Production memo 3 / Guarded Mountain

Production memo 3 / Guarded Mountain

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Composed by: Markus Perttula

Lyrics: Markus Perttula

Produced and arranged by: Jani Lehto and Pekka Tuppurainen

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Markus Perttula: Vocals and acoustic guitar

Jani Lehto: Guitar

Tommi Asplund: Violins

Pekka Tuppurainen: Vibraphone, piano, guitar and bass

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Background

Guarded Mountain was one of the first songs we recorded. It was also one of the last songs we managed to finish: a long struggle, which also describes a creation process common to Sans Parade. Altogether we have 12 different versions of this song, but here we present only “the most dramatic drafts” created during the production process.

Demo

Guarded Mountain has melancholic lyrics and overall atmosphere, but it is not a ballad. The song name is indirectly referring to a place called Vartiovuorenmäki, located in Turku, where Markus got the idea and theme for the song. Though Markus’s composition was fully functional (and in a singer-songwriter format quite ready) the demo’s transformation process to Sans Parade’s context was demanding.

Especially the arrangement of the verse (A) and chorus (B) sections formed musical challenges. Markus’s composition had a wonderful lift and melody in the last section (C) of the song: that was the part, which was always most functional and natural throughout the different stages of the production process. In a way the last part of the composition kept the whole together. Here you can listen to an excerpt of Markus’s first version of the song:

First phase of production

The first “Sans Parade-draft” of the song came in a form of a clearly structured, guitar driven rock arrangement. Nothing especially wrong with it, but it was just too basic to be released on an album. In this version the accompaniment had a salient quarter note (snare) drum beat and a (Neil Young-influenced) strongly distorted rhythm guitar. The chord sequences consisted of:

Verse (A): C – Em

Chorus (B): Am – C – G – C – Am – F

This draft also included some melodic and “ringing” synth-parts and the arrangement grew to the last part of the song, where the string pads (also synths at this point) were added to create dramatic tension to the finale. Here is an early example of the last verse, chorus and bridge (leading to the last section of the song) of this first draft:

As already mentioned: this version was fully functional – just too basic.

Second phase of production

In response to this version Pekka recorded a new draft separately in Stockholm. This version had a “Red Hot Chili Peppers-influenced” clean guitar and bass intro, which also repeated between the chorus and verse. Pekka’s version did not include any drums + both the harmony and the rhythm were quite altered (some said it was not in synch, but there is still some disagreement of this fact…). This version did not receive positive response – resulting as a war of words. Outcome: Pekka destroyed the arrangement and all the audio files. Only a lo-fi mp3-version of this draft remained.

Jani’s response to the ill-fated Stockholm-version was an arrangement, which was inspired by another of Markus’s songs called Illusion (we were working on that song simultaneously). The guitar accompaniment from the first draft lost its distortion and instead of “hitting and accenting” the ground chords, the new guitar part consisted of picked eighth note sequence. The drum track was also edited in to a more onward moving sixteenthnote sequence and some melodic glockenspiel accents were added to the whole. Here is an example of that version:

Third phase of production

At this point we all realised that we were totally lost and the song was left untouched for a long time. It definitely seemed that the song would not made the cut: in this shape it was out of the count. The main problem, which we realised later, was the fact that the earlier guitar tracks reserved the whole middle spectrum – just where Markus’s melody was taking place…amateurs.

During the final recording session we started moulding the song almost from a scratch and few surprises made the song functional:

1. We took the only surviving lo-fi mp3-file left from Pekka’s Stockholm-session and then converted and time-stretched it to fit the project.

2. Instead of electric guitar accompaniment we recorded some spacy piano and vibraphone parts.

3. And so comes the “kind of twist”:

  • Instead of the original C and Em chords in the verse, the new version’s verse used the chords G and Em. This choice provided the song with more “mysterious” quality: the chords were not underlining the atmosphere any more.
  • We played mostly dyads, consisting of perfect 5ths, instead of whole chords: in that way we left the defining 3rds to appear mostly in the song melody.
  • During the second verse there is even an Am-chord between the transitions (back) from Em to G.

4. From Pekka’s mp3 we time-stretched and repeated one single E-note sample over the chorus. This created harmonic tension in relation to the chorus’s ground chords + binds and creates continuity between the chorus and the verse.

5. We re-recorded the acoustic guitar accompaniment originally appearing in Markus’s first version. Even though that guitar track still has different (original) chords, it doesn’t matter: the acoustic guitar part has mostly rhythmical function in the background.

6. We left the drums out.

7. We added a guitar melody, which originally appears on Markus’s first acoustic version, to the intro.

8. We then topped the whole with high pitch noise and recorded some eerie guitar lines to the last part (which were inspired by Jani’s middle draft).

As the melodies in Markus’s compositions have often a very wide pitch range and his vocal timbre has a bright quality, this arrangement (which actually combined and borrowed something from our all previous drafts) had to succeed in supporting these factors (and the atmosphere of the lyrics of course): now there is always enough space around Markus’s vocals and the instrumentation moves aside when required. This is especially apparent during the last section of the song where Markus’s voice raises above all the rest.

Here’s an short example how the last demo version sounded:

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