Dissecting the song “Lessons from the Past ft. Mari Kattman”

In “Dissecting the Song” I try to explaing what’s behind the lyrics, what production techniques were used, and more…

“Lessons from the Past” is a track taken from the 2016 album “Seven Sorrows, Seven Stars” (pre-order at Alfa Matrix (CD) or Bandcamp (Digital), released worldwide on April 15th). It’s written by Yves Schelpe, vocals performed by multi talented Mari Kattman, mixed by Mitia Wexler and mastered by Geert de Wilde.

History Lessons & Relevance…

As the title suggests, the track deals with the history of the human race. In particular our destruction of the world around us, and the repeated mistakes we make. Ranging from the very personal to the global, we all make mistakes, and yet, we rarely seem to be able to take those experiences with us to prevent future failure.

As a student I adored history lessons, due to the fascinating stories. I admit, I had very good history teachers, they knew how to tell a good story and that is essential. Yet I hate to see that history itself is looked upon as a boring subject…

With this song I tried highlighting my interest (passion is too strong of a word) in history and it’s relevance to the world we live in now, and the future world we’re building. Accompanied with the music video (watch on youtube: youtube.com/watch?v=mIgO8rMw9Wc), which portrays humanities repeated war mistakes, from the very beginning of the big bang up until the most recent conflicts…

Production

100 BPM, a monotone basslines, a vocal with long notes and layers of pads and synths to reach to an ultimate climax… I wanted to make a fairly downtempo track built layer upon layer, almost house/disco like, but with a dark edge to it ofcourse. I started out by using a bassline, very rigid and quite monotone, on which I added a chord sequence with just a pad. All this to give it that housey/disco feeling I was after. The main dark and somber pad which plays the main chord sequence can be heard on the soundcloud on the right. It comes from the Native Instruments ABSYNTH instrument, I don’t often use it, only when I’m after a really distinct kind of sound or feeling. It fit quite well with the drums and the bassline.

On top of that I layered a typical saw synth sound, again quite monotone, but sidechained, with delay and with a subtle change in melody at the end. The sidechaining is there to make it very groovey into the track, it almost fits like a lego piece for me, tightly in the rhythm. The delays are their to make it smooth and make it sound big. I used Native Instrument’s MASSIVE for this sound, which you can hear on the left of this page.

To complete it all I wanted a very typical element of house/disco, a repeated female chant in the background. That’s the humming Mari provided, “hmm, hmm, hmm”.. It really adds value and completes the emotion in the track for me. Listen to the track in full at to hear the end result.

The vocal Performance, A word by Mari Kattman

LftPWhen writing a track, I usually end up recording a full demo version, “sung” by me to give the performing vocalist a hint of how the track should end up sounding. They then record at their home studio, or a studio close to them and send me back the files. Sometimes I’ll ask to record extras, and we iterate until both parties are satisfied. I love working with Mari, who performed the vocals on this track. She’s very talented and has a unique voice. Her timing and pitch is perfect, and her sense of giving the performance an emotional touch is amazing! I’ll hand the word to Mari now to give her perspective of working on this particular track.

“When I got the message from Yves that he wanted me to collaborate on another Psy’Aviah track, I was really excited. Yves always brings amazing heart to his music and words, and the tracks we have done in the past have been extremely well received. I feel lucky to be set up with Yves because I sort of get to make something amazing out of his brilliant ideas! 

The catchy “uh-huhs” which carry through the song, were definitely right up my alley,
they sorta gave me a Dave Gahan, Depeche Mode sorta vibe.
~ Mari Kattman

When he sent me the draft for what he had in mind for “Lessons from the past” I really loved the groove of the song. The catchy “uh-huhs” which carry through the song, were definitely right up my alley, they sorta gave me a Dave Gahan, Depeche Mode sorta vibe. I love bluesy, sultry harmonies and I really felt that some of that could be implemented in this song. 

I really enjoyed recording the vocals for this. My usual methodology is to sing a base part that will carry throughout the song and then play around with some ideas for harmonies. That dual harmony that comes in at the second part of the chorus was really fun to come up with, it really took it to the next level and gave the chorus some added dimension and depth. I really love working with harmonies and hearing them fall into place at the right moments. It really gives you goosebumps when you find the right fit and this song gave me plenty of those. 

The song is about teaching our children these mistakes
so that they will not be repeated.
I agree fully and love that there is a great message here.
~ Mari Kattman

The subject matter of this song was especially moving to me. I feel like a lot of what we are doing right now  is looking back on the wrongs we have done, to each other and to the world. There are a lot of us who feel that it is extremely important to never let our mistakes repeat themselves. I see a lot of people becoming more environmentally and socially conscious and it makes me feel hopeful as I feel it is really what must happen in order to make this world a better place for our children and all who follow after. This song, especially the video, depicts images that are powerful and moving, destruction, segregation and war are among them. The song is about teaching our children these mistakes so that they will not be repeated. I agree fully and love that there is a great message here. 

