like most people in high school, I read a few in my English classes. Specifically around the time I was working on Fahrenheit, I enjoyed Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I loved how tragedies delivered themselves. Whether I realized it or not, I definitely channeled that into Fahrenheit when I came up with the concept and story. A man growing colder over time. Finding himself becoming a monster by the end of it all.
"Oceans" has a rolling drum machine pattern with various beeps and noisy washes around it. Clean, sterile guitars stand wide in the mix strumming bold chords. Sitting later in the track list, it pictures the man later on in the story retreating from the chaos before him into the ocean. The song ends droning on one chord, the whole mix slowly getting swallowed by reverb and glitchy noise. A very Shakespeare-ian line is spoken at the very end of the track: "In this ocean that is filth, he swam from the world that he had built. And slowly the sky fades away, as this will be his last day."
The story was vague, a bit “abstract art student” if I’m being honest. But given the nature of how it was to be told only through visuals and music, I think that it would naturally lean more into that direction. As a writer, I tend to side eye when things get “surreal” or “vague”. It’s hard to do well, and some times it can feel like a cheap cop out. But I think Fahrenheit would’ve worn it well had it fully been fulfilled as a project. The music came first. The story was to come through in the music and service the musicality of the project. The story and the idea of an animated movie, were secondary. My personality was truly the forefront of what the scope of the project was. Fahrenheit was everything I was. The songs and story were born out of a period of intense turmoil in my life at the time. I channeled my entire being into that project. It was the best of me, it was the best thing from that period. And it meant everything to me. I felt frustrated that the demo quality of the recordings held back the vision I carried in those songs.
Fahrenheit was the first thing I made that I felt was real. That album was when I knew that songwriting was something I cared about deeply in life. But something suddenly felt off about my music at the same time.
I started getting this itch when it came to music. I heard it in my music, I heard it in other artists as well (both newer and even in “the classics”). It wasn’t in what I was hearing, it was in what I wasn’t hearing. I recognized that I loved what I did and what I was going for, but there were things keeping it back. The verses and choruses as a structure, the prettiness, and plenty of other things I learned from my influences. I became frustrated and bored with music. I was bored with how I wrote music. I pushed my songs as far as I could, but I needed the kind of rock I loved to be formed in a different way. It wasn't about sounding different. It was about making the music speak differently. At the time, all I knew was that I needed something else. And something else was going to take venturing outside of my sound and then coming back to it.
I had this idea. A sound. I could feel it but didn't know what the actual sound was. It would build on what I already had done, but shed many ethics within the style's infrastructure. It existed in between everything I listened to, never being quite able to point to it anywhere. I felt like I could peer at it from a distance, like trying to squint your eyes when driving through heavy rain and fog to make clear of what's up ahead. I knew something was there, but I couldn't outline it yet. Something that rewired the roots but kept the surface appeal. I knew there was something greater to find, to achieve in my music. And I wanted to find it.
So I held onto the demos. I kept them to myself and I made a plan. I’d go out into the world, establish myself more as a musician and producer. I’d search, study and figure out how to land that idea I had and create that sound with other projects. Once I did, I’d come back around and make The Thing and Fahrenheit the albums I felt they should be. That was my plan for these two projects. That would be the thing that drove me for years. The search would be long, with answers I wouldn’t finally hone in on until after college.
With the experience of creating those songs under my belt, and a sacred mission that was my own secret, I moved on. But I would experiment a bit more in the home stretch of my senior year of high school. I wanted a challenge. I wanted to challenge a lot of things.