Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Story of Laudanum Escapade

Laudanum Variations, our 6th release and first EP, represents a musical and personal journey for Cats Cradle Robbers.  Over a period of 7 years, this simple song born out of an improvisation in a tiny apartment has expanded to 9 versions in 9 separate styles.  Like Beethoven’s Diabelli variations, some of these variants differ wildly from each other, but each retains part of the kernel of the original song, and each further illuminates the subject.

The following is the story of this evolving musical journey, told in chronological order. You can listen to the album on our Bandcamp page, or anywhere digital music is streamed or sold.

Laudanum Escapade I / Laudanum Escapade II (2010)

On Dec 16, 2010, we traveled out Interstate 90 to Issaquah, Washington, to record with Cathy Breshears.  Snake had heard Cathy’s cover of the Grant Lee Buffalo song Fuzzy, and since he was acquainted with members of Grant Lee Phillips’ band, he had reached out to try to connect Cathy with the band.  After some discussion, Cathy agreed to get together with Cats Cradle Robbers for a session to create something new.

The way we typically work with collaborators is to start from nothing, and to improvise new material, words and all.  Having nothing when we walk in the room levels the playing field and ensures that our collaborators have the maximum impact on the music.  This evening was no exception.

Cathy was nervous about improvising, so we started her out with some ideas we had for a female vocal for our hard rocker Diablita.  Some of what she recorded that night are in the version of Diablita that we released together with Laudanum Escapade on Seen and Unseen.  After she was loosened up, we started something new.  DJSE laid down some beats using Ableton’s Brainfreeze kit, and we encouraged Cathy to extemporize over the beat.

While we played, we enjoyed takeout from Issaquah’s Shanghai Garden – you can imagine the smells of Kung Pao, Pot Stickers, and Chow mein as you read.

Eventually, we coaxed her out of her shell by dint of having Snake sing some improvised lines, which Cathy then imitated in a call and response. While we cut Snake’s prompts out of the final track, you can hear a small snippet of his voice at 1:43 in Laudanum Escapade I.

Snake has the ability to dip into his subconscious and reel out stream-of-consciousness lyrics – when he gets into the zone, he just lets it spill out with little conscious knowledge of what the words are about.  First Frost in the Garden and Mydas Touch are salient examples.  Laudanum Escapade was recorded while the sting of his mother’s death from lung cancer was still fresh, and the image of a woman strung out on opiates because she just can’t deal with her life probably stems from his grieving process at the time.  It’s hard to speculate on the meaning of the very specific colors he envisioned while singing the original words (orange, carrot, cabbage, okra), but in later versions of the lyrics he pulled in the idea of synesthesia – specifically the linkage between sound and color.  Snake had once experienced a powerful synesthesia while tripping on mushrooms, and the thick, trippy tapestry of DJSE’s beats and synth melodies together with the Chinese food and a few beers all contributed to the imagery that night. 

Cathy’s dog (mochi) and her cockatiel, got into the action – you can hear samples of both animals used as percussion elements in the early versions of the song.

Ok, cool.

Nuh nuh nuh nuh…

The rain is on my windowpane
And I’m feeling no pain, no pain
And I’m feeling no pain, no pain

Orange and cabbage colors
Carrots and okra around
And the rain is on my windowpane
And I’m feeling no pain, no pain

Nuh nuh nuh nuh…

The dog is out in the rain
Birds are flying in the rain
Worms are crawling in the rain
And I’m feeling no pain, no pain

Nuh nuh nuh nuh…

Ok cool.

When the boys got together later to start pulling together an arrangement, Snake brought some additional samples to the table – animal sounds he had recorded using his Windows phone while on a family trip to Hawaii for Thanksgiving the same year.  The frogs, recorded outside Snake’s hotel room in Hilo, White-handed gibbon, recorded at the Honolulu Zoo, and Monk Seal, recorded at the Waikiki Aquarium, were used to define instrumental interludes before, between, and after sections of the song proper. 

Once arranged, the original song went up on our website and we moved on to other things.  When we did periodic reviews of our material, DJSE was ambivalent about the song – Cathy’s voice had a tentative quality colored by her unfamiliarity with improvisation and her concentration on following Snake’s improvised melody and words.  Furthermore, the song was mostly percussion and did not have a strongly defined harmonic center.  It was atmospheric and a little emo, but it wasn’t catchy.

Snake took this feedback and experimented with some harmony, adding the guitar and keyboard lines that you can hear in Laudanum Escapade II.  While the overall structure of the song remains the same, the harmonic structure added by the guitar and keyboard instantly transforms the song into something more listeners can appreciate.  Laudanum Escapade II went up on our website, and stayed there, side by side with Laudanum Escapade I, for 4 years.  We’ve remixed these two tracks for the present collection, but they are essentially in their original form.

Laudanum Escapade (Album version) (2015)

When we started work on Seen and Unseen, the first thing we did was to listen to all of the tracks that we wanted to include on the album and have a discussion about what needed to be done with each track.  We agreed that we wanted a better vocal take for Laudanum Escapade.  In the time since we made the original recording, Cathy had moved – first to Southern California, and later to a small town in Oregon.  We reached out to see if she was open to re-recording her vocal now that we had the parts defined.  Snake had rewritten the lyric from the original improvisation, replacing the weird “carrots and okra around” with the phrase “bright synesthesia of sound.” Cathy declined, so we started looking for a vocalist to replace her lead vocal.  Our first candidate was singer-songwriter Suzanne Jarvie from Toronto, another friend of Snake’s from high school times.   Suzanne was excited about the project, but busy, so we kept up a correspondence while waiting for her to become available.  In the meantime, DJSE met up with longtime acquaintance Eliza Heery and set up time to record with her.  When they met for the session, Eliza was most excited about bringing her talents as a bassist to bear on the track, and they spent some time laying down several bass tracks.  Eliza’s vocal was recorded in a single take in the last 10 minutes before she left the studio. 

