Dro Carey, Taliwhoah & Genesis Owusu – Glow Now
Near the end of January Soothsayer released this track from my Dro Carey project, a dance/R&B song created in collaboration with artists Taliwhoah and Genesis Owusu. I’m pleased to say it’s been getting a great amount of support from Triple J here in Australia, appearing as a Spot Add on its week of release and being bumped up to full rotation yesterday, close to 6 weeks later. I know not everyone keenly follows the Triple J adds – but basically to summarise – the timing of those two things is kind of exciting, because it shows that there is a level of organic engagement and response that has inspired that quite late-in-life playlisting choice – and is an indicator of really direct positive listener feedback (which can be kind of hard to get via Facebook and Twitter these days). This matters because it was a complex and strange thing to put together for us all and it can be hard to know in that situation – even with full confidence in your work – how the final product might land with listeners.
The origins of this track go back to 2016, not long after my first release with Soothsayer, the ‘Dark Zoo’ EP. Following the success of the Kučka collaboration ‘Queensberry Rules,’ I felt two equally powerful, equally genuine, intertwined motivators – creative challenge and commercial logic – pushing me toward doing some more dance pop (to use a very broad pair of genre terms). One of the demos I began to draft in this vein was something titled ‘Built On Real Energy,’ which stemmed out of an older shelved demo created around the time of the ‘Club Injury Handbook’ EP (circa 2014). The original ‘Built On…’ draft from that earlier period was in some ways a test run of the kind of track that would later be realised in the Dark Zoo instrumental ‘Grow Lithe,’ that is, a slowly developing track built on a repetitive cell of airy synth notes, accompanied by a combination of acoustic percussion and electronic drums (with the electronic drums having to operate at atypically subtle volumes to accommodate the real drums and light synths). When coming back to it in late 2016 I hardened up and streamlined the arrangement, giving it more sub bass, grunt and UK Garage feeling, but in general it remained very loopy, very ostinato-driven and lacked some of the essential structural gestures to anchor a vocal part.
At some point in early 2017 I was working on a completely different track, building out from a piece of sound design that many people are maybe rightly ready to write off – a two-voice synthetic organ bass. In its original house music context this sort of synth sound was most famously used on the Robin S anthem ‘Show Me Love,’ and then in more recent times it was re-contextualised by genius producer DJ Mustard as both direct interpolation (on a Kid Ink single) and arguably general guiding aesthetic principle. It still crops up everywhere in pop production, including in a natural dance music nostos in ‘tropical house,’ but mainly, still, in the immensely fertile West Coast rap tempo range, since Mustard’s union of hooky house music sound design and the already bass-synth driven G-Funk/Hyphy/Jerk nexus of West rap beats proved to be one of those wildly pensive pieces of pop combination, such that whatever he has since personally gone on to do as a producer, the momentum of that idea seems to still have a fair bit of gas in the tank.
Anyway – not the most innovative thing to be messing around with… but I really liked the particular synth I had found in that style. I had written an organ bass riff that seemed to feel like a chorus motif (but had nothing for it to alternate with), while the dormant ‘Built On Real Energy’ was equally and oppositely an A Section without a B Section, and for some reason it came to mind at that point. So I merged the two project files into a single piece of music (which is something that is much easier to do in the low memory footprint environment of Reason). This goes towards explaining why there are so many different synths in ‘Glow Now,’ since it was inheriting everything from two completely distinct, reasonably fleshed out ideas.
The organ bass idea project file had no name to drawn on, yet I had grown to dislike ‘Built On Real Energy,’ which had begun to read as vaguely arrogant. It was meant to represent a genuine channeling of club music into pop music but in its attempt to draw attention to that mission it disobeyed that fundamental creative edict of ‘show don’t tell.’ So, ‘Glow Now,’ became the working title. (I say working title because in this process of production and collaboration via correspondence, I need to label the beats something, but I never necessarily mean to dictate that phrase as the definitive lyrical driver or final name. On both ‘Queensberry Rules’ and ‘Glow Now’ it just happened to be that these working names, my gut feelings for the instrumentals, traveled all the way through the process and remained appropriate titles even after the vocal writing and performances.)
Apart from the obvious tempo- and key-matching aspects it can take a lot of musical glue to stitch two discrete beats together. So in a sense a third, new set of sounds and ideas formed in order to bridge the emotional and textural distance of the existing ideas. Owing to the complex version history of the beat, it’s now a bit tricky to say what came in when, but two examples of choices made in this third phase/mood would be the filtered pads of the verses and the live drum kit loops. In order to build to the bombast of the chorus bass, the verses had to be meditative, almost delicate, so those choices developed in service of that.
Like ‘Queensberry Rules,’ Glow Now features a halftime section late in the track in which the drums abruptly shift into R&B territory. While I always envisioned Glow Now as a three-artist collaboration, I was initially imagining a structure in which the sung vocals would continue over the halftime section and the MC guest-verse would actually be over one of the dance rhythm verses. Taliwhoah worked on the track over two sessions and actually recorded to the entire beat, which provided me a wonderful level of flexibility for thinking about the arrangement before getting to the stage of the rap verse (not leaving a verse blank would later work out very well because I used parts of her third verse as a bridge into the final chorus).
Meanwhile I was having the realisation that for anyone not raised on Sparks & Kie sets, my idea of ‘rap over the uptempo bits and make it cool’ was potentially a pretty wild and unreasonable thing, so it became obvious that the half-tempo, third verse section would suit the guest verse.
Not willing to let go of some trace of direct UKG energy, I had this thought that there could be some kind of call-and-response or coda-style callout from the second artist in the second half of the chorus. Apart from the retro interest, I felt this would structurally signal the guest verse so that it didn’t come out of nowhere, as well as generally unify the whole thing as a piece of work by three artists.
Enter Genesis Owusu, promptly sending back a third verse absolutely brimming with ideas, offering far more than a rap verse, it kicked into unique melodic spaces and shapes unvisited anywhere in Taliwhoah’s parts (yet maintained a strong continuity with her anthemic-yet-smooth lines). Not to say I wasn’t overwhelmed with joy months earlier when Taliwhoah sent her first takes of the hook, but it was this moment that hit that really profound zone of collaborative synergy, of three minds building into something that takes on a life and energy that represents more than the sum of our individual artistic choices.
However, there remained the question of the chorus’ second halves and what sort of chant could be done there. What I was going for was tricky to communicate over email, maybe tricky to communicate even in person, so we organised a session and Genesis Owusu came up from Canberra specifically to get that part down. Because the post-chorus hook was written and tracked so quickly we ended up using that time to also add some new layers to the existing verse.
If we see the beginning of ‘Glow Now’ as the moment the ‘Built On…’ and Organ Bass project files were joined, the journey of this track from idea to release took a solid year, with many twists, turns and edits along the way. I’m so grateful for the work that Taliwhoah and Genesis Owusu did on this song and am honestly so psyched to have something released that sits within their respective bodies of work, since I always come to collabs as a fan! Watch both of them closely if you aren’t already. Also thank you to George Nicholas who mixed the song (and tracked the second Genesis session), to Michael Willis on cover design and to Barry at Alchemy for the world-class master.
More new Dro on the way!