Track by Track: A Guide to Ellaar's Scything Debut LP

Track by Track is a segment where we interview artists to dig a little deeper and take us inside the tracks of their latest releases. We caught up with the newly-formed slashing synth-punk duo Ellaar, who provided us with a track by track guide to their debut album Hyper 3rst, an uncompromising and dazzling debut of wild experimental and dystopian synth-punk.

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Ellaar is a whacked-out, newly-formed synth-punk creation from Buffalo, New York. Composed of multi-instrumentalists Alex Whetham (Kosmische) and Nicole Stern. Even though they formed back in early 2018, they didn't start serious work as a duo until 2020 when sessions for their self-released debut album Hyper 3rst began in September. Last Halloween, they also released the mini-LP Gloam.


To gain more familiarity with the duo, we sat down with them to gain more insight on the recording sessions and discuss every track of their debut album.

"Way Too Much! / Paranoid People"


This is the first song we wrote in 2021, and it was our first conscious attempt to write an "accessible" track. We knew it was going to be the opener, and we also knew it was probably going to be our debut single. We went into the sessions wanting a new wave sound, along with a touch of the modern post-punk that we'd been listening to. It evolved into something a bit trippier as we went along, but we think we pulled it off pretty well.

"Thot Pants"


This is an interlude (made completely by Nicole) intended to contrast Alex's interlude (more on that later). The goal was to make a very dissonant, but high energy burst of sound to throw the listener into Hyper 3rst. We began referring to it as the "title sequence" after the opening scene of "Way Too Much!" and before the madness that's about to ensue. Baller stuff, really.

"Vial"


This was the first song we wrote for Hyper 3rst all the way in September 2020. We planned to make an EP before the end of 2020, but COVID-19 numbers rose way faster than expected, and knowing that we wouldn't have an EP finished before another lockdown, our ambitions skyrocketed and we decided to make an album over the course of a year instead.


Nicole was responsible for the entire instrumental, minus input from Alex once he arrived for the session. We both came up with some bars on our own and laid down verses within the hour. Those takes aren't the ones you hear on the record, but they're not too far off. Also, the breakdown moment at the end defined and set a path towards what we wanted to do for the rest of what would become Hyper 3rst.

"Postt Penn (Geiger Flounder)"


Funnily enough, this was the second song we wrote as a duo after "Vial." Osees had just released Metamorphosed, and we were riding off the high of that album's entropic jams. So, about a month after we did "Vial," we got together, again with a drum-and-bass skeleton thought up by Nicole beforehand, but that's basically where similarities to "Vial" ended.


We actually had the whole structure planned out before playing a note, but this was in a very embryonic stage in our Ableton knowledge, so we weren't even really sure how to sync the drum and synth to Ableton's midi clock. So, we recorded the drums and synth bass in one go, but we also had a vocal track where Alex would cue in each segment of the song with a series of obnoxious warnings and countdowns. It worked, and the improvised jam you hear past two minutes on the finished album is the second take we did. Also, our vocal improvs on the track were our first takes. Fun session.

"PJs"


"PJs" is a file we found on Alex's Macbook during the sessions for "Way Too Much." Apparently recorded earlier in 2020, it was just one channel featuring two-minute long takes of guitar improv. Thankfully, it was synced to the project file's tempo; this gave us a random moment of inspiration. After some inspired drum-pad improv from Alex and quick quantization, "PJs" was in place.


While we don't want to talk about any meanings behind the songs, we will say that this was intended to be a comedown moment on the album: that Sunday night at 10:00 PM after a great Saturday and horrible Sunday when you're finally able to relax in bed.

