She Looks Like You is a pretty old song. It was probably started in mid-2014 as a GarageBand idea on my iPhone. The main synth that starts off the song was the first part I wrote, then I added the low key house(ish) beat and a few other basic instruments. Then I laid down some scratch vocals with no actual lyrics, except for the main line in the chorus.
I had had the concept for the lyrics stored in my phone for a long time, “She looks like you, but she’s not you because you’d never do this sort of thing.” The rest of the lyrics came about pretty quickly. They deal with vulnerability and betrayal – telling a story of a lover’s doppelgänger who gradually sucks the life out of you. I guess it’s a roundabout way of describing the slow and painful denial that people have when they realize someone they love doesn’t give the same love back.
For about a year, the song had a fake horn section in between verses, and I knew that I wanted to replace that with real flugelhorn eventually. Flugelhorn is kind of like a trumpet, but it’s bigger with a lower, more mellow, and more dorky sound. I had been listening to old songs by Burt Bacharach and I just loved that relaxed vibe that the flugelhorn gives off – and nobody uses it anymore! So I found a musician in Belgium called Groundfish and sent him some files showing him the basic horns I wanted in the song. I was keen to point out that the horns kind of bend downward at the end of the long notes, in a sad way, and Groundfish nailed it. He also played horns on Let’s Make Jam from the BAO EP.
The song remained in an unfinished state for about three years until the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018 when I touched up the mix, added some drum fills and accent sounds, and re-recorded some of the vocals. It was time to let this one go out into the world.
Musashi is a simple role playing game for mobile devices. Your character travels through ancient lands to battle opponents and win virtual gold. Players trade in that gold for armor and other powers for their characters. The thing that makes Musashi stand apart from other RPGs is that the fighting is ultra-simplified and is based on rock–paper–scissors. You can just play it casually while waiting for your coffee to get made. I really enjoy the game’s retro artwork, reminiscent of the Street Fighter II character art from the 1990s. And hopefully, players will also like the game’s music.
Overall, the Musashi soundtrack is mainly electronic music with many sampled and digitally distorted acoustic instruments. I used classic synthesizer sounds and effects as the basis of the music, while adding traditional world instruments to create certain vibes that match the scenes in the game. But even the real instruments were heavily altered using digital effects because I wanted everything to have a decayed, unnatural feeling. For example, most of the orchestra strings were played on a software version of a Mellotron so that there’s something unnatural about them, but you can’t quite place what it is. While the game required short, monophonic loops (one speaker only), the full versions on this album were mixed in stereo with a few additional effects that help create the illusion of large antique spaces.
Musashi’s music all started with the main melody that you hear in the Musashi Theme, played by a sampled and digitally distorted Erhu, an old Chinese two-stringed instrument similar to a fiddle. I came up with this melody while in the shower after having played around with the game for a couple days. I wanted a melody that felt like a conflict between seeking adventure and longing for home. Once I had this melody recorded onto my iPhone’s voice notes, the backing music came out pretty naturally. The last part I did on this song was to add an electric guitar with lots of delay and reverb. There was a Vietnamese guitarist that was hugely popular in the 80s and 90s named Vô Thường, whose style inspired my guitar part. You’ve probably heard his music playing in the background at the Pho restaurant. LOL. Here’s four hours of his insane music.
We decided early in the process that we should have a few musical themes that correspond to the various ancient lands that your Musashi character travels through in the game. My approach was to use the main melody from Musashi Theme and use variations of that throughout all the other themes, even though the rest of the music could be significantly different.
The Arabic and Siberian themes are probably my favorites. For the Arabic theme, I found a loop of some tablas that had a cool rhythmic pattern and tuned them to my liking. I then added some synthesized and sampled vocals and detuned them, causing a melted feeling. The rhythm of the vocals on some parts sounds a little like chanting, but it’s actually accomplished by taking a long and steady “ahhhh” sound and using something called sidechain compression to make the voices pulsate to the rhythm of the tablas. For the Siberian theme, I listened to a bunch of traditional music from Siberia and Mongolia, which helped me pick some instruments that had a similar vibe: a primitive flute, a clanky guitar, and some deep voices that sound almost like throat singing. Put all that on top of a pulsing electronic beat and you have Musashi’s Siberian Theme.
