The Covid-19 pandemic was an interesting and sad time for music, but it also led to albums full of emotion and genuine rollercoaster-type feelings. Have You No Burden is no exception here as Morgan Hicks, known as Shadient, has created his debut album that contains his anxieties, frustrations, and observations of the world during a time where he thought people weren't being true to themselves. Sometimes, trying to be overly positive isn't necessarily the best thing to do in times of distress.
Shadient was noticed and became friends with Porter Robinson, a long-time fan of his musical style in 2017. Porter even paid for Shadient's computer that broke so he could finish this album. Coming off working with Mat Zo's label, Mad Zoo, his debut album, Have You No Burden, transitions from DNB and his experimental bass sounds, to more vocal focused tracks with chopped up beats and moody drops.
We spoke with Shadient about his first ever album, and while the tracks are fantastic and each one sounds unique, it also flows exceptionally well front-to-back. We hope you enjoy this interview and get a glimpse into the mind of Shadient, an artist that seems to be challenging the norms and expectations of traditional bass music.
See past Liner Notes features now (formerly The Director's Cut).
This entire album was wholly an expression of my whirling anxiety and confusion caused by faux facade's put on by people on the internet. During the pandemic's worst times I saw people coping with the absurdity of the world's perceived demise by extending this mentality of "positive vibes all the time" into their real lives too and how they spoke to people. It was complete insanity and made dealing with the pain and confusion in the world harder than it already was.
My knee jerk reaction to this was to make a body of work that reflected not just my feelings on the matter but also the music I listen to when I want to really sink myself into that end of the emotional spectrum. When I'm sad, I don't put on a "happy song." That sounds like a promise of feeling patronized and invalidation towards my negative or sad thoughts and feelings. I'm not sure if it's a common means of coping, but when I feel myself in those deep dark spells of sadness or depression, I reach for my favorite sad songs, depressing or bleak ambient tunes, etc. I think this is the true meaning of music. It should act as a soundtrack to your life as though it's a film.
Why would a happy song be the appropriate score set to your hard times? Why does the rest of the world seem to think this is how it works? How is it not the obvious "normal" way of dealing with this stuff? These were all questions that then lead to me falling into the mental state I was in when I wrote Have You No Burden.
1. Sort Of Hell
I wanted the introduction of the album to set the tone as thoroughly as I possibly could. I had four or five ideas with similar melodic content that were acting as the "introduction to the album" but the "Sort Of Hell "demo felt so immensely raw, with a brooding cello and me literally screaming textural vocals so loud into my shitty interface that it was clipping. It really represented what I wanted to say with clarity, yet brevity.
There's also a sample at the beginning of the track from the movie Lake Mungo. The film doesn't really have much of a similar theme to the album, but there's a particular scene in which the main character is having a therapy session where she tries to understand a lot of the confusion in her life. This moment where her therapist helps her unlock an understanding of all the tornado of thought in her head really felt the same as the feeling I had when I learned within myself that I wanted to make an album that reflected a very honest question I had.
2. Sympathy Coil (ft. fknsyd)
I think this is my most powerful song I've made yet. The original idea that fknsyd's vocals were pulled from was in fact an intro to my EP Infinite Structure, but her lyrics felt so mature and evocative that it felt wasteful to not have them be on the album. "Sympathy Coil" was also the first song I made on Have You No Burden (I think I finished it around March 2020).
The 4/4 section was very inspired by the minimalism of a lot of left field pop music; Radiohead, James Blake and Jon Hopkins, where the halftime section with the breaks was more something within my own palette of sound. I wanted the second half to be a huge, brutal, in your face moment that came in early on in the album. The jungle/rave themes that, although thin, lie deep within this one was me wanting to remind myself of where I come from. The UK. A dark, dull, bleak place that feels very much like the image of the world I have in my head for Have You No Burden.
I've always wanted to make a song like this. Probably for over 10 years. It was very inspired by a lot of the British indie rock tunes I would listen to at secondary school. Fast paced, a simple riff, straight to the point, with the catchiest vocal melody I could possibly think of.
I was reluctant to put "Roadworks" on the album for a long time because I was worried people would mistake it for a happy song, given the way the harmonies move and how bright the sonics are. But I think my listeners are smart enough to hear what sort of place it's coming from. This song is about feeling stuck in the mud. Feeling like there's no way out of this dull shit place you're in mentally. It's the same frustration you feel when you're in your car and there's construction being done on the road ahead. It feels like that temporary traffic light is never gonna turn green.
4. Ego Insaniac
My friends laugh when I tell them this but this song was very much a diss song to myself. In the past I've been known for being a really cynical, short fused piece of work that feels jaded about almost everything within music. This song, in my mind, is as brutal and sonically sharp as it is because I picture it as my conscious self smashing my ego back where it belongs before it shows up to the surface. Almost like a whack-a-mole thing.
It's impossible to not mention that this song was very inspired by a lot of the old Portishead tunes I was rinsing around the time I made it. I love that aggressive dusty drum break sound and I wanted to merge that feeling with the synths I'm sort of known for.
The day I recorded the vocals was one of those moments that every musician dreams of. I was walking home from work with an early instrumental demo of this tune on my phone, and I just wrote the lyrics on my phone as it repeated (It's not a long walk home either, it's only a 30 minute journey). I then got home, had a shower, went into my bedroom, recorded the vocal takes, put them in the song and it was like 90% finished. To this day I'm almost jealous of my past self for capturing that energy in such a pure and pristine way.
5. Alonely (ft. fknsyd)
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This was the last song I made for the album. Once again as it always is with my collaborations with fknsyd, the vocals from this were actually from another song I was working on (that I actually would like to finish someday). That was until I wrote the first demo for this track. It's almost identical to the final mastered version. I nailed the lead synth sound almost immediately and wrote that melody with it in the same session. It must have taken less than an hour. It felt so purely hopeless and harrowing that it needed a vocal.
