Behind The Groove EP8: Rhode & Brown
Welcome to the next instalment of Behind The Groove. This time we welcome Munich based duo Friedrich Trede and Stephan Braun AKA Rhode & Brown. Rhode & Brown's debut album, "Everything in Motion" is scheduled to hit the shelves June 4th on label Permanent Vacation. After their first single, "Cruise" - an italo banger full of euphoric piano stabs & a rugged, squelchy bassline, they're back with their second single and title track, "Everything in Motion". Set at a much lower tempo, "Everything in Motion" showcases Rhode & Brown's eclectic taste in music with a combination of dream-like arpeggios, reverb soaked vocals and a 80s influenced drums.
Friedrich and Stephan kindly sat down with us to chat all things Rhode & Brown, and most importantly get behind the groove of "Everything in Motion"! You can pre-order the new album now, over at the Rhode & Brown fanlink page (we highly suggest you do) and you can listen to "Everything in Motion" here ⇊⇊⇊⇊⇊
Grab a drink and settle down, as we dig behind the groove of "Everything in Motion"...
We’ve spoken to artists who have found the pandemic liberating and produced a tonne of music whilst others have said they feel creatively uninspired. How has it been for you?
At the beginning we were like everyone in that we had no idea where this was going. We stopped going to the studio immediately which sucked. After the first lockdown we started to actually appreciate the time we had - if you know you can’t do anything, then you can really focus on the production. At that point it was also one of the only things you could do to keep you sane!
When we got back into the studio it was pretty great because we had new stuff that we’d worked on at home that we could finalise. We’d also started working on the album in late 2019 so the pandemic gave us a lot of time to think about where we wanted the album to go.
Don’t get us wrong, there have been times where it’s been tough. After one year you start to question how relevant club music is. For which dance floor do we produce this now?
Your latest single off the album cruise is one of those euphoric italo tunes that hits you at the end of a set. Everything in motion is quite a change from this! What can we expect from the rest of the album?
There are different genres throughout. There’s a track in the middle called “Call Her”, a 2 minute long ambient style tune whilst the intro song has a kind of trap vibe. It’s hard to say exactly but all the stuff we’ve made has been put through our own filter. We are so inspired by a lot of stuff; electronic, pop or whatever and we always wanted to have these influences represented on the album but still not sound all over the place. It was always the plan to have an album that is versatile, not just full of bangers. We also didn’t want something completely the opposite of what we’ve done before. Maybe you could say we went somewhere in between. Just like a DJ set, where we like to take the dancers on a journey.
Your studio setup is great. From your instagram videos I can see a tonne of gear! What's your balance between using hardware and plugins? How has it changed since you first got into producing?
It changes from track to track. We started out like most people - just producing on the laptop. Sometimes we start music at home only on the computer and then we’ll replace parts with gear from the studio. Then there are times where we just jam with the hardware in the studio and see where it leads us. We don’t have a blueprint on how we start and finish a track. It really depends on the vibe we’re feeling and what works best in that particular situation. We’ll use whatever works and if that’s a soft synth then who cares?
What's the favourite bit of hardware you own?
Friedrich: We’ve just added a Sequential Prophet 6 and that is now my favourite. To be honest it is a really expensive piece of gear but we knew it was worth it after one day of playing around with it. It’s got amazing presets and every parameter is right in front of you, there’s no menu diving at all. It’s really really fun. Stephan wants me to put it in the studio but I want to keep it at home! We just go in Friday and sometimes Saturday, so the rest of the week I love noodling around with it in the evening.
Stephan: It's my baby, the MFB-Tanzbär. I think Kornél Kovács is using this a lot for his tracks. It's a drum machine with a very cool workflow. It’s fun to use and very hands on. It has a bit of an 808 touch to it, but it’s very own character.
What are your roles in the studio?
There’s no structure here really. Most of the time we don’t even speak about it and go with the flow. Maybe one of us will play something on the synths whilst the other sits on the computer or we just jam around for half an hour and record that and sometime later pick out parts that we enjoyed most.
I’ve noticed on your instagram account, that you both play a lot of your melodies live instead of drawing them into Ableton. Can you both play keys? If so, where'd you learn?
I (Friedrich) played a little when I was like 7 but none of it has stuck. It’s really just fiddling around with a lot of trial and error. If you do it long enough you’ll get some kind of feeling for the keys. You’ll start to know your chords and melodies and you’ll start to get a feeling as to what sounds good to you.
Was there anything in particular that inspired “Everything in Motion”?
