From what I recall, the way in which I was introduced to the sounds of Verdance was quite elusive. "Hey" - with a link hanging below was the message I received from Ivo and on the other side of that link was an introduction to a vibrant, new world - literally and figuratively.
Verdance is the brand new project of Jake Brown (aka Handbook) and with this moniker, he's made a swift departure from the comforting lofi aesthetic we usually hear from Handbook, to a sound brimming with color and rhythmic flamboyance.
'Rothko' is the beginning: Each track is a mission statement about what I want to explore sonically over the next few years. It has to be music that is powerful, visceral and exciting. It will be music that channels energy from nature, and it will bring people together.
The above is a quote from Verdance regarding his debut EP which dropped on the 7th of December. Stereofox Records worked closely with Jake during the build-up to the release, and in this interview, he opens up about why he started Verdance, his creative process, and much more.
When did you initially get the idea to head into a different sonic direction and form a new project?
My decision to try something in a new direction kind of started years ago. I had begun writing more uptempo, dance-oriented music under the alias TearLand, but it was a more playful venture - nothing serious, and no continuity across tracks.
I've always had a great amount of respect and love for Dance music, but never really understood how it worked: what elements of the music were integral; when the drops should come, or how long they should last; how synths worked etc. Early in 2020, I felt something had to change. Working on just Hip-Hop/Chill tracks in and around that 80-95BPM felt really limiting and I felt that I had more ways to express myself. I wanted Handbook to continue, so I took advantage of the extra time on my hands and began writing music that would ultimately become Verdance.
In which way do you switch up your production process when you're working on Verdance tracks compared to Handbook tracks?
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The whole process has changed. It had to really, or it would sound too much like what I was already making, just faster. The structure changed first, moving away from ABAB verse/chorus arrangements, to a range of other structures that worked differently. Sometimes the arrangement for Verdance tracks is even simpler - perhaps an opening movement, then a breakdown, building to a finale at the end. I've also worked much harder at tying sections of a composition together so that they morph into each other; some elements fade out and disappear, only to reappear towards the end. I've also layered found sounds/foley to create textures that glue the melodies and groove together. I love background chatter that appears to be indistinct but, when looped, phrases almost appear - half-sentiments or quasi-coherence.
For you, what were some of the pros and cons of lockdown during the creation of "Rothko"?
It's been all pros, if I'm quite honest. A lot of what I have made as Handbook has taken place by myself, in my studio, shared over the internet with friends/labels/producers/fans, and the feedback generated goes into the next pieces I work on. Having less to do in the outside world, means that Verdance has been the ultimate escapism: when I am writing music or listening to music, everything else fades away. I've been lucky that my job finishes at a set time and doesn't spiral into my home life, so there are few distractions. My vision for Verdance is that I can work on a bigger scale, so post-lockdown, I would enjoy working more directly with other producers, and with the vocalists I'm getting to know through Verdance.
Where is the name "Rothko" derived from and how does it relate to the mood you're conveying throughout the EP?
There is a mixed process when it comes to naming tracks, either as Verdance or Handbook. Sometimes their music carries a concrete message I have in mind from the start. 'Pthalo' for example, was just a colour in my head at the time and the track, in my head, reflects those aspects of the colour and the tone. With 'Rothko', I didn't really know what I was wanting to say - it's not always that straight forward. I have a stack of art books in my room, and saw the Mark Rothko book that I own, and that got me reflecting more on what the correlation is and why the name seemed to work so well. Rothko's paintings are reliant on layers to create depth, and he often painted large scale pieces: for me, that was the link! That is what I wanted Verdance to be like - I wanted more careful arrangements, with more depth and thought, and I wanted the tracks to feel 'big'.
The track which:
- took the longest to make and why?
The title track definitely took the longest to complete. The instrumental itself had to be tweaked a lot: the structure wasn't working out once Oli's vocals came through, as the track lost energy and direction; I rewrote the breakdown in the middle because the original was too distracting, and the breakdown did not provide the right contrast to the chorus section. All worth it though because that tune is a banger. I love it.
- holds the most sentimental value to you?
'Ritual Two' means a lot. It was the starting point for Verdance. It was the first track where I felt I knew where Verdance was going to go and felt the most polished. The melody is probably one of my favorites that I've written: I absolutely love that track, and I can confidently say I can look back on it in years time and still love it.
I'm curious as to how your enthusiasm for film scores informed the mood of "Rothko"?
Rather than directly influencing the EP itself, film scores are a sound that I've been listening to over the last couple of years. I'm not a mega film fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I always connect more with films that have a great score. The restrained melodies of a classy film score always strikes a chord with me. I've been enjoying the music of Johann Johannsson and Max Richter, as well as Olafur Arnald's albums and TV scores: their ability to relay a narrative is exceptional and I can only just hope to achieve that level of composition in my works.
You've mentioned before that you intend the sonic aesthetic of Verdance to be primarily nature-inspired. In the future would this not become a tad predictable and played out?
You're absolutely right. Carrying out that motif across multiple albums would be uninspiring, but everything has a starting point. For now, Verdance is green, luscious and steeped in the natural world, be it the use of rainforest ambiance and rainfall, to the use of organic synths and drums. You never know where these projects go - that's the exciting thing about being an artist. At this point, I couldn't imagine a Verdance project being gritty, or mechanical, or brutalist in its execution, but who knows? In ten years' time, Verdance could be an edgy, dark, and miserable venture. I think the values that are going to continue throughout Verdance releases are that they are going to be quality, they are going to be meaningful, and they are going to be memorable.
What could we expect from Verdace in 2021?
More music is definitely on the cards for 2021. I've built up a wealth of ideas and completed tracks - they just need to be grouped together into coherent releases and refined where necessary. Compared to Handbook, there will be fewer tracks and projects released over the course of the year to allow those projects the appropriate air time.
So… 1) An artist/band you would have a D.M.C (Deep Meaningful Conversion), 2) An artist/band you’d love to party with. 3) Artist/band you would like to be within the studio for a week.
I'd love to have a deep conversation with Madlib. I get the feeling he doesn't say too much, but what he does say is deep (don't quote me on that, I obviously don't know him haha). However, the man makes insane tunes and I'd love to talk about his processes and his philosophies, and what he makes of the music scene has been so pivotal in it over the years.
Partying-wise, I'm not so sure. I'm getting on a bit and would prefer a dinner-party-and-spinning-records kind of party. I think Bonobo has a mega collection of records, and he seems like an interesting person - so him and someone like Questlove would be cool. The thing is, I've hardly lived lives like these guys, so hearing stories from people who have truly lived exciting and inspirational lives would be really cool. Questlove's book Mo Beta Blues was really great, and he tells a good story.
A session writing music with Four Tet would be insane. Again, I'd love to see the process and understand more about production and arrangement. The aesthetic of his music is always striking - really deep and multifaceted. There Is Love In You is just wonderful work. I listened to that nearly every day when I first heard it in 2010. Not many albums have struck me in such a way, so to understand how someone can create such a record would be so enriching.