Today is Halloween. Children go door to door trick or treating, and we’re busy putting together the perfect playlist to create the creepiest vibe!
Instead of blasting “Monster Mash” over your speakers this year – maybe it’s time to pen your own spooky track – like Kesa (aka @love2sing).
Her ode to the season “Creeps” is equal parts spooky and catchy. Entirely made on BandLab, we were dying to know how she put together her Halloween masterpiece.
We had a chat with her – diving into her musical journey, her songwriting process and what it means to her, and of course, her love for Halloween. She says: “Performing onstage is oddly like Halloween, as a performer you get to be a dressed up version of yourself, only better.”
Tell us a bit about yourself. What kind of musician do you want others to see you as?
My name is Marquesa. My nickname is Kesa and my BandLab handle is @love2sing. I’m a singer-songwriter and a mom with two super musical kids and a husband who is also a guitar playing songwriter. I consider myself really lucky to have a musical family.
My primary instrument is my voice and I play guitar and write songs. I’m multifaceted as a creator, passionate about songwriting, singing and performing. I love singing harmony and I’ve performed in many groups. As an eclectic musician, I love all styles but I really get into songs with a good groove and a challenging vocal line.
When I’m creating, I like to record everything I do regardless of whether I end up using the ideas or not – you never know when you might uncover a gem while you’re working through ideas.
What made you decide to become a musician?
My parents inspired my love of music at a young age. My Dad would play Motown records around the house, and I grew up listening to Stevie Wonder, Jackson 5, the Pointer Sisters and the Beatles on vinyl. There were always instruments around, my Mom played piano and guitar at church, and my Dad played bass in a band called The Five Lads in Oahu, Hawaii.
I started singing and performing early on, but the biggest transformation in my musicianship came when I picked up a guitar and started to teach myself how to play. I wasn’t a great student until I fell in love with music, my life changed after I realized there was something I was truly good at.
I joined choirs and an a capella group and became really engaged in my school music programs in high school and college at California State University, Chico, where I studied Recording Arts, and Vocal Performance. I may have started out as a natural musician, but the voice I have today is a result of thousands of hours of training and purposeful practice. Playing and performing with other musicians helped me to stretch and grow in ways that playing solo couldn’t offer. I studied music for about 10 years before everything really started to click.
Did you have music heroes growing up?
I remember thinking that my singing voice didn’t sound like my musical heroes growing up, which was discouraging at the time. I kept trying to emulate the singers that I looked up to, so I would sing along to songs and try to match the tone and timbre of my favorite artists. I’d play songs on repeat until I could mimic them really well.
I didn’t realize that this process of listening and mimicking would ultimately help me to become a better musician and is how the tradition of music has been passed on for generations before written songs and recordings were possible. I crafted my own sound after learning to blend many styles: pop, soul R&B, rock, the blues, folk, musical theater and even classical.
I think my sound is a hybrid of styles that I mix together to create interesting vocal sounds. Ultimately, music is about tone, expression, and connection. Once I got the tone and technique dialled in, I could work on creativity, style and emotionally connecting with an audience. The craft of songwriting, creating music, and performing got easier with time, trial and error, I learned to push past my comfort zone which has been a great life experience.
You mention Halloween is one of your favorite holidays! What do you love about it? What inspired you to write your spooky song “Creeps”?
I love Halloween because it’s one of those special occasions when you get to see people come alive! Dressing in a costume allows anyone to transform into their favorite superhero, magical fairy, devilish beast or their favorite celebrity! One night a year, anything goes on Halloween. In my town there’s a block party that turns a little quiet neighborhood into an amazing festival with decorated haunted houses you can step inside, and some years there have even been fire-breathing metal work sculptures like you’d see at Burning Man. There is always plentiful candy for the kids and wine tasting for the adult-kids.
Needless to say, I LOVE Halloween because our town, Fairfax, CA, is pretty amazing when it comes to our celebrations. Performing onstage is oddly like Halloween, as a performer you get to be a dressed up version of yourself, only better.
I wrote the song “Creeps” as a project to stretch my songwriting skills and do something out of the ordinary. I am working with a songwriting mentor and she asked me to write a song that would work well as a sync track for a movie or TV show. Knowing that I love Halloween, it won’t be a surprise to learn that I LOVE the series “Stranger Things” (I can’t wait for Season 3, anyone else with me?) I wanted to write a track that could work well for the show. As the song evolved, I thought about Zombies like the Walking Dead which made this perfect for Halloween.
What was your songwriting process for this particular song?
The audio loops in BandLab are awesome and there are so many great loops to start building your tracks. I built the song using the Retro-Future pack. After auditioning the sounds in the set, I could tell it would be a good direction for the song. Although the song progression is repetitive I tried to write an (ABABCA) format with a chorus, verse and bridge melody.
