Streetlight Cadence – Great Unknown
Follow along at https://soundcloud.com/streetlight-cadence/great-unknown-1
Streetlight Cadence is a band with a unique line-up and sound (made up of violin, cello, accordion, guitar/ukulele, and vocals) and unique roots. They grab your attention right away, and their new single “Great Unknown” exemplifies this.
I mean, if you want to grab a listener’s ear, starting your song with archival quotes from JFK and Neil Armstrong certainly does the trick. It sets the mood and theme right away, and it’s a nice contrast of lo-fi audio with lush modern production. (Strangely I engineered and mix another song coming out THIS WEEK that ALSO includes these same JFK/Armstrong quotes! Small musical/astronomical world.)
This is a very pleasing recording from the beginning, with a nice stereo image – bright clear acoustic guitar on right, string pads and shaker on the left, and a light kick drum that has very little sonic personality (which in this case is a GOOD thing – it doesn’t detract or call attention to itself, but adds a nice subtle pulse.)
The lead voice is clear, warm, and very friendly, reminiscent of Jim Adkins from Jimmy Eat World (and I feel that band’s influence on the song itself too, though Streetlight Cadence is far from a typical rock band – and I could be far from correct about that influence!)
The real sonic treat comes at the chorus – it leaps out and pops with a deep bass sound, huge stereo claps, and nicely-layered harmonies. To my ear the vocals could come up a bit to match the energy level that the chorus brings, and I personally would love to hear all the harmonies louder – but I suspect they were meant more as texture, and less to imply that this is a big-harmony band.
I just had to ask about the claps, they sound so fantastic, and I wanted to know if they were canned or fresh. Chaz from the band told me, “truthfully we ended up using a sampled clap. We tried real claps, and layering them with samples. But in the final mixing stages, we used a single clap sample from our mix/mastering engineer Matt Honda’s extensive sample library.”
To me, if you find the right magical thing, there’s no shame in using a sample, and the claps really are magical, so I’d say they made the right decision. Besides, layering all those claps is very hard on your hands and then you’re too tired to sign autographs for the throngs of fans outside the studio!
Despite two of the band members being string players – a cello and a violin – I actually wasn’t totally sure that what I was hearing was real strings throughout the song. I asked Chaz (the violinist) who said “one of the best things about playing in a group with all classically trained musicians is the ability to chart and arrange multiple parts. On this track in particular we have multiple layers of real strings. There are parts that are designed to be melodic counterpoints while other layers are there to fill the space. There’s also one master symphonic orchestra/pad (sample) that’s behind everything throughout the track.”
I think the sound they achieved is quite lovely, and to me, some of the individual parts could be clearer and more present in the mix – so even the casual listener can easily hear that it’s real (and very talented) players on this song – especially since the strings aren’t “hired” but rather are band members. I think they sound too much like generic pads. I’d push up the volumes right from the beginning, and maybe back off some of the verb and some of the sampled track to highlight the realness of the sound.
Moving on, the bridge offers a nice sonic change – aggressive, verby tom toms highlight the section, and the vocals take on a long, beautiful reverb. Again I’d like to hear the string arpeggios more, as that’s such a cool element that we haven’t really heard yet in the song.
Coming out of the bridge into the chorus breakdown is a great contrast – from big, lush, and pounding – right into a spacy lo-fi vocal and stripped-down arrangement. Bonus points for what sounds like auto-tune used in this section in a really cool way – to imitate the wow-and-flutter of an inter-space transmission from the 60’s!
Overall this is a beautifully recorded and mixed song, with top-notch sonics. My only overall arrangement suggestion would have been to grow the song a little more as it goes. Verse 2 sounds like it’s on-level with verse 1, and the choruses sound about the same too.
I’d love verse 2 to have more motion than verse 1 – an additional layer of percussion, a pulsing cello part, something to take it to the next level. Same with the choruses – I want to hear the second chorus explode a little more sonically, raising the ante from the first chorus, with the last chorus meeting-or-beating it.