I wrote and recorded the "I'll never let you go, all of the time" as just some scratch vocal until I realized that the seemingly nonsensical lyrics almost play into themselves. It's like the feeling of being so obsessed with the one good thing in your life that you almost start fumbling your words and sounding like a crazy person.
So I'd written that, but I didn't want it repeating on both choruses, so I literally dragged in the mixed fknsyd vocals from that other idea into this and, bam, that was it. Her lyrics played beautifully into the theme of the song and I almost wonder if these sorts of things are sometimes some higher being pulling particular things together. I don't know. But I absolutely adore this song.
6. Don't Make A Sound (ft. sh4dows)
The original demo for this song was me experimenting the day I bought my Akai tape machine. I fell in love instantly with how chalky and harsh it made things sound without them sounding inaudible. Those characteristics fit wonderfully within the emotion I was trying to capture with this album.
The big lead synth in the chorus is actually like 14 different lead sounds running at different tape speeds (varying in quality) and that allowed me to have this enormous wall of sound without it sounding harsh or over the top as it would otherwise.
I spent a lot of time trying to work this song out. I think it took the most work and time. Originally I was doing the vocals on this but my voice just didn't serve the ghostly nature I wanted the song to have. So I hit up my friend sh4dows and asked if he was interested. He and I have been friends since 2014. We've made songs in the past when we were literally teenagers, so this process felt extremely nostalgic (once more, another feeling that plays effortlessly into the vibe of the album). This song was definitely inspired by the more ambient/techno-y side of electronic music : Lorn, Moderat, Jon Hopkins, Burial, etc.
I really hate to admit this publicly, but I think this is my favorite song on the album. To me, this is the song that embodies what Have You No Burden is about. This was the song I wrote right in the middle of the overall album writing process, I was going through a lot of really rough shit in almost every aspect of my life, I was missing my friends, I'd caught Covid, it felt like every single thing that could have been thrown at me around the time I wrote this song was. So within that time I just sat down and just wrote this song. I of course wrote and recorded the vocals much later on because my throat was totally shot from having the virus.
I just think this song is so blatantly like the main character of the album. It's called solitary, feeling alone in this thought process, in what you're going through, in this anger, anxiety, frustration. It's like being lost in a strong blizzard. If there's ever going to be a song I will be proud of until the day I day it is this one. Not just because I think it's good either, but because I didn't let anything hold me back from writing it.
8. Crash (ft. fknsyd & Catnapp)
This song is exactly what it needed to be at this point in the album. It's halfway through and I always knew the song in the middle of this album about the confusion and fear was where I wanted the listener to know just how fed up and angry I was with feeling this way. It's the one time on the album I sort of let my old bass producer self slip through the cracks again. But I'm totally fine with it. It serves a higher artistic purpose.
It goes without saying, of course, that fknsyd and Catnapp were absolutely essential in taking this song to the most sinister and cruel place possible. They as artists and people fit perfectly together just in general, let alone in this middle statement piece on an album about feeling lost, confused and angry. I probably won't make a song like this again in the future but it was absurdly cathartic to make in a time where I was making mostly ethereal and haunted music.
9. In Your Absence
This is probably the first song I've ever made that I wrote before I produced it – I was messing around on my old Casio keyboard I've had since I was 13 one day and, seemingly out of nowhere, came up with the lead melody that's in this song. It feels so bizarrely hopeless yet hopeful at the same time and I always thought that'd be a perfect idea to put on a song on the second half of the album. It's like you're sort of starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but you can't quite make it out yet.
The vocals pretty much fell into place on this one too. There's not a lot else to say about this song. The whole process felt like some higher being took control of my body and channelled the ideas into the song.
10. Your Light
For this point in the album, I wanted the song to be called "Your Light" but I didn't know how it'd sound. As I slowly started to piece together in my head nearer the time that I actually started the song, one idea I always loved was the idea of having a weird yet repetitive structure reflecting the idea of finding yourself in a world of chaos. That's why the intro of the song is like the only real verse, then the remainder of the song goes into a single repeating idea where my voice is just blown out in reverb with a load of call and response synth lead ideas.
I absolutely love how haunted and from a lost place this song sounds, yet it so deeply represents the moment I finally understood that I needed to make an album about all these confusing and dark thoughts I'd been having. I think if you were to ask someone "what does Shadient sound like" this should be the song you show them.
11. Memory Loss
It's hard to talk about, but this song is definitely a middle finger to my epilepsy (The song was originally titled "Myoclonic"). I'm not sure how it necessarily ties into the narrative of the album much but it's a deeply personal thing to me that felt obligatory to have on my debut album. I made the intro and middle section really reverby and blurry to represent the epileptic auras I so often have. They make me disassociate and often feel like an insane person.
The big climax moment in the second half felt like me coming to terms with having this. Understanding that this is not a detriment to you as a person, or the things you want to do in your future. I keep notes on my phone to remind myself that I can make it through this. That big moment on this song was most inspired by the note I'd made that day after suffering a big myoclonic seizure, it said, "You have epilepsy, but it doesn't have you."
12 : All Of This
I wanted the outro of the album to serve a similar purpose to the intro. I wanted it to feel like a really difficult last goodbye. As the synths get introduced in the second half over the drums its like you're gaining strength required to say goodbye to something you really don't want to let go of, but you know you can't pretend for very long. That feeling is something I've lived many times in my life and felt immensely relevant to the album's narrative. It's definitely not a goodbye to my music though. This, to me, is just the beginning.
Big thanks to Shadient for chatting with us! Make sure to check out his album here, and stay tuned to him on Twitter where he shares his creative, amusing, and blunt (but true) thoughts.