Enter the instrumental.Brilliant Shower is a 13-track trip through the conscious and subconscious minds of Nik Furious. The music is dipped in electronic funk and lightly dusted with rock, surf, jazz, and experimental sounds.
This album was recorded in Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, and Paoli, PA over the course of 5 years from 2004-2009. I intended for most of the songs to become hip hop beats, but they ended up being too complicated or unorthodox to comfortably sit in the back.
The album cover was patiently designed by Shawn Atkins. And this music was made better by the support of Justique Woolridge, Ed Marino, Josh Kobylarz, Neal Shyam, Scott Niekum, and everybody else who generously gave me feedback throughout the entire creation process.
The creation of Wallcrawler was a lot more straight forward than most of the other cuts on Brilliant Shower. In fact, if you’ve been following this blog for more than four months, then you may already know most of the story.
In 2005, I made a stupid video called Spider-Man vs. Xandu. It was the early days of video sharing sites, and I wanted to make a parody that people could get excited about. But I didn’t even know a good place to share the video at the time because YouTube wasn’t even officially public!
Here’s me working some of my mysterious magic as Xandu.
However, MySpace was at the height of its hype and I thought it’d be fun to write a track and share it on one of my music profiles. I teamed up with my roommate Scott to craft the theme song. You can listen to the Spider-Man vs. Xandu song here.
Wallcrawler is just the instrumental version of that theme, albeit with a slightly different mix. That, and it’s got me saying “my Spidey sense is tingling!” in the middle of it, as inspired by some of my favorite surf rock songs of the 60s.
I’m a bit hazy on the details now, but to the best of my memory I wrote the music for the song, Scott and I wrote the lyrics, and then I did everything on the recording save for one of the rhythm guitars and the lead vocals. Honestly, I’m not sure if Scott played guitar on the track. But I think he did!!
Composing this song was fast and easy. I’ve been writing rock music longer than any other genre, and it tends to go quickly for me. The only obstacle I encountered was the solo section. I’m not too good at guitar solos. But this song sounds like it would really benefit from a nasty one! After experimenting with guitar riffs, I gave up and decided to try a synth solo instead. I’m pretty happy with the result.
NEXT: The collected edition of Brilliant Shower, including a ZIP file download of the entire album. And then my next album, 7 Star Sky Flash Kick, in 2013!
The idea for Uncanny came from a song I sampled for one of my beats called Click Clack. The sample featured Hawaiian percussion that sounded like a combination of wood sticks and stomping.
I loved the chaotic beauty of that Hawaiian rhythm and I wanted to emulate the sound with my drum machine. After playing around for a couple of hours, I cobbled together a loop that I liked. This was the first time I used electronic drums to capture the sound of a different artist’s recording.
After that, I created a few simple drum loops with some deep knock to act as foundation for the track. But when it came time to lay down the bass, I was stumped. I had no idea what to do. Playing along with the beat sounded like crap.
I decided to work against the beat and use the bass as a syrupy accent, droning through the main riff until the very end of the loop when it sped up and matched the rhythm of the digital sticks for a few brief moments.
Then shit got real weird. I plugged my acoustic guitar into the compressor mic input on my microKORG synthesizer and ran it through a vocoder setting. I loved the haunting, robotic moan it produced. Mixed with another mic to pick up the natural tone of the guitar, I knew I had the sound I wanted for my song.
Buuuuuttt… I had no clue what to play. Without any distinct ideas for a melody, I looped the drums and bass for about 10 minutes, hit record, and improvised some bluesy licks.
At the time of the recording, I didn’t care for any of the melodies that I caught on tape. But when I went back to the song a few days later with a fresh set of ears, I easily selected my favorite moments to become the funky loops of Uncanny.
Proud of my experiment, I put Uncanny up on my MySpace page (it was 2005 — that’s how we did things back then). A few months later, I moved from Brooklyn back to Pittsburgh and began to aggressively hunt MCs to buy my beats.
I never ended up selling any because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing when it came to business, but I sheepishly gave a free master copy of Uncanny to a Pittsburgh rapper named Ron Noodles. We were buds at the time but had a falling out not long after, and — as far as I know — Ron never rhymed over the track.
Fast-forward two years later and I launched my podcast website, the AudioShocker. I decided to use Uncanny as the theme song to our flagship podcast series and it stuck. Even when I changed the theme for a few months, I had to go back to Uncanny because by then it’d become the sound of our show.
NEXT: The final song on Brilliant Shower is… electronic punk?!?
I know it sounds kinda stupid to say that I required music theory, sound recording, and the physics of musical sound to create Summers. It’s not like this song is the incredible result of all three. Still, I never could’ve created it without them.
Most of that knowledge is lost to me now, but I’ll do my best to retrace my steps. In music theory, I learned about notes and their relationships to each other. In sound recording, I learned ProTools and digital editing. And by studying the physics of musical sound, I came to understand hertz, semitones, and more — basically, the properties of sound waves as they apply to music.
In early 2005, my friend sent me an audio file of himself playing the electric guitar. Just guitar. That’s it. I dragged the recording into ProTools to see if I could put some digital drums behind it, but that didn’t work.
However, I’d recently begun sampling music with electric guitars and I was beginning to understand how to slice up guitar into individual chords (which is faaaaar different from sampling plain drums, for example). I cut my teeth chopping up guitar-heavy samples for beats like Got Laid, Proton Cannon, and Rawk.
Using that new experience, I decided to see if I could slice up my friend’s guitar riff and turn it into a beat. I isolated one especially sweet sounding chord and I started digitally shifting the pitch of the chord in ProTools using my knowledge of semitones. Soon, I’d created a tiny guitar orchestra from a single chord.
