Joyful Noise Recordings founder Karl Hofsetter doesn't blog a ton over at his label's site, but when he does, it's always very good. I'm talking baller show announcements, huge album rollouts, etc. I'm including last week's Son Lux/Fall Out Boy explainer in those very good blog posts. I actually doubt the overlap between Son Lux listeners and Fall Out Boy listeners is that extensive, but count me in as at least one, at least at one point in the space-time continuum. To wit: Son Lux's Lanterns, which included "Lost It To Trying" and was released on JNR, was my most-listened to album of 2014 according to my iTunes plays. Fall Out Boy's Under the Cork Tree was the first CD I bought when I got my driver's license at 16 and could motor myself to some random big box retailer. (Hey, it was 2005 and I lived in the suburbs, okay? Let me take a minute to link to the local record stores as you plan your cool Black Friday/Small Business Saturday shopping this week.) This blog post/song/series of interviews I'm about to type out have caused me to think more about Fall Out Boy than I have since, well, probably 2005.
So that's where I'm coming from. On to Karl. He wrote:
I had never heard Fall Out Boy, but I knew that they were one of those “huge bands” (to this day I think my only evidence for this perception came from an episode of 30 Rock). Next, I did what I would normally do in this situation: forward to the band with the general attitude of “whatever you guys want to do is cool with us."
But then I listened to the track… What I was expecting was a pop-punk song with some vaguely discernible elements from Ryan’s song buried in the mix. What I actually heard was more akin to karaoke. It was a "bait and switch." The beginning was 100% Son Lux, but then it went down the worst possible trajectory... Similar to if you were at a bar and Queen’s “Under Pressure” started playing, but then before you know it - no, that’s not Queen and Bowie, that’s Vanilla Ice…"
All right — stop here to listen to both tracks. First, the original Son Lux track:
Now, Fall Out Boy, with that big sample.
Karl continues: "It took me 7 minutes between emails to write back Son Lux and retract my initial licensing blessing with the following message."
Damn. Karl really hates that Fall Out Boy song.
The rest of the blog is quite interesting. The highlights: JNR decided to not clear the sample unless they got a sweet deal from Universal (which was already well into the recording and production process). Part of Karl's reticence included 1) he helped shape the Son Lux song in question during the recording process, 2) as noted previously he HATES Fall Out Boy's song. A lot.
"ANYWAY, after weeks of telling them no for any price other than an outlandish sum of money, we finally came to an agreement and let Fall Out Boy use the sample (which my lawyer assured me is 4x the industry standard for this kind of thing). In my mind it still wasn't enough, but I was starting to piss off the Son Lux camp with my incessant naysaying. I heard several stories from "industry insiders" that we really put Universal through the ringer, and they were pissed... which was not my intention. I just didn't want that goddamn song to exist. In any event, we agreed to those terms, and the Fall Out Boy track was cleared for release.
It's now one year after the agreement, and after a lot of pestering, we finally received our first installment of this elusive “Fall Out Boy money." You can trust that we’re using it to support some incredible artists. We are Robin Hood-ing this shit by funding some truly amazing music with the blood money... Hopefully enough amazing music to counteract the sin of letting “Fourth of July” come into the world."
I'll never be mad when a local label gets a cash infusion to fund interesting creative projects and I'll never be mad when there's a blog chronicling it all.
I do think there's something a little interesting going on here, though. Let's give some context: Fall Out Boy's 2015 album American Beauty/American Psycho (which included "Fourth of July") experimented with sampling throughout. Single "Uma Thurman" samples The Munsters' theme song; the title track samples Motley Crue's "Too Fast For Love"; lead single "Centuries" samples the Suzanne Vega song "Tom's Diner" re-recorded by Lolo. And, of course, Son Lux. It's definitely a departure for the emo-turned-stadium-rock band, one that comes from the band thinking about how to make rock more modern. I was intrigued, especially after I heard the Son Lux-sampling track some time in the spring.
