The Making of “Music by Cavelight” Part two

A few weeks back, I wrote about making my first solo album “Music By Cavelight”. In case you mised it, peep it HERE. There was too much to cover in one post so here’s the second part of that rundown.
Instead of doing a long winded intro, I figured I’d jump right in where I left off…

Road Rage Breakdown

When I first made this beat, I had no idea what to do with it. The mood was strange and the drums just didn’t seem like something anyone would wanna rap over. I mean, had I known some double timing southern rappers at the time, that might have been different but I didn’t.
I mentioned in the first part that of this that I was making this album with the idea of “What an instrumental rap album should sound like” but basing it off almost nothing. This song is a great example cause I took this beat and made it fall apart and turn into something completely different. From the 2:19 mark on is my brain actively going “Okay, this is what instrumental producers do…” which is funny cause, at this point, I don’t think they really do or ever did. If they do, I sure haven’t heard it.

Triptych Part 1

This beat was LITERALLY the first beat I ever saved to floppy disk. I made it around 96/97. Prior to that, I was just recording all my track on to my four track cause I didn’t know how to save things on to disk. I can even vaguely remember making it. My sampler didn’t ahve a stand yet so it was just on the ground. I’d sit indian style and just make beats while chilling on the rig of my bedroom in my parents house.
So, this beat was by far the oldest track I was working with on this album. The idea to make a three part series kinda popped out at me when I was putting together the album. I had these three slow , melancholy piano driven beats that wouldn’t work together as one track but played nicely off each other. In a way, they seemed to tell a story of a relationship falling apart. Kinda like the movie “Blue Valentine”. The first part was the euphoric feeling of being in love, the second was the middling part where you get comfortable and bored and the third part was the inevitable implosion. At least that’s how I saw it.
This one is also an example of my wet behind the ears sampling as the idea of sampling Dinah Washington is pretty fucking nuts, in the sense that it’s insanely well known. “There is no greater love” was a song I absolutely loved at the time and I really just wanted a way to incorporate it into my album. I found the key it fit in but it wouldn’t work if I played it one way. So, I arranged it so it was like three different voices. When the album dropped, I heard lots of complaints about chipmunking the voices cause, at the time, Kanye had already done that but, honestly, I had made this beats 5 years earlier. So, I figured, fuck it.

Triptych part 2

This is kinda my favorite of the series. It’s unassuming but it’s got a mood to it that just struck a chord with me. while the piano and bass may seem like the reason, I contend the drum brush sample is what makes this song.
When I initially made this beat (probably around 97) I was dating this girl and she wanted to sing on it. We even went as far to record the song but my engineering skills were simply not good enough to make it sound even remotely listenable. So, that song got scrapped and when it came time to make the album, I knew this would be a go to song for me.

Triptych part 3

Originally, this beat was sans bass line. I wanted to use it but it felt naked. Just some bare drums,pianos and a few sounds here and there. This is where I bought in my boy Damien Paris to save the day. I’ve written extensively about that recording session on this very blog so I’ll skip it here (just put his name in the search function if you’re curious about it). Regardless, that bass line completely made this song what it was.
This track was composed of samples 100% found in my moms cd collection. It’s all weird show tune/torch song type shit that I think I would never have even considered using had it not been right in front of me. I’d like to say where the piano is from but I’d get the life sued out of me. I did chop it up a ton though…so good luck figuring it out.

Jet Son

There was a time when Vast Air had claimed this beat to rap on but that never came to be. This was a track I liked a lot but didn’t feel like it fit into the album. It was the most aggressive song I made. The sample in the beginning saying “yo tone, play me some old pimp shit” is from Big Daddy Kane’s second album. Being that my name is Tony, I figured it would be a fun little thing to throw in. It’s as if Big Daddy Kane was in the studio with me. Just kidding. That woulda given this song a much better story though.


