The writing of Circuits happened quite differently from past songs. The style shifts more than once during the song, as does the mood. It begins rather mysteriously, with that dark pulsing tone that transitions into a barrage of beeps and chirps that all audibly grabb for attention, all the while keeping rhythm with the song. It’s as if the machines are speaking, singing their own song. The tune turns a sharp corner during the introduction to the verse. We wanted to incorporate the mechanical nature of the song into our playing, which took some time and practice as well. Mat started with a handful of rhythms and beats and laid down some tracks that I later chopped up into segments and clips that we used to achieve the rigid electronic feel you hear throughout the song. The exciting part for us was merging the electronic and rock elements into one song. This meant recording all the samples and instruments before remixing and editing the pieces together.
Amy’s sister, Terry, was a huge motivator and helper when it came time to sample. I’d toss around ideas in my head for months, trying to formulate inside what I wanted to hear, never getting anything committed to tape (or disc). One afternoon, visiting down south in Arkansas, I mentioned to Terry what I was trying to do and how I wanted it to sound. She quickly said, “well why not try this… or this?”. Within an hour we were capturing what I’d mulled over for months. I remember getting home and was eager to put the sounds in the song, realizing that there was still a lot of work ahead.
All the samples we captured were from various electronic devices, like car door warning chimes, fuzz busters, radios, pagers, phones, sewing machine, children’s toys, electric razors, among other things. It took a long while to import the files and then find the usable sounds, filter them, equalize them as needed, volume match them, and then set sample in and out trim points. But it sure was worth it when it all came together. We almost used the sounds throughout the song in other ways but feared the overuse would take away from the song. Placing them in the song and timing that part out was something that took maybe a day to do. What’s a day though when doing what you love!
Amy’s bass lines are like the secret weapon in Circuits. The song wouldn’t sound the same with any other bass line. Her lines move and change, like gears, rhythmically and stylistically. If you’ll notice, there are many stops and starts with the bass, giving space back to the song, which translates to a bit closer mix. I think it also pulls you into those lines and melodies more as well, but I’m a sucker for bass, so I’d be a wee bit biased.
The guitar was originally meant to play throughout the entire song, grinding the way through. It didn’t work out that way. It doesn’t even come into play on the master until the second half of the first verse. It’s not until the chorus that you really feel its presence. It’s at that point where the song makes another turn and actually sounds upbeat and almost pop. I sometimes have this issue with repetition, maybe to a fault. I wanted to hear something different for the second verse, and that may be my personal favorite part of the song. There’s this drone guitar thing happening during that section that really felt right, that speaks underneath the vocal. Mat also has a second snare drum part happening during the chorus that adds a nice snap and pop to the mix, so you hear that showcased a few times in the song, especially during the chorus breakdown section.
The end of the song is more of a reflective moment, as if to gently remind us that we all need to stop and breathe deeply, taking in the moment of life. There is quite a bit of acoustic guitar in Building Machines, but in two of the songs I used a guitar that I had just bought called a McPherson. The end of Circuits and also Unconditional are the two songs it’s used on. If I remember correctly, the microphone technique used for both of those songs was rather unconventional. Instead of doing an XY pattern or MS pattern, we went for a very wide stereo image by placing the microphones very far apart, facing toward the soundhole, which captured the sound you hear in the song. Most avoid the technique for issues with phasing, but I felt it was worth the tradeoff. It is art, after all. ~Troy