Technique: Rainer – ‘Water’

22.05.15

Rainer are a leftfield pop duo made up of Rebekah Raa and Nic Nell – Rah used to front indie group Stricken City (she also provided those harmonies on Daniel Avery's Water Jump), while Nell produces electronic music as Casually Here. Together they write and producer rather gorgoeus, intelligent, distinctive, and subtly humorous pop songs.

We've liked them since their first EP came out in 2013, and after nearly a year-and-a-half of silence, they've released their debut album 'Water'. Recorded over 18 months in a studio in Elephant & Castle, South London, 'Water' deals with themes of falling in, being in, and falling out of love.

The sound and songwriting of 'Water' feels a lot more sophisticated and considered than that of their first EP, and if you needed any proof of how far they've come, you just need to read this handy track-by-track put together by Nell, which details the thought processes, inspirations, and constant rewrites that went into perfecting the album's 10 pristine pop songs.

01. Water

Casually Here: "Water, for me, encapsulates what we're about musically. I think it's my favourite track on the album.

"I had Dario G's Sunchyme in my head as a reference for the steel drums in the chorus, though on a recent re-listen I found that Sunchyme definitely lives better in the memory. The delayed synth shimmers at the start have always given me images of glowing digital icebergs on a sea of coral light, a feeling of both organic and digital breathing together.

"Rebekah's lyrics in the first half get me every time. I think they beautifully capture the realistation that time's passing and we're getting older and that we're not actually going to be here forever – something that being a bit younger just doesn't cross your mind as if your life seemingly infinitely stretches out in front of you."

02. Nocturn

Casually Here: "Nocturn went through a several different versions. The original instrumental was written a while back as a hip hop thing, and I found it late one night and sent it over to Rebekah who was also up. She sent it back within in an hour with a really beautiful vocal for the whole track. 

"The only problem was that, due to the late night nature of the writing, Rebekah had been playing it quietly and had heard the chorus as three lots of four bars, which she had then copied to make longer in Ableton, rather than four lots of three bars, which is what the bass was doing.When we changed the bass notes, it lost something. It was really frustrating, as what made it special was what also made it not quite work. Eventually we ended up reworking the chorus, taking elements of the vocal and building a new instrumental/climax of the song. 

"I'm a big fan of the PC Music stuff, which was definitely an influence on the chopped up vocals at the end. That was something I'd previously done on the first thing I ever did musically with Rebekah – which was a remix her old band Stricken City – so it was fun getting a bit of that in there, too."

"I had Dario G's Sunchyme in my head as a reference for the steel drums in the chorus, though on a recent re-listen I found that Sunchyme definitely lives better in the memory." – Casually Here, Rainer

03. Dear

Casually Here: "Dear was an early track we revisited when we were finishing up the album. We weren't quite sure if we were going to have to rework the whole thing, as it was sounding very different to the rest of the record. I was playing around with things and then added the big 'Decapitatored' noisy synth in the chorus, which completely pulled the track into a new space and in line with the record. Dear always had a bit of a fairy tale feel to it with its Disney technicolour choirs, but that synth pulled it into a darker fairy tale space… to me, it sounds like a roiling mass of snakes.

"I've always loved the Lilac water I would pour, it softens my thoughts lyric… which Rebekah has informed me is a reference to fabric softener."

04. Trouble

Casually Here: "We started writing Trouble sat next to each other at a piano with both of us playing, which led to the interesting eight chord progression in the verses – something I think would have happened if it hadn't had four hands involved, as it would have just been too awkward to play.

"When we wrote it, it really felt like the centerpiece for the record. The lyric I don't need my mother to feed me in the second verse still gets me every time. All the synths on the track are Arturia's Minimoog V, which I'm a massive fan of, and which is what we used for most of the synths on the record (with bits of Korg M1 thrown in here and there). I went and tried a real Minimoog and was disappointed to find that it sounded nothing like the Arturia plugin."

