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Music by VICE

STEMS: Inside Free The Robots' "Ophic ft. Jessie Jones"

Each week on STEMS we ask an artist to break it down for us.

by Justin Staple
Jul 16 2013, 10:00pm

Each week on STEMS we ask an artist to break it down for us. By stripping one of their tracks down to its individual components (known as stems), we get a rare glimpse into the artist's production process.

Free The Robots is the wide-reaching project of Chris Alfaro, who has brought his LA "beat scene"-influenced production talents to the jazz, psych, electronic, and hip hop space. Alfaro, who also co-owns the restaurant Santa Ana and nightlife hotspot The Crosby, will release his new album The Balance in late August using his own imprint. The sultry first track off the LP finds Alfaro teaming up with vocalist and lead singer of Feeding People, Jessie Jones, to create vibed-melodies that wonderfully match Alfaro's downtempo breaks.

Read below as Free The Robots breaks the track down, and explains how he achieved "Ophic"'s distinct sound:


"It was about four in the morning after an intense Saturday night at work when I started this track. Reflections from this chaotic evening forced me into a state of solitude which inspired this simple piano progression. I have a tendency to get overly technical with my music, leaving no room for vocals. This time I went with simple key strokes of slightly altered Abbey Rhodes pianos as the foundation. Just straightforward chords, open enough, with a plan for vocals later."


"With the melodic foundation set, I decided to go with more analog-sounding drums to fit the mood. I had chopped up an open drum solo from an old '60s French record to create my own simple, non-abrasive rhythm. It starts with just a kick and a snare, and eventually leads to a bit more as the song progresses. Once again my goal for this song was to keep it simple."


"After the foundation and rhythm, a bassline seemed to be the next move. This type of song is less about heavy bass and more about overall mood. I pulled back a bit and used a simple, quieter bass to keep it from overtaking the rest of the song."


"I wanted to maintain the analog direction of this song so I decided to add an altered Hammond B3 organ line. I added a slight distortion and a hint of reverb on it to make it sound roomy."


"At this point my main focus was on making the song sound full. I used one of my favorite instruments, the Mellotron, with a flute setting. I tend to use this sound in a lot of my tunes. It's very subtle, but always adds warmth and a little bit of dirt."

Beach Horn:

"I'm not sure why I called this 'beach horn.' It's really another Mellotron of strings that I filtered down and added slight distortion. At first I wrote this line mainly for the end chorus to sound big. It did its job, but I went back, took it down an octave, and used it for another part of the song as well. I wanted to add more to the atmosphere and build up before the climax."

Homemade Synth:

"I don't even know how I got to making this one, but after some time tweaking knobs at random, this came out. It was perfect for the vibe of the song, acting as a lead section, but open enough to sing over."

Alien Sounds:

"While I was in the knob-tweaking mindset I decided to add more underlying sounds to beef up the atmosphere. This is where I pulled back from focusing on melodic progression to focus more on the abstract elements. Thus the 'alien sounds.'"

Padded Space:

"I was still in space mode and I thought a padded sound would add a boost the 'lonely alien' sounds."


"As the track moved on with more sci-fi elements, I figured, 'what better to add than a theremin?' I use the normal theremin so much and decided to take this classic sound in another direction by increasing the attack, while adding a slight space echo. To me its sounds more like a broken Casio with a faulty sustain."


"Jessie Jones took the lead on this song. I originally recorded Jessie with a clean condenser microphone and added a little bit of dirt with a Line 6 guitar filter. Once the amount of dirt matched, I added some airy reverb to her voice so it could blend with all of the other spacey elements of the song. Finally I brought Phil Nisco into the session for an underlying, lower vocal tone, adding warmth."

Put them all together and here's what you get—"Ophic ft. Jessie Jones" by Free The Robots:

Follow Justin on twitter at @Justinstaple

Previously on STEMS: Inside Rewrote's "Getupandance"

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