Our original intention was to have a new vocalist retrack the same vocal lines that Cathy had originally sung, thereby leaving the original track untouched other than an improved vocal recording.  However, Eliza took a different path, improvising a new melody – more casual and jazzy, less alt-rock – and singing some – but not all – of Snake’s new lyrics.  In addition, Eliza replaced Cathy’s “nuh nuh”s with the word “Laudanum”.  It was beautifully sung, but a departure from the original song.

We were faced with a dilemma.  We had a project to finish, and Eliza’s vocal wouldn’t fit comfortably in the original arrangement.  Taking apart the arrangement to accommodate her vocal could take time and iteration and throw us far off schedule.  On the other hand, Suzanne hadn’t yet found time to track her vocal rendition, and we had no other singers on tap to help.  Eliza was not available to come back for a second session.

Snake spent part of the next weekend pulling the original arrangement apart to make room for Eliza’s changes.  Once done, we were glad for the effort.  The changes required turned out to be less than we feared, and while Snake had to chop up and rearrange Eliza’s verses, the result came out sounding natural and cohesive.  Eliza’s bass lines were a strong complement to the original harmonic structure.  Once we reoriented ourselves to the new version, we realized that the song had evolved and been improved as a result.

(ok cool)


It’s raining on my window pane
And I’m feeling no pain
No pain, no pain


Birds are tapping on my window pane
And I’m feeling no pain
It’s raining on my window pane
And I’m feeling no pain


The dog is barking again
In the yard and in the rain
And I’m feeling no pain
No pain, no pain
Said I’m feeling no pain
No pain


The Remix Contest (2015)

At SxSW in 2015, DJSE had the opportunity to meet and socialize with the folks from, an online music collaboration site that we had been using for remote collaboration.  Part of Splice’s raison d’etre was to allow producers to release tracks for remixing.  DJSE proposed the idea of a remix contest to promote the new album and Splice agreed to create an article for their blog centered on the contest.  (Read the article here)

While a number of producers spliced the track for remixing, only two producers submitted remixes for the contest.  Three of the four remixes were by our own Snake, who set out to create a trap version - he failed, but wound up with some interesting and innovative work, even if it missed the trap genre.  The fourth version was submitted by UK producer Lee Christian.

Laudanum Escapade (Dirty Fusion remix)

Snake’s first remix attempt is strongly colored by a teenage obsession with jazz fusion, and especially Phil Collins’ band Brand X – you can hear plenty of Phil Collins’ influence in the drums
Snake wrote for this track.  Eliza’s vocal is juxtaposed with a remixed version of her bass track, and a middle section builds on her rising bass line, repeated and augmented with additional instruments.

Laudanum Escapade (Utopia Remix)

For Snake’s second attempt to bring a trap feel to the song, he authored an ostinato using the Zubi Tone Generator plugin, and pulled in an original rap verse.  A multitracked “guitarchestra” adds the final touches.

Laudanum Escapade (Purity Remix)

Snake’s third and final remix of the song starts with the premise that Eliza’s beautiful vocal stands on its own.  Starting on a physical instrument, Snake composed a solo piano accompaniment for the track, which he then hand-programmed in MIDI using Ableton Live’s grand piano sample pack.  The final result is a beautiful interplay that comes across like a live performance. 

Laudanum Escapade (Lee Christian Remix)

A late entry to the remix contest, Lee Christian’s darkly brilliant mix brings to bear his immersion in the British trip-hop scene.  Check out the interview we did with Lee about his remix  back in 2015:          

Laudanum Escapade (DJSE’s House Remix)

During production of this collection, which occurred as we were wrapping up work on our first house album Every Kitty Dance Meow, DJSE became captivated by the idea of creating a house remix of Laudanum Escapade.  Snake and DJSE handed the track back and forth a few times, tweaking and adding creative touches, before landing on this final version.  DJSE is especially fond of the several sets of "vocal chops" that he assembled from syllables in the original vocals.

Laudanum Escapade (Boiled)

A boil is the hallmark of any Cats Cradle Robbers album.  Starting from scratch, we pick a specific location, and we create music using only materials found there.  It’s a process we pioneered, and it’s a workflow that has consistently resulted in some of the most beautiful and creative work we’ve produced.  This is our 6th boil, following Salumba Parte, Boiling the Ocean, Honeydew Waltz, The Dry Sound of Atonement, and Primroses.

For this boil, we continued our tour of Snake’s house in the Dining Room.  The china hutch produced a glass harmonica instrument, created by sampling wine glasses. Various plates, bowls, and other glasses contributed to the “glass forest” of tinkling chimes.  Sampled thumps on doors and other architectural features laid the rest of the foundation for Snake’s voice, singing the modified lyrics , authored for the 2015 version, that have never been heard before now.

To keep things different, we set this version in 3/4 time.  It’s a unique and beautiful contribution to the set of variations.

