Neo Noir’s “Wilderness” makes me feel cool, because, honestly, it’s a sound so unlike the music I normally listen to. Music like this obviously centers around electronic melodies, yet I couldn’t deny the story present in its haunting lines. It is beautiful and satisfying lyrical sunshine on one end, yet wonderfully odd melancholic moonlight in another sense.
Created by duo Gred Ogan and Brad Allan, it’s a study in contrasts. “Wilderness” demonstrates the conundrum of an underlying eagerness for life, while self-aware that temptation – the unknown wilderness – is lurking behind every corner. The “wilderness” may be anything- intoxicants, an activity, a song, or a person. No matter what your hobbies are – clubbing, traveling, live music, or binge-watching television shows – you can lose yourself in any of them to transcend your current emotional state.
Personally, I adore this song because it so eloquently expresses the state of living life according to your own ideals. You find what you love and roll with it.
A euphoric guitar riff opens the song, setting the stage for a story of passion and loss. You almost want to feel sad when listening, yet AIMEE’s vibrant voice uplifts you to the point of wanting to feel the passion she sings about for yourself. When the music breaks down into its wild beat, you get the sense of losing control, or even of recognizing that control is already lost.
It’s the perfect end-of-summer song. You indulge in temptations and vices all summer, only to recognize the drawbacks of living such a life. Yet, at the same time, “Wilderness” summons the happiness one experiences when in this transcendent state. Neo Noir and collaborator AIMEE wished to express this confusion that comes with temptation. Living a passionate existence may be good in some ways, yet it’s easy to slip into the darkness of temptation.
It’s lovely when a song invokes an array of colors in your mind when you’re listening to it. For “Wilderness,” I imagined red, like fire or a sunset, and a deep melancholic blue. These contrasting colors perfectly symbolize the contrasting emotions that “Wilderness” conveys – those conflicting thoughts that pop up in your mind when you experience enticement of the unknown.
Go listen to Neo Noir’s “Wilderness” and experience their rendition of the unknown, then read on to hear the band’s songwriting techniques and inspiration behind the song.
When did you start creating songs? How’d you get into it?
Both of us separately started creating at fairly young ages, in high school, and mostly experimentally. We both started writing and producing songs more seriously when we moved out here in LA. Bradley was making tracks, and I, after a stint as JR Rotem’s head engineer, started co-writing and producing for LA’s pop songwriters and artists. We met through a mutual producer friend in 2011 and have been collaborating since then.
Neo Noir was formed when we found a mutual outlet for our more passionate music, where we could ignore the boundaries commonly found when writing for other artists and labels.
How have your life experiences shaped your music?
They say you can’t REALLY sing the blues unless you’ve experienced some pain and trials in life, and we think that our experiences have shaped the tone of our music. We’ve both experienced life and death, beauty, ugliness, pain, euphoria etc. We don’t strive for fun dance hits, we try to dig into our deeper thoughts and speak to them, and to try to create something moving and emotional.
What’s your goal when you write a song?
There are many goals, and our main goal is to accomplish as many of those smaller goals as possible haha. Mostly though (in no particular order), we look for engaging and interesting harmony, strong melody, a blend of production that satisfies our various influences and musical backgrounds, and most importantly some lyrical content and poetry that’s dug up from somewhere REAL.
What’s the hardest thing about creating a song for you?
The first hardest part is the blank slate. We walk around life all day and sounds and melodies and lyrics and beats pop up EVERYWHERE, until the moment in the studio when we open up a blank session, and sit down at the keys or guitar and start to experiment. Suddenly all those ideas disappear. (Thank god for notepads and voice recorders). There’s nothing more liberating yet terrifying than a blank canvas.
The second hardest part is the crippling self-doubt that comes with the entire production process. While we dig and explore putting the song idea together, the music’s not good enough, the production’s not cool enough, and we’re nothing but hacks UNTIL the music finally turns the corner and the song really starts to take shape. Then things become really exciting!
Another hard part is then sending the song out to people for critique and opinions. And lately, we’ve had this attitude of “ya know what? Who cares if people like this or not. They probably won’t, but this one’s for us, not them.”
How do you think current listening formats (streaming, etc.) impact songwriting?
I think the evolution of how we listen to music has empowered and liberated songwriting! There’s so much music out there now, and that lends SO MUCH room to being authentic, creative, and exploratory. As an independent artist, it’s no longer about writing that crossover worldwide smash hit. There’s so much competition in that arena that unless one truly LOVES that brand of music, they’ll show up dead on arrival. To us it’s about connecting with the listeners, and we see that more and more people are tuning in to artists that are really saying some truth.
We as artists aren’t going to connect if we’re writing music like we’re trying to be famous.
What makes music or a song good?