I usually just start pulling in the sounds I like, into a track without thinking too much about the song form. I worry about that later. After a few minutes of dragging and lining up samples, I then hear the song melody take shape in my head – it only takes a few good layered a few sections to spark a song idea.
Before starting the project, I don’t need to have a song storyline, melody or structure. I like to wing it and write on the fly in one sitting. I use improvisation and creative flow when I’m writing, working as fast as possible so I don’t lose momentum.
There’s no need to worry about making things sounds perfect. In a song like this, the focus is on the mood, getting the vocal really airy, and bending the pitch just enough to make it feel creepy. I use a ton of timed tremolo (like vibrato) in certain parts of the vocal line to sound ghostly. I always try to remind myself that “Done is better than Perfect” when I’m creating and this is a great example that turned out well because I didn’t over think the process.
The last section, which writes like a bridge mimics a Halloween-like melody, though I can’t place where I may have heard something like it before. I wrote “Creeps” on BandLab in about an hour, as I work really well under pressure. My project was due the next day – so you could say it was a late night crunch time session.
What role does songwriting play in your life? What drives you to write songs and make music?
I’m an event producer by day so songwriting is not my profession. However, I do voiceover work professionally as a part of my job. I’m a performer and songwriter as my side passion project but it does keep me pretty busy. I write, perform, collaborate with others, and work with music mentors. I write songs that have a positive message. I write primarily on guitar and I just finished arranging an original song of mine for a four-part choir, and am currently working on scoring a second a capella piece.
My dream is to write a musical, and I am actively working on the storyline development and the songs. It’s a big departure from the singer-songwriter thing that I’ve done the past decade, but I’m at a place musically where I am trying to do things that are out of my comfort zone to keep learning and growing. I write songs because I love the art of telling stories with sounds and it’s just really fun!
How did you discover BandLab?
I found BandLab last November while I was looking for a platform to work out vocal harmonies for a trio that I sing and perform in. I wrote an original song called “I Believe” that’s the first track on my profile page that my group could perform. I used my iPhone with headphones and was so surprised with how incredibly easy BandLab for iOS was to use.
After that, I explored the web version of BandLab and was hooked. It allowed me to be creative incredibly fast because I didn’t have to plug in my audio interface and Mic, load my audio software, assign presets, etc. It’s plug-and-play which I think is critical to staying in a creative headspace. Technology was getting in the way of my creative process, so I had to rethink my workflow. I needed something simpler that would be robust enough to allow me to multi-track. I was so happy to find BandLab because it’s now one of my main tools when I want to multi-track ideas.
What does a songwriting session look like when you’re on BandLab?
My process with BandLab starts with an end goal in mind, even if I have no idea what the song is going to sound like. On the Mix Editor, I choose the instruments I want to include: live instruments, my voice, MIDI Virtual Instruments, or samples. I add a few tracks and name them based on instrumentation. Sometimes I mix them all. Once I’m all plugged in, I set my audio interface in the mac preference panel and in the device panel in BandLab and I’m off and running.
“It’s great to know that you can post something that’s not perfect because the community is so supportive and gives great feedback.”
I then find a tempo and use a click track to stay synced. I build up tracks and play and sing at the same time and then go back and re-track once I’m able to define the sections of the song I’m writing. I tidy up as I go, cropping out hang time on the heads and tails of my clips. Adding FX helps define my sounds further and I love the volume and panning automation, which is a nice feature that I didn’t expect the platform to have.
At the end of a session, I usually save and mixdown in private mode. This way I can listen to the tracks in my car or when I’m out and about on headphones to see how the songs sound in the real world.
If I am really excited about a track, I publish it to my profile to share. It’s great to know that you can post something that’s not perfect because the community is so supportive and gives great feedback.
Tell us about your set up – what gear do you use and does your gear have any special meaning to you?
My home studio consists of an iMac Computer, an Apogee Duet audio interface so I can line-in my guitar or my XLR mics, I have a few different mics, but I sometimes bypass my I/O and just plug my USB mics right into my iMac because it’s super simple.
My two favorite USB Mics are the Apogee Mic96 and the Audio-Technica AT2020. The Apogee Mic96 is my go-to to record voice overs when I’m traveling. My controller is a Arturia Keylab25 and I use it for tracking MIDI and simple mixing of volume and panning. I have a pair of Yamaha HS5 reference monitors and I alternate mixing on those and on headphones.
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In addition to this set up, I’ve got my dream guitar – a beautiful Taylor 324ce. It took a long time to save up to buy her, and I played a ton of different guitars to finally find one that had the tone and look I had in mind. My guitar is a dark mahogany wood and the sound is rich and warm. It’s my favorite songwriting companion and it has inspired many songs.
You can listen to Kesa here, and you should definitely get in touch with her for one hell of a collaboration!
Silvana Di Franco
The Redwood Ramble