Ahead of nothing,nowhere. dropping his album 'ruiner' this Friday (the follow up to his 2017 breakthrough 'Reaper'), we go in to it track by track with DCD2's own Spencer Smith.
For an insight into the songs and process behind one of our most anticipated albums of the year, we turned to Spencer Smith - former Panic! At The Disco drummer, and current A&R (and so much more) at Pete Wentz' DCD2 Records. Over to Spencer:
For the most part Joe writes and records things with little to no A&R. Which is fantastic. The way I've worked with Joe has involved more conversations about songwriting in general, less about specific songs he’s working on. So I just wrote from my perspective of how I've watched him grow and come into his own as an artist.
Throughout the whole record I love the use of samples, audio clips, or outtakes from studio sessions. This clip is from an old PSA-type video he found online, and it works so perfectly in the way it's used as an intro. It reminds me of going through old cult sermons, searching for audio clips to use for songs. Joe does it very tastefully and deliberately, and it adds an accent to the story in a way a piece of music would struggle to.
I love this opening melody. I remember hearing this demo, which was pretty much complete outside of some production, and instantly picturing a scene in my head. It's very visual and beautiful, but he contrasts it with these brutal and vulnerable lyrics. He also really perfected this thing that he’s able to do where he settles in the pocket of the beat and he’s singing or rapping, but it feels like he’s reading out of his journal. If you listen on headphones it gets real intimate.
'better' & 'sinker'
For me these two were all about production and the feel of the songs. I've talked to Joe a lot about getting the end result of a recording to be exactly what you’re hearing in your head when writing - which can be really difficult sometimes. It's been crazy to watch him grow as a songwriter and producer, and be able to really translate that vision into something thats unmistakably nothing,nowhere. in a way that any other comparisons or analogies fade away. On one hand I think the whole record has sections where he branches out and takes a step in an unexpected direction, but at the same time it feels more focused, and these tracks represent that.
When I first heard this track it was kind of shocking, but in a good way. It was the first time I’d heard him do anything remotely boastful. But he does it in such a nothing,nowhere. way, with a little sarcasm thrown in at points. I love the contrast it gives the record track-to-track. He’s written songs about negative emotions with these autobiographical lyrics that he does so well, but it felt like he had this pent up energy and topics he wanted to touch on, and it all came pouring out on this song. (Also the GIFs of him from the video sprinting through a field have become very useful on twitter).
This is that 'driving on the highway at night' or 'laying in your room alone' type of song. It just takes me back, and it's something you can listen to and interpret in your own way, and apply it to anything you have gone through personally. Parts of it actually reminded me of how dark and personal The Weeknd’s first EPs were. That wasn’t a direct influence, but it adds another layer, and acts almost as an interlude for the whole album.
This is the first demo I heard for the album, and it's still my favorite track. The storytelling throughout the lyrics is so strong. It’s hard to describe in words, you just need to listen. It's the perfect combination of lyrics and melody completely matching in the feeling they give off.
This track probably went through the most changes from the beginning to the end of the writing process. The first version was a little slick - almost pop, and it didn’t fully feel like a nothing,nowhere. song. But after sitting with it for a while he went back to it and transformed it into what it is now. That’s something usually easier said than done. It can be difficult to re-imagine a song into something you love once that first version is done, but he nailed it.
A lot of times as an artist you end up with these minute and a half song ideas, and when you try to turn them into full songs they don’t always fit the stock verse-chorus-verse-chorus format. That's similar to how this track started. He had pieces of the puzzle, but Joe has an ability of taking those and turning them into great tracks whether they fit a common song structure or not.
This one goes hand in hand with 'better' and 'ruiner' for me in that it just shows off flow so well. As much as I get into the music and production side of his work, I always have that moment with these songs where I stop and think 'damn, this guy can f**cking rap'. It's that talent and ability that is the constant, and elevates everything around it.
When I listen to this I feel like I’m back in Joe's basement listening to new songs he’s made. He’s a great guitar player, and throughout the record I love any moment that puts some focus on that. With closing tracks, we may not hear it until the record's done. Joe knows exactly what note he wants to leave on.
'ruiner' is being released on the April 13th through DCD2 and Fueled By Ramen. It's available for pre-order now.