Dawn Remembers: The Making of the Too Far Music
Q: Too Far is your second project to integrate novel and music. This time, though, you took a slightly different approach:
RS: The 12 tracks evoke 12 scenes from the story—the children’s experience of the forest that their goddess, Dawn, remembers. With Wild Animus, the idea was to capture musically the ram’s entire journey. Here, Dawn remembers moments with a particular quality, so we hear those moments as opposed to the whole smash.
Too Far evolved in the same way as Wild Animus. The music was created alongside the book and conceived of as a whole piece. The idea was that the book would tell the story and there would be moments in the story that would be remembered by Dawn.
Dawn sings about Robbie and Fristeen’s exploration and discoveries. Each piece follows the emotional arc of a recollected scene. And in sequence, the 12 scenes follow the arc of the kids’ emotional progress during the story. Where they are meeting for the first time or climbing the Bendies, Dawn’s recollection is more playful. As we progress in the story, what Dawn remembers is more serious. They’re still memories that she wants to keep, but there’s more at stake.
Q: Maria Taylor is on vocals this time around. You found her to be an ideal match for the role.
RS: Maria was a contributor to Wild Animus, and I’m a fan of both her solo work and her work with Azure Ray. Finding a singer to play Dawn—it was probably like what a director goes through to cast an actress for a film. Maria was a great fit. Her voice, her temperament, her emotional breadth— She was able to project both a childlike presence and a deep and thoughtful adult one. Her ability to mix and match those aspects of her personality in a way that dovetailed with the moments in the story was important.
We had the help of Andy LeMaster, who works closely with Maria. Andy also contributed to Wild Animus, and he performs on all of the Dawn Remembers pieces. We threw ourselves together in the studio, not knowing exactly what would come out of it. Maria was a great choice. She understood the story and the character, and she really brought the scenes to life.
Q: There’s a lot of non-verbal vocalization in the Too Far music. Some songs have very little in the way of lyrics.
RS: The moments are recollections of a child’s experience, and the wordiness of Wild Animus didn’t seem appropriate. I wanted to capture the care-freeness and exhilaration that a child feels. Some of the high points of Maria’s work are the moments when she is humming or doing her half-conscious non-verbal thing. I love that. I think she did a wonderful job of capturing the emotional meaning of those scenes—probably better than if there were words associated with them.
Q: As with Wild Animus, you used a loop-record process, and the contributing musicians improvised their parts over the base tracks.
RS: It’s arduous, but I’m pleased with what we’re able to get doing things that way. I was listening to the commentary on a Lars Von Trier movie recently and was surprised to hear that he uses a filming technique that’s pretty close to what we do in the studio. Von Trier is not the only director who does this, but from what I understand, it’s not common. They’ll set up their cameras, get them rolling, and then the actor and directors forget about them, working and re-working particular moments spontaneously.
The cameras never stop rolling. The actors don’t have a sense of the beginning or end of a scene. They’re living the part, trying to find the right tone, deepening the emotional engagement, and so on. They do it one way, then they try something else. It just keeps going. The actors are never out of character, and they have the chance to experiment while they’re in the moment. Von Trier talks about having evolved a jump-cut style—you see action, the scene continues, but there’s a splice in between. It’s a stylistic choice, but it evolved around the concept of cutting between different takes of the same scene. In his own way, John Cassavetes used a similar technique, many years earlier.
This is all very close to the approach we’ve developed for tracking musical contributions in our studio. It seems to work for the same reasons that it works in film. The vocalist or instrumentalist—whoever we happen to have in the studio—is in character, working on a part, evolving it, in the emotion and meaning of the moment, and never required to step out of it until we’re done. As much as possible, the mechanics of recording are forgotten.
There are failures, and there are surprising successes. The objective is to capture moments of brilliance—moments that really connect. It’s very different than what’s typically done, where you have a group of musicians and the producer says, "Okay, we’re doing a take," and they all perform the piece start to finish. My joke is, "We’ve invented the hardest way in the world to make music," because so much effort is required afterward, sorting and sifting through the mountains of loops. But the value of it is that we’re able to give musicians room to experiment, to immerse themselves in the pieces and take risks that they wouldn’t be able to take in a more structured studio environment. We often get unusual things—things that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.