/blog: project retrospectives, part 1 - Attaxolotls (2023-04-01)

i talk about albums i contributed tracks to in 2023. this is the first part in that series.

published on: 2023-09-28

hi folks. it’s been a while. how’s everything? how are the folks? how’s your lower back? how’s the weather? do you love this shit? are you high right now? do you ever get nervous?

it’s been one hell of a year for me, to say the least. i stopped going to my writing group and my bass lessons because i developed a terrible fear of driving. school is almost over, and i should be set to graduate in 2024. paperwork hell has finally subsided for myself and my child. i’m picking up gardening. i had a pregnancy scare at an inopportune time. lots of exciting changes have been happening at my day job, along with a bit of uncertainty.

more important than all of that personal stuff, i can finally say i’ve been a songwriter for two! whole! years! sadly, the amount that i’ve learned this past year wasn’t as much as what i had learned the prior year, but i guess the upside is that at the end of the day, i learned something!

so what better way to demonstrate all the cool shit i learned than by talking about the albums and projects i’ve done this year. yes, i know, it’s not even the end of the year. i’ve got one more project to be released in december, and a recently completed project that should be out the first week of october. i’m gonna talk about all of my projects, eventually!

april fools day is one of my favorite holidays. not sure why, to be honest. i think i just dig the silly aspect of it. ever since i joined ThaSauce, i now have one additional thing to look forward to then: the april fools day album.

ThaSauce april fools day album

here’s how it (generally) works: at the beginning of march, starla/injury gives you a prompt to follow for the album. the past few years they’ve been randomly generated for each participant. not much else is known about the album itself until it’s ultimately released on april 1st.

i was on an additional time crunch for this particular album. while the deadline was a couple of days before the end of march, the one class i didn’t drop that semester was about to start in mid-march. i told myself that i needed to get this track done before then, so i wouldn’t end up procrastinating on one with the other.

since i’m not terribly confident in my actual compositional skills, i knew i wanted to do a song that was very lyrically forward. one of the joys of having an entire month to work on a piece (rather than an hour) is that i can really mull over what i’m actually caterwauling into the microphone. as such, i tend to start first with a lyrical concept that would compliment the genre the theme lends itself to.

time for prompts

march 2nd rolls around, and i was initially given the following prompt:

“The Random Theme Generator has been rolled! Your theme is Futuristic Moon-base, a stage within a 2D-Brawler game.”

for last year’s album, TORULETHEMALL, i wrote a self-indulgent, Rina Sawayama inspired piece called ”saks fifth asteroid.” very futuristic, very planetary, and very much something i didn’t want to accidentally repeat. for a good few days i wracked my brain trying to figure out how to approach it. a jazz fusion style piece advertising the benefits of having a moon base? a vaporwave-inspired tune about agoraphobia (which i was certainly experiencing at the time?) i had a few ideas of where to go and a few stanzas written down, but everything came out like genocide-free versions of “saks fifth asteroid.”

after a couple of days, i decided to throw in the towel. i emailed starla asking for a reroll.

“Sure! Your rerolled theme is: Your theme is Battle City-block, a stage within a Arcade-Brawler game. Some inspo for you for either this theme or the previous one if you decide to use it instead-

“Battle City-block” was something i could roll with.

as many of you may have seen from Twitter, i absolutely love Larry from Pokemon Scarlet/Violet. there is nothing more entertaining to me in a sea of big gym leader personalities than some gray-paint salaryman that is stressed out about his two Pokemon-related jobs. as a tribute to him, i decided to try and emulate that lyrically.

writing “fight my way”

you’re traveling to work, by car, foot or bike. you accidentally take your usual turn at a different light. there’s a shitload of folks around that for some reason just want to kick your ass. instead of simply running away (like a reasonable person would,) you decide to fight them all off while bitching about how you’re literally running late for work. silly, right? that was the premise i wanted to run with for the piece that would eventually become “fight my way.”

