A. G. Cook track-by-track notes


DREAMER

This wasn't the first track that Charli & I worked on for Number 1 Angel, but it was the first one that got us excited enough to really consider doing an entire mixtape. The instrumental was an old one that I'd made sometime in 2016, and it was always called 'Dreamer' (it actually had a twin called 'Screamer' - one was harsh and one was dreeeaaammy) and so Charli just rolled with the title and turned it into a whole song. The topline that Charli came up with is a perfect example of what she's so great at - it's feels super casual & effortless, but it's filled with all these nuances and angles that actually make it catchy.

The feats...! Starrah has been responsible for so many amazing songs over the last couple of years, it's pretty mindblowing! Whenever I become aware of a new songwriter or topliner, I really enjoy tracing their work as it moves between different artists. Take some of the songs that Starrah has written: Needed Me, Pick Up The Phone, Pass Dat, Fake Love, 2 Phones, Regret In Your Tears...! Each one really embodies the artists involved, but you can always hear Starrah's voice & style coming through. Raye has a really different writing style, so it's really satisfying to hear how she take's Starrah's flow as a starting point, then just goes crazy with it. A really skilful balance between complex rhythms & IDGAF delivery. Dream vocals!

3 AM (Pull Up)

We started the demo for this a while ago, maybe even a year ago? When Charli and I first started working together more, she came round to the studio I used to share with Finn Keane aka EASYFUN. It was quite a weird place, and Charli was quite open about the fact that she wasn't feeling 'in the zone' (!) but we pushed through, and Finn & I wrote a simple instrumental from scratch, probably in around 3 minutes.

When we do these kinda writing sessions, we'll be passing a cheap microphone around the room and just coming up with stuff. Charli was obviously doing all the main work here - but Finn and I would still sing a bit whenever we heard something new. The call & response thing in the chorus came from Finn literally 'responding' to Charli's chorus idea, and singing it back at her. The 'ah-ah..da-da-ohooh' hook is something that I just suddenly had fully formed in my head and decided to scream across the room before it was too late. Within a short amount of time, we had a very loose version of the song, without many lyrics other than the 'Pull up pull up right to your love' bit.

We exported a rough demo for all of us to listen to & reflect on, and that was it for a while. There was something about how we originally structured the song that was bugging us, a lot of things were slightly off - the balance of syllables in the verse, the way the chorus dropped etc. Finn is a serious student of pop music song structure (even by PC Music standards) and probably one of the most reliable people I know when it comes to an objective x-ray of how it's all put together. He's also willing to put in the time to test out almost every combination & arrangement, and then listen back to them all - and THEN compare them to other songs that are out there. After a while he'd sort of chopped up Charli's verses, and we ended up spending a long time producing & re-producing the initial demo sounds so that they emphasised the right thing at the right time. We both really spent ages on it, pretty much as a learning exercise :P

When the mixtape started to take shape, we were all quite happy with the demo - which had now been structurally improved etc. etc. but it still wasn't really about anything. Cut to the very beginning of 2017, and Charli and I are in LA trying to finish the mixtape, writing new songs and re-recording older ones, and just generally having a lot of conversations about the kind of music that we wanted to make, both short term and long term. We'd actually had a particularly unproductive day that had ended in a bunch of us going to see the computer-animated musical comedy 'Sing' (Charli loves animated movies, hates musicals - think she was into 'Sing' though).

When we got back it was almost 3AM, and Charli crawled away to be alone with her laptop, and I could hear her just playing the demo on loop. The next day she came back with these amazing, very emo lyrics, and we recorded it immediately. I think the narrative flip in the final chorus gives the whole track so much energy, and loads of people seem to have really connected with it. MØ's feat is also perfect, it adds a genuine camaraderie and her voice takes the whole track to another level for that final section - possibly saving any of the structural issues that Finn and I never quite resolved ;)

Blame It On U

This was also done in that same LA week in early January. Charli has a tiny writing room in her house, just a table with some speakers on it really, but it's a nice room to be in. I just quickly made a simple loop that I thought Charli would be happy to write over, then the two of us sat with Noonie, passing another mic around. I find it fascinating watching Charli and Noonie write together - they have opposing instincts, with Noonie naturally sliding towards quite intricate, almost folky (?) melodic details, while Charli has much shouter, almost new romantic (??) tendencies! But they're really on the same wavelength, communicating super fast, and immediately agreeing when they hear or feel a combination of notes or a phrase that just 'works'. I then added some fun, braindead auto-tune demo vocals, which ended up becoming the basis of the first verse. The session had this very fun, kinda deranged atmosphere to it, with all of us trying on fluorescent wigs and pretending to play the musical instruments in the room, while Patmore took loads of photos and videos, and generally documented us being weirdos.