The rain is on my windowpane
And I’m feeling no pain

Orange and cabbage colors
Bright synesthesia of sound
And the rain is on my windowpane
And there’s no-one around


Birds are tapping on my windowpane
And I’m feeling no pain


Where to next?

We’re grateful for the attention that Laudanum Escapade has received – it’s the song that got us into Radio Xenu’s top 40 listing on New Year’s Day 2016, and overall one of our most popular recordings.  Laudanum Escapade is still available on Splice for remixing. And we have another collaboration with Eliza already in progress – a Western-inspired track with the working title Gone Dry, which will appear on an upcoming album.

Let us know what you think about Laudanum Variations.  What’s your favorite version?

Take care,

Nick and Ed, Cats Cradle Robbers

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Introducing the Mango project - making music to combat cancer

This February, founding member and chief sound designer Ed "DJSE" Essey was diagnosed with lymphoma. While cancer is never a welcome diagnosis, the type of lymphoma in this case is a highly treatable form with a high survival rate. Ed is currently undergoing chemotherapy as an outpatient.  He's young, he's strong, and he's going to pull through this with flying colors.

The experience has inspired Ed to express himself musically, and the result is a growing collection of seed tracks that we refer to as Mango (a reference to the tumor, which was originally described to Ed as the size and shape of a mango).  We want to turn Mango into an opportunity to help others struggling with cancer, and we need your help.

Here's Ed in his own words:

Please join forces with me in the Mango project.  We're creating stirring music for a cause, to help support cancer research and patients in need of support.

In February 2017, I was diagnosed with a highly treatable form of cancer.  I'm fortunate to have a form of cancer with a positive prognosis and for having incredible social support through amazing friends and family.  Not all cancer patients are as fortunate as I am, and I want to help them.

Since my diagnosis, I've been leaning heavily into music as a form of therapy.  It has been an incredibility prolific, and profoundly developing time for me as I really connect to the music through my experience.

While it has started as a personal project, I want to reach out to other collaborators to join in.  I've intentionally created pieces with space for vocalists, leads, and other instrumentalists to work their magic.

Whether you have cancer, are a survivor, or have touched by cancer -- I think in this world, we all have been touched by cancer in some way -- then I'd love your collaboration on this project.  Non-musicians who can help logistically, with design creative, or otherwise are welcome, too.  If this project moves you, help it to move others, too.  :)

I'm still searching for the right cause for the proceeds, and suggestions are most welcome.

With deep love and respect,
Ed "DJSE" Essey

You can listen to all of the current pieces in the Mango here, free of charge.  Mango by Cats Cradle Robbers.  Share them, like them, comment, and let us know how you'd like to get involved.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

What we’ve learned about Mastering (and what you can learn from us)

By Snake

Mastering is simple. And hard.

In this post, I’ll talk about the general process of mastering, and some specifics about what we’ve learned about how to master effectively in iZotope Ozone.  We’re not experts by any means, but we think our experience can help others who are looking to do lightweight mastering of their own work.

What is mastering?

Simply put, mastering is the process of taking final mixed recordings and preparing them for distribution and airplay.  The goals of mastering are to make the final recording sound as good as it can on the widest variety of music systems.  Additionally, mastering sets the average and peak levels of the music to standard values so that they are comparable to other recordings they’ll be combined with in a set or playlist.  Finally, mastering can be used to address flaws in the source recording by modifying the EQ profile, applying compression, or by exposing or hiding frequency bands that may be under-or over- represented in the track.

For a more detailed look, see the following articles.  There’s lots more to read about mastering, but the following two articles are a good introduction:

Working the tradeoffs between “loudness” and dynamic range

One of the things that people look to mastering to do is to maximize the average volume of a track.  This makes it sound as loud as possible throughout the track.  This means that it will cut through the noise in the club, pop more on the radio, and so forth.  However, “louder” might not be right for all types of music. 

At a high level, mastering tools perform two distinct operations to make a track sound louder:
-          Reducing the volume difference between the loudest and softest sounds (compression)
-          Truncating the hottest peaks to allow increasing overall volume without producing clipping (peak limiting)

Here’s some examples, using our track April’s Rock Sandwich.  I chose this track because it has a reasonable amount of dynamic range, while still being fairly consistent throughout the track.

Here’s what the waveform of the rough mix looks like in Audacity:

Notice that there’s a good amount of dynamic range between the average signal and the peaks: the waveform looks spiky like a comb.  Also notice that in the mixing process, we left a solid amount of headroom above the peaks, so there’s no question of clipping.

Here’s the track in iZotope Ozone.  For this first example, I’ve set Ozone to compress to K-12 (12DB maximum delta between average and peak level), and set the limiting threshold quite low. This is not how we typically master our finished tracks, but it will serve to demonstrate how to maximize loudness.

 The second waveform in the screenshot above shows how the maximizer is responding to peaks in the music by drastically reducing the peak levels in order to smooth out the volume profile of the track. 

The result is a track that is consistently loud from end to end. Here’s the resulting output in Audacity:

Listening to the track, it sounds loud, it sounds consistent, and there’s no clipping.  This is how a lot of pop music – particularly EDM – is mastered.  It’s a wall of volume.

