The Making of "Polaroids"
STEVEN JONES & LOGAN SKY interview with Neon Vice from 2015 about the production process for the "Polaroids" EP that was released Nov 2nd 2015
LOGAN: Often I approach a track in the same way that a Polaroid captures moments. I generally use vintage equipment, try to use first takes and to embrace the imperfections and noise. Visually Mark Wardel's 'Polaroids' painting embodied some of these same ideas and this became a good focal point for the EP. So I gave Steven Jones the challenge of writing a song based around the name.
STEVEN: Logan's suggestion that I write a lyric based on the theme of Polaroids keyed into my interest in the meaning of the photographed image. To me, a Polaroid photo suggests glamour, insouciance, a moment captured, a hidden narrative. It invokes the relationship between the observer and the observed. I scribbled a collage of images mentioning magazines, fashion, a chic 'scene', hinting at a shadowy friendship based on being photographed, founded on an image that feels more real than reality. It's a world of gleaming surfaces and heightened emotions, of fantasies projected, but there is also a sense isolation and sadness. Does being the subject of a Polaroid photograph imbue us with greater significance than we might have in the mundane day-to-day? In a world bathed in images are we able to find genuine connection?
I loaded Logan's instrumental into Logic and begin to improvise vocals over it using a Samson G-track mic, based on jottings I've made on the lyrical themes. I record at least five takes and then review them. Usually, I see a structure developing. I cut and paste my favourite sections into one 'take' and amend the lyrics where necessary. Then I re-record the entire song again. I see this process in terms of scribbling and sketching and improvisation is an important starting point. Occasionally, first takes will survive into final mixes.
LOGAN: When the track came back it was in great shape and all that was required was some minor arranging, creating a chorus using darker bass notes and I formed a transition to take the track on a journey and lift the track at the end.
Hi Rise New York
STEVEN: In recent years I've spent a lot of time in New York, a city which seems to me to be an archetypal metropolis: Towering buildings, dazzling neon, grid-locked traffic, noise, crowds, a non-stop vortex of energy. The challenge was to crystallise these sense impressions into a vocal for Logan's already atmospheric instrumental track. My starting point was the memory of being stuck in traffic in Times Square at midnight, a sense of being trapped in the beating heart of a city built on money, celebrity, success and failure, illusion and obscure truths. I recorded several versions, some of which were sung. In the end, we opted for a spoken vocal which seems a more direct way of expressing something so complex.
LOGAN: Aiming to summarise New York in one track is no mean feat and I experimented with my arsenal of synths and plug-ins, ending up with a nice balance of Polysix bass, Juno-106 melody, CS80 textures and FM7 clarity.
I’m no jazz lover, but I felt that this frenetic city needed a rhythmically off-beat and dramatic drum programming. Hectic daytime beats but calm at the end to give the sense of the city winding down in the evening, so most of my energies went into this. I purposely eased off the drums at the end, to allow the track to become calmer and resolved.
The Now Crowd
LOGAN: As with many tracks, this started life with me humming a few lines into my mobile phone, whilst on the move! Back in the studio I expanded ideas on the piano and we listened to it for a few weeks, unsure what to do. I’d been working with VISAGE but Steve Strange had died suddenly leaving a gaping void in my world and many of his friends and followers. The lyrics really came through my acceptance that although he had gone, but that the world had been irrevocably changed by his pioneering style, music and fashion. The “Now Crowd” is simultaneously melancholic and anthemic, exploring loss, desire, optimism, past, present and future.
STEVEN: I first heard Now Crowd as a melancholy but defiant piano piece and I immediately connected with that potent hybrid of sadness and joy. When I read Logan's poignant lyric and realised that the song would be a celebration of our mutual friend, Steve Strange, I sought to express some of my own feeling about Steve in the atmosphere of my vocal. Hushed, a little elegiac but retaining a feeling of celebration. Now Crowd occupies that space where past and future meet and its melange of emotions reflects the feelings of so many of us who were touched by Steve Strange and his creativity.
LOGAN: After Steven added his vocals the challenge was to remove the piano but to keep some reverence by not over-synthing (is that a word!?). I tried with my Crumar Trilogy and Siel Cruise string machines, but they weren’t dynamic enough, so the new Waldorf Streichfett was drafted in and sounds lush and amazing with its great morphing abilities. The built-in reverb on it also suited the ethereal nature of the track.
STEVEN: Logan's original demo, 'Shadow's In The Mirror', seemed cinematically stark and cold to me, evocative of a London skyline on a bleak and rainy night. I began to explore the theme of the city as remorseless money machine, modern urban life as a dehumanising design. I refer to the almost religious fervour people develop towards money and to the sense of being caught in an imposed and false reality. It's a bleak message but there is optimism in the recognition of the trap! We may feel 'Fake, in a world of plastic' but underneath we're seeking authenticity and humanity.
LOGAN: Steven’s vocals over “Shadows In The Mirror” sounding ok, but I felt the music needed updating to bring it in line with the sonic flavour of the other tracks on the “Polaroids” EP. So I used the ominous brooding bassline as a starting point, added a mesmeric Juno-106 arpeggiation and created a darker and more meditative groove. But this led to a new problem, there was now too much clarity and space. Things needed to get dirtier and this is where I plugged in the Mute synth II. It’s not really musical and just makes very experimental, glitchy and noisy sounds. I also recorded some detuned analogue FM radio via cassette. This had the effect of creating more character and linked in more with the vocals. In the end, to squeeze it all onto one side of the C30 I had to make quite a few edits, especially to these experimental sections.