9) Bacon

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Sometime at the end of elementary school or beginning of middle school, my dad told me and my brother a story about how he was almost killed by the police. This story took place in 1981 while he was heading to a friend’s house to listen to records. While wearing a hat and driving my grandma’s beat up white van with a box of records in the back seat, he pulled up to his friend’s house in Sierra Madre, an affluent mostly white suburb of Los Angeles. That was when he was swarmed by three police cars with six cops who proceeded to aim loaded pistols and shotguns at him and order him out of the van and onto the ground. Fearing for his life, my dad kept his hands visible, followed their orders, and ended up handcuffed face down on the ground while the van was searched. While this was happening, his friend came out of the house and got in a huge yelling match with the police about how they had no reason to be arresting him. After the search yielded nothing but a box of records, they let him go.

The reason for all of this? There was allegedly an armed robbery that occurred somewhere and the description of the suspect was a black guy driving a white car with a hat. Fortunately, my dad did not make any “furtive movements” and none of those cops were feeling trigger-happy that day. Otherwise, he would have been filled up with Lord-knows-how-many bullets, his death would have been a soon-to-be-forgotten “tragic mistake,” and I would not exist. After telling this story, my dad told me and my brother that if we’re ever pulled over by the police, we need to keep our hands where they can be seen, obey every order that is given to us, and announce any movement we make before making it (such as reaching for a wallet to show our driver’s license). Otherwise, we’ll end up dead because of a “furtive movement,” our death will be nothing but a “tragic mistake,” and nothing will happen to the cop who killed us. I have since received this lecture more times than I can remember.

34 years after the Sierra Madre incident, Lawrence Crosby, a PhD student at Northwestern, was similarly swarmed by police and arrested for breaking into his own car (which he had locked his keys in). After reading about this arrest and watching the dash cam footage (I didn’t hear about it until January 2017), I couldn’t help but think about the possibility of me getting killed for simply fitting a description, a thought that would eventually lead to the story in “Bacon.” Although there were a number of higher profile stories about police brutality that occurred before this (Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, the list goes on), the Crosby story inspired my writing more because a) it was eerily similar to what happened to my dad in 1981 and b) I had not made a beat prior to this that would have suited a police brutality song. Fortunately, I had made such a beat right before the holidays in December 2016.

At the time, I had just finished the instrumental for “Le Rêve” and the current draft of Origins was too chill and melodic for me. As a result, I intentionally tried to make a banger for my next instrumental. Since the bangers that were on that draft evolved out of noise (“Live In Fear,” “Belligerent,” maybe “Assembly Line”), I again decided to start this beat by making a new noise, this time using the Operator instrument in Ableton. After messing around a bit, I eventually created a really dirty synth sound by modulating a sine wave with a saw wave and modulating the resulting signal with a white noise signal. I then used this sound to play the bass line. Since this bass line was very dirty and distorted sounding, I decided to make the drums complement it by heavily compressing them, adding an overdrive effect, and using white noise as a snare sound. These were in turn layered with another drum track that I completely squashed (compressed). Once I finished the drums, the white noise snare sound reminded me of the sound a HAM radio makes when no one is speaking. That was when I decided to call the song “Bacon” and talk about police brutality on it.

Since I was going for a banger, I decided that everything I added from here had to either be drums or transient rhythmic sounds that enhanced the drums. So I added a couple of hi-hat lines and a staccato string section that enhanced the bass drum. The only layer that doesn’t follow this rule is the string section that plays during the chorus, although I intentionally made it a simplistic four note line that would not distract from the overall drive of the song. These strings somehow caused the lyrics “chill, keep your hands on the wheel, don’t make a move or you might get killed” to hit me from out of the blue. That was when I decided to tell a story about getting pulled over in this song. After all of that was made, I had what was hands-down the hardest hitting beat that I had ever made. It was too repetitive after two verses, however, and since I was into making 5 minute songs at the time, I had to do something radical in the third verse that would make the listener pay attention until the end of the song. Now during this time period, I was listening to a lot of System of a Down and one thing I admire about them is how they can transition between extreme heaviness and extreme calmness almost instantaneously in many of their songs. This inspired me to add the seemingly random interjection of string section calmness at the beginning of the third verse. When I added that section, I immediately knew that I was going to talk about being killed in that verse.

When I finished making the instrumental, I already had the entire song outlined in my head. Verse one would talk about the causes of police brutality, verse two would tell a story about me getting racially profiled and pulled over, and verse three would describe me getting killed and no one giving a damn about my death after it occurs. Just before I started writing it, Jordan Edwards was murdered by a police officer in Texas. Since he had the same last name as me, it fueled the fire of this song even more and when I finally started writing it, the lyrics flowed out of me with relative ease compared to the previous struggle-buses on the album (such as the imaginary love story in “Le Rêve”). The only hard part was writing the beginning of the third verse since I had to imagine what I’d be thinking while I’m dying. It turns out though that it’s easier for me to imagine my own death than to imagine what it’s like to feel loved. In terms of lyrics, this is definitely the best song on the album. The only songs that come close to it are “Trance” and “Profit” in my humble opinion.

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