Welcome to Album Stories, where bands share with readers insights into the making of their album. This time around, we’ve invited Moonlapse, aka 21 year old composer Ben Strick, to share the stories of his debut album Conscious.
The story behind the album:
The idea for Conscious started when I was with some friends and we had the crazy but truthful thought, “Wow, literally the universe began, there was rocks and dust, and lots of space, and now suddenly there are objects originating from that stardust that are also parts of the universe experiencing themselves consciously and thinking about it… and those beings happen to be US right now!” It’s just too epic of an idea not to write an album about. (Universe → spherical rock → single celled organisms → BASS is an actually correct sequence of chronological events).
It’s easy to get caught up in the routines of everyday life and society, and forget to really think about stuff like that. Sure it’s easy to mention in passing, but it’s something else to really sit there and pick the idea apart in your brain. The advent of consciousness itself, the struggles that each individual conscious being undergoes, and the fact that we’re all chilling on a rock in space but jamming out to sick music and appreciating lots of life stuff is monumentally epic when you really take a few minutes to pause everything else and ponder it. In no way could I or anyone
else ever hope to write music that truly conveys the depth of this concept, but if I was able to paint even a faded picture of it I would be happy.
I like to think of Conscious as a concept album, but an obviously instrumental one. However, in accordance with the idea that sometimes the best graphics are the ones that appear and disappear in your head, I like to think that Conscious tells a story. I am a huge fan of cinematic music and movie scores and wanted the album to feel like a grand score to an epic tale. It might tell a different story with different images each time, but no matter I wanted that
story to contain a variety of human emotions (like many movies) over a long period of time. One of my favorite types of feedback to get from friends and fans is something like, “I can so picture this part, this is the part where the protagonist comes up over a cliff and is suddenly overlooking a massive landscape and the camera does a huge aerial pan and there’s a sense of fear and bravery” or (verbatim from a good friend of mine last night) “The song Conscious makes me feel like I just got shot while trying to save my girlfriend from aliens and now I’m lying on the ground,
reaching up with my hand in the air and there’s broken up asteroids all over the sky.” There’s really no limit to what the human mind can come up with, and it’s really exciting to me when my music can lead to people using their imagination and tell themselves stories, without them even making a conscious effort. Pun intended.
Ancestral Spirit: This is actually the earliest written song on the album and probably my second favorite. I wrote this over the summer on a rainy day after listening to some Stevie Ray Vaughan (Riviera Paradise and Lenny, in particular) and decided I need to make a soulful, bluesy track. I also wanted to play with the idea of using really common blues chord progressions with one or two ‘weird’ chords mixed in, and that’s how the song starts off. I
usually stick with the first or second lead solo I record, but for this one it took me many attempts to get that intro solo down. I really wanted to be thinking about each chord and use the notes/tones within them to guide the slide guitar. This is also when I first realized that sidechaining pads/choirs to my kick and snare drum sounds really unique when combined with a more organic/rock kit. I see no reason why pad/synth/bass sidechaining should be only heavily used in EDM/chill electronic and not rock or metal. I recall writing the rest of the whole song in one sitting, in a sort of trance. I mixed in some Opeth-style diminished chords and one metalcore style
breakdown to add extra ingredients to the mixed genre salad. This breakdown was also a musical turning point for me, where I realized I can channel the rhythmic energies of metal (my favorite genre) with softer, more rich instruments and still get something that I thought was good and that people could appreciate. Then at the end I decided to throw a bone to The Last Samurai soundtrack and make a really slow, patient melodic outro. It was really fun combing through Omnisphere to try and find the instruments that would give me that beautiful, ancient Eastern sound. It was after writing this song that I realized I should compose a whole album under a similar overall mindset. I wanted to let my mind and body flow with whatever creative sense arose while composing, keeping in mind a goal of surprising listeners with genre bending, unique sonic textures/instruments, and purposefully proggy/technical riffs (because they’re challenging, fun, and underrepresented in most modern music). Bringing in the influence of artists I love is definitely one of my favorite parts of making music… it’s really a great feeling and honor when someone says something like “Dude, that vibe is so Pink Floyd” or “Man that outro sounds like you listened to a ton of Hans Zimmer before writing it.”