Honestly, I think I’m exaggerating the virtuosity of what I did to craft Summers. There are hordes of digital musicians who perform similar feats on a daily basis. But regardless, I’m proud of the sound I captured here.
I tend to view Summers as the least popular track on Brilliant Shower. I just don’t think the sound clicks with most people, or at least not enough for them to say anything about it. Maybe it’s the drums, which are pretty repetitive… or maybe the pitch-shifted guitar is grating to some people… I dunno!!!
NEXT: Running an acoustic guitar through a vocoder yields some funky results.
This song is just drums. Well, drums and a juice bottle. But I’ll get to the juice bottle later. First up, I want to explain why this track is just percussion.
See, back in college, I was in a band called Dirty Weekend. We had a song named Street Vending Man. I don’t have a recording of it posted anywhere online, but you can see us play it live in this concert footage.
About one year after college, I became entrenched in writing and recording instrumental songs as Nik Furious. But I still wanted to keep the Dirty Weekend torch lit, so I started building the drums and bass for a couple of Dirty Weekend originals.
But the full-band recordings never got off the ground. So I ended up with a couple of fantastically tight drum tracks and nothing to put on top of them!
I decided to steal a page out of the master’s book and play a juice bottle of my own on Street Drums. You can first hear it at 0:54 and again at 1:47. (It’s weighted towards the right, in case you’re having trouble distinguishing it from the cymbal.)
NEXT: A sample of a friend’s electric guitar turns into a digital symphony.
See, I’d laid down 10 minutes of funky electronic drums that I intended to use for my latest Unlicensed Attorneys at Law song, Making It. But I was having a hard time coming up with a melody for the beat.
I decided to improvise an extended jam on top of the drums. My plan was to relisten to the recording and cherry pick the best moments of the performance to create loops for my rap track.
Well, that never happened. I listened to the recording over and over again — for years, really — trying to find the best parts to loop into a beat. But somewhere in the process of relistening to the song, I began to really enjoy it as a work of its own.
Speechless was raw and improvisational, capturing the moment instead of trying to fit riffs into a tight structure. I really appreciated the free qualities of the song.
And before I even realized it, I was copying my accidental recording style to make new songs. I’d construct a 15 minute drum loop and lay a few raw tracks over it. That’s how Purple Suite and RAW both came to be.
So despite the fact that Speechless was an accident, I learned to cherish the way it was created. Nowadays, most of my songs are built with the Speechless method. Eventually, some get shaved down into tighter sections while others retain their spontaneous qualities and remain just as they were performed.
NEXT: Digital drums built for an abandoned ditty about street food set in 6/8 time become their own musical beast.
It began as Phoenix Bay, a stripped-down groove with a lot of ‘tude and li’l bit of funk. While I dug some of its qualities (including the name, inspired by Jean Grey‘s experience in Jamaica Bay), it didn’t resonate with me. It felt too minimal.
Determined to not abandon the framework, I built upon the foundation of Phoenix Bay and added extra layers, amping up the funk and rechanneling the flow. And thus Remix the Phoenix was born.
The most obvious addition was a heavy coating of frantic percussion, making the song feel twice as fast as before. I also decided to rework the melody, something which was seriously lacking in the original. And that’s where things got interesting.
See, I wasn’t happy with all of my new melodic synth performances. In fact, I recorded several different versions because I was having a hard time picking a favorite. And that’s when a mistake turned into inspiration.
Any musician who multi-tracks can relate to what happened next — I left on both of my synth performances by mistake while replaying the reworked Phoenix Bay… and I liked what I heard. Two similar-yet-unique synths swirling back at me, challenging my brain to a game of “Can You Follow the Melody?”
Instead of trying to pick one single melodic line, I decided to use both. It was a trick I’d learned from listening to Pavement as a kid. Often, their guitarists would solo at the same time, creating an experimental and sometimes exciting sound.
After a lot more editing, I finally had something I liked. Phoenix Bay was saved! But in the process of my rescue, I’d created a different body of work. So I changed the title to indicate its remixed status. And that’s how this song was born.
NEXT: How falling asleep on my keyboard led to some interestingly long results.
I’m a bit ashamed to say that I can’t remember the holiday/occasion that was behind the gifting of this jam. Uhhh, maybe it was xmas? Or maybe a birthday? Or our anniversary? Damn, I just can’t recall.
But I do remember the particulars of the recording because I composed, performed, and mixed this song at work (back when I had a day job, that is). In fact, The only thing I did at home was master this puppy.
I used to work for the marketing department of a Pittsburgh law firm. It was a good job, but it could get really dull. To the credit of my employers, they tried to keep me interested as best they could. So when they needed a jingle for a TV commercial, they asked if I’d like to take a crack at it.
I jumped at the opportunity to get paid to make music in my office. I brought in my drum machine, synthesizer, and guitar to record a few demos. And guess what? They hated my jingles!!!
I was bummed that it didn’t work out. To pick my mood up, I spent my lunch break playing music. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I’d spent hours writing and performing nearly all of RAW! The song came together that easily.
I’d say that the entire performance — largely improvised, because that’s how I roll — couldn’t have taken more than two days. I mixed it in short order and I knew that I had a new Nik Furious album track on my hands!
The finished product reminded me of something Justique might like. She was already a big fan of Purple Suite and Speechless, my two longest songs. So I decided to make RAW — my longest track to date — a gift for her.
NEXT: A song so tricky that it had to be reborn before it could breathe.