I generally discover a lot of complexities within indie rock music. So Much Light, the solo project of sound design guru Damien Verrett, takes a different approach to creating songs: showcase the beats and melodies as single elements in a song, allow room for every element to breathe, and in turn, people will focus more on the lyrics. Idiot Soul, Damien's most recent effort for So Much Light, showcases this approach to songwriting perfectly. I recently got to sit down and speak with Damien about his songwriting methods, sound design, and the content he touches on (some of it satirical) in his lyrics.
Well the biggest thing I wanted to talk to you about today was the EP. I feel like every song on it had a very minimalistic approach to it.
You’d just have a beat or an acoustic guitar going, and it really showcased your voice. For you, what was the motivation behind writing the songs in that style? Focusing more on a couple elements at a time when writing?
I know that with the title track, I was really focusing on the sound design side of things. Really, I was trying to just end with the sounds that I was happy with. At the time, I tinkered with all of that. I think I wanted to sort of showcase that side of things, so I didn’t want to polish as much on it.
I tried to not have too many things happen in unison. I didn’t want some parts to land on the same beat as each other. I really wanted everything to have its own little chunk of time. Almost like each part is punching holes in the other parts. I think that makes it end up sounding really spacious.
I’d also been listening almost exclusively to hip-hop music, so I think that in my head, I just had an idea where rather than having the vocals sitting within the mix, they’re sitting over the top of the beat throughout. I think that’s true for most of the songs on the EP, but not on ‘Let It Absorb You’. That’s the one track where I think the vocals chunk into the mix.
I was really focused on the sound design. By the time I had the sounds that I liked, I didn’t feel like I needed to clutter anything up. I let that part breathe.
I can attest to that. I felt like, when listening to it, everything in the mix had room to breathe, and you could focus more on the lyrics.
Yeah! I think another reason why I probably approached it that way was because I knew I was going to mix it myself in the end. Having worked with people who really know what they’ve done mixing, I don’t really think of myself as the best “mixer”. I try to approach it such that the arrangement really facilitates the mix, so that i don’t really have to worry about competing frequencies, because they don’t even happen at the same time (for the most part) throughout the song. I thought, ‘well, I know I’m mixing this so I might as well start that process, so that the songwriting will facilitate an easier mix. If that makes sense.
Do you think of yourself more as a sound engineer than a mixer or masterer?
Yeah, I think so. I didn’t grow up having studio monitors or anything. I got monitors for the first time two or three years ago. I was always listening to things through headphones. I was aware that my mixes weren’t as good as they could be. I feel more comfortable from more of an engineering/producing standpoint.
What was it that first wet your appetite with that, if that makes sense?
Yeah! I’d been making Smiths and Talking Heads covers on this four-track that my Dad had bought me when I was thirteen. When I was fourteen, I pirated a copy of Fruity Loops, I think it was FL 5. I got it, and then a year later I figured out how to use the interface. There weren’t YouTube videos teaching that stuff back then, so it took me ages to figure out how to do it, and I had a friend help me. I’ve been producing stuff like that since I was fourteen.
I remember doing covers of songs from video games, like note for note. That was really helpful, because it helped me learn how to make parts interact with each other and around each other.
What drew into FL Studios over other production software available at the time?
Honestly, it was just the easiest thing to pirate in 2003 (laughs). That’s probably the only reason. I knew what I wanted to accomplish: I wanted to make beats. Then I thought, “how am I going to do that?” I looked it up and it was like, here’s this MegaUpload link, where someone had put the software.
Now, I use Ableton a lot more. Not more than FL Studios, but it’s like a mix of the two. There are some things FL Studios is better at, some that Ableton is better at, and I’m a PC user.
There are some FL Studio plug-ins that I have no idea how to reproduce on a different kind of software. If I know how to [make] it right away in FL Studios, I’m not going to re-learn it in Logic.
Did you primarly use FL on the Idiot Soul EP? Or was it a mix of different software?
That was all FL Studio.
In terms of lyrical content, was there anything that was more challenging to bring to life than others? Did you have a harder time talking about certain subject material than others?
I think with the title track, Idiot Soul, it was a little weird for me to find a balance. I found it to be rather satirical and tounge-in-cheek at times, but on a surface level, it comes across as really kind of horrible. It sounds really cruel, but it’s intentionally hyperbolized. I wanted to kind of comment on the subject matter and the typical R&B/soul songs, where it’s so mysogynistic and degrading. It’s medieval, almost.
I didn’t know how spoon-fed I wanted to make it. I kind of wanted to make it sound like, “this is what the song is about”. You’re kind of nervous, where it’s like people can read Onion articles and think it’s a real thing. It’s kind of on that line, and I didn’t know how capable I was of conveying not a joke, but this “parody”. That was a little challenging. In the end, I was like, “fuck it”. If people can get away with saying all kinds of shit that they really mean, I might as well write this. If anyone asks me about it, I can tell them what it really means and what it’s about.
That’s always the hardest part. Nobody reads between the lines, and people will take things very seriously. We’re in an interesting generation, in that sense. Here are the last two questions: what kind of message, if you have one, would you like fans to walk away with after listening to your music?
Hmm. (Pauses) Well a lot of my lyrics revolve around what I was just talking about. Lots of empathy that people have, either across race or gender. A lot of stuff that I write is about the mysogynistic tendency that people have. Something I can try to return to is being aware and critical of things that I see myself doing that kind of fall under that category. I think a lot of artists, especially in the genre of music that I like to listen to and write in, don’t feel completely self-aware to me. I don’t want to name names, because that would be incredible dumb of me to do that. It’s just something that I find interesting. These people that are so influential over the thoughts and minds of youth and music listeners don’t seem to care about their voice on every level. I feel like you should care about every single thing you are saying if you have that kind of scope. Sometimes I’m still figuring out how to use the voice that I have, but it’s important to me to have a message that I care about. For the most part, [the message] is one of self-awareness. I’m really interested in mindfulness. It’s hard to get specific right now, but I hope you can get a sound byte out of that. (laughs)
What does music mean to you?
Let me think on this one. (Pauses) This is an idea that I was talking about with some friends. It sounds super stoner-y to me (laughs) but I was thinking about how thoughts are the only source of energy that feels intimate. When you transfer a thought to another person, you don’t lose the thought; it doubles, and then grows exponentially. I was tripping over that idea, like ‘whoa! Thought energy is this exponential source of energy. But what does that mean?’ By extension, it kind of makes it seem like consciousness is the most important thing in the universe, because it’s the only source of perpetual energy.
By extension, I was thinking, “why do I care about doing music?” I was just listening to a band that someone on tour showed me. Their singer doesn’t sing any real words; it’s all gibberish. It was fascinating to me because I feel like the song is still about something. The words have no meaning whatsoever, but that’s amazing. It just kind of goes to show that music is this universal language. Like, why are we drawn to these chords or 4/4 time signatures, or these tempos? It’s definitely triggering something on a biological level, in a way that language is capabe of, but not as effective. It’s like an instant gratification for people. I think that’s really interesting. It’s a condensed form of sending out positive ideas and thoughts.
It’s fascinating to me. I remember LastFM was first a thing. I would look at my old band’s page and see that those ten people were listening to this song right then and now. It’s like “wow, I’m in their ears, in this moment, without even being aware of it.” I’m influencing their thoughts from my bedroom, and I’m doing nothing, which is just crazy to me, and really, really cool.
So Much Light's EP, Idiot Soul, is available now.
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