What’s missing, though, is dynamic range and a feeling of space.  In the original track, the transients in the guitar pop out, and the cracking sounds of the duct tape that we sampled to use as percussive elements are subtle elements that you notice if you listen intently.  There’s clean separation of the instruments, and a sense of space.  There’s a certain amount of rise and fall of volume and overall energy between adjacent sections of the track.  The space and separation are lost to compression, along with the dynamic range.

Because our music is complex, with multiple musical voices and a variety of timbres, some subtle and some less so, we value the sense of space and dynamic range which allow the subtlety to be heard.  So, we prefer a lighter touch in mastering.  Here’s a more typical approach to mastering a Cats Cradle Robbers track, still using April’s Rock Sandwich:

In this screenshot, you can see that we’re still using just the Maximizer, but in this case, I’ve left the default limiting threshold, and adjusted the volume so that we’re just barely hitting the peaks of the hottest transients.  In addition, I’ve set the I/O scale to K-14 to allow a broader dynamic range between average and peak levels.

The result is a track that has a good hot level, but still has enough dynamic range to allow the individual instruments to be heard distinctly.  I can hear that mix that we worked so hard to get.

Our tools and approach

Here are the specific tools, systems, and workflows we’re using for mastering today:

iZotope Ozone 7

While it’s possible to build your own mastering chain from individual plugins, we find the ease and power of iZotope’s mastering solution to be everything we need and more. We’ve used Ozone for 4 out of 5 of our albums to date.

When using Ozone, we try to adhere to the following principles:

-          Use K-14 metering.  We’ve standardized on the K-system of metering, and we’ve decided to use K-14 because it allows us to pump up our tracks to a decent volume, while still allowing a good amount of dynamic range.  If your music is simple and you value volume over subtlety, try the more aggressive K-12, or use a different metering approach.  Here’s a good introduction to the Katz (K) metering system:

-          Master using the standalone app.  Since all of the Ozone plugins are supplied as VSTs, it’s possible to use them in your DAW of choice (we use Ableton Live), either on individual tracks or on the master output.  However, we prefer to provide a clean separation between mixing and mastering.  We work in Ableton to create the best mix possible, and only when we think we have a mix worth shipping do we pull it into the Ozone app.

-          Use the simplest possible chain.  The Ozone plugins are extremely powerful, and each one can deeply affect the sound of the finished track. Different plugins can help emphasize or minimize various frequency bands, and either enhance or erode your mix.  After a lot of experimentation, we’ve fallen back to a “light touch” mastering approach.  For Every Kitty Dance Meow, we used only the Maximizer, set to the “Classic Master” preset, and we modified only the input gain, raising the track volume with the goal of having the average track volume at 0db, and only the highest peaks touched by the limiter.  NOTE: simply having the plugins in your mastering chain will change the sound of your track, even if you leave them in default configuration, so we recommend removing anything you’re not planning to use.  We typically use only the Maximizer, which means we need to remove the default Equalizer and Dynamics that Ozone adds when we start mastering a new track.

-          Don’t change it in mastering if you can help it. In most cases, if we were tempted to make deeper changes (such as adding static or dynamic EQ to emphasize or minimize a given instrument), we wound up revisiting the mix instead so that we could make only the surgical change desired.  Most mastering engineers only have access to the final stereo mix, but if you have the ability to change the mix in response to issues found during mastering, it’s often a better way to achieve your ends.  Mastering can help brighten the overall sound of a mix, for example, but it’s not the best way to get your bass to pop out if the bass is simply too low in the mix, or if what you really need is to deal with frequency collisions or add sidechain compression.  If you do use additional plugins, use a light touch.  Even small changes can have big impacts on the music.

Is the future of mastering in the cloud?

As the indie music market grows, the opportunity to master online grows as well.  A web search for online mastering pulls up a bottomless list of options.  These fall into two camps:
-          Professional mastering engineers who accept submissions and payment through their online channel.
-          Automated algorithmic mastering

We’ve looked into two of the most popular online mastering services for our own work:  LANDR and Cloudbounce.  We’re using Landr for the Mango project currently. 

I ran April’s Rock Sandwich through both services to see how they compared with the “light touch” mastering I started this post with.  Both services produced a master that were comparable in volume to the “Loud” version I generated.  The kick drum and bass were more pronounced in both the LANDR and Cloudbounce versions, but the LANDR version sounded smoother overall, with a more even frequency distribution. The Cloudbounce version was skewed towards the treble end of the EQ spectrum which made the track sound harsh.  Naturally, both services allow a certain amount of tweaking of the algorithms used in mastering.  Based on the comparison, some dynamic EQ to add punch to the bass elements in the track would improve our Ozone-mastered version, but I think I would still choose the hand-mastered version, even with our beginner’s touch.

Here are a couple of articles I found while researching this post that were useful.

Here are a handful of the services I found while searching for online mastering solutions.

Let us know what you think – have you mastered your own work?  Used an online service? What are you finding useful?

Indie on,


Monday, February 20, 2017

Every Kitty Dance Meow - the liner notes

Seattle, Washington, Feb 20 2017

Every Kitty Dance Meow is now available just about everywhere digital music is sold!  (at last check, Amazon was not yet showing the album, but this should be resolved in the next few days).  Check it out on Spotify or YouTube, and if you love it, you can get the full album, including the 52-minute continuous mix by DJ Zube, for just 9.99 over at CDBaby.

Here's some further information about the album, incuding #originstories for the individual tracks.

