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Studio Campfire Stories: SunStorm and If I Could Tell You No (SunStorm Week Day 5)

by Zo! on August 4, 2010 at 9:09 AM · Comments
7. SunStorm (feat. YahZarah)

I started teaching back in the summer of 2006 and the first summer that I took off wasn't until 2008. I was so damn excited about having an entire summer to myself that as soon as I got home from the school on the last day, I went to work in the studio. The FIRST joint that I put together wound up being the music for the title track of this album... "SunStorm." Once again, the drums were done first and they resulted from me being in such a happy ass mood, I can't really describe it any other way. The drum pattern made this music what it wound up becoming. The feeling that I got from it was one of 'freedom' and 'fun'. With that being said, I distinctively remember figuring out a synth bassline that was very busy while keeping the fun and free elements in that music. And just like 95% of the music that I make, I played that synth bassline part all the way through the entire song. I think that when you actually play all the way through your piece, you are able to capture MUCH more of a feeling than that of a looped track. I don't think that the bassline should hit the same way in the first 8 bars of the song as it does coming out of the first hook, for example. The second half is what put it over the top... I made sure to send it to Phonte as soon as I was finished. He hit me with a text back, "I'ma MURK this joint!!" He was originally going to keep this one for himself... but ended up sitting on it after writing about 50 different things to it and not feeling satisfied with anything - I understand that pain FULLY (wait 'til you read the "This Could Be the Night" story).

Enter YahZarah... Now, I'm gonna tell y'all this right now. This is as straight up as it gets. When it comes to vocalists... Not female vocalists... When it comes to VOCALISTS. YahZarah is the best vocalist that I know, personally. She's just absolutely unfair. Plus, the fact that she's sitting a lotta people DOWN live makes her a threat to a lotta folks .....and I love her to death! Phonte and I talked about having her cut the song because...hell, it seemed like a perfect fit. She ended up gettin up with Phonte and recording her vocals and I'll just say this... When Phonte sent it to me, we knew we had something - not just with the song, but with the entire album. This was the song that made us kinda look at each other like, "This is gonna be something crazy." It was STRONG and perfect as the title track. And let me just say that my favorite part of this song comes during the second hook at about 3:55 when Yahz hits the, "WHOOOOO!!!!!" I get goosebumps EVERY TIME I hear that.. Why?! Because that is raw emotion displayed in a recording and to have captured that is priceless to me. Also, when someone busts out with 'WHOOO!!' that means something was so good that NO other adjectives worked in that space... It's just a great moment that was captured and I'm glad it happened on my album. ...Oh and for the record, YahZarah recorded her vocals sitting down. That's a bad woman....

The second half of the song where Phonte comes in was actually supposed to have a few kats on it. It was gonna be Phonte, Jesse Boykins III, Darien Brockington, and another favorite vocalist of mine Ab. But sometimes, you listen to a song that if it is changed, no matter what the change is it probably will not work like that original take. That was the case here. The original take felt so good and came off so correctly that it was not changed. Darien did however complete the final two lines AND you can hear Jesse's adlibs over top of "You can lay me down..."

8. If I Could Tell You No (feat. Jesse Boykins III)

This was actually the only joint on the album that Phonte and I worked on together from scratch. Back in November 2008 when The Foreign Exchange first started touring Leave It All Behind, we did a date in D.C. Anytime kats are in town, we normally take advantage of that time and get in the studio to do SOMETHING... It doesn't matte if it's a full song, a demo, a couple of ideas... Something is getting done. This time around, he told me he had an idea to do a jazzy joint, which I was all for because I hadn't done anything like that yet. So, I loaded up a new Pro Tools session, set the mic up for Phonte, sat down at the keys, programmed some 'dummy drums' just for tempo and arrangement's sake and we got to work. The demo version is actually rather entertaining. There's a part where I went to a change before he was expecting me to do so and right in the middle of singing the melody he says, "Awwww man, you fucked me up!" LMAO!!! Classic material right there. The chords from the demo are basically the same as the finished product, the arrangement is different, but you could tell what direction the song was headed into. We actually held off moving on the joint for awhile... No reason in particular, we just didn't get to it.

Finally, Phonte was hittin me up saying that he had gotten in contact with Jesse Boykins III and needed me to record a music reference so that he could reference the vocals for Jesse to sing... So I sent him the song with the same dummy drum track from the original demo, but I relaid the piano and bass parts for a more 'official' reference (the piano part I recorded for that particular reference actually lived long enough to see the final cut). When he sent me the vocals back, I was like, "WOW." It was kinda of the same feeling I got when he first sent me vocals back for our "Africa" remake for the 80's album because again before my very eyes, I saw Phonte expand as an artist. I mean, dude was doing jazz riffs! The hell? It sounded great... And we ALMOST kept Phonte on the joint. But the feel that we wanted for the song was a smoother sounding voice and delivery. So we passed the song on to Jesse and he hurt that joint! It was EXACTLY what was needed... His tone and voice fit the music perfectly - and for his version I finally re-recorded some live drums, which remained on the final cut. With Jesse's singing and the addition of trumpet player Stan Graham, the feel of the music placed me in a classy jazz club circa the 1940s, where folks thought it looked cool to smoke cigarettes and once this song came on, people began to "make eyes at one another 'cross the room." It was a well designed curveball for the album and something that I haven't seen done on a project of mine. Overall, it was great to have everything come together as beautifully as it did...

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