Dark Chamber Pop for the faint of heart

Sidetrack Walker is an independent music project focusing on atmosphere and honest, emotional songwriting. Headed by German artist Dominik Sonders, it draws on genres such as Modern Classical, Progressive/Art Rock, Dark Folk, Doom and Darkwave.

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Deprivation Bulletin #4: The Lyrics

In the previous bulletins, we’ve taken a look at the musical side and difficult birthing process of the new single. Today I’d like to offer some insights into the lyrical themes “Deprivation” deals with.

The title was inspired by sensory deprivation tanks as depicted in the classic film “Altered States” or the series “Fringe”, which I watched at the time. While there is no direct lyrical reference to such tanks in the song, they still permeate it as an implicit metaphor for a state of piece and quiet, away from the constant, chaotic input of everyday life. But what made this concept so appealing in the first place?

In essence, the lyrics deal with the sensory and social overloads experienced by people with autism or, more generally speaking, hypersensitivity. “Deprivation” is intended as a testament to the unseen yet utterly painful struggles these people must face on a daily basis. I hope to raise some awareness for the needs of autistic people who are, by their very definition, forced to live in a system that doesn’t cater to their specific needs, limitations and potential. Worse, their struggles being largely invisible and incomprehensible to their peers, they are usually expected to function according to general norms of communication that remain unexplained and counter-intuitive to them:

“no explanation
no script to the play
sweep me away”

Indeed, in the absence of appropriate support, isolation often seems like the only recourse: a retreat from the social stage and into an inner world where “desperation is here to stay”. For, contrary to popular belief, people with autism do need human interaction and emotional exchange. Without it, they wither just like the rest of us. But short of using an actual isolation tank or retreating to extremely quiet and isolated places, a healthy state of deprivation is, for all intents and purposes, an unattainable ideal. Thus the song ends on a resigned note: “Deprivation…? No fucking way.”

Deprivation Bulletin #3: The Remix

First off: only three more weeks until the “Deprivation” single is available! It’s Bandcamp Friday today, so the best moment to place your pre-order is right now. Remember that as a Bandcamp customer, you’ll receive an exclusive, secret bonus track that will be revealed on release day.

Taking a look at the Bandcamp pre-order, you’ll notice a remix alongside the main song. It was created by my friend Andre Jonas a.k.a. Strukt, who also mastered the two tracks. If you’ve been following Sidetrack Walker at all, you’ll probably recognise Andre’s name from the technical credits of my earlier releases. Our collaboration has always been smooth and fruitful, so I am very happy we’re continuing on this path with my new single.

Just like the earlier Strukt Remix of “The Host”, Andre’s interpretation of “Deprivation” brings out an entirely new side to the track that really inspires me. Once again foregoing vocals in favour of a purely instrumental electronica experience, it focuses on elements that play more of a supportive part in the original song. Upon my first listen, I was genuinely surprised at how much arrangement potential still lay dormant in my background synth sequences and e-bow lines in particular – enough, apparently, to base an all-new track around them.

For the remix, Andre also ran my MIDI synth sequences through new virtual instruments – another fun idea I wouldn’t have come up with myself. This way, they’re the same yet not the same: it’s perfectly possible to recognise the phrases and hooks, yet they return in a new guise that sounds quite spaced out and ridiculously catchy!

Whenever I listen to this fresh take on my song, I feel a craving to try my hands on a remix of my own someday, be it of my own music or of somebody else’s. But, alas, I’m already drowning in ideas and projects as it is – would that the day had significantly more hours to spend on music!

Deprivation Bulletin #2: The Delay

Thanks to my habit of always dating my song lyrics, I can tell you that “Deprivation” was first written in March 2015, more than six years ago. Why did it take me so ridiculously long to record and, eventually, release it?

Back in 2015, I was in a band called Memoirs. At the time, all of our songs revolved around either piano or acoustic guitar, except our live covers of “Roads” by Portishead. With “Deprivation” and its trippy Rhodes sound, I was hoping to bring something fresh to the table. At the time, though, we had so many other songs in the pipeline and so few gigs where we could play them that this track was no immediate priority despite my enthusiasm.

When Memoirs folded the following year, Sidetrack Walker became my main focus. I started working on “Come What May”, which was supposed to be a mostly acoustic, ‘natural-sounding’ affair (cf. Bulletin #1). A heavily Trip-Hop-infused track like “Deprivation”, therefore, would have felt out of place. What’s more, the album was so laborious to produce that I had little energy to spare for additional creative endeavours.

Perhaps more importantly, I still lacked the necessary skills to make my ideas for “Deprivation” work. It took time, research and experimentation, including the tentative electronic flourishes on “The Art of Starvation”, to feel comfortable enough around sequencing and sampling. When I pulled my old Rhodes backing track from the archives in 2019 and started creating the beat for “Deprivation”, everything finally fell into place musically.

Yet it took another two years for this single to see the light of day. “Starvation” was already well underway and required most of my attention. Subsequently, releasing and promoting it left me feeling totally burned out and frustrated by the lack of interest. I took a radical break from music (more on that in my two-part interview with Withered Hands Podcast: Part 1, Part 2), and it wasn’t until November 2020 that my creativity returned, thanks to a fresh attitude and approach.

Between fiddling around with fresh new ideas, I finally took the time to make “Deprivation” ready for release. After all this time, it’s a testament to how non-linear my ‘career’ as an artist has been so far. Releasing it feels all the more gratifying.

