Production memo 1 / On December 13th
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Composed, produced and arranged by: Jani Lehto & Pekka Tuppurainen
Lyrics: Jani Lehto
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Markus Perttula: Vocals
Jani Lehto: Electric piano and harmonium
Ville Pynssi: Drums
Pekka Tuppurainen: Electric guitars, electric bass, piano and mandolin
Laura Turpeinen : Viola
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When compared to other Sans Parade pieces, On December 13th has a different birth story and a crucial role as the first (almost) finished song of the group. In 2009 Pekka was working in Copenhagen and creating music for a contemporary dance performance (choreography by Linnea Lindh). During that stint he made this guitar wall, consisting of five separate guitar tracks and bass line, for the last part of the performance:
Production phase 1
Jani heard the music, considered it to have potential in a song form, and started to develop the material further. The mentioned guitar-cluster had a D major-timbre and ascending bass line (E – F# – A – B – D). The bass line hooked the guitar cluster partly to E (note), but the harmony’s weight was still set to D major – this resulted as a D/E –“timbre”. The cluster in itself created a constant and still soundscape, and the bass line contributed in keeping the whole in movement instead. Also the distance between the guitar cluster and the bass line was so wide, that there was enough gap (in the spectrum) for a melody too.
To mark and clarify the D-major timbre more Jani decided to add descending eighth note sequences (with Rhodes) to the piece. These descending sequences are consisting, varyingly, of the notes B – A – G – F# – E – D (mostly in successively descending order/scale). The sequences work also as a counter-movement for the ascending bass line. This was important, as the draft did not have clearly emphasised chords yet: the new note sequences assisted in transforming the unstructured “cluster wall” in to a song format plus the overall harmony became more clear. Jani then came up with a vocal melody and lyrics. Here you can listen to the first draft with his (very) temporary demo vocals on it:
Production phase 2
Sans Parade-project had now reached the point where we began applying our musical and mixing ideals in practice and seriously. A phase, which wasn’t so easy: Jani had a lot of other work on the mixing table and his vision of mellow sounding acoustic indie had yet to concretize. Pekka had left the group earlier due to differences in opinion and also because of Ilma Records’s time taking activities. Surprise: he returned. Markus had his own thing going on with his other groups Victoria, Despair Academy and also solo performances and recordings. In other words: the group was too split.
It could be also mentioned that common for the three of us is that musically we don’t have almost anything in common. A fact we should appreciate as strength (instead of a good reason to argue). But it (the strength factor) is so easily forgotten during the state of musical war… Anyway, Markus stepped in to the picture again when it was the time to record some vocals. We quickly realised that we hadn’t considered the song’s pitch at all: the key was not perfectly suitable for him. We had to re-record and transpose everything one whole step higher. Amateurs…
Luckily, the new key (which was F#-based) clarified and opened the whole upper timbre, vocals sounded really good and the song started to actually take shape. But it was still all but finished, and the very actual “how it should sound”-discussion was an air poisoning issue. We then travelled to Helsinki to record some drums with Ville and he played a quite basic drum track to the song. During the new recording sessions we also recorded few more rhythm guitar tracks. The result was this guitar-heavy version with constant drum beat:
After some serious discussions we realised that the sound was definitely not what we were after. Jani then made this new mix, where he filtered the drums to sound more blurry and added some lo-fi distortion to the guitar-mix. At least It was a step to the right direction:
Production phase 3
As time went by Jani became even more stressed of not releasing music in a while: during the past years he had been actively releasing records with the acts Star You Star Me and Déclassé. He came up with the idea of finishing a “Christmas present in song format” for the Christmas of 2010. This idea finally gave us a much-needed deadline. Markus’s tender vocals were already finished (and perfect as usual), but otherwise the song felt unfinished. Again Jani produced a new version on his own: this time he pasted Ville’s drumming from another song and trashed the original drums. The new drum track and sound (played with soft mallets) provided the song with a new atmosphere, but the guitar heavy sound stayed:
Production phase 4
There were many (or maybe 3) differences of opinion whether this was to sound we should and could develop further – and it already was late November of 2010. When Pekka came to Finland, to spend his Christmas holiday there, the first thing he did was to go to a music store and buy a mandolin: he’d heard the The Place We Ran From-album (2010) by Tired Pony and was inspired by the sound of the group. He then went to the studio determined to finish the song with Jani.
They ended up cutting away all the guitars (apart from the backing cluster) and filled the resulting gap with totally new harmonium, piano and mandolin parts during a short but effective 5-hour session instead. Jani later re-recorded the harmonium-part, because the original microphone placement had been wrong. We have to especially mention a nice detail regarding the harmonium track: it’s pumping bellows sound like a bass drum beat. This setup came also to be the instrumentation, which would later define many of the songs – a fact we did not understand then.
During the last recording session, the song’s atmosphere and character actually transformed in to a “December”-song: the new arrangement helped to support the “winter atmosphere” and the dark lyrics. Judging by the lyrics: this piece is definitely not a Christmas song – it is a very dark and melancholic winter song. Here you can listen to the last demo version of the song (not final mix or masterd):