How did you like the music? Let me know in the comments. When Musashi becomes available to the public, you’ll be able to download the game on the Apple and Google stores. You can also support me in a few different ways:
Text me maybe: (629) 888-1938
I started writing Heavensent in a pretty traditional way – with a traditional structure: verses, chorus, bridge, etc. But the song wanted to be short and simple and unadorned. There are only five instruments in the entire production of the song. The song structure is a little bit untraditional in that there’s only one verse and one chorus (There’s even less on the stripped version). Near the end, you’ll hear some semi-chaotic guitar parts that mimic wind chimes – just random strikes of various notes. I borrowed this technique from a band I really loved in the early 2000s called Dilute, led by a brilliant artist named Marty Anderson. You can listen to one of their incredible albums here on Youtube.
The Ming & Ping remix of Heavensent is one of my favorite Ming & Ping remixes. Definitely up there with their remix of Thought Balloon by Freezepop. It’s weird that it seems faster than the original, but it’s in fact the same tempo. You can hear more Ming & Ping music on this “Everything BAO” playlist on Spotify (Pro Tip: follow the playlist to get updated as we add more songs to it).
If you enjoy the music, you can support me in a few different ways:
I had a lot of fun writing Do The Move and recording it with my live band. Ripping guitar solo by Jesse McInturff of the band VVIVES. Bass solo by Timm Shingler of the band Open Grave Surfers. Second mini guitar solo by BAO. Hype AF drum solo by Rogie Lucero from the band Purple Fuzz Machine. And a really cool synthwave remix by a new artist called Outer Night.
I’ll update shortly with some behind the scenes stuff. Oh hey – share this with your peeps!
You’ll probably hear some Ming & Ping elements in the new music, like the upbeat tempo, the rapid sequencing and arpeggiating of short musical notes, and the call-and-response style vocals on some parts. The call-and-response thing is a little different now. In the Ming & Ping songs they acted as a way to have Ming sing a part, balanced by a part sung by Ping. In the new music, it’s more influenced by James Brown’s funky soul music, which he clearly got from church. 🙏 You also hear a lot that I took from my biggest musical influence, The Purple One himself: Prince and specifically early 1980’s Prince and the Minneapolis sound he helped create. The “BAO EP” relies heavily on vintage drum machines like the Linn Drum, big juicy analog synthesizers like the Oberheim and Jupiter 8, and both funky Nile Rodgers-inspired guitar and distorted rock guitar. I also took huge musical cues from Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam regarding big drums, funky bass, and pretty melodies. Yes, that’s a lot of black music. Thank god for the music that African-Americans have contributed to our culture!
You’ll probably also hear some of the rock, grunge, R&B, and pop influences that I’ve absorbed. Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, and Smashing Pumpkins were my favorite bands in the 1990’s before I discovered electronic music like Autechre, Squarepusher and Aphex Twin. I’ve also always casually liked R&B and Hip Hop. Neo-Soul in the late 1990s was an influential moment for me–basically all the work that Questlove was involved in. I hated pop music as a kid, but I love it now that I’ve had a career in design and marketing. A pop song is like a perfect little treat: it’s quick, it hooks you, and if it’s good it’ll stick you with clear and simple message. These types of pop songs are what I aim to make.
The songs on my EP reflect a few things I care deeply about, including personal identity, mental health and life as a minority in America. I wanted the opening track to represent my experience as an immigrant because I felt that a lot of people could relate to a story that’s not often given an outlet. Fish Sauce essentially has the same story of negotiating and accepting being an outsider, which you can find in many of the Ming & Ping songs. A lot of it is a lighthearted look back on my own experiences, but also those of the Asian-American people as a whole. The song is not too serious because sharing my story is a way to grow and not a way to complain. The rap in Fish Sauce, for those of you who don’t speak Vietnamese, is satirizing the embarrassed reactions of the Vietnamese community when the (hypothetically) see me reclaiming the notoriously funky fish sauce as a symbol of pride.
Both Dani and Learn From It deal with identity and mental health. Dani is more about the support system you need around you, while the more somber Learn From It incorporates references to internalized racism and the Asian-American community’s reluctance to address mental health issues. If any of my songs helps even one person, I’ll consider myself a successful musician.
4th on the Floor and Let’s Make Jam deal with S-E-X because S-E-X is G-O-O-D. LOL WTF OMG. 4th is more about the nostalgia of past relationships, while Jam is just stupid and fun. What else do you want to know? Let me know in the comments.
I’ve got some Youtube videos upcoming that go a little deeper into some of these songs. Please subscribe to my channel so don’t miss when they come out. I have a lot of unreleased music that all center around some similar themes and styles. My goal is to release one new single each month along with some videos. I also look forward to collaborating with more talented people to create new songs, videos, and images. You wanna work together? Send me a message, or text me at 629-888-1938.
In the comments below, tell me what you think of this post and what else you wanna see. Thanks!