Mostly what we said above – interesting strong harmony, fantastic melodies, and great, interesting, authentic lyrics and concepts that come from someplace real. Then there’s the production and vibe of the song. When all of those things are executed well, the song should be good 🙂
Do you write lyrics for your songs? Are those collaborative with the vocalists, and how does that process work?
As guys who started out working on tracks and productions, we always collaborated with artists who wrote their own lyrics and melodies, and we would most always contribute and be a part of that creative process.
More recently, we decided that we actually have some things we wanna talk about, so for now we’ve been writing 100% of the music ourselves. As far as the actual technical process of the co-write, it’s really different every time. We’d like to say that the best stuff is written through sessions “from scratch” where spontaneity happens and magic strikes, but damn, some writers have written some amazing songs to preconceived tracks lol.
How do you write a melody?
Absolutely by ear and feel. We sing and play stuff until melodies stick. Sometimes it takes a long time to get em right. We always keep in mind structure and other “rules,” but in the end the melodies gotta hit hard.
How do you define the role of producer?
In this sense I (Greg Ogan) take a hardline, old school perspective on the job of the producer. I think the role of the producer is to oversee the creative and technical vision of a work and do what’s right to bring out the best in everyone involved in that project.
Sometimes it’s very hands on and direct, other times you gotta lay back and let genius do what it does. The producer knows how to put ego aside to bring out the best in people. In addition, the producer is the go-between, between different important players in a project, whether it be musicians, AnR’s, Label presidents, marketing guru’s, food delivery guys, the studio etc, and also to deliver the final product on time and under budget.
I started my studio career working with bands in big room studios. Bradley started his production career making really dope beats. I know to him, being the producer means being up on what’s current, exploring new, great sounds and production techniques, and understanding movement within culture and the world outside of music.
I know we’ve influenced each other a lot since meeting in 2011, and I believe it’s how we complement each other so well in Neo Noir.
What emotions, thoughts, and feelings do you want your music to inspire?
Like I said above, we want to invoke a deeper emotion with music. We want to touch upon some darker moods and introspective emotions, and hopefully take the listener on a bit of an adventure rather than being the background soundscape for an evening out. We consider our music LISTENING and feeling music. Not dancey chart toppers.
Do you carve out intentional time to write and create, or do ideas come to you spontaneously?
Both! Ideas come all the time, and it’s important to be mindful of those gifts (and always record em!!!!). We believe it’s also important to sit down EVERY DAY and be creative. Carving the time to be creatively proactive manifests good ideas. I think if we sat around waiting for inspiration to hit, we’d miss out on a lot of creative adventures.
Do you tend to start a song with a main goal or idea and write to that, or ad lib and shape the main idea along the way?
Usually there’s SOME idea floating around, or some concept or thought that triggers the rest. Developing and producing an idea takes a lot of time and energy, so we try to be mindful of our little sparks in whatever form they come in.
Let’s dive into “Wilderness”. What was the first part of the song to be written? Lyrics, melody, hook?
So “Wilderness” is an example of a collaboration where we had this track idea that AIMEE loved, and she wrote a great topline to that.
How would you articulate the main theme of the song? Where did it come from?
I actually reached out to AIMEE for this question and I’m gonna paraphrase – she said basically it’s about temptation (it can be a good or bad temptation) and the confusion that can come with it. The beauty about these lyrics are that their meanings can lay in the eyes of the beholder.
Did you make this for another person, for yourself, or for an audience?
This one was for ourselves and our audience. We wanted to do something that represented US for our own specific artist collaboration.
How did the collaboration with AIMEE happen, and what was it like working together?
So, I’ve actually known AIMEE for years. We co-wrote a bunch years ago, and the three of us reunited recently for a few sessions. It’s always great working with AIMEE. She has an amazing voice, an endless supply of melodies and lyrics, and it flows from her so effortlessly (or so it seems…). She knows what she wants to talk about and how to communicate it through song.
It’s always a pleasure to not know what’s happening in someone’s magical brain during a songwriting session, then to hear the ideas and be blown away.
What’s your favorite part of the song (lyrically or musically)?
Me personally (Greg), it’s the hook. I love the way the “ooh” melody intertwines with the lyrics in that section. The guitar part is very emotional to me, and really supports what’s happening with the vocals.
When did you know the song was finished?
This one just flowed so easily. After we recorded the vocals the production pieces just kinda fell together naturally. We were lucky this time 🙂
What’s next for you in terms of upcoming music or shows?
Right now we’re in a great incubation period where we’re constantly writing/producing, growing our sound and catalogue and exploring our boundaries.
We plan on continuing this, and releasing a bunch of these songs, and we’ve started brainstorming our live show. We want to try to make it a special experience for listeners.
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