The ever shape-shifting Humans Etcetera is poised to release its new EP, Gift That Came Here, this Friday, November 30, via Nefarious Industries. The six-track EP is comprised of 23 minutes of ukulele-driven post-rock songs that aim soothe and uplift listeners, and will most definitely succeed. Humans Etcetera mastermind Christopher Henry said the following of the release:
“I got this uke in the winter of 2017 to help with teaching a Chinese ESL student. He was preparing for a summer abroad at Berklee and needed to learn the basics of music theory in English. In my spare time at work though, the uke was there to accompany me. I messed around with it and recorded a bunch of little things. These demos were the seeds from which these songs grew.
However, the concept of this EP wasn’t realized until I got bored one afternoon and decided to wiki the ukulele. I read about Madeiran workers in Hawaii developing a uke in 1879. And I stumbled upon a sweet quote taken from the memoirs of Liliʻuokalani. She was a writer, a musician, as well as the last sovereign monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi and consequentially imprisoned when the kingdom had fallen. She wrote:
‘To compose was as natural to me as to breathe; and this gift of nature, never having been suffered to fall into disuse, remains a source of the greatest consolation to this day.[…] Hours of which it is not yet in place to speak, which I might have found long and lonely, passed quickly and cheerfully by, occupied and soothed by the expression of my thoughts in music.’
I really related to that, and I hope Gift That Came Here might help you on a long and lonely day too. Perhaps you can even vicariously experience what it was like to compose it. I mean, you could do a lot worse with your time.”
In preparation for its release, we at Svbterranean bring you an exclusive stream of the album in full. As an added bonus, Henry agreed to take part in our Album Dissections series and discusses the themes and creation of each track. Both the stream and track-by-track rundown can be found below.
All of the proceeds for the EP will be donated to Toys for Tots. “My hope is that by playing the ukulele, a gift immigrants brought to Hawaii, it will in-turn help bring more gifts to some less fortunate children this winter”, says Henry.
Pre-orders can be found here.
The first song I started making before I even knew what this project would become back in March 27, 2017. The inspiration for the song came from the death of a resident on the 1st floor of the building I lived in. One day, while I was headed to work, I overheard part of their ceremony, a prayer being chanted to a sort-of metronome. I carefully recorded a bit of it and later, when I had free time between classes, I played along to it with the uke. The first drum sounds I used on this track ended up setting the tone for this project. The bass drum is a sample I recorded of a Chinese drum in an ancient temple in Fuzhou. The “snare” is actually several samples of big rain drops landing hard on an AC unit. Imagine me standing outside a 5-story apartment building in the pounding rain, holding my iPhone at the edge of the umbrella recording that. Later, I went on to record real drums at a small music school nearby.
Began just two days later, on March 29th. The initial demo of this song was 3 minutes of pure uke improv. I used the same bass drum sounds, and recorded live drums at the same music store, but I also picked up a children’s shaker from a balloon and toy shop outside of a hospital. I also tried to use my tambourine pitched-down to create a companion for the Fuzhou drum sample. This song also has some light guitar work blended in with the uke sounds, to give it a thinner sound in places. There’s some background noise from a park near my school. The laughing sounds of the children there made for a cool contrast to the death prayers of the song before it.
3. Always Aging Away
Came much later, on September 20, 2017. The uke line in it began sort-of as a music theory experiment. I just wanted to make something that started with a really dissonant diminished 5th interval, but could become beautiful despite that. The breathy sound acting as a crash cymbal is actually a sample from a Panda Bear concert (also got a bit of his voice echoing around in the chorus part). The chimes were re-sampled from the song “Swim Date” from my 2016 LP Red Tape. The title comes from that long uke line, and how it made the track so damn long; so much so that it occurred to me that I was just aging away recording it.
4. Hold On
Started on June 6, 2017 in a sort-of more trendy Chinese version of a Dollar General. I grabbed a poorly-made uke off the shelf and made my girlfriend hold my phone at a weird angle to record me playing it and cut out as much of the store’s background pop music as possible. The result was a 14 second recording that got chopped and diced up to make something out of it. The title of that recording was “shit uke.” and at the end, I say: “Wait, I can’t remember how to play it now… hold on.” That vocal soundbite gave the track its namesake. The drums were half-live and half-midi. It ended up fading out into some piano from an anime my girlfriend was watching while I was recording. I kept it in, as a sort-of foreshadowing of the piano break in the next track.
5. Public Square/Private Thoughts
Also began on September 20, 2017. The intro sample and drum-beat that came from it was a recording I made in a park in which droves of old folks gather to dance. I slowed and pitch-shifted it to match the ukulele line. I played a bit more with EQ filter automation to change the color between parts. Also there was more dicing and reversing on the uke in the bridge part. The latter half of the song was meant to be an unwind from the madness of the former. I wanted it to feel like being outside and then going home to reflect.
6. Stoned Goodbyes
Started on June 10, 2017. This one began with collecting percussion sounds from a nearly deserted park just outside of the district I live in. I arranged the pings and pangs in a slow repeating polyrhythm, and took re-samples from all of the other songs’ drums to build or accent certain parts. I had to cut up some uke lines from another bit of downtime at work to fit the beat. The bass came next to try to glue the uke and beats together. And I used some dreamy guitar and synth sounds to float around on top of it. The final sample of the EP was from the winter of 2009; a video clip of my brother, and my friend pushing part of a big-rig off a snowy hill in Daniels, West Virginia (town of 1,800 people).