A New Legend: Again, I mixed a whole bunch of artist influences in to this track. I also made it the second track because it picks up the pace of the album after the low tempo intro, Ever. I decided to channel the spirit of one of the ultimate legends, Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater, when I did the keyboard solo intro here. There are lots of ways to be progressive, and I tried many different experiments on the album, but for the first half of this song I wanted to convey the image of what someone might traditionally picture as already existing prog rock. I was also trying to use more conventional chords here and still keep that proggy vibe. The second half of the track I decided to switch it up and use some of my doom metal influences…the really slow half time drums, Be’Lakor style melodies, and a really long repeating section that drones on epically. Yet, I didn’t want it to be too hard or intense, because I felt the overall song should convey a heroic or happy vibe.
Ever: I had a really hard time choosing which track to start the album off with. I knew I was doing something musically different here, and that I wanted people (who have a million other potential music choices) to listen. I knew I was trying to appeal to fans of wildly different genres, and there are some potential issues there. I really haven’t ever met someone that disliked a Mixolydian scale so I decided that’d be a good place to start, and I figured a nice slide guitar solo with some chill drums would be able to be appreciated by the largest majority of people. The rest of the song implements a lot of my favorite techniques and gives the listener a pretty good idea of what to expect on the album. It’s not really possible to do that because each song has its own unique character, but I figured Ever best represents what I’m all about for initial listeners.
Our Vision / Our Awakening: For some sonic reason, using the phrygian dominant (Arabic) scale just sounds dark, mysterious, moody, and amazing. It’s my number 1 favorite scale to improvise and solo in. I didn’t want to overuse it on the album, so it really only shines in Our Vision and Our Awakening. It was on these two songs that I really wanted to get dark with the album. No movie would be complete without some problems to face… and in the cinematic scope of Conscious, these are the exotic and unknown moments of conflict. And, also like many movies, Our Awakening suddenly shifts into more common Western Scales to convey a sense of victory over whatever crazy action the listeners were picturing in their heads at that moment. For my second album that’s in the works, I’ve been using this scale/vibe a lot more.
Conscious: I wanted this to be the climax of the album. I took a lot of inspiration from the Halo soundtracks for this one. I had been listening to the Halo 4 and 3 soundtracks and got really inspired to create a track that made me think of something epic happening in space. I tried to use really light, pleasant textures in combination with some more complicated kick drum patterns. I let myself just improvise without even looking at the keyboard on the plain string parts to really produce an organic, intrinsic melody. This is probably my favorite song off the album, and I’m really proud of it.
The Distant Past: I’d say this is probably the most accessible track on the album, and another favorite of mine. I felt it was fitting to end the album with some emotional and distorted piano and let it just eventually fade off into nothing (kind of like consciousness does). The track conveys a sad yet hopeful sense of emotion that I don’t recall explicitly attempting to convey. It sort of just happened… that’s the way I was feeling that day. I wrote this around the middle of the album process and when putting the track listing together, I realized it deserved its place as the epilogue of the album (right after the intense ending events in Conscious).
Inheritance: This was almost the first song on the album, because it starts out with a nice string intro. However, I decided against that because I wanted to bring out the drums immediately with Ever to surprise listeners, instead of giving them what they might expect from an intro. I used a lot of the elements previously discussed in creating the track. The ending of the song is really not in any scale and I just sort of played some random chords while messing around and realized it sounded unique. I thought that was cool and added the overlying toms to give it an odd, mysterious feel, almost like the protagonist of a story not knowing what’s coming next.
Primeval Nature: This is the most recently written song off the album. The title of this track ties into the theme of
consciousness… it echoes back to an ancient time when our brains were in a primal state. At what point did our nature become that of a conscious self-reflecting being, and not of one that simply responds automatically to stimuli? I had been listening to a mix of Eluveitie and the soundtrack from Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker before I made this one. I wanted people listening to this song to picture themselves sailing out on a wooden ship into uncharted territory. The ending of the song is inspired by one of my all-time favorite albums, Eluveitie’s acoustic album The Arcane Dominion. This album really gave me a strong appreciation for world instruments, and I fell in love with that ancient world sound with the horns and Celtic instruments. I think this song tells a story more than any other song on the album in terms of the cinematic progression within the song.