‘Have computer, will make music’ should be the motto of the Information Generation, who embrace each new strand of technological innovation to satisfy their musical desires. While this may seem to some to be a cold and inorganic approach to music making, it has become an accepted norm now, and an important avenue in pushing the elastic boundaries of sound. One listen to the dreamy mini-suites of FADED GOLD will assuredly prove the electronic world’s naysayers wrong.
For Stefanie Chew, the brains behind Faded Gold, it is as natural to sit down at the keys of her computer to write a song as it was for Beethoven or Mozart to do so at the keys of their pianos hundreds of years ago. Very much a solo project, the ambient, instrumental swoons of Faded Gold’s releases to date have all been concocted by the Wirral-based Chew on her laptop, in what is her first foray into song writing. Drawing favourable comparisons with Explosions In The Sky (without the percussion) and M83 (minus the vocals and Gallic sheen), the delightfully shy and unassuming Miss Chew has been tickled pink by the positive praise for her output so far. “I kind of feel strange [at the prospect of] people writing about me,” she laughs. “I only started writing music at the start of the summer. I’ve always liked improvising and making stuff up, and I’ve always wanted to be in a band, but I never had anyone to be in a band with.” The catalyst for going it alone seems to have been a stint working and living in Montréal, where Chew took a great deal of inspiration and encouragement from “being surrounded by really arty and creative people.” Assimilating these good vibes into Faded Gold’s music has paid dividends: Chew’s innate sense of dramatics, allied to a keen ear for tempo, makes the five tracks on the Faded Gold EP bubble along like a soundtrack to your most blissed-out dreams. Bell-like synths lie comfortably alongside soft heart-beat pulses on Reflections and Sunbeams, while Velvet Crush reaches for a higher plane in its more frantic, palpitating rhythm. Plots and sub-plots weave in and out of each other just below the surface, but not in such a complicated manner that you can’t close your eyes and still be immersed in the warm glow of the drenched-in-dream tracks. Pushing this even further, most recent single Last Night I Dreamt Alone exhibits the kind of deft dynamics found on the soundtrack to Nicholas Wending Refn’s film Drive, full as it is of ominous tension and sky-scraping crescendos. “I’d really like to write a film soundtrack one day,” Chew confesses. “I really like the Trent Reznor soundtrack work, like on The Social Network. That was a big influence in writing these recent songs.” If nothing else, the video to The Departure showcases these influences expertly, highlighting Chew as a musician with a distinct visualisation of her sound.
One thing that is often levelled at experimental electronic music is its tendency to wander off down too many ‘proggy’ paths which test the listener’s patience. The linear nature of Faded Gold’s tracks, coupled with the fact that they all clock in at under or around four minutes, means that the songs are succinct and never outstay their welcome; your concentration may wander but you feel with the songs throughout, which evokes some very vivid emotions. I’m intrigued to know if this is something that dominates the song-writing process; whether or not the songs come from the emotions they seem to represent. “Not really, they’re all sounds not images,” replies Chew. “I’ll start with maybe a melody or chord, then I’ll add some more and build it up from there. Sometimes I’ll get halfway through a song and I’ll get to a point where it can go in one of maybe three directions, and I’ve no idea which way it’ll go until it’s already taken off.”
The absence of vocals also allows the tracks to float, meaning the melodies are untethered and free to twist into places that words can never reach. Chew does have plans to expand by adding vocals at some stage, as well as percussion and eventually a full band set-up, but it’s one small step at a time at the moment. For a start there’s the live performance to hone (one nervy outing so far suggests that a few more attempts may yet be needed) before any major changes can be considered, but it’s the ambition of the young lady that is the most mouth-watering. “If I add vocals in it would really change the style of the music, you know? My music’s still evolving and I’m still really new and I’m developing new recording techniques. Every time I write something new I really like it a lot more than the older stuff, and I wish people hadn’t really seen or heard the older stuff!”
They say all that glitters is not gold. In the case of Stefanie Chew, if it glitters, it’s Faded Gold.