"I'm Glad You're Dead"


We decline to comment who this song is about, but we were charged up about someone's death a month before the 2021 sessions started, and there's enough bread crumbs in our lyrics to put it together. It was our first attempt to make something angry and outright vulgar: something that would go on to define the "Weekdays" side of the album. It was also the first track Nicole screamed out her lyrics on, which quickly became a staple of future Ellaar sessions


Our first take was a lot of fun, and something we may release as an outtake because it is almost its own beast, but it was not… album quality. Alex was in the other room, unable to hear the song, and relied on Nicole's scream coming from under the studio door to guide his vocal take. Needless to say, he was out of sync. That being said, Alex's last line on the album version was taken from that first take with timing adjustments.

"We Perform Yr Clock Out Blues"


This was the final song written for Hyper 3rst. It started out with these ridiculous screamed improv sessions where we would sit on Nicole's couch outside of the studio, and just boost the gain of our mic to the max so you'd pick up this absolutely terrible room sound. It was hilarious, and inspired us to do other mic experiments when we were mixing and editing, but it did not work as an intro.


So, after a food break and a discussion where we pieced out what Hyper 3rst was about from beginning to end, we realized this song's place in the narrative. We quickly found some hypnotic percussion loops, the basslines you hear on the record, and then we just wrote around that. Nicole had some jazzy vocal flairs in the beginning that we cut out, but we did leave in the beginning of it to kick off the song. On some days, this is probably our favorite on the album.


P.S. The outro of this song was inspired by a twelve-minute jam we did around the main menu music for the original Luigi's Mansion.

"Amigara Fault"


Early on in the 2021 sessions, Alex brought up the idea to warm up with totally free improvs that we'd record and listen back to later. So, we sat down, took out our guitar and midi keyboard, and did a five minute improv. The first two minutes of that improv comprise the instrumental portion of this interlude.


The screams came during mixing and editing. Knowing that the song needed something else, we spun a microphone around the room while moaning like ghouls for like 15 minutes straight. Alex doesn't have much recollection of this other than spinning the mic but it is one of Nicole's most cherished moments from the sessions.

"Daily Grind"


This song came together super quickly. It was done in Ableton with a simple drum loop and it was our attempt at making some dark Twin Peaks: The Return Roadhouse-style music infused with the brand of psychedelia we'd been harnessing since the sessions began. It's also the only track with Alex on total lead vocals and Nicole on backup falsetto.


The funniest thing about this song is despite being easily the darkest full song on the album, it was recorded from 2:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. in broad daylight, but we were really trying to get on a nocturnal wave. Nicole also encouraged Alex to do another vocal take because when listening back to the demo, she could "hear the smile" in his voice even if no one else would notice.


The middle section received a boost near the end of our sessions when we felt it needed something else, and that's where the guitar solo and those anxious little drums in the left channel came from. Alex spent hours doing take after take for that session (it was a rough day) and while Nicole waited, she played around with different settings on her keyboard and decided that the drums would be a good addition. If Alex hadn't sucked that day, the bongos may not be there today.

"Fun"


"Fun" is something we've wanted to make since 2018. When Ellaar originally formed, we wanted to be strictly electronic. The only non-synthesized instrument we used back then was Alex's guitar. We wanted to be super brash back then, and going into the 2021 sessions for "Fun," we decided to take our initial electronic origins and incorporate the rock elements developed throughout Hyper 3rst.


We knew right away that it was going to be a several-part song, and that it was going to start as a totally electronic banger. From there, Nicole had come up with the riff for the third section before we got together to actually begin writing it, and we ended up writing the rest of the song together.


Our goal was to fit the title perfectly, as well as stand out as the best song. With this in mind the sessions were chaotic but we were able to harness said chaos and meld it into the eight minutes that "Fun" became. There was a different ending originally recorded that was noise rock and nothing else, but we decided it could have been even better, so what you hear on record during that final minute is also the very last section we recorded for the entire album.


When we stepped back to listen to "Fun" after our first writing session and it wasn't this terrible mess, but something we were genuinely in love with, we understood what we could do as a duo. Hyper 3rst no longer was an album that we were planning; it was an album we were finishing.