I look forward to hearing the whole album from these guys, and you should too! Check them out at http://www.streetlightcadence.com/ where there are of course links to social media. They play regularly in the LA area, as well as their home state of Hawaii. Upcoming events include: 2/26 – Durango Songwriter’s Expo Showcase, Santa Ynez, CA; 3/3 – Amuse Wine Bar, Honolulu, HI 7-9pm; 4/2 – Grassroots Oasis, San Diego, CA; 4/4 – Hunnypot at the Mint, Los Angeles, CA; 4/22-23 Kohoutek Festival, Claremont, CA; 5/7 Yoga Munkey. Vista, CA
I’m not good at editing myself but I can’t have articles going on forever either, so to read Chaz’s complete answers to my interview questions… here ya go:
- Let’s talk about that clap sound – is it real, canned, a combo? How did you achieve the sound, if real (mic technique, what kind of room, distance from mic, how many layers etc.)
Truthfully we ended up using a sampled clap. We tried real claps, and layering them with samples. But in the final mixing stages, we used a single clap sample from our Mix/ Mastering engineer, Matt Honda’s extensive sample library. The original clap sound just didn’t have the right feel and attack so we changed it right before we printed for mastering.
- How about the vocal effect towards the end – meant to imitate the sound of a voice transmitted from space? Use plugins, or a toy mic, or what?
The vocal at the end was treated using McDSP’s Futzbox plug in. You’re absolutely right, we were trying to create the effect of someone floating off into space. The delay tail was created using Soundtoys Echoboy.
We also, fell in love with Soundtoys Devil-loc plug in during this session. I think we tried it out on the main vocals first, and then we just used it every time we wanted an instrument or voice to pop out more.
- How many layers of strings are there? One cello one violin, or with doubles/triples? Any fake strings supplementing the real ones?
Great question! One of the best things about playing in a group with all classically trained musicians is there ability to chart and arrange multiple parts. We also save a killing not having to hire outside quartets or orchestras.
On this track in particular we have multiple layers of real strings. There are parts that are designed to be melodic counterpoints while other layers are there to fill the space.
The bulk of the strings in the verses are all layered cello parts. Brian is great at knocking these out in one take. The cello was recorded with a Mojave Audio MA-300 at Zeo Studios with our engineer/ co-producer Imua Garza.The violin was also recorded using the Mojave mic but we doubled all of the violin parts in the pre-chorus and chorus, then split them left and right. The mic was positioned at a 45 degree angle at the same height as the players ear. An Alan Parsons trick we picked up after watching our friend Jake Shimabukuro’s documentary, Life on Four Strings.
The violin was treated with a Bricasti Design Reverb unit during mixing with Matt Honda. The violin parts were tracked by myself (Chaz Umamoto), and Eric Iwanaga. We were very fortunate to have Eric come in. He’s one of the most gifted young violin players in Hawaii right now. He has one of the most beautiful vibrato’s i’ve ever heard. Eric is a great classical soloist who also has the feel of a seasoned session player. I’m glad we had him on deck for the parts I knew I couldn’t fulfill.
There’s at least 5 layers of real strings happening at all times.
There’s also one master symphonic orchestra/ pad that’s behind everything throughout the track. We used Peter James’ presets for Spectraphonics Ominshphere 2 for the pad and virtual strings.
- What came first, the song (and then you realized Kennedy/Armstrong would fit in well) or the idea of using space exploration as a theme? Believe it or not, I engineered an album coming out later this month that uses both of those clips also – Kennedy AND Armstrong. Weird coincidence!
I think that’s awesome! It just means it’s a great idea. I think right now especially the space theme is being used in a lot of movies. We can’t help but be inspired.
The song certainly came first. When Jonathon (violinist) was writing the song, he had just seen the movie, Interstellar. He brought the basic skeleton and concept to the band and we wanted to write the song with a similar “space exploration” theme. We liked the idea of the movie but we wanted to conceptualize it in our own way. In our song, it’s the female partner who goes off into space looking for what seems to be unattainable, then she comes to realize that it was the love she had back on earth that becomes both unreachable and desired. Then if you’re really into the space-time dynamic then you’ll find that by the time she decides to come back for him, he had already passed away.
The majority of the songs were co-written in their basic form and arranged with our unique combination of instruments acoustically. Violin, Cello, Accordion, Guitar/Ukulele. We don’t rehearse or hash out parts like garage bands. The band finds that quantity always breeds quality, and the pressure to punch out a great part keeps everyone involved in the recording process.
Once we began production we tried not to create any sonic boundaries for ourselves. We definitely knew that we wanted to have a progressive pop and cinematic vibe to the record. We also basically outlawed cymbal washing, and a lot of distorted electric guitar. I love music that has both of those elements but I feel that we needed to eliminate those two things in order to have more room for experimentation and overall dynamics.