My latest single ‘We’re All Aliens, Baby’ truly took me by surprise! It seemed to come out of nowhere, as one minute I was watching a video on YouTube, the next minute I had a catchy hook asking “where are all the aliens?“, with the rest growing quickly from that seed.
If you were dying to know the story behind my quirky little sci-fi tune, then let’s strap in and blast off!
Haven’t listened to it yet? Click here to find it on your favourite music service.
The initial spark
As I tend to do regularly, I was watching a video about science, psychology or skepticism because I love learning more about humans and our place in this universe of ours.
- There are billions of stars in the Milky Way similar to our Sun.
- With high probability, some of these stars have Earth-like planets, and if the Earth is typical, some may have already developed intelligent life.
- Some of these civilizations may have developed interstellar travel, a step humans are investigating now.
- Even at the slow pace of currently envisioned interstellar travel, the Milky Way galaxy could be completely traversed in a few million years.
- And since many of the stars similar to the Sun are billions of years older, this would seem to provide plenty of time.
What this essentially boils down to is:
- There is potential for many civilisations out there with the technology to travel and/or communicate amongst the stars.
- We haven’t seen any evidence of this, so…where are all the aliens?
The video is made by Kurzgesagt, which is German for ‘in a nutshell” in essence. I can’t recommend them enough.
The guitar part materialised around the same time, it felt a little reggae (at least to me) and had an enjoyable feel. It wasn’t long before I had the idea of putting it and the aliens concept together.
A fun way of writing music is to try anything, even if it seems silly or wrong, just to hear how it sounds. In jamming by myself on random ideas, the opening line came to me like this: “My name is ___, I live on the planet ___” and the rest of the lyrics sprung forth from there, they felt so right that I was urged to continue exploring where this weird creation could go.
I felt the idea of this song featuring a bunch of different characters on different planets all asking the same question could be somewhat profound and even a little poignant, and so I went ahead with that concept.
I knew it would be important to differentiate them from each other, so as well as singing them all differently in terms of pitch, timbre and accents, a more subtle element was the slide guitar in between each one which was to imply that the listener is travelling between them over the course of the song.
Adding myself into the lyrics “my name is Nathan, I live on the planet Earth” was another one of those ‘try it and see’ approaches that I felt really wrapped everything up nicely and brought it back to being relevant to humans (the primary target audience).
But when to release?
The release date of 16-Nov-2019 was not chosen by accident. This day marked the 45th anniversary of the Arecibo Message, the very first deliberate intersteller radio wave transmission from Earth to a relatively close star cluster named ‘M13’ (only a short 25,000 light years away).
The image on the left (above) is the colourised version of the original message sent in 1974.
It was a basic hello in binary code that could be arranged as as image, with some info about us, what we’re made of (DNA) and where the message was sent from. Here’s a breakdown of what the dots mean.
With a 25,000 year trip to reach M13, it wasn’t meant as an attempt at two-way communication, but more of a statement to ourselves about our technological progress (i.e. we did it because we could).
The style and colours of the original directly inspired the cover art I made for the single (above right). Now those were some frustrating but enjoyable hours of photoshop!
The recording of the song was another big step for me personally, as it was the first time I’d properly performed all the instruments myself for the recording.
Even since my previous single ‘Don’t Forget to Like!’ about six months earlier, I’d made great strides in my drum and bass playing. My skills weren’t amazing (at least not to the standards I set myself), but I felt confident enough in my abilities that I thought “why not jump in head first and give it a try?“.
Every sound you hear in that song is me, even down to the glockenspiel.
Credit goes also to my good friend Casper Hall at SoundOut Studios here in Brisbane. Having a relaxed and positive environment to record in is important, and he provided that in spades.
Mixed also by Casper and mastered by Matthew Gray, I’m proud of how the finished product turned out.
The music video
After taking the world by storm (I wish there was a font or symbol for sarcasm), the song settled into its place among my other released music and that seemed to be the end of it. That is until I started work on the music video!
There was a lot of imagery in the song already so I thought the best approach would be to visualise the story that the lyrics were already telling.
Collaborating with a local animator Michael Bliss of Cheeky Turtle, I feel we got something truly special.
(The rocket ship represents you, the listener! Can you find all the easter eggs and references we put in?)
There’s not much more to say about the video, it speaks for itself.
If you haven’t watched it yet, go do it now!
So there we have it, the backstory you never knew you needed about my weird but fun foray into writing science fiction.
At the end of the day I want my music to encourage people to think, and in this case to remember how small we really are in this vast cosmos, and that the only way to survive it is together.
Want a hint about my next news item?
I promise you won’t be board!