I felt lucky to be a part of this collaboration and hope that this song has moved many people. It means so much to read the words of support and comments people leave about how much they enjoy the songs we work on. Thank you for listening!”

mixing process, a word by Mitia Wexler

As previously mentioned in another blog post, I work with a mixing engineer to maximize the potential of the music I write. I do make my own demo mixes ofcourse, so the engineer has an idea where the track is headed, and I can go all out creatively. Yet, when sending the stems to the mixing studio, I always provide dry versions (no fx, only creative fx) so that the engineer has the “source material” to work with when mixing the track. Below you can read how Mitia Wexler tackled the song “Lessons from theh Past” in his wxlr.mx studio.

“This funky mid-tempo song is centred around its groovy beat and Mari Kattman’s vocals. As such, it was a pretty straightforward mix job — keep the low end powerful, the drums and the bass groovy, the vocals clear and present, and ornament all of that with the layers of synths.

Drums

The tracks are treated to some EQ here and there, Transient Designer for the snares — to bring out the attack, and for the second kick — to tame the muddy decay. Yves often uses musique-concrete-like crash sounds, which come with lots of low end information interfering with other elements, so these were high-passed and given some compression to prolong the sustain.
The rides were also compressed to be more of a noise-pad-filler than a properly percussive element. I muted the rides and claps in the verses to further emphasise the verse–chorus contrast. The drum bus had a compressor with the timing chosen to add some punch and movement.

All in all, it was a very pleasant and a rather quick mix
that left me wanting for more once it was over.
~ Mitia Wexler

Bass

The main bass is a sampled electric bass with a very pleasant timbre, on which I used an amp sim mixed in parallel to thicken the low end and make the timbre a little more full. The synth bass called “80sElectroShit” by Mr Schelpe himself moves the rhythm along and, as its name suggests, adds an eighties vibe with a healthy dose of grit to the bass-line.

The group went into a character compressor shaving off a couple dB now and again, tightening the bass sound.

Synths

Lessons from the Past Mixing Sessions in AbletonThe synths did not get heavy processing, mostly minor EQ adjustments. “Absynth Magic” pad went through M/S matrix to leave some room in the centre. I mixed in a little amp sim to “Extra Melody A” lead to make its sound more abrasive. “Extra Melody D” staccato part went through a dynamic EQ to tame the “C” note that was sticking out.
“Solo Synth B” lead was processed with a tube saturation emulator to make it fuller and some cabinet emulator mixed in to round off the abrasiveness handled by “Extra Melody A”.

Effects

This song has only two effect tracks, clearly heard in the intro and the outro. The “Hiss” track is present throughout, automated to get out of the choruses’ way. It is also the only track that isn’t sent to an aux track.

Vocals

Mari Kattman is an exceptional singer whose performance is both passionate and remarkably skilful and the vocals did not require much post-production trickery. I often prefer riding vocals “by hand” rather than relying on compressors. Depending on the genre, vocal style and particular delivery, the compressor route may be the best fit, but with Mari I always do it by hand, striving to retain all the live energy while keeping the vocals in harmony with the digital backdrop. The backing vocals were widened so they would fill more space in a choir-like fashion, all the while leaving the centre spot for the lead. There are some level and pan automation leaps towards the coda, where the parts switch roles.

Mari Kattman is an exceptional singer whose performance is both passionate
and remarkably skilful and the vocals did not require much post-production trickery.
~ Mitia Wexler

One of the hooks of this song is Mari’s “uh-hmm”’s. Starting with the first verse and going all the way until the coda, this is a very pleasant catchy element, but also a very repetitive one. So, aside from the level automation, the “uh-hmm”’s went through a fast attack / slow-ish release compressor with the side-chain fed by the lead vocals, giving them more movement in time with the song and leaving more space to the lead.

The vocal bus went through a compressor removing no more than one-two dB. Certain words were sent to an aux delay track.

Busses

There are two reverb auxes: one creating a light ambience to help glue everything in a common location, another one — a vast long space for the elements that are “out there” and a delay aux return.Funky and emotional, Lessons from the Past had it all — the groove, the melody, the heartfelt vocals and the polished electronic production. All in all, it was a very pleasant and a rather quick mix that left me wanting for more once it was over.”

Lyrics

WarHeroes01(hmm, hmm)

I see the same things happening every day, every night, every time and every hour
on this planet, the same thing every time
I see the same things happening every day, every night, every time and every hour
on this planet, the same thing every time

To all the newborns, and the young lives
All the monuments
For all the battles fought and the lives ruined
Families torn apart
We owe them lessons from the past
Recognize ignorance, lessons from the past

I see the same things happening every day, every night, every time and every hour
on this planet, the same thing every time
I see the same things happening every day, every night, every time and every hour
on this planet, the same thing every time

To all the life living on the big blueWarHeroes02
For all the chaos and bombs
Mistakes that were made
Habitats ruined and blood poured all just for gold
We owe them lessons from the past
Recognize ignorance, lessons from the past

I see the same things happening every day, every night, every time and every hour
on this planet, the same thing every time
I see the same things happening every day, every night, every time and every hour
on this planet, the same thing every time

Nothing changes, nothing ever changes,
Nothing changes, nothing ever changes…
We owe them, lessons from the past
We owe them, lessons from the past…

 

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