Dark Chamber Pop for the faint of heart

Sidetrack Walker steht für Atmosphäre und ehrliches, emotionales Songwriting. Für das Independent-Musikprojekt bezieht der deutsche Künstler Dominik Sonders Einflüsse aus Genres wie Art Rock, Trip-Hop, Drum’n’Bass, Dark Folk und Modern Classical.

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Deprivation Bulletin #7: The Bonus Track

If you’ve been following my bulletins these last few weeks, this will come as no surprise: the new Sidetrack Walker single “Deprivation” launches today! You can have a listen right now on your favourite streaming service or, better still, buy it on Bandcamp. As previously announced, Bandcamp customers will receive an exclusive bonus track that should be a real treat for fans of my work. So without further ado, let’s delve into the details I’ve been promising!

The bonus track is the very first sketch of “The Host”, recorded on my phone in June 2018 when I came up with the basic idea for the song. Sharing this with you is a daring experiment well outside my comfort zone, which leaves me feeling somewhat ‘naked’. After all, this recording was made under subpar conditions and never meant to be released. Rather, it was intended as a rough-and-ready memory aid so the ideas wouldn’t slip away. The lyrics, too, are an unpolished version that differs from the final one in several places.

All this notwithstanding, I found myself returning to this sketch again and again for its raw authenticity. Led only by acoustic guitar and vocals, its stripped-down, spontaneous character brings out an entirely different side of the song. At the same time, it offers unique insights into my workflow, drawing back the curtain of my often obsessive perfectionism to reveal the bare-bones inspiration that starts off most of my pieces. I gave the recording a mild mastering treatment, but left its imperfections untouched.

If you are new to Sidetrack Walker and haven’t heard “The Host” yet, check it out on my previous album “The Art of Starvation”, also available from Bandcamp, for a direct comparison!

Well, friends, this wraps up my bulletin series. I hope you enjoyed reading these insights as much as I did sharing them. Thank you for coming along for the ride! Time to celebrate and enjoy “Deprivation”!

Deprivation Bulletin #6: The Artwork

Not long ago, a friend asked me about the “Deprivation” cover artwork. What the hell happened to the elegant style of the previous Sidetrack Walker artworks? Why the radical change?

Think back to what I told you in Bulletin #1: with “Deprivation”, I abandoned the natural-sounding approach that characterised much of my earlier output. Instead, my focus shifted towards a dirtier aesthetic highlighting the studio nature of the music and drawing heavily on urban styles from the UK. It was only natural to try and mirror that in the artwork. By the same token, the classic Sidetrack Walker logo is nowhere to be found: in its handwritten elegance, it would have been at odds with the vibe I was trying to convey.

Back in 2014, I took a series of pictures of rainfall against an urban backdrop. I’d been meaning to use some of that material for artwork purposes ever since, and “Deprivation” finally presented the perfect opportunity. The blurry, impersonal setting of urban life complements the lyrical reference to sensory overloads as experienced by people with autism: details fade into one another in an endless, chaotic barrage of impressions; specks of light and their reflections become the ever-changing foci of attention, almost eradicating the human element from the equation. Quite fittingly, my flat at the time was taking its toll on my health for being terribly noisy, and that’s where I took those photos.

Superimposed on the urban setting is the hand-drawn sketch of a golden spiral, representing the ideal of deprivation as outlined in Bulletin 4: an inner place of harmony, offering respite from the incessant onslaught. There is a constant, unresolved tension between the two extremes, hence the stylistic contrast between photograph and sketch. Deprivation remains a vague and elusive ideal at best, never quite able to drown out the background noise.

Deprivation Bulletin #5: The Exclusive

This week I am deviating slightly from the usual bulletin schedule to bring you this extra piece of exciting news: while the “Deprivation” release is still more than a week out, you can have a listen to the two main tracks right now!

Starting today, Tom of Withered Hands Podcast is hosting an exclusive preview stream of the single on his site. He also wrote a really nice review, so be sure to check that out as well while you’re there! After the extensive two-part interview we did for his show last year (you can find that in my linktree, too), it’s an honour to be working with Tom again, and I’d like to express my sincerest gratitude for his ongoing support of Sidetrack Walker.

Don’t miss out on this opportunity to get an early impression of the upcoming release! Given my excitement about “Deprivation”, it’s been a test of patience to keep this under wraps, so I am very happy I can share the main part of the single with you a little ahead of schedule. Have a listen, spread the word and, most importantly, let me know what you think in the comments section!

Remember that these two tracks are not the whole story: as a Bandcamp buyer, you will receive an additional, exclusive bonus track which will be revealed in the final bulletin next week. But first, we’ll have a closer look at the artwork in this Friday’s regular bulletin. So stay tuned!

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
deprivation
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!)

Best,
Dominik

Interview: Withered Hands Podcast (Teil 2)

Teil 2 des Interviews im Withered Hands Podcast ist jetzt online, und ihr dürft euch auf einige Überraschungen gefasst machen. So gibt es vorab zwei exklusive Auszüge noch unveröffentlichter Tracks meines elektronischen Projekts The Real Redeemer zu hören! Und damit nicht genug: Ich hatte die Ehre, die Audiobearbeitung des zweiten Teils selbst zu übernehmen und ihm so eine eigene Note zu verleihen. Das Interview ist damit zu einer vollwertigen Kollaboration und ausgesprochen bereichernden Erfahrung geworden. Viel Freude damit!