"I've always loved the Lilac water I would pour, it softens my thoughts lyric… which Rebekah has informed me is a reference to fabric softener." – Casually Here, Rainer

05. Melt

Casually Here: "Melt started life as the twinkly riff you can hear in the background in the verses that I sent over to Rebekah. I described the original sketch as 'futuristic retro science fiction-y near the end of the record', and imagined it as a sort of Animal Collective-y interlude, so it's funny that it ended up being one of the most straight pop songs on the record.

"When it came to working out the piano arrangement for the first verse, we were definitely channeling a bit of the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack. Rebekah is a fantastic pianist (and I'm definitely not) so it's always lovely to hear a production sketch evolve into a proper piano piece.

"There are some really beautiful and slightly different vocal harmonies in the verses. In the mix it was a balance between really wanting people to hear them, but also not letting them get in the way of the main vocal."

06. Skin

Casually Here: "There are two different rainstorms I recorded, sidechained off other sounds, throughout the first half of the song as a noise bed. One was recorded out the window with a mic, and I think the other was recorded on my phone. As it kicks off in the second half, there are also bits of a recording I made on my phone of small waves crashing on a pebble beach in Kefalonia a couple years back, after sleeping out under the stars at the foot of a ruined castle on a rocky peninsula, creeping off at dawn so as not to get caught – wild camping is illegal there, and there were 'No camping' signs everywhere. 

"When I'm out and about, I try to record interesting bits of sound on my phone. I actually really like the oddly compressed low quality sounds you get off phone recordings. Even if no one else knows where they're from, it's really nice having little bits of sound that trigger memories in tracks. No one else has that particular bit of sound, whereas everyone can have the same 808 sample or synth sound."

07. Leave 

Casually Here: "When we were finishing the record, we felt like we wanted something that was a bit of a breather. Leave started life around the same time as Laws and Dreams [from Rainer's first EP] and shared some of their sounds, but we'd never got it quite right. When we revisited it, Rebekah changed some of the vocal parts, and with a little BPM nudging, it actually came together really easily."

"When I'm out and about, I try to record interesting bits of sound on my phone. No one else has that particular bit of sound, whereas everyone can have the same 808 sample or synth sound." – Casually Here, Rainer

08. Laws

Casually Here: "We originally wrote Laws as a big widescreen electronic production. We spent ages on it and it had loads of good stuff in it, but we just couldn't get the chorus to work. After leaving it for a while, we decided to try and do a completely stripped back version. We made the original pre-chorus – My heart has come to my mouth, it's wants to get out – into the chorus. 

"Listening to back to the original now, I think we definitely made the right call. When you've spent a long time working on something and there's a lot there that you do really like, it can be really hard to admit that it doesn't work."

09. Marry

Casually Here: "Marry had a great demo, which was a bit more carefree-hair-blowing-summertime-driving-a-convertible-sounding – which sounded a bit out of place on the record. We really liked that version, but it didn't work with the record, so we ended up doing a completely new version – different speed, sounds, changed some of the chords, etc.

"My advice to anyone making demos of tracks, or making tracks at all, is to try to never to use placeholder sounds that you know you definitely won't want in the final track, as you will get used to them – when you come to take them away, you feel like you're missing something, despite not liking what's there. Find something you can live with and keep moving as you equally don't want to lose creative momentum clicking through presets trying to find the perfect sound."

10. Raven

Casually Here: "The original idea for Raven was based around a instrumental with some of the chopped-up voices that sounded a bit like a nursery rhyme/schoolyard chant – the Won't you stay I beg you leave bit. So the idea was to do something playful and simple like that.

"When we came to work it up it just got more and more complicated as more and more sections got added. I think we spent almost two weeks just working at it and working at it, and when we got to the end we said 'Let's never make one that complicated again.' I'm not sure we've managed to keep to that. 

"When we decided it was going to be the last track on the record, we ended up doubling the accapella choir at the end – which had previously resolved a little differently – so that it resolved like the end of at record, with a feeling of hope after some trials and tribulations. It's also a feeling of going full circle, as the steel drums from Water at the beginning of the album make a reappearance in the final track."

Kissability/Algebra released 'Water' on May 18th 2015 (buy).