SAMUEL Shares a Track-by-Track Breakdown of His Massively Mellowing Release ‘Sax and the City’

- Aug 27, 2019 at 03:00PM
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His name is Samuel and he makes music. That about sums up the essence of who musician Samuel Vondra is; a young, highly motivated music lover who has endeavoured to offer to the world his passionately-produced sounds. Samuel is a chill-hop artist who focuses on creating instrumental hip-hop loaded to the brim with groovy beats.

He has now taken the largest step forward in his still fresh musical career with the release of his new record, Sax and The City on June 28th, a thirteen-track exploration through hip-hop, alternative, boom-bap, jazz, soul and funk. This is a release that covers a lot of musical territory which is more than just background music. Every song on Sax and The City offers something a little bit different from the previous tune, indicative of an artist searching through large sonic soundscapes and unwilling to get bogged down by a sound or a genre. You can check out Sax and The City now, via streaming services such as Spotify.

Samuel was born in small-town Wisconsin and has loved music ever since he was a young boy in kindergarten. His mother introduced him to the old ‘40s and ‘50s classics of American music, while his father got him well acquainted with the greats of classic rock, such as Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and Steve Miller Band. Hearing the insanity of Jimmy Page’s guitaring on “Bring it on Home” from Zeppelin II motivated Samuel to pick up a guitar and study as much as he could.

From there, he learned to love anything with a rhythm which brought about a lot of trial and error with his sound. In the present, he has settled on chill-hop and electronic music as his focus, but as a young man, he is still trying to figure out where his sonic palette will develop from here. To learn more about Samuel and his innovative sound, we’re giving you an inside look at the stories behind the songs contained on his new record Sax and The City. Read in Samuel’s own words as he takes us through the process of creating an original release with the utmost musical depth.

The Sax and The City album was independently released on June 28th, 2019; check the album art:


01. “In My Head”
- So this is the first song for a reason. I’d like to say that this song was me cracking my head open and really playing the field to figure out what I could do with the type of sound I chose for this album. I really love a lot of types of music and I wanted to be a little careless with it and let in elements of different genres that I love. That’s one thing I’ve been more consciously trying to tell myself to do. It never hurts to try something and see if it fits. Sometimes you just need to do it and have faith/confidence that it’ll work out. This was the second or third song I worked on in the album so I was still fresh on the entire idea.

One of the only tracks with a vocal, I took the vocal from some loop I had and pitched it and threw it through a vocal synthesizer on top of a few other effects to try and make it really swirl. I tried to be conscious of space and make it feel like there is a lot of room between all of the instruments. This song, along with others, weren’t even that many layers and many of the saxophone bits were rep-itched and audio warped versions from other sections. The bari sax lick, for example, was just an earlier one re-pitched and mixed differently. Love that like, by the way. The tune just makes me hype and I don’t even know why.



02. “Privet Drive”
- This was the fourth track I made in the album. This one started with the chord progression and I built off of that. I felt that it was a perfectly blank canvas to work off of that didn’t pull in a specific direction, emotionally. So I used that space with the percussion, sax, and bass. Some of the tracks use 808s and some use an electric bass (like this one). I just use a cheap Yamaha bass and plug it straight into my computer. I’m no bass player by any means, but the simple riffs are in my repertoire. Guitar is my first instrument, so I can get around the strings a little. The vocal part was an ad-lib that I ran through the dryer, per se, and tried to get really distorted and crunky to match the worn, broken sound on the saxophones.

I remember being at the halfway point on this track and pulling a full Axl Rose, “where do we go now?” I sat on it for a minute and decided to keep digging until I found something I enjoyed. Essentially, I took the saxophone from the first half, reversed it, and pitch-shifted sections of it until I found something I could settle with. Then it ends with the original lick that drove you through the beginning of the tune. Oh, and yes that’s a typewriter at 1:18 that I panned and tried to mirror the rhythm of the melody with.



03. “Something in the Background”
- This is the track that started it all! I was hanging out with a buddy of mine, Christian, and I made this loop and wanted him to rap over it. Unfortunately, we had never gotten around to it so I decided to take the song and try to make a track that was jazzy, boombappy, and lofi. I went and bought a bunch of raw saxophone samples and started chopping them up and making new sections out of there. The goal was to make an authentic riff using authentic saxophone samples.

I made the “chorus” part first after the chord progression and instantly fell in love with the vibe of the track. I love the conversation it makes from the call-and-response of the saxophones. The “verse” part after the first chorus was a midi that I composed on my guitar, translated to my DAW, and then tried my best to break down and feel not as polished. At this time I still hadn’t thought of making an entire track out of this idea, so I was still just trying to mess around and see what I could do within the song. My goal was to try and make it sound less-corny...ish. After I made this track, I had too much fun with it that I decided to pull together a bunch of ideas I had sitting and make Sax and the City.



04. “Summer on the Beach”
- The name says it all. I made this track from left to right so once I picked the ambient ocean sample in the intro, I immediately knew the feeling that this song was giving off. I love the intro build that lets off into 00:45 where the beat rides for a minute before it jumps into a more melodic section. I tried to add new things in each part. Like the stacking harmony of saxophones later in the track, new percussion elements, etc. I add the sin-wave arpeggio just to throw in something from left field and make a call-and-response with the saxophone that it is talking to in that song section.