Then of course I went away and added that section at the end! I felt like it could be interesting for the track to suddenly explode and go in a different direction, destroying the vibe that had been created, while also somehow making it more emotional in a way that new/extended chords can do. In my head, I felt like I was referencing my old remix of Doing It (that I'd done for Charli before we really knew each other) and just generally doing something very "A. G." to it - though I've heard it's also gone down really well with the jock-EDM crowd.

Roll With Me

I wasn't involved with this track, but it had been floating around for a while, and was one of the demos that Charli and Sophie worked on after Soph moved to LA. There are some really beautiful songs that they made around this time, and the work they're capable of doing together is amazing. I remember how impressed Sophie was with Charli after they'd written a few songs together, and vice versa. Both of them create music from a very deep, almost physical place - it's really not an intellectual exercise in the way that it's sometimes made out to be... and I can prove it!! :P

I ended up doing an edit of Roll With Me for the mixtape shows that Charli & I played, and it became the intro for the whole set. My tactic was to force my own very dense chords over the 'dark' bassline from the drop - chords that shouldn't really be there (!) In my mind I was also referencing the way that Sophie and I have tended to write music together - where I push myself to find these very dense/beautiful chords that can squeeze between and match all the dense/beautiful sound design taking shape.

Emotional

This is another one that I worked on with Finn, but the process was completely different to 3AM (Pull Up). Emotional was originally a demo that Charli wrote with Patrik Berger (someone that she's written with a lot - which explains why the song has this slightly old skool Charli atmosphere!) Basically they had a bunch of extra songs that Charli wanted to give to other people to finish, and she quite casually sent this one over for us to look at.

Finn & I are obviously harmony-led, and the first thing we did was to add & change chords throughout the song, just to really make the vocal melody feel as dramatic as possible. We found that part of the process fairly easy, quite fun, but the production of the track changed quite a few times. Our initial instinct was to make it really soft/intimate, almost-but-not-quite acoustic. Charli always saw it as a much more epic, large-scale pop song, but it took us a while to really bring it there, and our first few versions were all still pretty twee! Then, very close to the mixtape deadline, we had a super late night studio session where we just added tons of stuff and made everything more aggressive. We even added this sort of thumping pop piano to the chorus, which we realised made the arrangement sound quite similar to Roar! Charli's melody is really different, but you CAN actually sing Roar over the chorus, try it...

ILY2

This one's all Danny, but I'm very glad it made it onto the mixtape. I love this type of songwriting, and I'm soooooo pro the guitar on this. It feels like a sort of fantasy version of Charli's Sucker era, but it's also really forward looking, and very very Danny.

White Roses

This is the final song that was made from start to finish in that week in January, though we did work on a bunch of other bits and pieces there. Charli sometimes says that this is her favourite song on the mixtape. I don't really have a favourite (!) as it's all a bit blended together for me, but I do think this song is special.

We were actually working on something else in studio, but then Charli and Noonie got bored and just asked me to make something new. I'm always really happy to quickly make something on the spot, but I don't play keyboard parts in or anything like that, I simply click one note in at a time - so it was pretty funny to be booming that out in front of a small studio audience.

The 808 bassline is really simple, but the fourth time round it has a twist that gives it a different harmonic feel. I try and do that in a lot of my music, have a bass movement that takes the chords to a different place and gives it a momentarily emotional/'deep' feeling. It's not unique to my songwriting at all (I'm basically describing a chord change lol) but I'm really conscious of it, and I try to make it subtle, so that it feels like it's the vocal line that has reached a new level (rather than anything going on in the track or chords). I make it a bit more obvious in the chorus of White Roses by adding the choir part, which fleshes out the chords... "secrets that you KNOW!"

Once again super impressed by the melodic pockets that Charli and Noonie found in the song, and also Charli's vocal delivery, which is somehow both heartfelt & really controlled! I had a funny time finishing the mix of this track, as Charli got extremely attached to the rough demo we took from the studio session (a reaction sometimes known as demo sickness / demoitis!) and wouldn't really let me change the production! But to be fair to her, I think she did stop it from feeling over-produced, and she fought for this really great bass sound that I'd sort of accidentally forgotten about. Annnnd I did end up adding a couple of bells & whistles anyway ;)

Babygirl

Another one I wasn't involved in, but I'm glad to have it on the mixtape. It was produced by John Hill, an LA-based guy with a chill Santa Monica studio that very much suits this track. It was also written with two great topliners, Sarah Hudson and MNDR, who write super fun & pure pop music that really crosses over with what Charli and PC Music have been doing.

Charli and I were really excited to have Uffie on the mixtape too! Uffie's music was (for separate reasons) quite important to both of us. For me, I really enjoyed how effortlessly she 'owned' the amateur style of her voice/lyrics on tracks like Pop The Glock and F1rst Love. Then, a bit after that, I felt like it was taken to another level on some of the crazier tracks she did with Mr. Oizo - like MCs Can Kiss and Steroids - where both the production and her delivery are really fun, almost shamelessly so. Uffie's presence on Babygirl definitely has that same quality, where it completely pierces the song's flow, but still feels confident & relaxed enough to feel like a party soundtrack.