So, a lot of this album was made around 9/11. The mood may not sound like it but it was. At the time, I had tons of crazy middle eastern samples I was using and this song was an example. When I was working on this song I knew it had a particular feel to it. It sounded like some shit I’d hear at 24 hour falafel spot at 3 am. With that in mind, the fact 9/11 had happened 20 blocks from my house this song kinda took form, in my head, as some strange terrorist spy movie soundtrack. Like I could envision dudes hustling through caves by candlelight, in search of any sunlight peaking through the cracks. It’s funny cause, contrary to the album being called “Music by Cavelight” this song had nothing to do with that. That was more a play on my work process. I worked in my bedroom, which was (at least for half of the process of making this album) below ground and always dark. This song however, was literally just made to the idea of Bin Laden running though caves like a maniac. I swear, I had no agenda with it…it’s just what I saw when I listened to it.

Breath and start

Q-tip had his song “breath and Stop”, so the title was a play on that. I called it that cause this song was made up of two separate beats that kinda have a pause in them. They were both spacious tracks. This was also an example of my interest in southern bounce drums. I was listening to lots of southern shit in the late 90’s early 2000’s and that definitely rubbed off on me. As far as I know, not a lot of NYC producer were doing that back then.
This song also features live violins played by Baby Dayliner. He had gone to a performing arts high school (La Guardia) for Violin so i thought it would be cool to have some of that on this album. I think it was the first time he had dusted off his Violin in like a decade. It took a little time to knock the rust off but he definitely laid down a nice accompaniment to the track.

Insomniac Olympics

Chances are this is your favorite song on the album. I mean, it’s a guess but judging from peoples response, this is THE ONE. Funny thing is, this song almost didn’t make the the album. It was the last song I made. I had a finished album but Ninja Tune wanted one more song (cause we had taken off “Bullfight in Ireland” and “A new day” from the euro release). I had just made this beat and I knew i was sitting on something special. This is one of those rare beats I can distinctly remember making. Just how all the parts kinda melded together was amazing. Typically, when making a track, there would be tons of trial and error. I’d be looking for matching pieces and it could take forever to find the suitable sound. With this song, it was like everything I touched just synched up perfectly. Probably the most asked question i get is “What is the voice on this song saying?”. well…I have no idea. It was from some random country record, I sped it up and put a guitar amp effect on it. I did that because , whatever that voice was saying, didn’t make sense. So, instead, I opted to use it as an instrument. It certainly strikes that chord.
People often ask me if this is about my insomniac and I don’t really have an answer. It’s hard to personalize these vocal-less songs made up of samples. While I’ve certainly had my issues sleeping over the years, this song was named “Insomniac olympics” cause it just flowed in a way that reminded me of what it’s not like to sleep does. The olympics part is a play on the opening horns. Often mistaken for olympic horns or the classical song “Fanfare for the common man”

It’s not from either of those things.
At first I tried to get Aesop to use it but he wasn’t into it. I think he was between albums anyway so he wasn’t making many new songs. When Ninja asked me for one more track, I knew this would be the one.
I also think this song is the main reason I’ve gotten compared to DJ Shadow my entire career. I can see why. It wasn’t intentional but the drums and piano did have a shadow-esque quality to them.
Anyway, I sent this one in to Ninja Tune and they loved it. It became the single and the lead off track on the euro release. I believe it was the last track on the US release and that’s as I had intended it. In my eyes, it was a closing track.

Oh, one last thing…

If you actually own a copy of this album, this picture may look familiar to you. It’s on the CD. This is a picture I drew when I was 3 or 4 years old. It was my version of Don Giovani, from the opera. At the time, I had a baby sitter who was an opera singer and she would play this opera for me all the time. I loved it. So, I went to school and drew this. Upon seeing it, my teachers freaked out and had me go see a shrink. After all, what 4 year old kid draws a fiery devil casting some poor dude into hell? I do. Now, this was a long time ago and I have no recollection of it but I’m pretty sure I was just a fan of the opera. I don’t have any memory of that opera now but I’ll just assume there was some sort of bad guy who did some bad things in it and I was just portraying that.
Whatever the case, I fucking love this picture and wanted to incorporate it into this album in some fashion.

