Song Deconstructed: ‘On’ by SIRMA
The Turkish singer-songwriter and producer talks about interrupting her solitary creative process to collaborate with Mallow on this double single
Istanbul-born, New York-based singer, songwriter and producer SIRMA has been on a mission to become a self-sufficient artist ever since she graduated from Berklee College of Music, landed on two successful collaborations with Illenium and Said The Sky, and eventually releasing her debut EP To Love in 2017. With her very first self-produced Turkish single, Belki Bir Gün, landing at No 3 on the Spotify Viral 50 Turkey chart and her follow-up single Coming Undone making its global radio debut on Apple Music’s Beats 1 last year, SIRMA has turned her focus to not only writing, performing, recording and producing her material, but also engineering, mixing and mastering it.
Here she explains how her latest single On was conceived in collaboration with drummer and producer Ian Barnett aka Mallow…
It all started with the beat that would later become the skeleton of On. Ian (aka Mallow) was working on it, showed it to me, and the energy of what he had so far, the infectious arpeggios just pulled me in immediately. It’s very ‘footwork’ inspired, I have nothing like it in my discography, and that’s the beauty of it: I’m very picky when it comes to collabs, because I only want to work with people who can bring something new to the table, something I never thought of before. This was one of those situations. I took the demo stems from him, rearranged, finished the production – and when the song structure I had in mind was finally in place, I basically top lined it. The beat was pretty dirty sounding to begin with, and the more I worked on the sound design, the more I reached for bitcrushers, distortion plugins, modulating filter effects and glitchy delays. The track felt like a representation of commotion from the get-go to me, and I really embraced that.
It’s important to me as an artist who writes and produces her own material, that there’s a symbiosis between the lyrical content and the arrangement – even on a sonic level. As soon as the idea of embracing the theme of commotion became more clear, I knew that this song had to be about fighting, and that focus gradually shifted towards the ups and downs of a romantic relationship. I think that’s because there’s also an obvious hint of playfulness in this track, which is especially prominent in the chorus sections. The verses is me practically yelling at my boyfriend in the midst of yet another petty fight of some sort, and in the chorus sections, I calm myself down, by repeating the mantra: “We will always be on, we’ll forever be on.” And there’s a double meaning in those lines, even though they sound pretty simple at first: on one hand, they’re about the realization that these moments of bickering are unavoidable, and on the other, they signal the fact that we’ll never quit this relationship because of these disagreements, because we love each other and the bond between us feels unbreakable.
I’m proud of ‘On’ because it’s fresh: it’s experimental but also easy to listen to.
I had been hoping to create a song that diverts expectations melodically and arrangement-wise for quite some time- and this track presented the perfect opportunity. While I was working on the production, finishing the ideas Ian had started, my biggest priority was making sure that there are clear cut sections, each with an ebb and flow that pulls in the listener. But, instead of adding more layers in the chorus sections, I decided to make the arrangement busier in the verse sections. I edited out so much in the first chorus, and enhanced the bass elements in the production, and when I listened for the first time after those adjustments, I just knew immediately that it hit the right spot. This shaped the way I approached the vocal melody as well: in the verses, the melody covers a wide range, and I’m belting out pretty much every note I hit, and in the choruses, the melody is super simple, and I sing with my blend voice. All of those strategies serve a purpose, there’s so much intention, you know? I had never approached a song in this manner before: usually, there’s a clear build, and the climax happens at the chorus, but the reversal of that formula really worked well in this case.
In The Studio
I did everything in my home studio in Brooklyn, including recording, producing and even mixing and mastering. I kept Ian updated on the progress, but I was alone for the majority of this process. I have a professional vocal booth, and vocal production is something that I’m pretty skilled at, at this point, but I have only recently begun to mix and master my own songs. I learned pretty early on when I finally started to take myself more seriously as an engineer that the arrangement has a lot to do with a good mix – and that’s exactly why recording vocals for and mixing this track was a breeze. I carved out enough space to experiment a ton with vocals especially: I never created so many vocal layers and melted them into the production as much as I have in this track. Part of those layers are tightly attached to the lead vocal, and they function as background vocal layers – but there are also lots of gliding, stuttering and lush vocal pad layers that I devised as parts of the instrumental arrangement. It was particularly fun to work on those.
I’m proud of On because it’s fresh: it’s experimental but also easy to listen to. It grabs your attention from the beginning and doesn’t let go until the end. I never heard anything like it, but it’s still a pop song to me, as ‘alternative’ as it may be. It makes me feel excited about what else I can do in the future.
On is out now as a double single with 24 Hours. Find out more at sirmamusic.com