Sunday, May 6, 2018

All-around Breakdown: Charles Edison Dissects His Deeply Personal Waking Up EP On Its 1-year Anniversary (Released: May 8, 2017)


"2016 was simultaneously, the worst and best year of my life, so far. It was the worst because the five years I had spent struggling with an emotionally, mentally, and spiritually crippling drug addiction had finally, culminated in a failed suicide attempt and an agreement, on my part, to spend three months in a residential rehabilitation centre. It was the best because I finally took the steps to take responsibility for it all; I came through it and started making music again. The first project I made was a 6-track EP called Waking Up, which would loosely, chart those five years of addiction and I'm going to break down each track in a little more detail, as well as talk about the tracks I sampled for each beat."

- Charles Edison (Beats Laying About)



1. "Broke In Two"

Sample(s): "Stronger Than Before" By: Chaka Khan, "The Mickey Mouse March" By: The Mike Curb Congregation

"I had made this beat and recorded a rough version of it about seven years ago, just after a long-term relationship I was in ended (which is what the song is about.) The hook is sung by a guy called James Russell, who was a friend of a friend. I think, all I told him, when I sent him the beat, was the title of the track and just let him do his thing. It worked great because he ended up coming up with lyrics that perfectly described the situation.

The break-up itself was kind of the catalyst for me getting into drugs in the first place and that's why I wanted to start the EP with this track. I always liked it, from when I first made the track, but just could never find the right project for it to be a part of. With Waking Up, I wanted the whole thing to be a kind of loose narrative from the point where I first started using, right up to coming out of rehab, so in that context, it would [be] perfect.

I remember making the beat really well, actually: I was in one of those moods, where I really wanted to make something, but I'd been through all the records from my last dig and didn't have anything to sample. I had another dig through a stack of records that weren't really for sampling, but just interesting stuff I wanted to keep and Chaka Khan's I Feel for You (1984) was in there. As soon as I heard that tumbling intro with all that reverb on, I knew I wanted to flip it. I'm sure it's been used before, but that doesn't really concern me anymore.

It's quite a "built up" and dense beat and to be honest, I think, if I would have been more critical, I would've stripped it back a bit because I had re-played extra pianos to lay over the main melody, as well as strings, synths, and horns, but there was just something about using it exactly how it was when I first made it that appealed to me."


2. "Modulate"

Sample(s): "FML" By: Kanye West

"'Modulate" is the first of two instrumentals on the EP. The part of the "narrative" it's supposed to convey is the kind of dark turning point, where using drugs stops being fun and you begin isolating yourself, so it's very lonely. The only sample I used is part of the vocals [The Weeknd] sung on Kanye's "FML" from The Life of Pablo. That lyric, "they wish I would go ahead and f**k my life up..." was perfect for this part of the timeline because it was the start of a very self-destructive phase. I didn't really like myself much, at the time, so part of it was just seeing how far I could push things. How much drugs I could do, how many days I could go without sleep, how many personal relationships I could destroy.

With depression and addiction—two of the major themes of the EP—it turns into a kind of self-fulfilling loop because you have this really low opinion of yourself, which you end up reinforcing by being a terrible person, which makes you feel like you deserve all the negative consequences that result from it. Aside from the Kanye sample, there's no other samples in the beat; it's all VST's [Virtual Studio Technologies] and synths and I really, just had fun with messing around with automation to have the track do something a bit different with all those stuttering drums and the distortion. Another influence on this EP was Run The Jewels. I'm always really interested in abrasive music and stuff that just sounds sonically big."


3. "Nights"

Sample(s): None

"Once again, no samples in this one and I think it came out of the same session as "Modulate." This was supposed to be the stage after the change depicted in "Modulate" and a change from being someone with morals, principles, and values in a relationship and committed to just one person to pretty much the polar opposite! I'd never really, been the type of person who went out and partied every night and had one-night stands and all that stuff, but that's what people around me were doing and I thought I should be, too. At this point, though, I was really forcing those kind of interactions in a sort of denial of the fact that I couldn't really be around people anymore.

I had trouble writing this for a while because I wanted it to come across like I thought I was the life and soul of the party, but really, I was drinking a lot, doing a lot of drugs, and generally, just acting like an idiot. It was tough to convey that without either completely missing the mark or going way over the top. The vocal samples in the two bridge sections were from a record I've got of a reading of Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven; I just wanted something to convey the sort of sense of unease and cheap terror you get from old Vincent Price-type Horror as a way to get across the feeling of anxiety that inevitably, comes from the kind of lifestyle I was leading."


