SBTRKT Recalls Craziest ‘Wonder Where We Land’ Stories
SBTRKT’s much-anticipated sophomore LP, Wonder Where We Land, is out in the UK today via Young Turks and will be released in the USA and Canada on October 7th. We sat down with the masked producer during a recent visit to New York and he shared some of the most fascinating stories behind the songs on his new album.
Wonder Where We Land (ft. Sampha)
This track sums up what the album’s all about. It was written in a dark space: a 3AM recording session with all of us sitting in different rooms in the dark. I had recently bought a a 1970s animated cartoon called The Fantastic Planet (English title), or La Planète sauvage (French title), which is this weird film about how humanity is being taken over by an aliens. It’s an interesting, psychedelic thing, and having it displayed on the walls while we were making music created an environment where we weren’t compelled to write pop dance records. We were just jamming out to this weird film.
The recording process was myself playing piano in the middle room, Sampha in another room, and a friend of ours who goes by the name Tick—he works at our label—who was playing a Tempest drum machine. There are parts in the song where you hear Sampha say, “What the fuck is that?” and that was him reacting to Tick, who was was making these weird bleepy noises. We were all wearing headphones and we could only hear each other. Also, all of Sampha’s vocals are from the original take. I didn’t re-record anything from it because I felt the essence of what made it a song was in the original recording.
This is the only proper instrumental on the album. It’s a track that goes into more dancey territory, aside from it being only two minutes long. It’s way too short for any DJ to play, and it ends a bit abruptly, as well.
I love collaborating with other artists, but especially with newer artists who have no boundaries set for them yet by the music industry. A friend of mine showed the video for “God’s Whisper,” which is a tune by Raury, a kid from Atlanta, GA. The video is really great. Raury is a singer that isn’t like any kind of teenager I’ve ever met—he’s 17 years old—probably because of the strength and character he exudes. After watching the video for “God’s Whisper” I really wanted to work with him, but I didn’t anticipate we’d have to get his mom’s permission to fly him from Atlanta to work with me! I was hyped, thinking I was going to get some kind of Pharrell-like vocal out of him, as that’s the sound he’s developed, but he ended up rapping on the track, which turned out incredible.
Look Away (ft. Caroline Polachek)
When I first started on the album I went to an island off the coast of Essex, England. The plan was to fly Caroline out from Brooklyn to jam on some ideas and see what would happen, but she missed her initial flight. She ended up getting there at the wrong time, so she missed the tide to get to the island, because it’s only passable four hours out of every twelve. It’s a weird story, because some guy told her she should go to a pub around the corner from where the road to the island would have been, had the tide been out. She was supposed to find a man in the corner of the pub smoking a pipe and drinking a beer, and ask him for a ride to the island. He found a one-person fishing boat and they rode it over a mile and a half stretch of water. You could watch the boat coming in like a plane; it was the weirdest entrance I’ve ever seen for a studio session.
Anyway, this tune came out of a 2AM jam in the middle of the dark, with a bunch of owls hooting outside. We’d both seen that Daniel Radcliffe horror film set on an island, where he has to go down a tidal road, and he ends up living in a haunted house on the island, so we were feeling a bit creeped out. At night no one wanted to leave the studio because it was so dark outside—it was really windy—and you could hear owls hooting in the distance with the grass moving in the wind.
Osea (ft. Koreless)
“Look Away” segues straight into a tune I wrote with Koreless, who’s someone I find really inspiring to work with. He’s on the same record label as me and makes ambient electronica. We literally sat in the dark playing some keyboards, which is one of those quite out-there, producer-type things to do. But the segue between these tracks really works. I think the influence for it came from Pink Floyd and 70s German Krautrock albums. One other thing—the intro to this track is from something that I recorded whilst in a village in Italy, and everything is live on this. There’s no production. I didn’t do it on the computer.
“New Dorp. New York” features Ezra from Vampire Weekend and we actually wrote it when we met for the first time. We were recording in Downtown Music Studios and it came out of a conversation we were having about rap music. He told me how he’d been a rapper at school in college, and that he’d written a rap that we could use. I thought, “Okay, that sounds interesting. You’re Ezra from Vampire Weekend, so let’s try that out.”
