Making the Panacea EP
For reasons I won’t dive into here, there was a very long gap in time between A Dying Star and Panacea. I’d been writing music the whole time, and had released two Seven Acres (now under Devon Eggers) EPs, but I was far from completing the Surface of the Sun songs I had on the go. Before choosing which songs to complete for the Panacea release I had somewhere around 10-12 ideas worth pursuing, all of which are still being considered for future releases. Those ideas also included some that predate the A Dying Star album.
My original plan was to release another full-length album. But a full-length album takes a long time for just one person to complete, so I eventually chose to narrow down to 4-5 songs, finally settling on four because the fifth one progressed too slowly at the time. In choosing the songs I carefully considered song lengths, time signatures, tempo, emotional and lyrical content, etc., to ensure a good balance.
Oblivion was an obvious choice to me. I started writing that song about 4-5 years before Panacea was released, but always knew it would be the single for the next album. The moment that bass line came out of me I knew I had something really cool. I chose The Science Says because of the energy it has. It reminds me a bit of the song A Dying Star on my first album, and I wanted to bring some of that energy again. The Silence is still one of my most favorite Surface of the Sun songs, and was my favourite right up until Vanguard. I chose it because of that, but also to add a much different vibe to the release. I wanted one of my much longer songs on the EP, and Panacea provided the best balance. Also, it was much closer to being completed than the aforementioned fifth song, which also looks to be quite lengthy.
It’s been a while, but I’m pretty sure it was Oblivion that started the whole Asian vibe on the EP. More specifically, that nifty little instrument that comes in around the 1:09 mark. I didn’t set out with that in mind; it was another one of those wonderful things that just happens. But I loved it so much I kept exploring that idea with each song, trying out all the Asian instruments I had access to within my virtual instruments (digital versions of instruments within the computer. I access the sounds and play them with a MIDI piano keyboard controller). It wasn’t long before I wanted more, then made a subscription purchase with East-West to get better variety and quality.
Due to what was going on at the time, writing these songs was pretty slow, and even though some ideas went back to pre-2014, I didn’t start recording the album until the summer of 2018.
After writing was complete I started by recording the bass first as I always do. I completed it for each song, then recorded the main guitars, then secondary guitars, then went through all the supporting instruments and sounds. I picked away at all of this on evenings and weekends throughout the winter until all that was left were drums and vocals. I started the vocals in the spring of 2019 before all the lyrics were complete. The Science Says was done, so I sang that first. Panacea was the furthest from being written, so I ended up doing it last. All of the background vocals and harmonies I figured out after all lead vocals where completed (I do this probably 95% of the time).
Wanting to once again have live drums instead of programmed, I’d been in contact with Chris Warunki from months prior. We’d finally met after years of being connected on Facebook (see the making the A Dying Star album blog post for more on how we got connected). I took him out for coffee and we hit it off, and I quickly knew I wanted him to drum. So, once I was ready to send him rough mixes of the songs we started drum preproduction. He sent me videos and sound clips to provide feedback on. I sent back some notes, he’d tweak the performance, then send another video. This actually worked really smoothly and made us prepared to work together on the Dragon release during the pandemic.
While writing Oblivion I’d found this drum loop I really liked. I had it repeated throughout the song for years while I worked on it so it’d become an important part of the tune I couldn’t get away from. This was the only drum groove I told Chris was a must; the rest I gave him as much creative freedom as I could, confident he’d come up with amazing stuff. I still produced and had him adjust here and there, but what he created was so good I mostly kept it as is.
I recorded the drums at Monarch Studios in Vancouver, BC. It is an awesome place and has become my go-to spot. I rented it for two days. The first half of day one was setup, which gave just enough time to record The Science Says and Oblivion, leaving the two more challenging songs for day two. Afterwards I went back to my evening and weekend music-making schedule to compile and edit the drum takes.
Mixing the EP was a fun challenge. I used it as an opportunity to try some new approaches and use tricks I’d recently learned. Some of the songs had so many tracks to blend together finding space for everything was quite an adventure. Again, I started with The Science Says. It was the simplest arrangement and acted as the perfect foundation. I mixed all the songs together in the same Pro Tools session, and since the primary sounds were all the same, once I established, say, guitar levels and tones, they pretty much remained the same for the other songs.
Once mixed, I searched for a new mastering engineer and found Andrew at Railtown Mastering in Vancouver. He’s an awesome guy, so nice to work with, and is great at what he does (he’s mastered everything I’ve done since).
Many months prior to starting the EP I stumbled across a post on my personal Facebook feed for a graphic designer (Sushant) who specializes in heavy metal album covers. I checked out his work and connected with him during the recording process to start designs. The cover I used was actually one of his pre-made covers, so not a commissioned design (though I did have him edit one of the layers out). But we spent a few weeks working back and forth on various logos before I settled on one (as a side note, Sushant also did the Dragon cover, and the Dragon logo was from his initial draft designs).
Panacea was the first time I really put any energy and money into promotion. I hired a fellow named John Asher from Toronto to push the release. He got me multiple interview with vloggers and bloggers and radios, as well as magazine reviews in Europe. A few weeks after the album was released an acquaintance put me in contact with someone from a local record label (Nettwerk). The man wanted to meet, so we had coffee one day and talked about my music. He recommended I contact Frontline, who specialize in pitching music to radios. I did, and they loved Oblivion, confident it’d catch some attention by music programming managers, so I hired them to promote the song. Not long after it was in the TOP 40 in Canada and on Apple Radio! Mind. Blown.
I honestly didn’t expect this release to really go anywhere. It’s not that I didn’t think it was any good, it’s just that I made it because I love to do it and it makes me happy. I had no goals for after it was released. Everything that happened with Oblivion was a surprise and bonus. It did, however, act as a confidence boost and made me reconsider what I want to do with my musical adventures.
Today, almost two years since it was released, Oblivion continues to get the most attention and radio airplay.
Thanks for reading.