Student Spotlight: Tenuous Threads on Fighting Misinformation and Hypocrisy – Soundfly

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Student Spotlight: Tenuous Threads on Fighting Misinformation and Hypocrisy

The following interview was conducted with Tenuous Threads, a songwriter, producer and Soundfly student, and reflects on his experience finishing and mixing his new EP, made partially with the help of a Soundfly Mentor by his side

I recently had the pleasure of introducing Mat, the man behind the mysterious electronic multi-genre moniker Tenuous Threads, to Soundfly mentor and professional mixing engineer (as well as Ableton Live enthusiast) Andrea De Carlo a few months ago for a custom mentor session that was yet to be specifically mapped out goal-wise.

Mat had been producing music for about 10 years but was looking to level up his ability to produce and mix at a professional, release-ready standard. That was pretty much all I knew about Mat’s goals; so, Andrea being my top choice, we blew the starter’s pistol and off they went.

A few months later, I learned that while one track on Tenuous Threads’ forthcoming EP was nearly finished by the time Andrea came in to help out, the single, “Controlled Landing” was made almost entirely during their session together. And that’s super exciting considering that track has nearly 8k plays to date, and has really helped establish Tenuous Threads’ refreshing sound.

We dig into that sound, the importance of that Soundfly session on Mat’s creative process, and why he’s on a mission to lyrically cover the current plagues of misinformation and hypocrisy in our conversation below.

But first, if you’re interested in working with a mentor on a project you’ve got going on, or just to improve in an area of your practice you could use help on, just let us know and we’ll pair you with someone who can specifically address those needs.

You recently released your first EP under the Tenuous Threads moniker, Crypsis. Congrats, it’s a super interesting collection of tunes! The album spans a few different genres but there’s definitely a root in electronic beat-driven production (whether via Massive Attack-style trip-hop, Grant Green-influenced jazz, or even Muse-esque electronic rock). How would you describe your sound on this EP? 

Thank you for the kind words about the EP. The best way to describe the EP is “eclectic” — I wanted it to reflect my diverse taste in music and I think it does that.

Tenuous Threads is a solo project and I enjoy the freedom that comes with that. I don’t have to make artistic compromises or write music to fit a certain genre. I need that freedom because I get bored quickly — when I dedicate a period of time on a track, the next thing I write is always a complete 180 degree turn. I could go from a prog rock piece to reggae or from electronic beat-driven to jazz.

The down side of this is that it takes me a long time to hone my craft. I think the old saying “jack of all trades, master of none” applies to my music. Massive Attack and Muse have definitely been part of my musical kaleidoscope. I had never heard of Grant Green but I looked him up and I’m totally grooving along to his music while I write this, so thanks for opening up my ears to him!

Lyrically, what are some of the themes and ideas you’re exploring with these songs? 

The human psyche is a bit of a theme that runs through my music, particularly in “Controlled Landing” and “Incognisant.” It worries me that the idea of truth and facts seem to be evaporating quickly in society, especially in our leaders. I have a background in science so it confuses me that there are certain people who blatantly ignore some aspects of science yet fly on planes, rely on doctors when they are sick, and have an almost parasitic relationship with their phone.

I can’t get my head around the hypocrisy and that is a lyrical theme that seems to appear in a few of the tracks. To be perfectly honest, some of the lyrics are just nonsensical phrases that pop into my head. It takes quite a while for me to find inspiration to write lyrics but it’s very rewarding when I nail down a good sounding phrase that compliments the melody.

“It worries me that the idea of truth and facts seem to be evaporating quickly in society, especially in our leaders.”

Does this album tell any other kind of stories for you that go beyond the lyrics? 

This is my first release, so it tells the story of an artist finally having the courage to release something and putting it out there for anyone to hear. I have no idea if there is an audience for this type of music; this EP was like an experiment to see if there were people out there who had the patience to sit through my self-indulgent forays into vastly different styles of music.

I guess any kind of artist looks back on their first attempts to express themselves with mixed emotions. I can hear mistakes and wish I had done things differently, but it has a raw charm that is endearing in itself.

+ Turn your unfinished ideas and half-developed loops into full, compelling songs with Soundfly’s online course Songwriting for Producers. Preview a lesson for free and subscribe for unlimited access to all our courses here.