I didn’t know what New Dorp was until Ezra told me it was a place in Staten Island, NY. I think he just liked the idea behind the name. Later, I was telling my friend about the song, and my friend told me that he grew up in New Dorp—he went to school there! It suddenly gave this reality to it. The place actually existed. And what’s crazier is that my friend helped me connect with several of the rappers on this record, so it really drove everything home.
With this album I wanted to make things more like a band. I didn’t want to produce beats, send them to vocalists and then wait to see what happened when they sent the track back. Making music that way is disjointed. My first album wasn’t really like that either, but this one I definitely wanted to spend more time in the studio to create works that would never occur without being in the same room together at that time. For instance, with “New Dorp. New York” Ezra he came in with the lyrics and I came in with the kick drum out and it developed from there.
I wasn’t so sure this was going to be on the record because I already put out the instrumental version on my Transitions EP. On that release it’s titled “Resolute.” Weirdly, the instrumental version came before the vocal. I thought it sounded so well on it’s own that I should put it out without the vocal.
In a sort of blunt way, this track is me trying to write a UK garage track mixed with a Drake song. It’s a half-time UK dance track with a singer on it. The vocalist wants to remain unknown… well, at least more unknown than me [laughs].
Problem (Solved) [ft. Jessie Ware]
One of the things I tried to do on all the songs on this album was to interlink different vocalists. I linked the vocals from every song into at least two other tracks on the album, so there’s this effect across the record—whether you notice it or not—of different vocals underlying each song. The vocal might not be the feature point, but it’s somewhere hidden in it. For instance, you might be able to hear a little bit of Sampha or Caroline in this track, though Jessie is the main vocalist. Another one is “New Dorp. New York.” Ezra is the main vocalist but there’s there’s a vocal from Caroline Polachek. She’s singing backing vocals and Sampha is doing some underlays, though neither of them were in the studio when Ezra and I recorded the original track.
Voices in My Head (ft. A$AP Ferg)
This one came about in three parts. I really wanted to write something like Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song,” with everything in it’s right place—that perfect kind of chord progression, so I recorded a riff on an upright piano. At the time I had been talking to Warpaint, a band whose musical ideas and albums I really respect, so I flew over to LA and jammed out a session in this place called “The Boat” recording studio, owned by Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I’ve been fascinated by the sound of live drum recordings in the 60s and the 70s, which no one does anymore. It’s expensive and in electronic music it doesn’t really fit anyway. So I got Stella, the drummer from Warpaint, to jam on some drums. I wanted to juxtapose those classic drum sounds with modern drum machine sounds.
Next, I came to New York we got A$AP Ferg in the studio. This was right after a night where we did some other session—the worst in the world. I’m not going to mention who the artist was, but I was so down, I was like, “I don’t want to see A$AP Ferg.” He turned up, and he was the most studious writer I think I’ve ever met. He just sat there and was like, “Yeah, I’m going to get this; I’m going to get it done. This track is the one.” It was only a bare-bones idea when he showed up—the piano and the drums—but we fleshed it out. I think it’s the first time A$AP Ferg’s ever written a song; I haven’t heard him sing before. It’s definitely one of my favorite tracks on the album.
It also has a funny fade out, like The Roots record “Break You Off,” which had that elegant ending to it. I just loved the way that it cut out and then it faded back in and faded out again, just to trick people. I’ve always loved that. I’ve repeated that track forever just because of that moment at the end where you think it’s finished but it comes back. I want to do that at the live show, to just stop a track, but have it keep coming back, so everyone’s confused.
Forgotten (ft. Raury)
This track is the start of the six bonus tracks at the end of the deluxe album. It’s been three years since my last album and I write lots of music, but I like tracks to fit together so they tell a story. “Forgotten” is another track featuring Raury, and it’s only about one minute long, but it’s got loads of synthesized strings on it.
