Palace Of A Thousand Sounds is Whatitdo Archive Group's follow up to 2021's acclaimed The Black Stone Affair. Leaning into the esoteric and arcane, and adventuring further than before, Palace Of A Thousand Sounds was recorded in an all analogue studio from the past in Nevada. The record will be available May 5th, 2023 on the legendary Record Kicks label. Palace of a Thousand Sounds ventures into mid-century exotica and library music—from the Tropicalia-steeped Amazon to the minor key tonalities of the far-out Near East. Here's the bands take on how all this musical goodness all happens...
1. Enter The Palace
This track’s purpose was to only serve as an introduction to the palace in its entirety. The hard-panned vibraphones and sweeping pedal harp give the impression of a typical exotica record; which is exactly the tone I wanted to set before bringing the listener into what was truly in store for them. Originally part of the following song, this track was later separated.
2. Beyond The Crimson Veil
This was actually the last song I wrote for the record. I felt like the album needed a super grand entrance the way that a palace boasts a magnificent doorway. Again, the intention was to lure the listener in with the impression that this was going to be a typical dollar bin exotica record. Those albums are almost exclusively written in a major tonality, but you’ll notice that as the beginning of the song develops, the key tonality toggles between major and minor thanks to the ‘Quiet Village’ inspired bassline. As act two of the song kicks in, we are suddenly transported into a full on ethio-jazz minor key groove. This sets the tone for the rest of the record as a whole. This song had to be a bait-and-switch of sorts for the listener— something that truly embodied walking beyond a mysterious veil, not knowing what you may encounter. This is truly what the record is all about.
Astral-Desia was the first song I wrote for the album and was deeply inspired by ‘70s Spanish Gypsy Rock among other things. I started with the bassline, which is one of my favorite basslines I’ve ever written. I slowly added in my transistor organ into the mix to solidify a rock solid groove. The bassline and melody that developed in this tune took me by surprise at first because I initially heard it as two different keys centers later settling on just one. There may still be remnants of that polytonality left over. Among the 20 some-odd musicians that were hired to perform on this record, the spotlight really shines on the vibraphonist, who takes one of the creepiest vibraphone solos I’ve ever had the pleasure of recording.
My bandmate, Mark and I approached this song not knowing where it was going to take us, we only knew that we wanted something that ‘cooks’. We had it tentatively titled “Kill Bill” for really long time because the bassline and guitar part that we started with made us feel like this should be in one on Tanatino’s movies. The more we got deeper into the song we knew that it was going to be one of the more orchestral moments of the record. We relied heavily on the legendary arranger, Louis King to take this song to the next level. I had sketched out some very simple melodic figures for the violins which Lou immediately ran with. He brought this song into a world that we never expected and we’re super happy with the result. This album is full of little exotica easter eggs and Delirium has a few hidden itself. Some of which are slight nods to one of my favorite composers ever, Juan Garcia Esquivel. If you’re a fan of his music, you’ll know exactly what types of things we utilized from his arranging style into the song.
By far the most straightforward exotica track on this record, heavily inspired by the man, the myth, the legend: Martin Denny. The obstacle with writing in this genre of music is that almost nothing exists in a minor key, so finding a way to create using an exclusively minor key posed itself as a very big obstacle. I ultimately had to look to artists like David Axelrod, and Johnny Harris for melodic inspiration. Much like our previous record, The Black Stone Affair, we approached this album with intense record digging and musical research in order to be fully submerged into that time period of songwriting, and this song is a direct reflection of that research. It also helps that I’ve been an Exotica enthusiast since mid high school!
6. Sun Harp
On the quest to write music for this record, lots of listening was required. Beyond listening to the standard classics of Les Baxter and Martin Denny, Italian library music was also deeply digested as well, and this song was born from that perspective. This one took probably the longest to write and spent a couple months tinkering, rearranging, chopping and moving measures around before I felt like I finally landed on the final version of the song. There was even a moment in the studio where I was making up the vibraphone parts on the spot in order to capture the correct essence for this slow burning track. This could be one of my favorite songs on the album simply because of the patience it demonstrates throughout the three minutes before exploding into a beautiful Axelrod-ian outro. Another easter egg moment is when the violins quote one of my favorite Bollywood movie themes for about 8 bars.