The making of “Music By Cavelight” Part 1

I’ve gotten tons of requests to do a write up about how this album came to be, so I figured I’d take a stab at it. In case you don’t know, “Music by Cavelight” was my debut solo album on Ninja Tune. It dropped in 2004. A lot of these are fading memories but I’ll try to wrangle as many little tidbits as I can. My apologies if this is a bit scattered but, you know, this brain ain’t what it used to be. A lot of these stories I’ve told endlessly over the years in interviews but , judging from how often I get asked about this album, I’ll just assume you guys don’t really listen/read interviews. I don’t blame you. Those things are fucking boring. Anyway…let’s take it from the beginning.

How it came to be
Around 2000, Mush records approached me about doing a “Break beat album”. At the time, I had no idea what the fuck they were asking for. To me, a breakbeat was a drum track. It was explained to me that they just wanted ten or so short beats that mc’s could freestyle too or DJ’s could cut over. So, I took ten beats that really had no home (Due to how weird they were or the speed) and threw together that “Album”. It was called “Blockhead’s broke beats” and this is an example:

Around that same time, I made an my first real instrumental track for Aesop’s “Daylight” Ep called “Forest Crunk”.

I don’t quite remember why I made that track for him but I think he just wanted an instrumental on there to switch things up a bit. At that time, I was very unfamiliar with instrumental hip hop. Aside from listening to DJ Shadow’s “Entroducing” album in passing a few times (which I liked but never got into that deeply cause I’ve always been more of a fan of music with vocals) my idea of instrumental hip hop was basically “Make a beat with changes”. As opposed to “A loop with drums = a beat”. So, with that in mind, I made “Forest Crunk”. Shortly after that, Mush records approached me about possibly putting together a full length album. I was pretty excited about it and got to work immediately. The thing was, I had no idea what i was doing. I was sitting on hundreds of beats at that point and I had to figure out how to turn those regular rap beats into songs that could stand alone. The first thing I did was pick out all the random tracks that I liked but had never really fit into anything else. Meaning the tracks that no rappers wanted or ones that simply weren’t right for rapping on. I collected those tracks and started making songs out of them. The thing is, because of my limited experience with that genre of music, I was kinda just winging it. I was making an album of what I envisioned instrumental hip hop sounded like based on my preconceived notions of what I imagined it would sound like. That’s why it’s always funny to me when people would compare me or assume I was greatly influenced by DJ Shadow. It was understandable (as he changed the genre) but I can honestly say he had zero influence on that album. I simply wasn’t that familiar with his solo music (I was well familiar with his work with mc’s though). Outside of “Organ Donor” , I don’t think I had really bumped his songs at all.
Anyway, I finished the album around 2002. As soon as it was mixed, I hollered at Mush records about putting it out. I heard nothing back. Now, keep in mind, they hadn’t even heard the record yet. They weren’t getting back to me on any level. Months went by and this continued and I was just sorta sitting on this done album. My manager decided it had been long enough and he started shopping the album around. He sent it to all the popular instrumental trip hoppish labels of that time. The people who responded were Warp records and Ninja Tune. Actually, what really happened was that Warp liked it but didn’t feel it fit with them (or their subsidiary label Lex) so they passed it along to Ninja Tune. From what I’ve been told, they just kinda played it around the office for a month or so until they decided “fuck it, let’s put this out”. And that’s how it happened…I got signed in the old fashioned way. By sending in a demo. Nowadays it’s unheard of but back then those things actually worked at times. We dropped the “Insomniac Olympics” EP and the rest is history.

Just some background info on the album…It was recorded and mixed at my boy Baby Dayliners house. He also mixed the PFAC album, “The music scene” album and my newest album “Interludes after midnight”. I’m not clear on how long it took to make it but I’d be lying if I said the tracking wasn’t the longest process. I’ve always worked in a fairly archaic fashion and because the midi on my sampler wasn’t working we had to record every track , one at a time, and then line it up. You have no idea what tedious is until you’ve done this.
My boy Damien Paris played all the guitars/bass, Omega one did all the scratches and Bbby Dayliner played Violin on “Breath and start”.
Now on to the tidbits…Song by song.