Spaced Out (ft. Boogie)
For me, writing a record isn’t necessarily about putting the biggest hits on it, it’s about trying to write a record that fits together. So if the next track, to the track after that, to the track after that doesn’t work as a sequence, I would just drop the mismatched track out. It’s odd because there’s one track in particular that I think is the biggest track I’ve ever written, but I had to dump it from the album because I didn’t think it worked with everything else. It’s unfortunate, but I like writing albums where you feel like you can listen to it from end to end.
Anyway, this track features a guy called Boogie, from LA. I’ve still, to this day, not met Boogie. I’ve never spoken to him. We have this kind of indirect relationship. It was the same situation as when I recorded “Wildfire.” Boogie’s been great like that, he just delivered. The track just appeared on my desk and then I edited it, sent it back and forth, but that was it; there was no direct contact.
This one’s the last track on the deluxe album. It came from a jam session where we were all running between instruments. A friend of mine named Andrew Ashong, a singer/songwriter from South London, played bass and guitar and did the backup vocals. Sampha was drifting along with some sort of top line vocal, I played all the synths—about three at once—and then a friend of mine who’s now the drummer in my live band—Jimmy—was playing drums at the end. I’d programmed in a beat at the same time that they were playing everything else.
The full album tracklist and upcoming worldwide tour dates are both available below. For further information, head to SBTRKT.com.
Wonder Where We Land Tracklist
1. Day 1
2. Wonder Where We Land (feat. Sampha)
4. Higher (feat. Raury)
5. Day 5
6. Look Away (feat. Caroline Polachek)
7. Osea (feat. Koreless)
8. Temporary View (feat. Sampha)
9. NEW DORP. NEW YORK (feat Ezra Koenig)
10. Everybody Knows
11. Problem (Solved) (feat. Jessie Ware)
12. If It Happens (feat. Sampha)
13. Gon Stay (feat. Sampha)
14. The Light (feat. Denai Moore)
15. Voices In My Head (feat. A$AP Ferg)
Deluxe edition bonus tracks
16. “Forgotten” (featuring Raury)
17. “Paper Cuts”
18. “War Drums” (featuring Warpaint)
19. “Spaced Out” (featuring Boogie)
20. “Maybe” (featuring Andrew Ashong & Sampha)
22. “Tamagotchi (Bonus Track)”
23. “Told You (Bonus Track)”
2014 / 2015 Tour Dates
09/29/14 – Bristol, UK @ O2 Academy
09/30/14 – Manchester, UK @ Albert Hall
10/01/14 – Nottingham, UK @ Rock City
10/02/14 – London, UK @ Brixton Academy
11/08/14 – Turin, Italy @ C2C
11/10/14 – Munich, Germany @ Theaterfabrik
11/11/14 – Berlin, Germany @ Astra
11/12/14 – Warsaw, Poland @ Basen
11/13/14 – Hamburg, Germany @ Uebel & Gefährlich
11/15/14 – Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg @ Rockhal
11/16/14 – Amsterdam, Holland@ Melkweg
11/17/14 – Gent, Belgium @ Vooruit
11/18/14 – Paris, France @ Trianon
10/07/14 – Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade
10/09/14 – New Orleans, LA @ Republic New Orleans
10/10/14 – Houston, TX @ House Of Blues
10/11/14 – Mexico City, MX @ Corona Capital Music Festival
10/12/14 – Dallas, TX @ House Of Blues
10/14/14 – Tempe, AZ @ The Marquee Theatre
10/15/14 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Belasco Theater
10/16/14 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Belasco Theatre
10/17/14 – Oakland, CA @ The Fox
10/18/14 – Las Vegas, NV @ House Of Blues
10/20/14 – Denver, CO @ The Ogden
10/23/14 – Chicago, IL @ Riviera Theatre
10/24/14 – Cleveland, OH @ House Of Blues
10/25/14 – Washington, DC @ Lincoln Theatre
10/26/14 – New York, NY @ Terminal 5
10/29/14 – Boston, MA @ Royale
10/31/14 – Toronto, ON @ Danforth Music Hall
11/01/14 – Toronto, ON @ Danforth Music Hall