In 2014-2015, while finishing our fourth album, DJSE was busy producing house music and teaching EDM production workshops on the side as part of a house music collective he was working with at the time.  After we released Seen and Unseen, He shared them with Snake who was excited to put our CCR spin on them.  We envisioned a club-focused album – less quirky and experimental, more targeted to dancers and party people.  This is that project.

At first we though it would be quick to produce and release an EDM album – EDM’s simple, right?.  Instead, this turned out to be a massive project. The challenge was how to make recognizable, danceable house music, while still using our signature blend of electronic and acoustic sounds, pulling in sampled found objects and unique instruments. We hope the result, Every Kitty Dance Meow, strikes that balance.  Some of the tracks, such as Exhale and Signs, are house AF. Other tracks, such as Primroses (a boil of Snake’s daughter’s room), or Velvet Saga (a trancey journey which starts out a placid 80bpm and escalates quickly to a blistering 160), explore the edges of the genre.

Throughout the album, we’ve used vocal samples chopped and recombined in ways that seem to act like audio Rorschach blots (DJSE calls them “Mondegreen machines”).  Everyone seems to hear different words.  We’d love to hear what you think they mean – hit us up on Twitter at @ccrseattle and let us know!

We’re indebted to the guidance and advice of Mark (DJ Zube) Zuber, who listened and provided suggestions that helped us tune the album to the needs of DJs.  Zube’s epic “Meow Mix” recapitulates  the album as a DJ set, and is being released as Disc 2 of Every Kitty Dance Meow.

Most important: Every Kitty Dance Meow is first and foremost an album of dance music, so

Get up on your feet!

Don’t stop.  

You’re free.

-Ed (DJSE) Essey, Nick (Snake) Dallett
Cats Cradle Robbers


The album cover for Every Kitty Dance Meow was designed and executed by Snake as an homage to the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 1991 masterpiece Blood Sugar Sex Magik.  The album title is an homage to C&C Music Factory’s seminal dance hit “Gonna make you sweat.”

The album was released for presale on iTunes on February 12, which is Ed Essey Sr.’s birthday, DJSE’s father.  The album was released worldwide on February 20th, which is Kent Dallett’s birthday, Snake’s father.

With no further ado, the tracks:


Balayage and a Mocha (121 bpm | 04:57)

DJSE's earliest piece of released EDM, Balayage and a Mocha got it’s start on a day when his wife was getting her hair done. DJSE surprised her at the salon with a mocha. Afterwards, he went home and wrote the main body of the track while watching a sunset and drinking a glass of wine.  In keeping with this languid, pampered beginning, the track was always chill, and the first version was downtempo (per the first version on, the original was created at 110 beats per minute).

Snake enjoyed DJSE’s initial foray, and could hear a dynamic moving guitar line to go with the chill chords. He added the intricate “deedly deedly” line, played on classical guitar.

When we started out to create a collection of house tracks, we debated leaving Balayage as a chill, downtempo piece, but after some experiments we decided to boost the tempo to 121 beats per minute, bringing it into the standard house range.  DJSE altered the sound design of the electronic instruments, and Snake doubled his original guitar lines using U-He’s Zebralette and Ableton’s fantastic grand piano pack to build an intricate and interlocking melody that we think is reminiscent of Mannheim Steamroller or the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

We need to give thanks here to Radio Xenu and DJ Pip, who engaged during the Christmas holiday to debut Balayage and a Mocha as a special Christmas 2016 surprise for fans.  Balayage was the second single to come out, following March’s release of Mikle High Clubbin’.

CDG (136 bpm | 05:28)

Inspired by DJSE’s inflight authorship of Mile High Clubbin’, Snake wrote the original version of CDG while flying home from Paris, France in August 2016.  The title refers to Charles DeGaulle airport in Paris, and Snake further riffed on this by writing a simple melody using only the notes C#, D#, and G# in various octaves. 

Snake and DJSE passed the project back and forth, adding layers and new pieces, including Snake playing the Lindsey fretless guitar.  “I nailed that last one,” Snake said after one take.  Naturally, DJSE grabbed that quote and chopped it into syllables to use as an additional instrument.

Exhale (123 bpm | 05:43)

DJSE's first deep house track was written during a family trip to Florida, and was one of the first tracks to gel into a coherent composition. The vocals, obtained through a free sample pack from Black Octopus and sung by the artist Siren, are intimate and compelling. This is the most true-to-genre deep house track that we've produced, and one of the few tracks that we chose not to enhance with acoustic instruments.

Feelin' Nice (98 bpm |05:22)

In 2014 and early 2015, DJSE tapped into a community at work that was interested in electronic music, and pulled the group together to form a collective.  One long weekend while preparing to lead a workshop for the group in creating EDM using Ableton Live, he put together several Ableton projects to demonstrate various aspects of EDM production. This set of projects included the seeds that grew into Feelin’ Nice, as well as Join Up!, Out There, Signs, and Velvet Saga.  Feelin’ Nice was designed to be a slower, downtempo track in the style of Miguel Migs.

Snake played wine glasses (i.e. glass harmonica) on this piece to bring a more organic acoustic sound. The glass harmonica sound, heavily processed, produces the descending riffs you can hear in the first half of the piece.

At one point in the development of this track, Snake added a soulful saxophone line that gave a bluesy lounge feel to the groove. We ultimately felt that we wanted the track to feel more “up”, so we replaced this with the horn section that plays call-and-response with the piano in the final version.