The trumpet solo in this one is from a plugin that, like in “Something in the Background,” I composed on guitar, translated to my DAW, and tried to make sound at least a little better than what it was. I had just bought an organ VST online and I was so excited to use it that I forced it into this song and I think that it helps give great depth. If memory serves, this was the fifth track I made and I started with the piano chord progression after picking out the ocean sample.



05. “Micky”
- Don’t ask me why I named this track “Micky” because I don’t even know why I did it. I think, at the time, I felt the saxophone for this tune felt super care-free, like a Mickey Mouse cartoon. When I’m really stuck on a song I sometimes call upon the Faulkner quote of “write drunk, revise sober,” (but with marijuana) and this song is an example of that, so the song title is naturally really silly. I was listening to a cute beats playlist on Spotify at the time and I ended up wanting to inject what I was hearing into this track. That’s where the cutesy synth and vocal samples come in.

This track was all about trying to find pockets. Like other tracks on the album, I wanted to give the mix a lot of space in between instruments and effects. I love the call-and-response that the saxophones ended up giving. I messed with a couple of different bass lines and I was constantly unhappy with time until I decided to just throw in an 808 and make it crunchy and aggressive to reflect the easy vibe of the other elements of the songs. I also thought that it played nicely off of the upfront nature of the kick and snare. So far, this is the most streamed track and I’m really proud of it.

Check out the recently-released, official music video for “Micky!”


06. “Sunlight”
- I made this one left to right, so the intro automatically told me this was to be named “Sunlight,” it feels warm to me. I wanted to mix a minute lo-fi vibe and a rough production with an undeniably chipper and groove-driven tone. Of all the tracks, this is the one I spent the most time on. I nitpicked it to hell and because of that, I have a love-hate relationship with it. Sometimes I want to hear it, and others I can’t stand it. I’m going to assume it is from listening to it a million times over. The chord progression in this track is one of my favorites of the album. The progression ended up matching the saxophone perfectly through the track. I remember feeling one of those “a-ha” moments when I put together the sax bit and laid it over the piano. Same goes for the 808!



07. “Snuggle Bug”
- This song was made with feelings in mind. I wasn’t trying to make something life-changing, but I did make it trying to translate specific feelings. I took a saxophone plugin and wanted to mainly compose a song via midi. There are some authentic saxophone bits thrown in, but most of it is from a plugin. One of my favorite things about this track is the constantly-building saxophones in the chorus through the album. I just wanted a strong melody to carry the chorus and song spaces in between. This one will always be special to me.



08. “I'll Miss You (When You're Gone)”
- This one will always be one of my personal favourite tracks that I’ve ever made. I started with the saxophone sample and it instantly made me feel a certain type of way. Then I put together the percussion and figured out the chord progression for the first section. I wanted to make the song like a journey, with three main different phases and intermediate transitional sections in between. The song tries to convey a story, with three “acts” that are all unique from each other but share a common core that carries on through the song as the story progresses. This also made it REALLY fun to mix, since I was mixing three very different song sections, with the last having a window-shaking 808 at the end.



09. “Saxy Lady”
- I enjoy dad jokes, and puns just as much, so I felt I had to throw in at least one saxophone-related pun on the tracklist. This was the sixth track I made for the album. When making it, I was trying to make it really upfront and in-your-face. I wanted it to be loud and kind of obnoxious with a more old school type of percussion. The staccato saxophone section came from another section that I had made that I wasn’t happy with. So I bounced it to audio and chopped it up and made a whole next part that I loved. It’s so silly and obnoxious, and I played with the panning a lot on the different saxophone layers.

It started with the main saxophone lick, and then I (painstakingly) figured it out note-for-note and translated that to a bass plugin to make the bass a part of the melody, rather than a rhythm section in the background. There are no chords behind the saxophones for a reason, I wanted percussion and melody only. The rest was empty space.



10. “Groovin'”
- Exactly as this song is named, I tried really hard to make a song that had a strong groove to drive it along. So, I made the kick really aggressive in certain parts of the song and take it a step back in others. It gives a good dynamic in reflection of the song sections. The B-section of this song was one of my favorite to make. I loved having the animal sounds and warping them down to give this really odd vibe out of nowhere. I wanted the chorus on this song to hit hard with a really thumpy kick and the “verse” part to have a call-and-response of the sax and the hats on the drums. This track is a favourite of one of my good buddies who helped push me along in making this album.



11. “The Come Up”
- This was one of the later tracks I made in the album. I came across what ended up being the main saxophone riff on the track and I immediately knew the direction I wanted to go. I wanted to have the song raise the stakes little by little through each go-around. Parts of the song keep changing as I was trying to keep the beat fresh under the repetition of the main melody. This track also uses a fade-out, which I do a bit on the album. For whatever goofy reason I love fade-outs and wish they were more prevalent in modern music. I felt they’re great ways to end a lot of the tunes on this album.



12. “Surprise!”
- This song was a challenge for me. Not that it was difficult, I challenged myself to try and make my last song on the album from beginning to end in a day. So I pushed it out in about eight hours and attempted to make something with no filter. I tried incorporating more synthesizers into this one to change it up and throw in a few more experimental sounds. That’s why I buried this track near the end. When I came across the saxophone lick on this one I loved it so much that I ended up learning it on guitar to use myself.



13. “Lights in Chicago”
- The minute I started working on this track, I already knew that it would be the salutation song. There’s a vibe it gives that ends the project on a perfect tone. The track was made to be fun, carefree, and relaxed. I composed it to have a little bit of everything from all of the tracks on the album.

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