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Thundercat - Lava Lamp

Oct 2020

It has been inevitable to start this project without going through one of my great references in recent years. Stephen Lee Bruner, or better known as Thundercat, is an incredible musician and bassist, having collaborated with artists such as Kamasi Washington, Kendrick Lamar or Flying Lotus. His way of playing the bass keeps the perfect balance between the rhythmic and the harmonic, providing a solid groove base that arpeggiates and harmonizes at the same level.

thundercat image

Lava lamp is the sixth song from his third studio album “Drunk”, where he displays all his expertise in hypersonic funk bass, beats from the Roland CR-78 drum machine, and a keyboard storm that leaves you breathless, all of it varnished by his falsetto voice, resulting in a cocktail for insatiable appetites.

In this video, I recreated all the instruments and vocals from zero, enjoy it!

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Deconstruction

Lava lamp begins naked, with a bass arpeggio and a voice chorus, where a drum machine joins later. Thundercat plays this arpeggio with a 6-string bass, in a high register. Since I didn't have a 6-string bass to play on this record, I decided to play it on guitar, trying not to stray too far from the original sound.

The structure of the song is simple, alternating verses and choruses. The main difference between them is a wall of pads that appear on these choruses. You can download the full Ableton project on my patreon section.

ableton project of the song

Intro

The intro (and the whole song) moves on a 4 chord wheel mainly, with some slight variation on the 4th. You can listen those chords at same way Thundercat arpeggiates them in the next audio.

chords used

‍Guitar Arpeggio

The choirs that are heard in the intro have 2 melodies that are intertwined. Below you can hear the low and the treble one, and both mixed to understand how they merge with each other.

Intro Vocals

After that, a fill from the drum machine gives way to the verse. In general, drum hits are not square with the grid, giving a more human groove. Also, to amplify this feel, I've run the drums through the RC-20 Retro Color, a plugin that adds that vintage tape-recording warmth and texture. By increasing the amount of "Wobble", the pitch of each drum hit is slightly modified giving a less robotic feeling. I've separated the kick drum / snare track from the hat track so I can apply different effects to each. Also, you can apply a bit of noise and space to the drums with this plug.

Drums with no FX

Drums with the RC-20 Retro Color

drums FX

Verse

Throughout the song I have added a line of bass-synth making the tonic to reinforce the bass and give the song some stability, which until now was only supported by the guitar arpeggio. For this type of simple and fat lines of bass-synth I usually pull the Arturia Mini V.

Below you can see how the chords gain weight when the two elements complement each other.

Bass-Synth

Bass-Synth + Guitar Arpeggio

‍Thundercat's voice has an unmistakable soft falsetto, which in this case was not too far from my voice tone, so I wanted to give it a try. To give it body and amplitude I have recorded 3 voice tracks, panning one on each side and the third centered. I have applied a simple EQ to these voices with the Waves API-560, and I have put some Delay with the Soundtoys Echo-Boy. I've also applied a send to another effects chain to this set of voices, which goes through an additional Echo-Boy, a reverb, a pretty crazy EQ filter, and finally an Auto-Pan that moves this processed voice through the stereo to give texture to the set.

Main Vocals with FX‍

main vocal FX chain

Back-Vocals with FX‍

back vocals FX chain

Throughout the song, a kind of sigh is repeated, which I recorded like that (kind of creepy).

‍Sigh

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Chorus

A set of pads appear in the choruses like a rising tide. To recreate them I have had to immerse myself in a series of layers that as a whole recreate that vibe. For this type of pads with soft crescendos and string sounds, I usually pull the Solina from Arturia. After struggling with a bunch of presets, I came up with one with a fairly similar base sound, which I modified the attack to have that smooth crescendo.

solina preset

I placed an additional Solina on another track, this time looking for strings similar to the previous ones but somewhat less flat and with greater stereo, to which I also applied an Auto-Pan to give the pads that feeling of waves. On another track, I added the TAL-U-NO to provide more depth to the ensemble.

tal-U-No preset

Strings 1 - Solina

Strings 2 - Solina

Strings 3 - TAL-U-NO

The 3 pads together

‍As additional layers to this set of pads, I have also added a couple of notes with the Arturia CS-80 that in the original song seem to move from one side of the stereo to the other (second 0:48).

Pad textures

CS-80 preset

Finally, in the choruses some percussive keys appear adorning each chord. To recreate this sound I had to tinker with Arturia's Mini V. I started from an electric piano Preset that didn't have much to do, although it did start from that percussive sound that I wanted to achieve. Shifting from octave to one of the oscillators and playing with Filter emphasis, contour and decay, I managed to get a sound similar to the song.

Lead Synth

Mini preset

Towards the end of the song, some piano keys start to flow, which I have recreated with the Stage-73 (Rhodes feel). I added some simple Ableton reverb to get more space. The next audio correspond to the keys that appear around the 1:52 of the song.

Rhodes

Rhodes preset
David Alonso patreonthanks for reading!

If you liked it, or if you want to download the Ableton Projects with the
‍plugins used and all the tracks & midi files by one click, check out my Patreon page!

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