For this week’s LAYERS we have East Coast Psychrock and Funk masters The Stepkids. After releasing a slew of 12-inch singles on Los Angeles’ Stones Throw Records, they are prepping their return with the Troubadour LP, due sometime in 2013, also on Stones Throw. The first single off the album, “Sweet Salvation”, presents the band’s knack for fusing synth-driven funk with pop melodies and soaring galactic undertones. Read below to find out how The Stepkids took a two-year musical journey from analog to digital, enlisting everything from a 60s Rhythm Ace drum machine to a glockenspiel to achieve their throwback vibes.
“Sweet Salvation” took us two years to complete, working on and off as our touring schedule allowed. Here’s its story, track-by-track.
Drums, Bass, Rhythm Ace
“Sweet Salvation” started out as a remix we were doing for a friend back in July 2010. A buddy of ours had lent us his original Rhythm Ace drum machine, and we were quite keen to use it on a track. Tim hopped on the drum kit, while Jeff fiddled with the Rhythm Ace and Dan played bass. We played one take for 5 minutes straight this way, and did some light editing afterwards to form the song. At the time we were recording exclusively to tape, so that’s why there’s some hiss.
Keyboards, Ahs & Snaps, Guitar Drops
After we laid down the rhythm section tracks Dan put down two keyboard parts using the Juno 60, and then Jeff put a nice delay effect on the one in the right channel. After that Jeff did vocal "Ah"s on every other 4th beat and we also put down some snaps. Jeff then threw down a guitar drop part to round off the 2nd verse section. Because the Rhythm Ace drum machine works to its own beat and not to exact metronome specifications, everything we did on this song thus far had to be performed live all the way through, so all the takes you hear are played all in one go.
Jeff thought of a very catchy vocal line, and we all sang it in harmony at the same time into one dynamic microphone. We mixed two takes of that together, one with a rotor effect and the other dry.
At this point we thought the remix was basically complete and we moved on from the song, only to come back to it two months later and realize that we liked the music so much we wanted to write our own song to it!
The first step was to write and record all vocals… Dan is singing lead, in the pre-chorus part (“please lisa”) you can hear all three of us on one mic singing at the same time, and all three of us are singing the chorus with Jeff doing vocal riffing over the 2nd and 3rd choruses.
After we did this, we again had to halt fully finishing the song because we started touring extensively to support our first album, which had just come out at that point. In July 2011 we finally returned to work on this song, newly inspired to record digitally, foregoing our usual tape machine-method.
Synth Pad, Timpani, Toms, Hi Synth
Dan did a synth pad, again on the Juno 60. This pad is actually two different takes, one panned left and other right, then put down a hi synth part for the bridges. Tim had recently acquired a timpani, and he tuned it to B♭ to do this take. He also noodled around a bit by tuning the timpani up and down during a sustained note, and we layered that in for a new instrumental bridge section we started to develop. Then Tim played some toms over the song.
Guitar Synth, Vocal Loop, Glock, Slap Bass, Triangle, Electric Snare, Guitar Solo, Sub Bass
For the instrumental bridge section (post 2nd chorus)- Jeff had recently bought a guitar synth module so we were quite eager to try it out. He played a really catchy melody on the instrumental bridge section. Tim put down a vocal loop and some glockenspiel. Then Dan rounded it out with a slap bass part a few months afterward.
After all this, we finished the song up with a triangle part, an electronic snare drum sound which we designed in the program Reason playing fills in the choruses, Jeff’s soloing with a regular guitar sound, and a sub bass part to maximize the chorus’ impact.
We finally had everything finished by July 2012, exactly two years after it all began.
Put it all together and here’s what you get. “Sweet Salvation” by The Stepkids.