Behind The Music of Super Turbos & Temples 2
Iconic JDM 80's car meets Iconic JDM 80's synthesiser!
Music is always an important part of our films and we try to make a real connection between the cars and the music ("Put your hands up, pull your... " yup you get the idea). ‘Super Turbos & Temples 2’ was no exception with new original music throughout, some old favourites, and a new closing track called ‘Take Me Back To Tokyo’.
I originally started working on the song before we left for Japan. It had the working title ‘Night Drive’ as I knew that we would end up driving around Tokyo at night to finish the film, as long as the car actually made it that far. Being a car that was developed in the 1980’s in Japan, I decided to build the song around an iconic 1980’s vintage synthesiser called the Roland JUNO-60 that came out in 1982. While its release was a few years before the development of the SuperTurbo, it was also somewhat revolutionary for its time. It was one of the first popular polyphonic analogue synthesisers with 6 note polyphony (most around this time could only play a single note). This meant that it could actually play chords with up to 6 notes as opposed to the popular monophonic synths that had proliferated the music scene throughout the 1970s. It also had an onboard stereo chorus effect which made for super lush sounding chords and was used by groups such as The Cure, Flock of Seagulls and Enya.
While it has an incredible sound, it lacks any kind of external computer control or note activation by MIDI so everything has to be played in manually rather than being programmed. After coming up with the basic chords, I played the keyboard and recorded the takes into ProTools, then started layering in the different sounds including lead synths, and bass while tweeking the filters in real time to give it some life. The pads, bass and lead sounds you hear in the song feel retro because they are, and to bring it into the modern era it’s supplemented with some more modern synth engines.
Once I had the basic structure down I needed to write the lyrics. I wanted the song to be a love song to a city, yet I wrote in an ambiguous way so that there is some uncertainty in relation to whether the song is about a place or a person. I was writing music for hire for years and people would always want me to write music about an event or a product, but once you add lyrics it's always easier to sing about a person than a shampoo.
Once I had the basic lyrics down, it was a matter of me singing the different parts so I could show the vocalist what it should sound like. I actually sing guide vocals on all of the songs that have appeared on MCM before the vocalist comes in. While I’m a very average singer, I can hit the right notes to be able to show them what kind of sound and melody I’m looking for. At the same time I wanted it to be clear that the sound was based around the city of Tokyo and have this be prominent in the lyrics. After I finished music school, I later studied lyric writing through Berklee College in the states by correspondence and one of the key things I learned during my time of study there was to try and make a lyrical point as succinctly as possible. ‘Take Me Back To Tokyo’ seemed pretty straight forward so that became the only lyric used throughout the chorus.
By the time I had my rough vocals on it (which sounded pretty rough) and the song structure laid out, I mixed a version down so I could listen to it in my car, on my phone and a few different speaker set ups so I could hear how my basic mix and structure would translate. This is always a good idea because what sounds good in one room may sound flat in another. Enhancing bass to compensate for a sonic deficiency in your room means it will sound too bassy everywhere else so it’s important that you mix in a neutral acoustic environment or at least a room or headphones that you’re really familiar with so you don’t over compensate the sound.
After a few listens I decided that the song was just not going to cut it so I decided to bin it. This is a hard step to take, but from my work as a commercial composer it’s also something that I know you need to jump out of once the ship starts sinking, otherwise you’ll over invest time in something that you actually don’t like that much and nobody else will like either. This happens a bit - you get to a point and then realise that it’s not really working out so you have to either bin it and start something new, or change it up somehow. Sometimes just changing a sound or adjusting a melody can be all the difference to give it a new life.
I was fully committed to binning it until I listened again the following morning and felt like maybe there was something there. I decided to give it one more day of my time. I added some vocal harmonies, some extra synth parts and then just decided to complete the task and send it. By this stage we were back in Australia, filming had finished in Japan and we were running out of time for a Christmas release so I was back in my Sydney studio committed to getting it done one way or another.
I called my mate Glenn Cunningham who is a phenomenal singer. We've known each other for ages and have worked together for around 10 years. He was a finalist on The Voice and has performed with loads of Australian music royalty like Jimmy Barnes, Delta, Tina Arena and Guy Sebastian. We’ve done so many sessions together over the years that we really know how each other work and it's super comfortable - hopefully something that you can feel while listening to the song. He's performed on countless tracks of mine over the years, both personal and professional including ads for Mazda and the song I wrote for IGA Supermarkets. Last year he performed on my track ‘Parachute’ which appeared on the Cresta series that ended up taking pole position on electronic charts in numerous countries and I was keen to bring him in to do some more - half to hang out and half to cut a strong vocal track!
The whole session took around 3 hours and we decided to track the vocals in the same room rather than record him in my vocal booth. In the past people had usually separated all the musicians with the goal of getting the best sonic separation and control but you can lose some connection and it can feel sterile. So we set up in the same room with him singing right next to me on keys and tracked all the parts. Once the vocals were in I kept the sonic chain really simple as I wanted the vocals to feel authentic. They simply have an R-compressor, EQ, a plate reverb and then a stereo delay is automated via an auxiliary to get repeats of important words or gaps in phrasing.
I mixed out a double chorus section and sent it down to my cousin Glenn Howard who is a Melbourne based guitarist, singer and song writer. I was after an epic solo and he nails it everytime! Back when I was a teenager we used to jam down in the basement at his house in Melbourne. His brother had a huge drum kit set up so I’d bash away as Glenn played old metal classics and listen to records by Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. Just like the ‘Quarter Mile Dreams’ record, I was looking for an emotional, and soulful 80’s inspired guitar solo and within a day he sent me back a demo and that idea he sent me is pretty much exactly as it appears on the final song.
With the solo done, and all of the vocal parts in I was close but it still needed something else to make it feel finished - it needed that final 1%. I ended up adding female vocals (JS7 who I've recorded with for years) during some key lines and the bridge - almost as if Tokyo was singing back in a duet. I also added a robotic choral vocoder section with thick voiced chords that runs under the bridge vocals. It really brings that feeling of 80's Japanese technology to life. And with that the song was done with less than 2 hours until it had to be distributed.
I sent a copy to both Glenns and thanked them for their awesome work and to make sure they were both happy with it. I was much happier with the song, in fact it had really grown on me and I was excited to release it, but I also wanted to set expectations because the last release I had worked on with them (‘Parachute’) had gone #1 all over the place so the bar was set pretty high. Next step was for me to make the artwork and then do the distribution and wait for it to process.
All up the track probably took around 50 hours to write, record, produce, mix and master. It played over a scene that we shot in Tokyo over about 1 hour on our last night there. The song came online just in time for the release of the second part of the film and amazingly started climbing the iTunes electronic Charts on release. Within a day 'Take Me Back To Tokyo' went #1 in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Finland, Netherlands, #6 in the UK and #8 in the USA.
A huge thank you to everyone who left comments about the music and who also grabbed a copy. We're really proud of the how the film and the music turned out and it's amazing that so many of you supported it enough for it to chart so well. Getting to play with cars, tools, cameras and music is a really unique way to spend our days and something that we're really grateful to be able to do.
Thanks again and looking forward to the next one!
Take Me Back To Tokyo is available on iTunes, the MCM website and all Good Digital Music Stores