So, in July, I interviewed Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump (singer and primary songwriter; bassist Pete Wentz is the band's primary lyricist) about the use of sampling on his band's new record. He said:
"It kind of started because I just love his records. They're great. I have a big fondness for baritone saxophones, and he seems to as well. By coincidence, Jake Sinclair, who produced the record with us, is good friends with Son Lux. I'm going to give all credit to Jake because of the way he did it all sneakily. I guess he talked to Son Lux and said, 'You own your masters, right? Would you be willing to let anyone sample your stuff?' And he [Son Lux] was like, 'Oh, yeah, here's some tracks; go for it.' And then I'm in the studio, and Jake is like, 'How good is that Son Lux record?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, really good!' And he plays that song, and he's like, 'Yeah, it's so good, right?' And the whole time, it was a plan. [laughs]. He was like, 'Man, what would you do here [with this track in the studio]?' And before we knew it, we wrote a song."
I'll stop here. When I was prepping for my Fall Out Boy interview, I reached out to Son Lux (real name Ryan Lott) to ask about his thoughts on the sample. Lott said: "I love the concept of re-contextualization. Among the art forms, music is uniquely suited to it. Its ability to bend back on itself and pivot is a constant source of inspiration, and an aspect I exploit in my own creative process. So naturally, whenever my own work is the subject of re-contextualization, it's a fascinating experience."
I read that quote back to Stump and asked why he was drawn to sampling on his new album. He responded:
"When you look at music in general, sampling is not a new idea. It's only new in terms of physically sampling audio, sampling a recording of something. I feel like interpolation has always been part of music. You can go back through Liszt's 'Hungarian Rhapsody.' There are all sorts of elements of different songs in that song. And it is his composition — but it's his composition of other compositions. There is an art form to homage and interpolation, and being inspired by something pre-existing.
"I grew up, my dad was a folk singer. An Old Town Chicago kind of folk singer kind of thing. Folk music, as an entire world, was very much and is very much about shared culture, sharing music. It's not so much about who wrote the song, but about who feels the song, who sings the song. A good song can be performed by a bunch of different people, and a good melody can reappear in different places. And those things were really inspiring to me on this record.
"Pete had the initial vision; he was looking at how you make a record that reacts to pop culture quickly, more quickly. How do you make a rock record that reacts quickly? If you look at EDM music, you can make a track and post it on SoundCloud or whatever within minutes of it being completed, and it's around the world. Same thing with hip-hop and mixtape culture. Things move very rapidly. Rock music really doesn't have that analogue. It takes us a long time to make records. The closest thing would be like, punk rock demos. That's as close as it gets. For the most part, you don't have that reaction time, that quickness. We wanted to try to figure out how to make a record that could exist in that world of mixtapes; of everybody's really fast releases of music, but still had, you know, us in there. Still felt like us. One of the natural things is looking at sampling. Because samples, in the same way with folk music, you would conjure a melody as a quick way to support a point you were saying, or a lyric, a feeling, an emotion that was in the song.
"When we did 'Centuries,' with the Suzanne Vega sample, that was kind of the beginning of the album to me, how well that worked for us. Everything came from there. Suzanne Vega, that melody, feels like it will last forever, right? And then there's also a certain subversive idea too. I really like that Suzanne Vega is a strong woman, a feminist. I liked the juxtapositioning of having that strong melody, written by her, in this big rock and roll anthem kind of thing, this big stadium [rock] thing. I guess you look back on big stadium rock music and there's a tendency to see a lot of testosterone. So the whole point of the sampling throughout the record was to try and support in a direct way some of the subtler things we were getting at."
So there you have it. Record dude, sampled artist and sampling band all responding to the use of a (very good) locally released track — plus Liszt! It's an intriguing little story, a year exactly in the making. I can't wait to see what JNR does with the major label 'blood money," either.
(One last note: "Lost It To Trying" actually got a third version due to Lott's involvement with the movie adaptation of John Green's Paper Towns. Lott scored the film and used "Lost It To Trying" in a pivotal first act scene. It was great.)