7. The Cashmere Chamber
Mark and I both knew that we needed a song that when the needle dropped, would be an absolute banger. We very quickly wrote this song in a matter of a day or two. Tak Shindo was another famous exotica composer from the ‘60s and ‘70s that we wanted to pay tribute to within this record, and I think we found that with the melodic figures during the A and B sections. The song needed a super explosive third act, and so I paid tasteful tribute to our lovely Australian friends, Surprise Chef with a little nod to what they’ve been cooking up down there. Despite the friendly influences, we ultimately landed on a song that is uniquely ‘us’ and is a definitive cut that encapsulated the record as a whole.
8. Iron Tusk
One afternoon, Mark brought in this bossa-type melody he had been working on and wanted to find a super heavy groove to put it over, so we started listening to some Ethiopian 45s, and quickly arrived at what we think is one of the unsung heroes of the record. The name Iron Tusk comes from the feeling that we got hearing it with all of the brass laid on top. It sounds like an elephant made completely out of metal was stomping around destroying everything in its path.
In a way, it’s our drummer Aaron that is the one stomping, driving home one of the heaviest grooves on the album here.
9. Secrets In The Sand
When I first started developing the parameters of how to write this album, I was deeply opposed to using any chords. I wanted it to be all linear melodic parts that fit together to create the harmonic content. Alas, I broke my own rule and thought that this classical guitar in 6/8 was entirely appropriate to break up the heavy 4/4 feel that the rest of the record utilizes. Another rule that was used throughout is the use of only 1 to 2 specific scales. Miraculously those scales still worked on top of this moving chord progression which gives the album a new harmonic dimension.
From the conception of our group back in 2009, we have always been a ‘funk band’ at heart. This album would just not be complete without a nod to where we came from, so Mark and I both created Mirage. It’s no surprise that we are huge fans of global music and eastern psych rock so it only felt right to have one of the ‘palace rooms’ explore this specific sound and energy we have loved for many many years. We are also treated to a fantastic flute solo by way of the talented multi-instrumentalist, Lucas Arizu.
11. Ritual Of Gods
Ritual Of Gods, is one of those songs that emerged from so many different worlds of inspiration: Italian library music, Turkish funk and Ethio-jazz. Looking back at all the demos of this song, I noticed that there are about five very different versions of this tune before we finally settled on this specific iteration. At one point it was about to be a Big Band Jazz tune! We quickly realized that there was just too much going on and we needed something that was a little bit more ominous and sinister. After stripping away a lot of the craziness, we are left with a fantastic groove accompanied by the turkish baglama saz, vibraphone and distant piano.
12. The Second Moon
This pseudo-exotica record would not be complete without the iconic, slow ballad that the genre can be known for from time to time. The fantastic Shawn Lee provided some strange percussion instruments from his studio out in London and really sealed the deal on this song. I had been writing the main melody A section for the song off and on over a couple months and knew that it was incomplete without an exquisite bridge. I tasked Mark one evening to come up with some chords and melody that would really take this song over the finish line. He came back to the studio the next day and completely knocked it out of the park with one of the coolest B sections I could have imagined. His younger sibling, Chris performed this piece on a grand piano with a single RCA 44 microphone capturing this haunting performance.
13. Forbidden Cove
My studio is located downtown and one afternoon I was walking back from lunch and noticed the distant sound of a street performing guitarist. He was too far away for me to actually hear what he was playing but the music was reverberating throughout all the buildings creating a swimming pool effect. Without being able to tell what he was actually doing, I heard a strange melody emerge that took me by complete surprise. It was a melody that I knew I had to use. I quickly sang it into my phone and walked closer to the performer. He was just jamming on an E blues to a karaoke style backing track. I completely misheard what this guy was doing over there but it ended up being one of my favorite melodies on the entire record. It’s no secret that Menahan Street Band‘s production value played a gigantic role in how I recorded and produced this album, and as this song developed further in the studio you can definitely hear their influence come through.
Main image, borrowed from the Record Kicks website...
Palace of a Thousand Sounds is available on May 5th.