Join Up! (120bpm | 04:40)

DJSE created the core of this track for a u-He Bazille sound design contest. Originally called Join the Club, it was intended to be a progressive house piece. After the contest, DJSE retooled the track to use native Ableton instruments so that he could more easily share the track with his collective. 

DJSE and Snake reimagined the track significantly over a period of several months while working on this album.  The final piece is reminiscent of an anime or video game anthem, inspiring the name change to Join Up!

The distinctive sound of Join Up! owes a lot to the Omnisphere plugin from Spectrasonics, which we pulled in late in development to shape the overall sound design.

Mile High Clubbin' (123bpm | 06:14)

MHC was originally written by DJSE on a flight from Florida to Seattle. Break beat moments in this track were inspired by the infamous Amen Break, which led to the Palm Beach Break pattern that this song was eventually built around. Lofty pads, airplane samples, and a soaring lead help to shape the “mile high” feel. 

This was the first track that we worked on together for the album.  Snake pulled in some of the samples that we recorded for Honeydew Waltz (A Quirky Time for Something New, track 13) to add an acoustic aspect to the electronic matrix. Snake chose some samples specifically to produce the Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), so don’t be surprised to feel a ticklish feeling at the base of your neck starting at around 01:04.

Mile High Clubbin’ was the first track from the album to be released as a single. We owe thanks to DJ Pip and Radio Xenu for debuting this track and keeping it in frequent rotation for several months starting in March 2016.

The Mydas Beat (feat. Sean Fairchild) (120bpm | 04:00)

When we started to get serious about making an EDM album, Snake was determined to contribute one or more house remixes of tracks from our previous albums.  The Mydas beat, a thumping remix of 2011’s Mydas Touch (Abewsing the Mews, track 11) seemed like a good candidate.  Sean Fairchild’s  funk bass provides a solid anchor for Snake’s vocal explorations.  It’s all wood, man… it’s all wood. As always, DJSE and Snake worked together to craft the initial seed into the final polished track.  We need to give a shout-out to DJ Zube as well for providing valuable input on this track.  He’s indicated that it’s one of his favorites, and he’s already been heard trotting out an early version for at least one Seattle-area gig recently.

Out There (123bpm | 06:08)

A dramatic moment in this song asks us to ponder: "Is there something out there?" DJSE was working through some advanced technique tutorials by talented producer AK (check out his YouTube channel here) when he created the initial seed for Out There. He took those techniques a step further to create some sickly harmonized, randomized vocal chops to create tension.  Combined with a detuned melodic element, the track moves between melodic and dissonant moments.  The vocal break that starts at 4:29 is one of the hottest “dance floor moments” of the album.

Signs (123bpm | 07:44)

This was a piece that DJSE prepared for his first EDM workshop: Create a Deep House track in 90 minutes. This was originally created using only patches found in the Ableton Live free demo, with the addition of a free demo download of Cory Friesenhan vocal samples. The original version of this track was created in less than 30min.  With Snake’s extended arrangement, a newly written bridge, and continued reworking by DJSE and Snake, Signs evolved into a solid deep house thumper.

Things to listen for in this track include the tennis game that starts about a minute in, and Snake’s neighbors, whose drunken singing and laughter, recorded through the hedge during one of their summer parties, provides atmosphere at the opening.

The Sun is Always Shining (123 bpm | 04:19)

Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way introduces the idea of the “artist’s date.”  (See the concept described on Cameron’s website).  For an artists’ date on March 9, 2016, DJSE gave himself 30 minutes to draw a picture based on the theme "The Sun is Always Shining."  He then laid the drawing out on a grid, and interpreted it as a loop in Ableton Live. The piece was lovely and mesmerizing, and we speculated that we could build an EDM track around it.  Snake finally took the original audio output of the track, and used it as the start of an EDM remix that expanded and amplified the original using EDM tropes.

You can hear DJSE’s original artist’s date on our Soundcloud page.

The title comes from a mantra reminding us that even on the darkest nights and cloudiest days, the sun is always shining, even when we cannot see it.

In keeping with the desire to mix EDM with our signature sounds, we use the 2xtar to provide unique accents throughout the track.

Primroses (feat. P-Rose) (134bpm | 04:26)

Each album we release contains a “boil.” As defined in our “Honeydew Waltz” music video, to “boil” a location is “to create music using sounds sampled from the referenced location or object.”  Since we typically boil a room in Snake’s house, we call this “REAL house music.”

So far, we’ve produced and released 5 boils: one on each album.  (Boiling the Ocean was the very first boil we produced, and is where the term boil originated.)

Abewsing the Mews
Salumba Parte
Master Bedroom
Jack in the Bucket
Boiling the Ocean
A Quirky Time for Something New
Honeydew Waltz
Seen and Unseen
The Dry Sound of Atonement
Laundry Room
Every Kitty Dance Meow
Daughter’s Bedroom

Snake’s daughter P-Rose specially requested that we sample objects in her bedroom, which we did in the fall of 2014 – everything from toy musical instruments to a “Love Story” music box, to a “Dignitet” curtain wire from IKEA.  While we were at it, we sampled P-Rose and one of her friends, interviewing them about the process.  In the interview, P-Rose admits about her room “Mom says it looks like a tornado hit it.  It’s my protective layer of dirt.” 