4. "Too Far"

Sample(s): "Heavy Weather" By: Billie Marten

"I love Billie's work. She's a British singer-songwriter from Yorkshire, in the North of The UK and I heard this track on her album Writing of Blues & Yellows (2016.) Her song-writing is really beautiful and there were sentiments in this track, drawing parallels between weather and emotions that is really simple and effective. The part that caught my attention was "together we walk the English weather, so caught up in one another," so I started with that and built everything up around that. The beat is quite simple with how I chopped the sample by using a couple of 1-bar sections of Billie vocalising and carved out a melody that's under-pinned by her acoustic guitar. I kept the drums simple, too and just added a slowed down drum break with lots of low pass on to anchor everything a bit."


5. "Waking Up"

Sample(s): "The Only Thing Worth Fighting For" By: Lera Lynn

"Again, this was a beat I'd made a few years earlier, when I was still trying to stay clean and sober off my own back and had had some relative bouts of mild success, but I could never hold it together and always ended up relapsing. At the time, I made the beat, I was actually, clean and I heard the sample on Season 2 of HBO's True Detective. There was a singer called Lera Lynn, who [was] featured in a few episodes. As with the last track, it was a particular vocal that stood out and made me want to sample it. The first line in the song, "waking up is harder than it seems..." perfectly summed up the struggle I'd had with giving up drugs. After a long time of pretty much, daily drug use, you start to see and hear things that aren't there and nothing seems real because of it, so it really is like a waking nightmare.

The beat is really, just the guitar chords from the start of the song and those first few bars of singing for the hooks, which was great because it gave me a kind of canvas to add other elements like the low horn blasts and synth melody on the hook. I also, created a pretty complex breakdown section with strings, 808's, and a few synths. Because it's so hard to find really good-sounding string patches, I'll layer two or three different ones on top of each other and adjust each individual note's velocity and timing to make it sound more natural. I also, add a subtle tremolo effect and de-quantize because when you think about a real orchestra, the sound is organic, it's human, so things like quantisation takes away from that quality. I'm really pleased with how that breakdown section came out and it's my favourite part of the whole EP."


6. "Here"

Sample(s): "When The Tables Turn" By: Terri & Monica

"This one was added to the tracklist quite late in the process, as originally, the EP was going to finish on "Waking Up," but, at this time, I had been clean for around seven months and felt it would be fitting to end the EP on a somewhat positive note. Terri & Monica were an R&B duo in the 90's and this track is from their 1993 album Systa. Now, as a general rule, 90's R&B doesn't usually, yield very good results, if you're looking for samples, but occasionally, if you take a leaf out of Noah "40" Shebib's book, slow the sample down and low pass filter it, it can sound really nice and hazy. That's the sound I wanted to go for with this, so most of the beat is done with EQ [equalization], the actual structure is really basic. It's essentially, two different 4-bar loops: one for the verses and one for the hook."


7. BONUS: "I Can't Hear Them *

Sample(s): "Hand Over Hand" (Demo) By: Billie Marten

"Although, this track wasn't on the EP, it was put out as a single just ahead of the EP and I did include it as a Bonus Track on the cassette release, so I tend to think of it as an unofficial "seventh" track. This is the same artist I sampled for "Too Far;" it's actually, from the same album as the other track, as well. She has this great haunting quality to her voice, which just fit so well with the tone I was going for. I didn't mess around with the sample too much, just slowed it down, really. The rest of the beat is synths I added and some EQ on the low end to thicken everything up a bit.

I made the beat about a week before the EP was due to come out and had the idea for the track. It's specifically, about depression and how it's really difficult, when you have a lot of people around to support you, if they don't understand depression or if they've never experienced it and although, they're trying to help, their efforts often barely even register with you (hence, "I Can't Hear Them.") I was asked afterwards, why I didn't include this on the EP and I think, I just wouldn't have been able to place it in the timeline, since I was depressed pretty much, the whole time, so chronologically, I just couldn't make it work and I didn't want to force it and have it sound unnatural.

I was pleased with the reaction I got from the EP; a few friends and family members got in touch shortly after I put it out to say that it had helped them to understand what depression is like a little better or that they could relate to it, in terms of their own experience with mental health, which is really great, as that was really, my goal with this EP. I also, got some messages from people I didn't know, which is really, all I can hope for. I didn't come from a background of abuse or severe childhood trauma, like so many addicts, unfortunately, do; I essentially, just made a series of very poor decisions that got me deeper and deeper, until I couldn't get out on my own, so I know how easy it is for things to quickly get out of control.

There's a bit of a misconception that only people from broken homes and violent childhoods with a family history of drug abuse become addicts and I'm living proof, that's not the case. I think, if I had been more honest with those around me, as well as myself, when I was struggling then, things might not have [gotten] as bad as they did. So, ultimately, I wanted to just encourage people to talk about addiction, talk about mental health, and be open with themselves and others."

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