We started it around 2 years ago. Here’s a tip that we share with everyone - go back to your old projects. Especially ones where you had less musical or technical knowledge than you did now. Sometimes when you know less and you are super naive, the ideas are way more fresh and random so you can get some stuff out of the old projects that you wouldn’t think to make now. We found the rough idea of this one and thought it could fit well into the album. It took around 5 big turns until the final product and it completely changed again once we got the vocals from Indra. It’s definitely one of the tracks we’ve worked on the longest!
The Production of “Everything in Motion”
At this point in the interview, Friedrich and Stephan kindly walked us through their Ableton project for “Everything in Motion”. As per the Behind The Groove style, what follows is organised into sections focusing on different elements of the track. Where possible, we’ve given timestamped YouTube links so you can check the sounds out as you read. First, we take a look behind the scenes at one of the main elements of the track, the vocal...
Vocals - 0:30 onwards
“We’re big fans of Indra and her band (Peaking Lights). We were actually sitting on a train to some gig listening to their latest album and we thought 'Damn, it would be great to have her on the album'. She’s got this amazing character to her voice.”
The vocal stems Indra sent us were already highly processed, which we were super happy about. We’re no singers and don’t record vocalists regularly and so we think the people who sing mostly know how to process their voice the best. We think Indra added some reverb and chorus originally.
The first thing we did to it is added a de-esser to get rid of the sibilance. We watched a YouTube video a while back to build your own de-esser so we’ve got an Ableton rack with a multiband compressor with the highs soloed. Chained onto that there is an envelope follower (M4L Device), which takes an incoming signal and uses that to automate another parameter. We’re using it to automate the gain on a certain band of the EQ8 to duck down specific high frequencies every time there’s any sibilance.
We’re no pros when it comes to vocal processing so for the rest it’s just pretty standard stuff; cutting out the lows, adding a little bit of saturation, another multiband compressor to even out the volume of each frequency band and then at the end just a little bit of sculpting with the EQ8 - mainly boosting the high frequencies.
Main arp + little blips - 0:15 onwards
This sound is from the Juno 106, with the classic amazing sounding Juno chorus on it. By the way we have this fake Juno Chorus, TAL-CHORUS-LX, which we like to use on a lot of soft synths. Apart from that there's just an auto-filter that builds up slowly, a FabFilter EQ to cut out a bit of the low end and a bit of delay to add some width. The Juno mostly sits pretty good in the mix so we didn’t have to do much.
The memory on the Juno is pretty much dead. So from week to week you have to either reload the factory presets or start from scratch again. We don’t mind because it keeps us on our toes.
What I think that gives the refrain of the track something special is this sound we’ve called “little blips'' in the Ableton project. It’s almost the same sound as the main arp but higher up. At the beginning we just wanted to layer the arp we did on the Juno with another one, and then by accident, either I moved the clip a little bit to the right or the left or I changed the rate on the arpeggiator. I'm not sure! suddenly the two arps were kind of running “against each other” which gave it a call and response sort of thing with the vocals, and instantly we knew okay that's it, that's the happy accident we love. There’s at least one of these in each track we produce and it mostly lifts it up to a whole new level.
Because it’s a soft synth we’ve added a little distortion to give it some edge. There’s a flanger and an auto pan on there too as well to spread it out in the stereo field. There's a string from the POLY-800 too but it's super underneath to just give it a little tension and hold together the other elements quite nicely. We ran the Poly 800 through our cheap delay and reverb pedals, as it sounds pretty lame when it’s dry. But when you hit it with some reverb it’s pure love.
Pad / Key sound - 0:01 onwards
This is two sounds. There’s one that comes in right at the beginning which is reversed. We weren’t 100% sure where this one came from, I think it's from the Korg Minilogue, kind of an organ sound. It's layered with this other chord which is a softsynth emulation of the Roland D-50. As you can see they're not playing the exact same notes at the exact same time so they're also like sweeping in and out one another.
On the second one we added a filter with an LFO on the envelope, so the LFO changes how open the filter is or not, so the movement you hear is from that. We do that quite a lot on sustained pads, or strings and stuff, so they don't seem too static. When you add the LFO on the filter and have it move around with panning the combination is pretty beautiful.
Maybe another thing that comes from not being a perfect keyboard player, is finding ways to have sounds sounding interesting with effects. If we’d be able to play the keys perfectly we probably would overload our tracks and also question a lot of things as to whether they are musically correct. Sure, sometimes it would be amazing and we want to have that amazing virtuoso solo somewhere, but sometimes it's just 3 chords that change a little bit for example through a filter, and that's enough.
Bass - 0:36 onwards
So the main elements, which are the bass and the arp, are from the Juno. The bass is a classic deep Juno bass with a very low cutoff, and a heavy chorus on there too. Chorus on the bass can be problematic but we added Ableton’s utility here which can put the bass in mono below certain frequencies, we’ve gone for everything below 120Hz. The rest can still be chorused in the stereo field, but the low end doesn't clash.