Originally written as a pop-rock track, DJSE converted Primroses to a house track during a late night planning session for the collective.  Since then it has been refined repeatedly, passing back and forth between Snake and DJSE until it reached its final form.

The Best Medicine (feat. Ed Essey Sr.) (102bpm | 05:46)

The seed for The Best Medicine was written by DJSE on another trip to Florida to spend Christmas with family. He was fortunate to find an Ableton Push, a Zoom H6 field recorder, and several great software plugins under the tree, and he put them to good use sampling family members visiting the local nature preserve and playing with his baby niece. Later, Ed Essey Sr. added a guitar line that fit wonderfully into this track.  Most of the sampled and chopped vocals are of various family members laughing, hence the title.

Velvet Saga (80bpm | 04:05)

The original version of Velvet Saga, conceived by DJSE as a slower, calmer piece for his wife, stayed at a sedate 80bpm.  While working on the arrangement, Snake added a doubletime section to bring the energy up, and this led to the final form of the track with its transitions from calm to driving.  The final version reminds us of an epic fantasy plot with quests, battles, and serene moments.

Every Kitty Dance Meow – the Meow Mix (feat. DJ Zube) (120-160bpm | 51:15)

Throughout the production of Every Kitty Dance Meow, we consulted with DJs and other producers to ensure that we wound up with a product that was unique but that would fit in a set with music by other producers. Nobody was more engaged and helpful than DJ Zube. By the time we were starting to think about the endgame of the project, we had hit on the idea of having Zube produce a set using only tracks from the album, and releasing it in tandem with the individual tracks.  This 51-minute set is a continuous mix of the album by Zube. To create the set, he live-mixed the album twice in Serato, and we then spliced together the best pieces to create the final mix. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Available soon - Every Kitty Dance Meow

We are proud to announce, at long last, the release of our 5th album of electronic music - Every Kitty Dance Meow.

Every Kitty Dance Meow will be available for preorder on iTunes on February 12th, and generally available for purchase and download on February 20th from most digital music marketplaces worldwide.

Every Kitty Dance Meow consists of 13 House, Deep House, and Downtempo dance tracks.  In addition to the individual tracks, the album includes a bonus second disc by Seattle’s DJ Zube, playing a live continuous mix of the full album, and bringing his own unique and creative perspective to the album.

We've sent out a promotional download of Every Kitty Dance Meow to all of our favorite radio stations, including Radio Xenu, Rocker's Dive, and Open The Door, all of whom play our music frequently.  Please let your favorite station know that you want to hear Every Kitty Dance Meow, and have them reach out to us for a free download.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

What Spotify Fan Insights is telling us (and not telling us) about our meteoric rise to fame

Spotify, the controversial music streaming service, put some new tools into the hands of artists recently, unveiling their new Fan Insights tool (  Timing was good for us, as we started tracking our Spotify monthly listenership as a key metric in 2015.

If you're not familiar with the monthly listening stat, you can find it on the artist profile page for any artist you listen to.  It's right here in the spotify UI. (If you're not seeing it, you might need to install the latest version of Spotify).

When we started tracking, our monthly listenership was in the mid 30s, but starting Christmas 2015 it started to climb steadily.  When we got access to the beta of Fan Insights last week, the pattern became clear.

For comparison purposes, we added our friend Toronto-based singer-songwriter Suzanne Jarvie to the chart.  You can see that our listenership is pretty well matched prior to December.

(By the way, if you haven't heard Suzanne's debut album Spiral Road, you really need to. It's available anyplace you can buy or stream digital music, and if you're old-fashioned, you can even buy it on Compact Disc)

When we compare ourselves with other electronic artists we admire, the picture is a little more humbling, but it gives us something to aspire to.  We're coming for you, FSOL! ;-)

What is Fan Insights telling us?

The new toolset is giving us all kinds of insight into our listeners.  For example, we now know that about half of our listeners are over 45, and nearly all of them are men.  We have a good picture of geographic distribution:

What don't we know?

Of course, a little bit of information only whets our appetite.  There are a lot of things we can only guess at.  Having access to a breakdown of listenership by song would be a great start:  we'll get that data once we have songs that are getting over 1000 plays a month.  For now, we are left with questions we can't answer:
  • What caused the sudden climb in listenership at Christmas?
  • Why are the UK and the US Midwest our top markets?
  • Why is our home region of Seattle and Pacific Northwest not represented in the top 50?
  • Why is the overwhelmingly Indonesian crowd that follows us on Facebook not represented on Spotify?
  • How well does Spotify map to our plays and popularity on other streaming services?
  • Does the uptick in plays have any correlation to our own marketing efforts?
We can venture a few guesses.  For instance, getting regular play on Rocker's Dive Radio has increased our visibility internationally.  Rocker's Dive has a footprint in the UK, so that might be a direct cause.  Making it onto Radio Xenu's 2015 top 40 with our single Laudanum Escapade is a likely booster in the Midwest (you can hear our triumphant moment here).  Once we climb into that all important 1000-play bracket, Fan Insights will be able to tell us more. 

Until then, we're enjoying seeing the numbers climb.  If you're a Spotify artist, check out Fan Insights and let us know what you see!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Producer Lee Christian discusses his remix of Laudanum Escapade

British producer Lee Christian recently released a new remix of Laudanum Escapade, the first single from our Spring 2015 album Seen and Unseen.  We caught up with Lee online and asked him about his process.  You can hear his remix at


Tell us how you approached this remix

i was super excited to do the remix because i had heard CCR chat about how they get their sounds [through improvisation and sampling]. When remixing and sampling, my thing is taking [sounds] and making them as unrecognisable as possible. There's loads of the song in there but almost none of it is as it was.

