Nicholas Burgess is a prolific musician and artist who’s released multiple albums as a solo act and with his band Hex Map, produced projects such as the recent Parish/Church album Caption Caption, and recorded music and theme songs for multiple podcasts. His new album is Electric Brain Electric Silence.
I’d been wanting to record an album of mostly electronic, somewhat sad songs for a while. After putting out my last album Hot Snow & The Allstonia Allstonium Caveman Fuzz Fandango in late 2019, I got to work on it. Most of these songs were composed around synth parts and vocal melodies first, with any guitar being added later. I wrote the first batch of demos around New Year’s, and luckily had finished most of the drum and guitar overdubs just before the pandemic lockdown. Because of the ongoing pandemic situation, I wasn’t able to record contributions from some of my usual collaborators, so most of this album is very much just me. I miss playing with people, but I think it worked well with the lonely vibe I was going for on this one.
Most of this song was written on a flight from Paris to Boston. I couldn’t record a demo on the plane (not without annoying the other passengers anyway), so I wrote some lyrics in my sketchbook and somehow remembered the tune for days until I was able to record it. My previous album had only come out a week before, and this song set the tone for the new album.
The main loop this song is built around is a messed up, altered clip from an older demo of mine that wasn’t going anywhere. I like the word “prickle.” The song is about loving someone who’s prickly, but also there are a few references to Gumby, as Prickle was the yellow dinosaur character on that TV show. Near the end, there’s a clip from Scarlet Street, a noir film by Fritz Lang.
A few years ago, I did a track called “Sugar Plum” where I built a new song around bits of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. As an experiment in giving this album a more mysterious tone, I decided to try it again, this time using pieces of “La Mer” by Claude Debussy. The (limited) lyrics are about feeling transparent, so I called it “sea-thru” as a reference to “La Mer.” After finishing the song, I discovered that “Sea-Thru” is also the name of an algorithm used to make underwater photography clearer. That fits the song too, so that was a nice coincidence.
I have a friend who would say that people who annoyed them were going to “go into the crevasse.” So, I stole that to build a song around. It’s about being in some kind of relationship where you know the other person isn’t taking it seriously, and you’re feeling stupid and frustrated that you’ve let yourself get into that situation. The song is simple, so I had a lot of space to fill with sounds I like, like the vocoder and extremely distorted guitars. I think there’s a bit of low rent Max Martin in this song, like a boy band production style could here. Fortunately I don’t know how to make that happen.
This is a musical version of the problem of evil, which is something that’s bothered me since I was a kid. I wrote it for my last album, but it didn’t fit there. It fits here! I used synthesized drums for most of this album, and you can really hear them on the fills on this one. The cymbals sound like a robot hissing.
Electric Brain Electric Silence started as a set of 17 demos. I cut half of them, and then a few of those survivors were cut because I couldn’t record the necessary live parts during COVID lockdown. I took the remaining seven songs and decided to write two new songs to balance out the album. “Cheeks” was the last song written. The album was getting dark, and I wanted to add something sweet in the middle. Lyrically, it’s about not being sure when, if ever, you’ll get to see and touch someone in person again. It was written this spring.
I found a demo from five or six years ago that I had completely forgotten about. There was a distractingly stupid spoken word section, which I removed before fleshing out the rest of the instrumental parts. I liked it better without any singing. Since recording vocals was more difficult than usual this year, I thought it was a good opportunity to have an instrumental track. I wanted it to be big and dramatic sounding, to shift the mood of the album before the final few tracks. The title is taken from the classic Kids in the Hall skit about the guy who keeps waking up from multiple nested nightmares.
This song was one of the last two written, and all I knew was that I wanted it to be long, with a consistent vibe. I like albums with a long centerpiece track. Smashing Pumpkins used to do that when they were at their peak. The song’s title is a combination of the titles of two very different movies, and the lyrics are about feelings of doom versus assurances that one’s fears are baseless. The refrain “You are not cursed. You are loved by me” is taken directly from the trailer for Phantom Thread (it was cut from the final film). I didn’t take any lines from The Phantom Menace, but the idea is that maybe even if someone tells you there’s no curse to be afraid of, you still wonder if there’s something scary in the shadows. That kind of thing can keep you up at night.
“Crystal Crystmas Sky” is a song on the Christmas album Xmas Gold that I put out in 2018. I like making connections between songs, and I think it adds some extra meaning and texture for anyone who is familiar with the music. The song itself is pretty simple. I just wanted to see what I could pull out of this one chord progression, which never really changes except for a short bridge. I like trying to write songs that people could possibly relate to when they’re sad. I don’t know that I’ve ever succeeded.