Deprivation Bulletin #1: The Sound

Sidetrack Walker has always been about authenticity. For a long time, I implicitly assumed there was only one way to accomplish this on the technical/production side of the equation: by pursuing a natural, transparent type of sound with strong acoustic leanings. At the same time, this felt like a con job because I often have to rely on virtual instruments and then try and make them sound as ‘real’ as possible, the strings on “The Art of Starvation” being the best example. Financially, there’s no way I could book a professional recording studio for everything I do, nor buy all the hardware instruments (I wouldn’t even know where to put them). And just like everybody else, I have to make do with a 24-hour day, which makes daunting multi-instrument projects like “Come What May” unfeasible in the long run. So how to overcome this conundrum?

“Deprivation” offers a possible solution, marking a departure from the above-mentioned approach. There have been earlier hints of this direction in “Savour” and especially “Broken Heartbeats”: you’ll recognise Sidetrack Walker trademarks right off the bat, but in a new guise, liberated from the shackles of trying to ‘simulate’ an acoustic type of sound. Vinyl hiss, lo-fi samples, processed beats and heavy character compression all highlight, even embrace, the fact that this is a studio production. Instead of trying to work around the shortcomings of my budget and setup, I am now learning to capitalise on them.

In many ways, this approach actually furthers my own sense of authenticity. After all, I’ve been an avid listener of sampling-heavy styles such as Trip-Hop and Drum’n’Bass for many years, and it’s been my dream all along to integrate them into my sound. “Deprivation” is a clear statement to this effect, offering a first glimpse of what the future might hold for Sidetrack Walker. While it is an isolated track bridging the long wait between albums, the next full-length is already well underway, and I’ve since refined my techniques further. The new material explores this dirtier, grittier and production-heavy side from various angles while maintaining enough depth and clarity for the audiophile to revel in. That said, this upcoming single should prove that the tried-and-true atmosphere and feel of Sidetrack Walker still remains intact. Here’s hoping that you’ll be just as excited about a fresh sound as I am!

New single “Deprivation” out soon!

Hi everyone!

It’s been suspiciously quiet around Sidetrack Walker of late. But today, I’m bringing you some exciting news: the new single “Deprivation” will be released on May 28! Pre-orders are now live on Bandcamp and will launch elsewhere on May 7. That same date is also the next Bandcamp Friday, so I’d suggest to order your download then and there: as a Bandcamp customer, you’ll receive an exclusive bonus track that won’t be available anywhere else. More details on that, and on the release as a whole, will follow each Friday up to the release, starting tomorrow. So stay tuned for deeper insights: what do the lyrics mean to me personally? Why has “Deprivation” been gathering dust since 2015? And is it indicative of a larger change in musical direction? Eccentric as I am, I’ve been keeping to the sidetracks, so expect the unexpected.

Thanks for your support so far, and I sincerely hope you’re going to enjoy this short, but special new release. Be well! (And rest assured: there’s a lot more new music on the way!)


Interview: Withered Hands Podcast (Part 2)

Part 2 of the Withered Hands interview is out now, and you’re in for a few surprises. Most importantly, this show will feature two exclusive previews of new, as-yet unreleased tracks from The Real Redeemer, my electronic project! And that’s not all: I had the honour of editing the audio for this one and try to give it a slightly different feel and polish. This has turned into a full-blown collaboration and, as such, a really rewarding experience. Enjoy!

Interview: Withered Hands Podcast (Part 1)

Back in August, I had a very long and open talk with Tom at Withered Hands Podcast, touching on a wide variety of subjects. Today, part 1 of the show is finally out. Sidetrack Walker fans are in for a treat, so be sure to check it out and let me know what you think! Also keep an eye out for part two, which will follow shortly. I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to Tom for taking so much time and being incredibly open-minded and kind.

While you’re here, why not drop by the press section to see the reactions to The Art of Starvation so far?

Out now: The Art of Starvation

The new Sidetrack Walker album, ‘The Art of Starvation’, is now available from all music services. Be sure to get the limited CD, too (100 pieces)!

Special thanks go out to the State Capital of Kiel for being kind enough to sponsor this project financially.

First press reactions:

“abundant with dark, sparkling jewels of Chamber Pop“

Kai-Peter Boysen (Kieler Nachrichten), 20.05.2020. Read the full article (German)

“[W]hat blew me away the most about Will to Leave was the sheer distinction. Sidetrack Walker’s tendency to pull from a myriad of genres […] allowed their sound to spill an alchemic amount of atmospheric intensity.”

Amelia Vandergast (A&R Factory), 15.05.2020. Read the full review

Out now on Bandcamp: The Art of Starvation

‘The Art of Starvation’ is now live on Bandcamp. As previously announced, the album download will be free of charge for a limited period of time. You can also pre-order your copy of the CD edition now. It will be limited to 100 hand-numbered copies, so don’t hesitate too long.

The regular release date for other platforms as well as for the CDs has been set to May 22. Remember, however, that I can give no guarantees regarding the CD shipping date; pressing is still delayed due to conditions beyond my control.

I sincerely hope the new album can offer some distraction, comfort or inspiration to some of you during these uncertain times.

New album: The Art of Starvation

The Instagram users among you already know by now: the title of the new Sidetrack Walker album is “The Art of Starvation”. It’ll be released soon, so stay tuned! Here’s the tracklist:

1. The Odd Moment
2. Only Silence Knows My Name
3. To Invite the Haunting
4. Broken Heartbeats
5. Worlds Collide
6. Wake-Up Call
7. Off Limits
8. Missing Pages
9. Last Line of Defence
10. Will to Leave
11. The Host