Composing The Imaginary People

Initial idea and first track

The writing process for the album The Imaginary People started somewhere in 2011 and was published on 26 November 2016. The initial idea was to create a number of short, no-nonsense rock/punk rock tracks, heavily based on guitar based riffs. The main riff (cf. figure 1) from The Past Has Never Left was one of the first musical ideas that was written for this album. The song went through a series of changes, but was fairly quickly moulded into its current format. However, the other tracks did not progress well and I decided to try something else entirely.

The Past Has Never Left main riff

Figure 1 : The Past Has Never Left main riff

Later The Past Has Never Left became the first line of a poem titled The Imaginary People (see text below). The idea was that every line of this poem would correspond an album track. It provided some more direction in which the album would progress lyrically. It explores some ideas around the relationship between memories, perception and imagination, which has always intrigued me, as well as themes of loss and loneliness.

THE IMAGINARY PEOPLE

The Past Has Never Left
But Silently I Remain
As Everything Passes By

And I Remembered
How Light Fell
Into My Eyes
Composing memories

The lyrics of The Past Has Never Left (shown below) deal with the sentiments in the aftermath of a personal conflict a few years prior to writing this. The lyrics and music are divided into three major sections. The verses correspond to the main riff, followed by the phrase “You’re talking like you better than me”, which kick-start the breakdown of the song and corresponds to a release of anger and frustration built up over time. Finally the last section of the track corresponds to a katharsis of sorts. Listen to The Past Has Never Left here (link to website).

THE PAST HAS NEVER LEFT

I climb across the walls you’ve built around me
Blocking every sight of a hurtful memory

And the line is slowly fading
Where the lie ends and I begin
Somehow I can’t remember
Who I once used to be

We line up our defences and take a distance
Lethargic moments pass without disturbance

You’re talking like you better than me

I’ve tried to believe again
And let your Christ clean my slate

Never lack of phony friends
To make me love things that I hate

New song ideas

Meanwhile song ideas for what eventually would become As Everything Passes By, How Light Fell and Composing Memories had been taking form. As my music taste had been shifting more towards ambient/post-rock and post-metal, this would inevitably reflect in the writing process with As Everything Passes By as probably the culmination of these influences. Also How Light Fell was orginally an instrumental track of the same ilk.

The chord progression of the intro riff (figure 2) on As Everything Passes By was something I had been working on for a while. I felt that there was something there, but I lacked some energy in the track to take it further. It was interesting to see how the song evolved over an afternoon between many different versions. When I finally found the next section with this powerfull riff (figure 3), the pieces started to fall into place. The ambient built-up erupts into a massive guitar riff accompnied by some eery lead guitar. I did most of my writing at the time on guitars in dropped D tuning, but for the recording we used a 7-string guitar which gave the necessary depth to the riff. Listen to As Everything Passes By here (link to website).

As Everything Passes By intro riff

Figure 2 : As Everything Passes By intro riff

As Everything Passes By riff section 2

Figure 3 : As Everything Passes By – main riff in the second part of the track

Different music styles

Composing Memories on the other hand had a very different kind of flavour from the other tracks, leaning more towards some form of jazz. Although I could have chosen to remain more loyal to the initial direction of the sound of the album, I decided to keep the track for the time being. Originally there was no piano on this track. It was based on a chord progression Cmaj7 – F#m11 I was improvising around on guitar (figure 4). I added a second part to the chord progression and composed a solo for the intro.

Composing Memories main riff for guitar

Figure 4 : Composing Memories main riff for guitar

The lyrics attempt to capture the feelings of confrontation with the absense of a former love, still having pictures and old gifts still laying around the house. The melancholy of the text is somewhat reflected in the dark jazzy music.

COMPOSING MEMORIES

This is the last time you’ve hurt me
I lied to myself
This love has turned itself against me
And kills me inside
Every mirror has your face on it
And every word spells your name

This time I’ve put it all behind me
I lied to myself
I am surrounded by your absense
Reminded of you
Every image displays our memories
And every sound sings your name

A couple of weeks passed. I was jamming on this riff (see below) on my guitar and as some melodies started to come to mind, I decided work on it further on my computer. The chord progression was looped throughout the song along with a simple drum track and bass line. Additional guitars were layered over it, eventually settling for four simple riffs (figure 5). The resulting track was again quite different from the other tracks, leaning more towards some kind of ambient, electronic track. Listen to the resulting track here (link to website).