Hello Popartz:

This was the intended intro song. It ended up getting cut off the European version of the album cause Ninja felt it didn’t mesh with the mood of the album. I see where they were coming from but, at the same time, it was a fun way to introduce myself. Two things people always mention about this song are the charlie brown samples and the polish beat boxing at the end. The Charlie brown thing was sort of a gimmie as it was a great way to portray the name “blockhead” in a funny way. The beatboxing thing was a late addition. At the time, a friend of mine was hanging out with this polish girl and she left this polish hip hop cd at my house. I never listened to it cause, well, I don’t speak polish but, for some reason, while making this album and mining anything I could find for sounds, I popped it in. Perhaps I was looking for open drums sounds. Anyway, the beat boxing and chant part popped out and ended up fitting perfectly to this beat. As a bonus, I later learned that “Popartz” means something like “Let’s go!” in polish. Even more fitting.

You’ve got Maelstrom:

This was the most “rappy” beat to me on the album. I honestly don’t know why a rapper never took it. The samples in the beginning were from comic books on record. Omega scratched them up nicely and really set the tone for the entire album. Not much more to say about this one except I always enjoyed the “Then I change my style” part at the end where it becomes a subtle ode to Freak Nasty’s “Da dip”.

Carnivores unite:

The original titling on the floppy disks that i saved this beat on said “Moby off the Chain”. I don’t know why, but I felt this one sounded like some Moby shit after I made it. Looking back, i was way off as this song didn’t even have one vocal sample of slaves singing. But, with this in mind at the time, I decided to call it “Carnivores unite” cause I knew Moby was a vegetarian…and I thought , well, fuck that guy. I honestly had no reason to dislike the guy aside from not liking his music but it seemed undercover enough that I could just have it as my own private joke.
Probably the most talked about part of this song is the very end. The Kool Keith sample. For more info on that , read this:

Sunday Seance:

This was always one of my favorite tracks off this album. If you ever feel like there are sort of mournful tones to the album it’s probably because of this song , “a better place”and the triptych series. To be honest, Some of these beats had originally been made as far back as 97. While they may not have meant to be at the time of creation, when it came time to make songs out of them I definitely was thinking about my father who had passed away in 97. He died on a sunday and this song just seemed like a perfect homage to him. The vocal sample singing “can you here me call you name” didn’t have much meaning to me when I initially made it but when put in context of the song, it made a lot of sense.

A Better place:

Like “Sunday seance” , this song was definitely part of me dealing with my dads death via making music. In fact, the opening vocal sample is a recording of my father playing around with my older brother when he was a baby.
On a more technical note, this beat initially came about in a strange way. I had made a beat already (parts of that beat later became “Tugboat complex pt. 3” off of Aesop’s “Labor Days” album) and was about to turn off my sampler. I had a flute sample that I had used and I accidentally pressed the lower keys on my keyboard. The tone just struck me as kinda hypnotic so I started playing with lower keys and came up with the opening music for the track. At that time, I never really did beats this slow. Because of that, I had a feeling no rapper would use it so I took liberty with the drums. There had been the Bjork song I loved which was the LFO remix of “Possibly maybe”.

The drums always stuck out to me and I wanted to have that mood. Suffice to say, I failed miserably but that was a direct influence on this song.
Also, The guitar solo was played by Damien , who came over delirious from the flu. Since where were on some super lo-fi shit , we miked the speaker he was using and for some reason had to put him under blankets in order to keep other sound out. I have no clue why that was but it was necessary at the time. Anyway, he busted that solo out in one nyquil induced take, emerging from the blankets drenched in sweat. When we played it back to him another day, he had no recollection of any of it.

Well, that’s all for now…I’ll get to the other songs next week as , if I don’t split this up, it’ll be way to long. Hope you enjoyed these completely aimless ramblings.