compared to “saks fifth asteroid,” which i consider one of my better-penned songs, “fight my way” wasn’t nearly as complex. i had a bit of a complex about that, to be honest — if i’ve got about half a month to spit out lyrics, they should be multi-faceted and clever, right? ultimately, i think the simplicity ended up lent itself nicely to the terseness of our speaker. i guess when you’re trying to sell plundered goods to a person you have a bit more time to mull over the psychology of it than when you’re fighting through a crowd of bad guys!

making “fight my way”

drum n’ bass

save for the 80’s-inspired pop that i do, i generally do not feel comfortable making EDM. i have a tendency to not want to take the time to let things develop because i fear that i’m already losing the audience. i knew i wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone compositionally. while listening to some beat-em-up game music, i noticed that DnB was one genre that kept popping up. and hey, this is doable right? it’s just a bunch of breaks, right? should be easy?

i had a tough time trying to target a true DnB sound. at some point, i eventually went “fuck it” and just did the best i could with all the assorted samples i had. drums were sequenced using an XO preset, with some samples from some reddit Jersey Club pack i must have downloaded ages ago. while i think it kinda falls short of what i was expecting to do, somebody at the listening party labeled it as “technically dnb!”

the melodic stuff

for the chord progression, i did what i usually do in OHC and used a chord generator and worked out a melody over that. in non-OHC settings i prefer to hammer out a bassline and build a song from there, but since my personal deadline was approaching i needed to get chords down fast. the chord progression was cobbled together from a house preset from Scalar2.

the synth solo was a fairly late addition. i knew i needed to stretch my muscle for playing a melody line this year, so what better candidate than noodling on my keyboard for a solo? i was initially going to attempt to play it on an electric guitar, but i’m not very confident in my (lack of) guitar skills.

getting over my fear of automation

i generally don’t use a lot of automation in my tracks. back when i was more of an fl studio user, i found it to be cumbersome and hard to control, so i avoided it when i can. while i’m still working through my fear of automation, i managed to automate a filter sweep in the intro. not much, but it’s something!

watching it all come together

while kind of disorganized, i had all the parts in place. overall, the song came together in two weeks. the part that took the longest was performing the vocal tracks and comping them. i tend to sing very loud and chesty, so i generally avoided recording while there was a lot of foot traffic in my town. i learned that the shed that i do my music production in doesn’t insulate the sounds i make from the outside — during one of my takes, a neighborhood dog ended up barking up a storm because i was too dang noisy.

i have a tendency to pick and adjust every time i open up a project file, but this was one of the firsts where i would open up my project file, mull over what to add or remove, then just save it as is. after a few days of doing that, i was done.

the premiere

it was march 31st. the tracks were turned in, the admins were pretty tight lipped. what fake game did we end up writing an album for?

after another april fools day joke where ThaSauce was a “verified” blue-check server (complete with blue checkmarks for all album participants,) the album finally launched. we wrote an anthology album for a fictional franchise called Attaxolotls! The Attaxolotls (Lionel, Gianluigi, Landon and Zlatan) are a group of genetically engineered axolotls that fight against the evil corporation Quantum Synergy. while i had a hunch it was gonna be a beat-em-up, i had no idea this is what we were writing songs for!

Attaxolotls was such an amazing project to work on, and the tracks that everyone produced were nothing short of wonderful. the concept of a brawler/beat-em-up led to an album that felt cohesive, even with all of the different elements in it. and dang, i wasn’t expecting someone to pull out a k-pop inspired track.

all the hard work and collaboration that happened led to an extremely solid album. even now, this album is still on heavy rotation. not only am i proud of what i’ve produced, i’m proud of all the work that’s gone into this album. not only just the songs from my fellow musicians, but the artwork, the website, the world-building and all the project management behind it. we did it, team!

Attaxolotls is available for free on ThaSauce. go check it out if you haven’t already!