As i started putting [this remix] together i decided to focus on that one word [“Laudanum”] and the tiny snippet that sounded almost African or tribal:  i grew up in South Africa for a very formative 5 years so am quite drawn to that vibe. I pitched [that word] down and very hypnotic - this ended up informing most of the song - and many parts that would not fit the foggy dub vibe i wrote over the top were jettisoned. i added some beats and effected and cut them up.  [I pushed the limits of the music’s adherence to rhythm to imply] the delirium that the subject of the song is in - the very brink of consciousness and order, before coming back into a more familiar, secure rhythm. This… is there to guide u though her drugged state.

There are serene moments (the acoustic picked guitar passage and the end section with the layered voices) that indicate she has reached some type of nirvana. i wanted the dub vibe to ring heavy and foggy so there are tons of different types of effects to increase this vibe.

Talk some about the artistic influences behind your remix

Tricky - the maverick of the neighbouring trip hop/bristol scene [was one of the two biggest influences on the track]. [He creates] unique music that can be much braver than some of the most talented musos out there … never really diluting himself for mass acceptance. [The other main influence was] Adrian Sherwood's on-u-sound label - home to Tackhead, Dub Syndicate, Gary Clail, Mark Stewart (another local-ish guy) and most importantly for this mix, Skip McDonald's Little Axe. [Little Axe and on-u-sound] make a blues dub hybrid that has had me entranced since i saw Doug Wimbish playing for them live on tv making sounds u would not believe came from a bass! These guys were the houseband for Sugar Hill records so are true veterans of music yet still make some of the most unusual inventive music going. [Check out] Tricky's Maxinquaye and Little Axe's The Wolf That House Built.

What inspired you to start creating musically?

i picked up shitty guitars and keyboards not far off from being toys when i was a teen in South Africa. i guess [I was] inspired by Prince (who i've been a fan of since i was a little kid) but also in a strange way hindered by Prince (and only seeing jazz combos live in bars with my dad) in that i could not see myself becoming a virtuoso, so lost confidence.

Later [I was inspired by] Nirvana (revealing that a good song can be just a few chords and a melody) and seeing bands in youth centres [after moving back to England] (showing me that anyone can have a go)… i tried harder [making] demos on a 4 track tape recorder. That was also when i formed my first band [after] seeing Living Colour in Cambridge. i decided to be the singer because i was really unpopular. [I had] nothing to lose and plenty to gain in terms of attention from the opposite sex as a lead singer of a rock band. [As the singer] i could just about write on a few instruments (guitar, bass, keys, drum programming) and not commit to one! even though i was not very good at singing, i had a lot of energy and a need/ability to do something different.

i just finally started releasing solo music in earnest over the last few years, after being offered a track on a BBC Children In Need Radiohead covers compilation. i did 'talk show host' and was pleased with its reception.  Smilex was originally going to be just me recording and then a dance rock hybrid Iive but after seeing a lot of people doing that and finding great players for a more traditional rock line up and visceral live show , i decided to tap into the adrenaline alternative rock gave me since the grunge era and be a power quartet. The bonus remix on Smilex's first ever EP 'beg for it' (13 years or so ago now!) is actually the original version of that song. 


Is music your only artistic outlet?  

i started back on writing and directing [films] after becoming more involved with making videos. i made my first short Never Walk Alone and released it for a pound a copy download with a monies to survivors trust (a victim support charity for rape and abuse). i'm in the thick of developing several scripts for feature length and shorts, even a web series. i like to work in a lot of different mediums and genres so my forays into film will be as diverse as my music is with any luck. i also dj & compere now and then and have had radio shows for the last 12 years or so - i'm currently between shows but have a hand in 'The Beatdown with Bobbee Browne' (a new comedy podcast) and am starting talks about a new show at the moment so watch this space!

i predominantly do radio shows to share good music the mainstream missed or forgot, to get use out of my extensive library of music, but it's hard to find a station as diverse as my tastes or who does not mind swearing (editing swearwords out is time consuming and not playing swearing really limits the good rebel music one can play) or who does not use a playlist. within music itself i have worked in just about every capacity one can imagine.

What’s up next for Lee Christian?

i have 7 or so albums in various stages of completion so there should be more of those soon. Other than that, more remixes, guest spots for vanilla wafa, death of hi-fi, tiger Mendoza… [plus] various acting/directing/writing pursuits. i hope to be working on new material (and of course, promotional materials) for Smilex and the Prohibition Smokers' Club (my jazz/blues/soul/folk/pop collective) over the next few months for release next year too! so just keep looking at my Facebook or twitter for info on all that as it pops up, i guess!

It's getting harder and harder for original music to get heard since scared labels are loathe to invest in anything risky… so i truly appreciate everybody that supports me (both by buying music and promoting it) in these hard times for the arts.
I wish music was reinstated to its previous position as an influential, meaningful part of people's lives, it has been reduced to background noise that no-one likes but no-one complains about. vote with your cash - it's hard earned and those that ask u to part with it should be working just as hard to deserve it.

Thanks again to Lee for the richly dark remix – please take some time to check out his projects online.  Here’s a few links: