Oneohtrix Point Never Told Us the Story Behind Every Single Track On 'Garden of Delete'
The Brooklyn-based producer's sixth album is full of pubescent shape-shifting and horror movie flashbacks.
Even by Oneohtrix Point Never standards, Garden of Delete is a pretty out-of-the-box electronic music experience. Recorded after a stint opening for Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden on tour, OPN's eighth studio album has been billed, variously, as the producer's attempt at a "rock album," and the mutant byproduct of a mysterious data stick full of MIDI files from a fictional 90s metal band called Kaoss Edge. In a seeming tribute to the mainstream alt rock and industrial music that soundtracked Daniel Lopatin's youth, there's beat programming that sounds like heavy metal drum fills on steroids; voices pushed to demonic, pitched extremes; testosterone-fueled guitar licks worthy of Slash himself. To hear the producer speak of it, though, Garden of Delete is first and foremost a guided tour through the producer's own psychological and physical experience of adolescence—filtered through the prism of his free-wheeling and future-gazing production style.
"To me, Garden of Delete is a way of describing the idea that good things can bloom out of a negative situation," the producer explained to THUMP on our Beats1 radio show this past weekend. "All the traumatic experiences I had during puberty, ugly memories and ugly thoughts in general can yield something good, like a record or whatever. It was just a little message to myself to not run away from things that gross you out or frustrate you."
Over the course of the segment, Lopatin opened up about the conceptual underpinnings and archival inspirations behind four of the tracks on the record. Purchase the album via Warp, stream the Noisey Radio episode here, and read on for a full song-by-song breakdown, straight from Lopatin himself.
"Intro" contains some sounds of children's voices: laughter, and reactions to watching television in this zombie state, the way you do when you're sucked into a show. It's just an exercise in transforming the voice, going in between high and low pitches, which is a nice allegory for puberty. There's also a kind of demonic cackling that happens, and it sounded to me like an abstract conversation between [the children] and an apathetic demon that's not around but is kind of talking to them.
I don't remember how, but I came upon a sample that sounded like the word "Ezra," so I ran with that as a track title. It gave me an excuse to develop the greater universe in which this record lives, and the character of Ezra, who is an amateur music blogger and a super fan of a fictional band called Kaoss Edge. This song ended up seeming like his anthem, but at the time, it was just a sample, and there was none of that lore surrounding it.
This album is similar to Replica in that the armature of a track will be a sample, and that will suggest other interesting things to do around it. To me, "Ezra" is a bit like a Replica track on steroids, but there's a bit-synth section in the middle, which is something I would only toy with as a layer on Replica. I titled the middle section of the track "Contra," because it had this primal video game vibe to it. I like that section because it has this weird, militaristic Russian war cry sound followed by upright bass, which is just ridiculous. And then there's this mid-tempo, Guns and Roses-style outro where I was trying to [reproduce] a generic "Slash" vamp.
Eccojams are a very simple exercise where I just take music I like, and I loop up a segment, slow it down, and put a bunch of echo on it—just to placate my desire to hear things I like without things I don't. This Eccojam is just a nod and salute to my fans that love [the Chuck Person's Eccojams Vol. 1] tape. It's a John Martin sample from [his 1973 album] Solid Air. John Martin was a great, complex folk singer, and later on, his music became more and more melancholic as he went through a separation with his wife. On this Eccojam, it seems like he was saying, "I don't know what's going on inside," which I thought was a great puberty slogan.
4. Sticky Drama
"Sticky Drama" is a couple of things. I'm sure other people would be able to explain it better than I can, but Stickydrama was kind of a gossip site with a chat board—just an awkward, prototypical web-hang place. It was associated with Jessi Slaughter, who experienced one of the first examples of horrible Internet bullying after she accused a member of Blood on the Dancefloor of raping her.
I just love the phrase "sticky drama," because it also suggests a kind of wet-dream situation. I had been reading Julia Kristeva's Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, in which she suggested that although we try to repress things that come out of us, we're still curious about them. For example, when you sneeze, you look at the napkin for a second before you throw it in the trash. That's such an amazing example of how we haven't totally phased out this primal part of evolution.
This track is crazy: a lot of lyrics emerged from typing weird things that sounded right with the rhythm I wanted for the vocal melody in a speech synthesis software called Chipspeech. With Chipspeech, I could spell stuff out and play it chromatically on the keyboard. So I would write these vocal melodies without word a lot of the time, then retroactively put lyrics to them. A lot of times I had to smash words into spaces that didn't make sense; there were some references to the obsession with fame, and being willing to do anything to have your picture taken and be somewhere. There are two singing characters—one is a starlet and lead singer and the other is the devil on her shoulder, and they're interacting.
This record to me is all about finding ways to be a drummer without using drums or drum sounds, although I do use kicks under every wailing, lead guitar-esque sound. I wanted to make a piece of music that sounded nothing like anything I had heard before—something that had this intense contrast of bubble-gum and a hyper-abstracted version of metal.
"SDFK" is interesting because it consists of two samples. One is a John Adams sample, from "Dream in White on White." The other is a very long sample of an industrial band called Grotus. Calling them an industrial band is a bit of an insult, though, because they're so much more than that. Their track was called "Brown," which is actually kind of disgusting and provocative; I feel like they're always dealing with these kinds of fecal scenarios. "SDFK" is just a vowel-less abbreviation of "sad fuck." I was trying to see how much of someone else's music I could just slap inside another piece of music. I really do love that piece, and it does work as a pivot point leading into "Mutant Standard."
6. Mutant Standard
This record was originally supposed to be called Mutant Standard. A lot of my thoughts on the record were about dealing with puberty and how your pubescent body is essentially the staging area for all this mutation—but it's also predictable, because we all know what happens during puberty. I have this interest in mutation and entropy, because it seems like a very candid assessment of the universe we live in. We like to think that things are stable, but with enough time, any number of objects or ideas or bodies inevitably change. I think mutation on a biological level is as punk as anything can be—it just flies in the face of order.
The song "Mutant Standard" is what happens if you drink 20 Mountain Dews. You burn down a house and the sugar wears off and you just crash super hard. The end of "Mutant Standard" has this very specifically sour, dissonant chrome color—kind of like a palate cleanser. A lot of that track—even the penultimate section—is very pretty, and then you're left in this puddle. The second half of the record, with the exception of "I Bite Through It," is very depressing.
7. Child of Rage
"Child of Rage" is named after two films. One is a documentary called Child of Rage; it's about a girl named Beth Thomas who has Reactive Attachment Disorder, which is something that makes you act out and have violent thoughts and negative feelings toward people who love you. There was a made-for-TV movie about Thomas as well. The documentary vilifies her a lot, and really makes her seem like a little monster with the use of the music, even though it was meant to sympathize with her situation and her pain. Watching it in 2015 made me feel awkward, but when I was 16, I watched it entertain myself.
After realizing that's not a good thing to do, I did some research on Beth Thomas and found out that she's a perfectly well-adjusted human being who lives in Phoenix and has become an advocate for this disorder. If I'd never done the research, [the documentary] would have lived on in my mind as this weird thing that's no better entertainment than Chucky or something, with a human being essentially being reduced to this psychotic creature. I wanted to make a piece of music not about Beth Thomas or the documentary, but about my journey through living with that video at different points of my life and what it means to me. It's a bit sad, but there's also a kind of hopefulness in the music, which is my little homage to Beth.
Around spring 2015, I thought the record was finished. And I played the entirety of it for a friend, and he said, "Yeah, I like the record, but I have a problem with this one track, because it's boring." I threw that track out, but then I didn't have enough music for a record, so I was like, "Shit, I have to write a new song." The whole time I had wanted to write a ballad; "Child of Rage" is kind of like [a ballad], but it still has this mid-tempo quality to it. I wanted to do something even slower, so I thought, "Okay, let's just sit down at the piano and come up with one nice progression, then do this nice mantra-esque vocal melody over it."
I'd been reading [Oxford professor and philosopher] Nick Bostrom's stuff about artificial intelligence, and in the course of reading that, someone—Nick or some other thinker—suggested a scenario where far more evolved beings than we are would just ignore us, the way we ignore animals and insects. We wouldn't pose a big enough risk to them to deserve eradication. That thought scared me so much—imagining a cyborg ignoring you. He's not even going to take time to kill you. I liked that thought, and I used a metaphor of a couple sitting on a bench in front of the zoo and laughing, realizing that could easily be a [situation]] that humans find themselves in.
The entirety of this song is extremely nihilistic. It takes place in two different time periods: the first cycle is contemporary day, here at the zoo, and the second cycle takes place at this medieval court with a king and a dying queen. The king character realizes that although he's completely devastated, he needs to move forward with his obligations as king.
The final observation I try to make in those lyrics is basically about something I caught me and my significant other doing, which is waking up in the morning and both immediately looking at our phones and facing away from each other. If you were to photograph that from a bird's eye view, it would so sad.
9. I Bite Through It
"I Bite Through It" is a good one to think about with "Freaky Eyes," because they're both about the love of form. Looking at a lot of pulpy paperback horror and stuff, I wanted to make a few pieces of music in tribute to specific formal gimmicks from horror—the pleasure derived from biting through food, for instance, versus [the one derived] from watching a creature or demonic force piercing through skin. You can create a super-cut of all the times you see someone screaming in a horror movie; I wanted to encapsulate that kind of cliché from horror, so this is my little homage.
The most appropriate time in one's life for that content to make sense is puberty, because your body is a site of all these horrific things, and I think kids like watching horror movies because they feel that way—they're little aliens, so they can relate to it. I also think that one of the most satisfying and endearing parts of humanity is that we speculate on physical forms that don't match up to our own. Science fiction to me is the ultimate art form, because it speculates on bodies and worlds that don't exist. [Fantasy worlds] just endlessly satisfy me, because without them we would never imagine anything different than ourselves.
This song was also a little bit of luck, because there are somehow a bunch of samples next to each other that sounded like "I Bite Through It" to me. That was not intentional. That song is just focused on syncopation and just getting things to rhythmically enhance each other through contrasts.
10. Freaky Eyes
The way you know somebody's been possessed is through their eyes; their body's okay, their face is alright, but their eyes are green. "Freaky Eyes" has a Roger Rodier sample in the middle, and to me, that piece of music has a lot of components of Italian horror scores. After this big organ crescendo, I slam the breaks into this info-tech beep, and then you're in the Roger Rodier sample, which to me is the cliché from horror where the couple's having sex in the car and it's all fogged up, and you know that sex means someone's about to die.
In the studio I'm usually working, but I also have my email open and Google Hangouts or whatever. I want to be connected; otherwise, I'm just in this dungeon with no lights or real air. [Matt Mondanile from] Ducktails sent me that [Rodier] song while I was working on "Freaky Eyes." That's how Ducktails left his mark on Garden of Delete.
"Lift" is a mid-tempo ballad that I always compare to [Aerosmith's] "Janie's Got a Gun." The vocals on it are these chopped up and processed, preset EDM vocals that I found on this rompler software VST called reFX Nexus, which is basically purchasing finished music to play with your hands. A lot of the stuff from reFX Nexus was pretty boring, but I really liked this fake, Skrillex-like EDM vocal thing.
When I wrote out all the lyrics, it became this romantic yet slightly depressing ballad about co-dependency. It's reminds me of a series of text messages I'd send to someone I miss. If you're at a party and you're waiting for your girlfriend or boyfriend to show up, and you're just texting them instead of being at the party—to me, that's co-dependency. Co-dependency gets a bad rap, and I think that's silly, because I think it's sweet that people can't live without each other.
12. No Good
"No Good" is the last track on the record, and it's held together by this sample from a piece of music by Hans Reichel, a German guitarist and inventor of the daxophone. I used his sample, wrote the vocal melody around it, and added a stoner-metal riff in the second half of the tune. It's actually a country song to me, with the theme, "I know I messed up this relationship and someone's going to have to move somewhere else." I've been in that moment a couple of times when I didn't want to be in the place where the sight of agony has occurred, so I'm usually the one who's leaving and moving somewhere. The first half of the song is like, "Hey, I know I fucked up, so I'm going to pack up and go."
In the second half, the lyrics are a bit broader—just super atheistic. The general point of view on that track is acquiescing to not believing in anything. I'm a pretty happy person, but my philosophy is closer to nihilism than anything else. The poetry of seeing things that way has always appealed to me, and I just think it's more seductive than being happy. It's the same reason that I didn't really like Mozart, but I loved his Requiem.
Every detergent commercial I've ever watched as a child is like, "Don't you want the whitest laundry?" Then you have all this evidence around you of chaos, and scraped knees is just the beginning of it. There's such a contrast between the world that you're sold and the one you live in. But then you realize that the chaos is actually kind of fun, alluring, productive, seductive, and not something you need to hide or run away from. That's what this record is about.