I interviewed RJD2, and Aaron Livingston a few weeks ago about their new project Icebird, and asked them about a few songs on Icebird’s album the Abandoned Lullaby. The conversation got pretty intricate. I was convinced RJ should review records, and Aaron should teach history after this interview was over.
In what way do film scores influence making instrumental records?
RJ: In general what kind of influence do they have? Even before the The Insane Warrior record I had kind of internalized a not quite… I hesitate to say more poppy there are aspects of things like obvious stuff like Star Wars or something like that that you can apply the theme to more traditional song writing. So it’s definitely something I’ve internalized in the same way I would a Gangstarr record or a James Brown record. It was until the Insane warrior record that i really got into the aspect of film scores to really push out from song writing. In a way it’s kind of anti song writing. Super monotonous and most people would probably consider it really boring. Think of the sorcerer or even some of the Goblin stuff it’s super repetitive and super fucking boring to most people but as music I actually find it really interesting inspiring and a welcome break from verses and chords and bridges and intros and everything being in tune and all that kind of shit.
What was the process of the Icebird record?
RJ: It’s tough to say because Aaron by in large would have dominion over the vocals, he was the guy writing all the melodies and lyrics but there wasn’t this really clean division. Cause on a lot of rap records theres this really clean division in terms of opinions on things. When you’re working with a rapper they’re like, I either like the beat or I don’t. But they’ll never say change something, I like the beat but that snare is weird change it. That never happens to me, it’s either take it or leave it. We both considered each others opinions on things. I would add things to a track and he’d say I’m not diggin that I like it better without it. We would work it out. And the same thing applied to the vocals. In terms of how the record was made, for the most part it was a back and forth, I would turn Aaron in an instrumental. I’d write something, cut it and then send it to him and he’d demo up vocals and from there we’d just start adding or taking away stuff both on the instrumental and the vocals until with got something that was working.
Ok, I’m gonna ask you about a few songs on the album. Tell me about ‘Going Going and Going’?
ALiv: There’s something about the rhythm and the attitude of that track that was really playful to me and saw it from the perspective of just sort of playing around and just having fun with it. A lot of times when I’m writing a song I just start writing and see what happens and a lot of cases things get rewritten, rewritten, rewritten until I have something. In this case a lot of the off the top of the head stuff I came up with when I first listened to it almost all of it is that because I thought it really suited the rhythm. But at the end of the day I kept looking at it, it’s got this hard, distorted guitar thing and then the break towards the end which is more mellow, kind of psychedelic and it just got me thing about opposites in a yin and yang type of way. The more you think you know about something, probably the further off you really are and I think if there’s anything that that song is about a wise man realizes he doesn’t really know much at all. But you know you wake up this morning and put your clothes on and you keep moving.
What can you tell me about ‘King Tut’?
ALiv: Was that the title of the beat?
RJ: No, you came up with that. That was all you.
ALiv: I don’t even know. There’s something to it. It might have been the scale you were using there. It had this mystical tone to it. That’s probably the basis of it. The synth drop, I just got a feeling, it has this old feeling for me.
RJ: I was going over this tune today, and that particular song is one of the best things I will ever be a part of when it comes to music. Literally one of my most favorite, I just can’t, I’m just thrilled about that song. On the chord side, without getting too technical, the tracking and the writing are relatively, kind of complex. There are a lot of finished chords throughout the whole thing, it’s kind of half way between a riff style of writing, when you think of Black Sabbath, Tony Iomi didn’t write songs with chords he wrote songs with riffs, but then Bob Dylan would write songs with chords and not riffs. It’s kind of like it drifts in between them. You wouldn’t be voicing out the chords on each pass, you would split the thing up and be playing a couple notes on each pass, so this is all kind of technical bullshit. But what I think is interesting about this song is that in edition to the outro which im very happy with the whole thing was not recorded with a click track. it was recorded live. I played the drums. as i was cutting the drums I was basically writing the arrangement in my head. and then I would have to go back and hopefully hit that arrangement. anyway when the whole thing was done there’s this instrumental track and what i think is so fascinating about music and this is kind of an exemplary tale about it, is Aaron’s completely right. there is this thing about the instrumental, the instrumentation and the intervals in the song that has this feel like the old Egyptian. when this song is done it makes me feel like I’m looking at a fucking mummy and it’s like 2000bc and I’m in Egypt or some shit. I don’t think in a million years i would have made that connection myself if i was the guy writing the tune and it’s a testament to Aaron’s ability to have insight into the pride or feel of an instrumental and write around it.
ALiv: It’s actually really funny to me because I almost bailed on that like probably five times. But I was really determined to have something but everytime I tried to do it I’d end up in the same place which was basically me writing from the perspective of a dead pharaoh and it was like bugging me out. but that’s one of the things I love about it because if I was doing this on my own I’d probably end up shelving a song because it was bugging me out that i was writing from the perspective of Tutankhamun you know what i mean. because i gotta at least run it by RJ and i gave the little bit that i had and he was feeling and just that gave me the confidence to just let it go, let it breathe.
RJ: I don’t even understand why these things make sense together but they totally do. Like they absolutely 1000% work completely in tandem and I don’t understand why I just know that they do.
So what did you do for inspiration? Did you watch the History Channel while googling stuff about it on the internet?