There's also a very satisfying narrative loop that's created by Uffie being on a track made by true LA pop songwriters. Waaaay too long to explain here... but the story involves Kesha's vocal production, the influence of Ed Banger on EDM pop, the rise & fall of the 'Femme Fatale' production universe, and then a second generation of writers (possibly represented by Charli & PC) who listened to both Britney and Ed Banger as teens before arriving in LA to write pop music... just as pop is trying to sound 'authentic' again...

Drugs

This started off as a strange demo. I was visiting my parents and staying in my old room with my old laptop, and just felt inspired to make something. Opening an old version of Logic made me want to use all these particularly basic sounds, and then I quickly recorded a version of the hook using my laptop's internal mic. That was kinda it for a while but I played it to Charli and she immediately wanted it to be on the mixtape.

Some of my favourite songs have started this way, as just a small vocal recording over some very raw MIDI sounds. There's a demo version of Hey QT where I sing the verses and Sophie sings the chorus, and we're singing really quietly as to not wake up my neighbours upstairs - and more recently I did a version of Make Believe where I'm struggling to reach the notes. It mostly to just test out the lyrics and really feel the sound of the words, but it's always so satisfying to hear a new voice re-interpret it, make it 'real' in their own way.

Charli had been talking to Abra online for a bit, and we both thought she'd be great on the mixtape. Then this track just became an obvious choice! We actually sent it to Abra before I'd even produced it properly, so she did her vocals over that old version. Then I was really into all the extra backing vocals that Abra did, especially the way she backed Charli up with "I can't get enough..." The way she sung that really inspired me to make the final chorus way harder, and I obviously got super carried away, making the end drop twice.

That final drop is maybe my favourite production moment on the mixtape. I always really enjoy intros & outros, so the idea of a track appearing to fade out, then suddenly coming back in an even cleaner & harder way was something that I've always wanted to try out. A lot of experiments came together nicely, like balancing lots of really small sounds to create a really controlled distortion, and being really clear about silences/regions/stereo panning fx... for all the nerds out there!

Also special thanks to Geoff Swan who mixed the entire mixtape. Got really frantic towards the end as more & more tracks kept coming, but he really 'got' it and kept vocals & bass prominent in a way that would take me roughly a decade-per-track to figure out.

PS I never do drugs (PC Music is my drug lol) but happy to be involved in yet another drug anthem.

Lipgloss

What can I even say about this track?? In a way I feel proudest of this one, for all of us somehow pulling it off. It's so much fun to play this one live, and also just to play this for people to listen to. I feel like it's evidence of a kinda hybrid, next-level strain of pop-rap-electronic-whatever music that is completely plausible & functional, not just an idea.

We were already fairly close to finishing the mixtape when Charli and CupcakKe starting talking on Twitter, and Charli was immediately like, "we need something for CupcakKe!!" We both didn't want her to just feature on something chill, and we were so motivated by the insane energy that CupcakKe has, so I started thinking of instrumentals I had that were kinda over-the-top. I then remembered this unreleased Life Sim track called 'Lightning' which I'd been sent ages ago, and had made a special edit of for when I played Hudson Mohawke's Warehouse Project night in Manchester. I don't really play many gigs, so I always end up making new tracks/edits specifically for each night. Both the original 'Lightning' and my edit channeled a sort of Hud Mo intensity, but with a synth line that's hectic enough to be a bit uncomfortable to dance to :P Then for the mixtape I slowed it down a bit and added a half-time section where I imagined CupcakKe being. It immediately got sent through and within days we had CupcakKe's verse, somehow perfectly executed over my messy demo.

Then this Fader show came up, which Charli, Sophie & I played together. It was quite a sudden booking, and the set wasn't really planned much, but we decided to debut a couple of mixtape songs. We actually didn't end up playing Lipgloss, but in preparing it, Soph & I talked about the energy of CupcakKe's bit, and it was obvious that the song would explode (in a good way) if all the parts suddenly dropped out to reveal a tough Sophie-scape for CupcakKe to tear up. I ended up finishing the final arrangement on my own back in London, kinda navigating the hectic Life Sim riff and the slick Sophie parts within a brutally short production deadline. But we all talked about the structure of it a lot, and Sophie ended up usefully suggesting that the song should end with one of those "extended Life Sim style build ups with no drop". By that point, I knew that Lipgloss was going to be the last track on the mixtape, so I thought it would be sweet to have this extra "It's Charli..." section at the very end. It's just all of Charli's ad-lib takes playing out in a row, but somehow it just worked to finish everything off with just one more ridiculous move.

Photos by Charlotte Patmore