Hetaera began with band names. Phil and I have been friends for a while now, and he being more experienced with music started to encourage my own endeavours. After all, he had been in a few bands by this point, but I was just fiddling with acoustic guitars in my bedroom since I was 16. I still had a guitar, but he suggested getting an electric. Over the past year he’d teach me chords, or progressions. He’d mention interesting things about the songs we’d be listening to, the things that gave them the abstract, “unique flair” I intuited but couldn’t technically point to with accuracy, couldn’t learn the language to discuss.
Musically speaking, we first bonded over vaporwave, city pop, and then into sophistipop, Prefab Sprout specifically; and so, we were interested in trying to make something inspired by them. I thought Green Isaac was a good name – maybe Green Isaak, to reference the Momus cover of the Prefab Sprout song.
We started arranging songs, and over time the band name fit less. You end up going into a song with a certain idea of the things you like, or strive for, but the songs themselves become separate things, they become yours. We liked the idea of “Lapsed Catholics” better, since that’s literally what we were, and it said a lot in the context of the songs subject matter. The lives outside the institution, the system, the life path that was man, woman, and a dozen children.
Sometimes Phil would write a verse/chorus/verse/chorus progression and arrangement and I’d take the rough mix, add vocals and lyrics and make it into a whole song, maybe embellish with a specific solo that could go here, or a production flair that would work for the sound we were going for. And sometimes I’d write a song over the weekend – while he would reach for jazzy songs, I had a thing for mixolydian progressions and a folkier sensibility, so when I’d pass it back to him, he would rearrange with new chord extensions or suggest something to vary it a little more. And we began to improve our takes, improve our mixes.
I also began reading guides on mixing albums – we both were between projects, between fixations, and just watching anime and films and playing games otherwise, so we didn’t have much of a budget for an album. I already spent quite a bit on the equipment for myself; he started composing, but hadn’t mixed a band arrangement yet. So I learned about compressing better, stereo imaging, equalising to make room for the vocals, double tracking, making vocal width, sticking low-frequency oscillation on synths to warble them a bit.
I also got over my own aversion to hearing myself sing, and it helped improve my technique considerably. The vocals on Hetaera aren’t perfect, but they’re several miles beyond what I started with, and I know how to continually improve on them. Knowing what worked and what didn’t – I love singers like Dan Bejar, or Morrissey, I love being fey, playful, charismatic, but strange, but my voice didn’t suit it. Phil told me I didn’t have their voice, I had a breathy contralto and should capitalise on it, so I switched tact. Oh: I also love Momus but I’m unsure there’s a lot of him here.
I also really liked what made Toronto Toronto – I like the sound of Toronto, the feel of Toronto, so we tried to take a few field recordings to pepper into the album while we were at it to give it a sense of place.
Finally, as the only lyricist on the album I found myself having to write differently. Often times I would start at a memory and sometimes take from fiction, sometimes take from my past or what I knew of other people’s pasts in a vague sense, things that have happened or haven’t been discussed in songs much; the album ended up being about being broke, queer, trans, and in Toronto, almost inherently. And sometimes it was a release for things I was feeling in the moment, transforming them into something else, something positive. Through the album I learned that songwriters aren’t inherently that confessional, that one-to-one about experiences. I know I never made any song about a one-to-one thing, that felt exploitative to myself, but it took from a lot of different things to tell its own story, like in the writing for my games and otherwise.