And I Remembered main riff

Figure 5 : And I Remembered main riff

Although I normally prefer to create an album where music, lyrics and artwork live within a distinct genre or style, it seemed the variation among the styles of music, would become a signature of this collection of songs as a whole. All in all these are just seven tracks written over a timespan of two years, so in a way they reflect a multitude of inspirations I had within this timeframe. As a result, the last two spots would be filled in by tracks I thought were powerful enough, but that I could not fit into another project.

Final tracks

Some months later I had been jamming on my guitar again and I decided to continue to work on a simple riff I was playing around with. The 7/8 vibe and undulating arpeggios formed the basis of another loop. Although the instrumental part was fixed fairly quickly, it lacked a distinct vocal melody. I had written a poem some weeks earlier (see text below) that I thought would fit in with the rest of the album. One problem was that the text had no clear structure, which made it somewhat difficult to fit it onto the highly structured instrumental track. However, this turned out to be a perfect fit, as it gave the song some freedom and serendipity it lacked before. Listen to the resulting track here (link to website).

But Silently I Remain main riff

Figure 6 : But Silently I Remain main riff

BUT SILENTLY I REMAIN

We fade away
A never ending good-bye
Feels more faint every moment

Your light dims
Resonating among a billion stars
Every cycle the wave shrinks
And so does the beating of my heart

The final track of the record was composed in a similar fashion. Again a chord progression I found while jamming. There had been many candidates for this spot, but I felt the eerie, dark sound it had, fitted in with the other tracks well. The track starts off with the aforementioned chord progression and gradually builds up to reach a climax with heavily distorted guitars fuzzing though the layers of guitars. After a brief break to build up some more tension, the song kicks off again to finally fade in the outro. Listen to the resulting track here (link to website).

Into My Eyes main riff

Figure 7 : Into My Eyes main riff

I have long played with the idea to add a spoken text, e.g. an interview, speech or fragment from a film, over this track, but never found a good fit. Perhaps a possibility still if we were to ever make music video for this track.

After finalizing the track list, I also had some ideas for adding an ambient, electronic track. Although I had an other idea in place for this spot, the resulting bonus or ‘hidden’ track ended up being something quite different from what I had originally planned but more on that later.

Some recent changes

Fast forward four years. We had been in the progress of recording for a couple of months and the deadline for sending the recordings to the studio for mixing was coming up in a few weeks. I didn’t feel How Light Fell was offering enough as just an instrumental track. I had already tried to write some lyrics for this track before, but decided to give it a final try. When I came up with a simple, yet effective melody that fit the track, it became a matter of finding the right concept for the lyrics. I bought a copy of The Imaginary by Sartre a few months before, and decided to start reading it to get some inspiration. Listen to the resulting track here (link to website).

HOW LIGHT FELL

True yet everchanging
I imagined you
Our latent illusion
Known immanent lie

False fading reflections
Swore I imagined you
Lakes mirroring landscapes
Our latent memories

These realities converge
Is this all we’ll ever learn

As I mentioned before, another thing I changed recently was to remove the rhythm guitar from the track Composing Memories and replace it with a piano arrangement. In early 2015 a piano player joined our band (she left later that year) and the idea came up to turn this song into a jazzy piano track. As I am not a piano player myself, I tried contacting some piano players to help me rewrite the track for piano. In the end though, there wasn’t a lot of response and decided to stick with my own version of the score for piano.

I always to try to write some drum lines for my tracks to get a better idea of what the complete track would sound like. Since I’m not a drummer, these may again be either counter-intiutive from a drummer’s perspective or a bit dull and repetitive. When I found Steve Vanderperren’s (Herfst, Endtime Odyssey) ad on 2dehands.be to rewrite the drum arrangements for these tracks. I also asked Jonas Coene, who is a drummer van the KULeuven Big Band, to write a drum track for Composing Memories, which he ended up recording (the only drum track that is not digital on the record).

Studio

Although I won’t go into detail here, there have been some small changes during the recording and mixing of the album as well. These changes were almost always changes in arrangements though, rather than in the harmonies and melodies.

Conclusion

Hopefully this gave you some insight in how these tracks came to be and the background behind them.

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