Still Light was my 12th single, second release of 2019, and a deliberate step backward from the complexity of my earlier work. At the apex of realizing this shit is a lot harder than I thought it would be, the thought was to stabilize one variable so that I could focus on others.
My greatest weakness musically—to this day—is melody. I think everything I write, music or lyrically, sounds stupid after listening to it 2-3 times. To remove this from the equation until I can work past that, I had an 8-bar melody come to me during the last 250 meters of a walk and decided to re-frame that same melody throughout the entire song. The challenge, then, was to keep the arrangement interesting enough that the melody didn’t become boring.
Anyone that’s worked with children or in marketing will know that holding someone’s attention is one of the single hardest things in life to do. Getting someone’s attention is usually easy; just make a loud sound or do something weird. It’s even harder when you repeat the same damn thing over and over and expect it to sound new and interesting each time.
To accomplish this, I added two builds at the break between the verse and chorus so that the energy of the beat and baseline pulls the listener along for the duration of the song. The synthesizers have a slight automation to the voice detune as the verses progress and I added an arpeggio that transforms in pace and pitch as the song builds to continue layering tension but frame the melody with consistent distance and spatial padding from the rest of the song elements. I also widen the stereo field and pitch range as the song progresses.
I cut off frequencies above 16,000 Hz during the entire first half of the song and then automated bringing those frequencies back in during the break mid-song. It’s almost imperceptible—especially because of the 8-bar break and re-application of the opening filter automation—but I think it makes the second half of the song’s livelier elements really pop against the first half and allows the bells to stand out whereas they’d have sounded muted if heavily employed during the first half.
For the uninitiated, the half-step digital fill in the second build/break (2:37) is the first half of the riff when Mario dies in the original Super Mario Bros. This was a hat tip to my childhood and the omission of the rest of that melody was an audible metaphor that I wasn’t quite dead yet. Still Light was written during one of the darkest times of my life and was a different approach at transmuting that darkness to a positive energy.
I chose the piano as the main instrument because I had decided I was tired of being limited to drawing notes into Ableton and wanted to be able to more rapidly prototype by playing melodies and progressions. Since this release, I’ve spent months practicing keyboard, guitar, and vocals for that reason and to use those elements more in my work.
Still Light was also the first song that I co-developed the title with the rest of the song and it was the first song for which I took a deliberate cover photo. In my previous work, I would write, produce, and master the song then think up a title along the lines of oh, the song sounds like a “this kinda” song. I’d browse back through photos I’d taken in the past and find one that I felt fit the energy and title of my song (Another Life is still one of my favorites, but that’s a story for another time) and that was the end of it.
With Still Light, the name has two meanings. One can interpret still as in silent, gentle, stable, not moving, at peace, and was a nod to the stable melody of the song. I felt like it provided an anchor point even as the arrangement around the song became more energetic and more chaotic—much like the breath as an object of focus during meditation. Amidst the chaos, the melody was the one anchor point to which the listener could come back to and center upon.
The other meaning came straight from Star Wars and interpreting still as remaining. One of the most prominent themes of Return of the Jedi was the conflict within Darth Vader and Luke’s insistence that there was still good in him. We see this resolve at the end of the movie as Vader literally overthrows Palpatine to save Luke’s life (and now, based on the Episode IX trailer, may have made him stronger than ever). I mentioned I wrote this song in darkness and, in that darkness, I knew there was still light at the end of my then-present tunnel. I nod my head to this meaning as the pad progression at the beginning of the song clears and the first note of the melody strikes in complete silence; the large reverb creating an infinite void around that note.
The picture came from right outside my door and continued on the theme of transmuting darkness to light. A flower just made the most sense here and I’d considered several other flowers walking around the neighborhood that morning. These particular flowers won out because they’re a favorite color (the text completing that palette) of the person whose initials are also rendered in the flowers themselves and because of the metaphor of finding what I was looking for right outside my door. No I won’t say who it is. Yes I’m aware one can see multiple letters in that. That wasn’t an accident and continues on the second meaning of the title. As Luke believed there was still good in Vader, I believe there is still light in the person whose initials are hidden in the flowers.
I always will.
This was also the first song that I’d employed tuning the kick drum to the bassline which made a huge difference in low-end cohesion and the first song I used pitch bending in the bassline that, in retrospect was a little overdone, but gave a fun, playful energy to the low-end. One single reversed kick right before the break did exactly what I intended–brought the first section of the song to an abrupt halt that was jarring enough to catch attention familiar enough to not stand completely out.
I also tried to reduce my reliance on reverse crashes as transitions. Man, I think my first attempts at a song had 10 or more such transitions hah.