ALiv: I’m really fascinated by ancient cultures so I’ve read a lot of history and I’m a deep nerd. I’ve read a lot of text books on ancient civilizations so i have a lot of that kind of imagery and knowledge just floating around in my head and although I’m not sure why, but i guess in a way I kind of chose Tut and that’s the thrust of the song. And that’s the name that everybody know. You know when you talk about Egypt and your talking about 4 or 8000 years which is kind of hard for people to comprehend and we all remember this one name and that’s kind of what i was playing around with i think, in a way. There’s this one name that everybody knows, you know 5,6,8000 years later. when you talking about this range of time some of the stuff I had to refamiliarize myself with this particular story cause there are things about Egypt I found more interesting.
Does his name ring the most because in the 70s he toured america – he was more marketed?
ALiv: That’s part of it. I also has to do with the story itself. That a) he died young, you know which our culture has a huge fascination with. You know this sort of like rising sun that dies on it’s way up, you know he also kind of signifies a shift from people believing in many gods to people believing in one god. and so I think that that’s part of it too that our culture is dominated by religions involving one god – supposedly. I think people attach themselves to him because of that. On one hand he’s got the whole James Dean, Tupac vibe as this young dude that got killed in his prime and people speculate was he poisoned and that kind of thing but aat the same time it’s kind of this political thing, he’s not some heathen, he worships the sun only and all that so I’m sort of playing with all that sort of stuff. Sort of a combination of me just knowing shit and learning shit and also just feeling at the same time. Feeling like, ‘what’s it like to be this dude?’ But when people are on their knees, when people think you’re made up of light, and I sort of wanted to use that. People looking at you like you’re like a (unintelligible). It’s a crazy thing in a way. Especially when you’re talking about just a man walking around on the earth.
Yeah, yeah, a young man.
ALiv: A young man who probably, in a way, didn’t know anything about anything. 18, I mean I think about myself at 18, pretty juvenile shit for the most part.
RJ: Dude we have no songs about pounding the vag. We failed.
ALiv: I think I might have slipped a few in. We have no straight concept pound the vague songs. Volume two will be strictly vag pound songs.
People can pound the vag to the album and it can become an interactive thing.
ALiv: Yeah, maybe that can be the next video.
That’ll be your next user submission thing: amateur porn?
What can you tell me about Return of the Tronson?
RJ: That was on of those things, like, the track started out I got it down to giorgio mirrodor tangerine dream, people making sequences on synthesizers, like some of the early kraftwork stuff. A lot of 70s electronic music, we have sequences and what ends up happening is becomes this super repetitive music that has no swing to it and it’s really straight rhythmically. But because it’s so straight and no swing to it there’s no james brown groove thing that I normally gravitate to, i’ve never really tried to explore that, it was kind of like my first odyssey into that type of thing or that type of production theory. I tried to stick to the parameters of don’t make the beat “funky” make it angular and robotic. But then try to do variations where the synths get pitched up and down because there should be some textural changes throughout the tune just not the actual feel.
What can you tell me about ‘In Exile’?
RJ: I can tell you a funny story about it. I remember when we cut that tune I couldn’t, that was thing I completely ripped off one day and whatever I did I completely screwed the pooch on the engineering of that, and when i cut it was super mic hiss and it sounded majorly shitty. But we decided to use it after Aaron wrote to it. We went back to we tried to find a different mic, every mic ended up sounded like shit on the guar or something. I tried to retake or something and it didn’t work. For whatever reason i just remember it was one of those things it was hellish engineering struggle. It sounded like it was recorded on a 4 track and dubbed 18 times.
Do you like how it came out?
RJ: I don’t know if I like the way it came out. I like the performances, I like the chords its one of those things where you make an executive decision, ‘well i’d rather have this performance with this shitty engineering than have a different performance with better engineering.
I asked about these songs because they were all different. The progression of the album was surprising to me.
What’s your live show gonna be like?
ALiv: In a weird way it’s gonna be a lot like the record. but also it’s gonna be made up of parts that are not like the record. Cause we’re kind of approaching it from we’re putting a rock band together to play it. It’s a rock band made up of really capable individuals. RJ and I are both intimately involved with the whole thing start to finish but you know, the other guys in the band are all producers in their own right so their really sensitive to working with the material so even though there a lot of things on the record that we couldn’t probably produce without spending a huge amount of cash by hauling all of these, RJs 3 ton synthesizers but I think the feeling of the record is going to be evoked in a really good way and i think that’s what you;d ultimately want from something like this, in someways is kind of advanced. And actually the other day I was very pleased to find myself, we would get to the end of some of these songs and I’d be like damn, i wish we could put this on the record. You know like, ‘damn, let’s go back. Can we push this back 4 months?’
RJ: I am happy that, for the most part, except for Guns for Hire, which really needs to be sequenced. We’re not doing a thing where we’re like playing to a click track. The general approach is to play as far as we can and get as far as we can on our own. I think we all feel good about that decision because it’s so much more fun to play music like that and it will also mean you won’t come out with super squeaky clean performances but what you do get is you get this feeling you don’t get when you’re playing to a click track or a backing track. every show is different and so you constantly have to listen. It’s five people in a room listening to each other and keeping time together and this might sound corny but the older i get the more i realize that is a very special experience. It’s something that I really feel good about and strong about and reaffirming to me about how I feel about music.