What is your songwriting/production process like exactly? What elements do you start with and how do you build your tracks? 

I don’t have a set formula for songwriting. For example, the inspiration for “Controlled Landing” started from stumbling across that chord progression on the piano. “Incognisant” started from browsing a sample library and frankensteining together a chord progression. Once I have a spark, I light a few fires with it and see which one burns the brightest.

I also like to put constraints around myself sometimes to fuel my creativity, like: “this song is going to be in 5/4 and have a clarinet.” Overall, I would say most of my ideas start by just jamming on the piano or on the guitar.

You worked heavily on the single “Controlled Landing” while undertaking a Soundfly mentorship session with Andrea De Carlo. How did his support and guidance help you throughout the process? 

The most valuable lesson I learnt from Andrea was to put more effort into my mixing. Before the mentorship, I would put very little time into making mixes sound good. I have always been much more interested in the songwriting/production side of things than mixing. I realize now that you can impart just as much creativity in the mixing process than in the songwriting.

Once Andrea helped me with improving my mixing ability, I finally got the confidence to focus on five tracks and release them on an EP. Without Andrea’s support, I would still be just writing and arranging and not putting any effort into making the mix sound good.

When you started the mentorship session, what did you look to get out of it, and how did you feel coming out of it? 

I was acutely aware that my mixes were awful so I really wanted someone to listen to what I was doing and give me specific feedback. It’s great watching all the videos on YouTube to help you mix but I really wasn’t getting anywhere. Andrea gave me great guidance on EQ, compression and signal chains, particularly on vocals. Coming out of it, I feel like I can make a decent mix, but I am under no illusions — I still have much to learn.

Did any collaborators contribute to this record? It’s so rich and diverse sonically, I’m impressed that this is a home-produced and largely solo album, really astounding work.  

It’s very humbling to hear that, thank you. Apart from Andrea’s help mixing two of the tracks, the rest is me. Although Tenuous Threads is a solo project, I would love to work with other people if they felt I had something to contribute. Part of the reason I wanted to release this EP was the chance that someone would stumble across it and would want to collaborate on something. In particular, I would really like to work with vocalists. My vocals are passable at best so finding singers to work with who can actually sing would be amazing!

“Other than music, I draw inspiration from guys like Lawrence Krauss who seem to be charged with fighting the endless torrent of misinformation that is riddling society at the moment.”

Who would you say are your biggest influences and why? 

Being the sole creative forces behind their projects, I would say artists like Kevin Parker and Steven Wilson are major inspirations. I also really respect the ethos of people with more than one string to their bow; Maynard James Keenan being a great example. There are way too many bands to mention. Other than music, I draw inspiration from guys like Lawrence Krauss who seem to be charged with fighting the endless torrent of misinformation that is riddling society at the moment.

What are your favorite moments of this EP and why do they stand out for you? 

I always get a kick out of doing something interesting harmonically so I’m quite proud of the chord progression in “Musings.” The outro piano on “Controlled Landing” is something l had been dabbling with but never really had a place for it. I’m not a great piano player so when I got the part on the very first take, that was pretty rewarding. In the build-up of “Controlled Landing,” I wrote parts for various string and brass instruments which ended sounding pretty epic. I like the bass on the outro of “Incognisant,” which again came from a take of just jamming on the chord progression.

 

What’s next for your musical career? And what are you working on nowadays? 

I was going to take a bit of a break after the EP to recharge the batteries but it hasn’t turned out that way. I’m about halfway through writing another collection of tracks, which is again a mish-mash of different styles.

Lyrically, I’m trying to write with a concept in mind and I’m hoping that I can bind the songs together in terms of narrative rather than stylistically. I suspect I will be ready to release it sometime next year.

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Jeremy Young

Jeremy is a Montreal-based musician, sound artist and improviser who loves giving advice to emerging artists on how to make their tours more effective. He writes, records and performs electroacoustic "concrète" music for tape, oscillators and amplified objects and surfaces, as well as solo guitar. He has performed and released material throughout Europe and the UK, Asia, the US and Canada, mostly with his trio Sontag Shogun.