The bass had some peaks that needed evening out, because it is sustained a lot. To do this there’s a bit of compression. We try not to compress too much because we like dynamics in music, we don't want everything to be super compressed together. And then a classic producer 101, sidechaining it to the kick. This track doesn’t need it that much because there's not a heavy four to the floor kick all the way, but you can't go wrong with a little.
For a long time we had a different drum set in there. I'm not sure if it was four to the floor but it was with different samples. The change was pretty late in the process, because we felt that it needed something else, a bit more stripped back. It's pretty simple, we have this main groove which we did on the MPC. You don't need an MPC to do that but it's more fun and we have sounds in there that we have no idea where they are on our computers, so sometimes it makes sense.
It's just this super basic main groove and on top we’ve layered a CR-78 CompuRhythm. We don't have a CR-78 CompuRhythm - we would love to have one. But it's either the one from Samples From Mars or it's just the Ableton stock CR-78 drum machine emulation, I’m not sure.
We’ve always wanted to make a track with the CR-78 drums, but they are super thin. They are cool on some shoegaze indie rock track or something like that, where you don't want to have a lot of low end. So in our case we wanted a layer underneath. At some point we added this pretty heavy kick, I think an 808 from the MPC - the combination is pretty sweet.
The idea was to have thin crispy drums at the start and then hit you with the heavier parts. You can hear the CR-78 snare at the start (0:01 onwards), and then like a classic Phil Collins move there’s a really heavy snare with a huge reverb (0:36 onwards). The decay time is pretty long - 2.20s of decay, but the gate cuts it off. So there’s this big reverb effect but then it's quickly gone. We don’t do this for more uptempo house tunes but for this 80s vibe and this more laid back drum set it’s perfect because it also fills the gaps between the elements.
After that we added a shaker underneath with a delay on it and panned it right and left using an auto pan. I don't know if a lot of people will hear it but there's also a little ratchet sample that comes in right before the drop. We love it. It really is a sample from a ratchet and in this case it just felt right instead of a standard crash cymbal or some synthetic white noise fx.
Everyone and their mother has already put bird noises in their track but for this it really worked well. We have a field recording we did with an iPhone from the English Garden in Munich. It's one of Europe's biggest inner city gardens and we love to walk there or hang out on the green. So we just recorded a bit of the atmosphere - water, birds and some wind. In Ableton we put some heavy ValhallaVintageVerb on there to make it space out. It's just right at the beginning (0:01 onwards) until the drop. It's deactivated in the main part and comes in again at the end.
It fitted the idea behind the track - which is the title track of the album as well. The thought was how the world is standing still these days with the pandemic, but somehow nature is still doing its thing and is coming back. It's a bit cheesy but that was the idea.
Sometimes we have a sound and if we can hear where this could go then we process it heavily. That's not the case most of the time, though. Rather, we search for sounds that fit perfectly for what we are trying to achieve. Processing for the sake of processing makes no sense to us.
We’re not super organised when producing. Our one tip when starting an arrangement, or what we need to do at least, is have an organised project. So even if our heads are not organised, the thing we are looking at is.
Arranging is often not a thing we do together. It’s better off someone starting alone and then we work it out together. With this song it also changed a lot because it doesn't follow the classic house music formula. It was kind of liberating in a way because we didn't have to follow that, and we could experiment around a bit more.
Usually we work out a loop and if you can listen to this loop for like 500 days in a row without getting bored of it we can say “that's good, let's add something or start a rough arrangement”. If we get annoyed really quickly then we put it aside. We do not throw it away, because you'll find one element you like later on. Obviously this track isn’t super dancey, and so everything we’ve just said wasn't the case for this track. It completely differed from everything we've done before. We’ve had it for around 2 years and once we got the vocal it completely changed again. We knew we didn’t have to follow the house formula with an intro beat for some bars etc. It was pretty cool that we could start off with a bird sound along with those chords and just work our way up to the initial drop.
Another thing we didn't do for like 9 or 10 years is use a template. Then I think around last year we started building a template and we actually still use it but more for here in the studio because it means the routing, hardware and everything else is in place. There’s no template for arranging, because I think if we had that we would do the same thing over and over again and it would be boring.
Well that's it for episode 8 of Behind The Groove. A huge thanks to Rhode & Brown for sitting down with us and letting us pick their brains. If you want to watch them making "Everything in Motion", check out the insta clip to the right -> ->
We wish them all the best with the new album, which you can pre-order here!
Rhode & Brown socials:
Watch this space for more Behind The Groove.