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The expression goes that the eyes “are the windows to the soul,” but when it comes to Shallou, Souls is the “window” to sonic narrativization.
Released in April 2018, Souls set out to translate the cyclical intimacies and distances of a relationship into song. A delve further into a distinctive style of electronic sound comprised of indie, dream-pop, and ambient house constructions, Souls duly emerged as a refined conceptual project that showcased Shallou’s deftness in melding elements of different genres, and related a romantically centered story without total reliance on lyrical expression.
The romantic nature of the seven-track EP’s narrative focus is apparent in individual song titles like “You and Me,” “…Lost,” and “Lie,” but for some of the tracks on the EP like “Sigh” and “…Lost,” the titles provide the only concrete words found in relation to the given song, leaving technical elements like BPM tempo and instrumental tone to do the expressive work that lyrics typically perform. “You and Me,” Kasbo and Cody Lovaas feature, “Find,” “Vignette,” “Lie,” and “Skin” by contrast offer listeners lyrically concrete developments in the at times tenuous relationship between the fictional lovers.
The production of an EP can parallel the course of a relationship in that the artist too might drift from and return to the project in the same way that one of the hypothetical lovers on Souls strays from the other, only to flutter back in time. Curious about Shallou’s in-studio approach to crafting Souls, Dancing Astronaut caught up with the producer to talk Souls’ track by track conception, and how Shallou’s musical vision translates to his live performances as the LA talent prepares for a slew of headlining fall tour dates.
Listeners can catch Shallou at Breakaway Music Festival on August 26. Learn more about the festival, here.
Dancing Astronaut: Can you talk a little bit about your vision for your most recent EP, Souls?
Shallou: Souls was a pivotal project for me because I wanted to flesh out some of the visual and sonic ideas from the All Becomes Okay EP. Music-wise, these songs have more traditional song forms, some pop-appeal, while keeping the ambient instrumental aspects that helped me reach an audience in the first place. Visually, the artwork continues to build out this world the little character in the corner is exploring. I wanted to blend my favorite things about indie, dream-pop, ambient and dance into something that felt different in the electronic space, but something unique that doesn’t overly focus on drops. I wanted to create my own beautiful sound without limiting it to the edm world. Electronic music shaped me as a producer, but I have a deep love for folk and indie rock as well which I showcased in the Souls Sessions that just came out on Youtube.
The idea of ‘Souls’ came from this idea of collaboration and exploring the intimacy of a relationship with the help of other artists and singers. Each song has its own story of love blooming or caught in flux, some lyrics expressing concrete emotions (“Lie”;”You and Me”) and some more ethereal concepts (“Vignette”, “Sigh”). “Souls” expresses the intense moments of intimacy and distance that come with every long-term relationship. With All Becomes Okay, I was inspired by the concept of the cycle of life (hence the all over my social media) but with Souls I was inspired by the concept of the cycle of a relationship.
Dancing Astronaut: Being that the EP tells a sonic story of two lovers who both gravitate towards one another and experience disconnects, I’m really interested to hear how you approached the EP’s production. Did you sequentially craft this story song by song, tailoring each individual song to the sonic narrative? Or did you produce these songs in a more random order, later finding a way to make them dovetail to tell this story? I’m curious about the extent to which the concept influenced the order in which you produced the EP’s 7 tracks.
Shallou: The EP story kind of just came together that way. I feel like everyone’s writing instinct is to speak about their love and relationships, so the songs with features came together first. I was then able to piece together a story from those singles and tracks that were written by just me specifically for the EP (i.e. Vignette, Sigh, Lost). I think the best way to craft a story is to just start with your instinct and see where it takes you creatively. Its much easier to make things for a story that happens naturally then to try and make a story from scratch. I sequenced the songs by key as well. Sigh was an intro I had been sitting on for a long time and I used that key and certain ideas from it to create the instrumental for “Find” w/Kasbo. Same with Vignette. “Lost” functioned as a sort of instrumental intro to “Lie” because they shared keys as well.
Dancing Astronaut: Can you also talk a little about how your production of this EP differed (in any way) from your debut EP, All Becomes Okay, released back in 2017?
Shallou: The production on this EP has higher BPM counts, and thus a little more energy. For example, “Vignette” is 120 and “You and Me” is 113 which are my highest tempos yet. I think overall this EP is a little bit dancier and more vocal heavy. I think its easier for people to relate to tracks with vocals on them, evidenced by the recent explosion of producer-singer/rapper collabs across all genres. I really enjoy aspects of that trend and I wanted each track to have a perfect marriage of vocal + instrumental, some by throwing some of my own vocals chopped up in there so they feel like truly “our” songs.
Dancing Astronaut: You’ve clearly carved out a niche for yourself in ambient house circles, and there’s an inimitable indie influence that’s perceptible in your productions. You recently toured alongside Big Gigantic and played some of your very first headlining shows. What’s been most important to you when it comes to playing these headlining dates—do you have a specific vision for your live shows in terms of the ambience or production involved in these show dates?
Shallou: I have to admit I was a little intimidated going out with Big Gigantic. I had never seen them before and everyone had told me their set went very hard. My music is admittedly pretty chill across the board. I took that as inspiration to make a live-hybrid set. I added a drummer and amped up some of my slower songs to try and grab the audience more. I was really surprised by the crowd’s positive reaction; they were really there to have a good time and dance. I think thats the point of going to see a show; you want to feel excited and involved and I’ve kept that as a major element of my performance ever since. I’m excited to show this next tour how I’ve grown as a performer. I’m still singing live, playing keys and performing all my own music, but focusing on creating “moments” for the audience Theres moments for the ambient fans and dance fans alike. For production, we’re looking to make it as unique as possible, and try to bring the world from my artwork to life for people who have been following me since the beginning. Telling a story is a very important thing for me.