Electronic Adolescence: Baths’ Recording History, Ages 14-19

At 28, the artist lends a critical ear to his earliest musical work.

Greetings!! I couldn’t be more excited about this feature, a chronological history of my earliest recordings, as I rarely (if ever) get the chance to dive deep into my music-making past. I feel the need to add a heavy disclaimer to this feature: Most of the listening you participate in will be TOUGH! The music is GOOFY! The lyrics are BAD! I only ask that you let go of your critical listening and try to ride the wave of my immaturity and bumpy development. Feel the ~weirdness~ as I break down my earliest attempts at making music!! These eight songs roll out as an Awkward Greatest Hits of my musical youth. Know that there are plenty of far worse songs that I actively chose to not include…for all of our sanity.

I’ll move through these songs in order from 2003 to 2009. Some dates in the middle I’m less sure about, but I’ve tried my best to timestamp it all accurately. I’ll break each song into five sections: Inspiration, Production, Songwriting, Personal Rating, and What I’d Do Differently. Note that these files are still the same ancient mixes from my teenage years…no touch-ups, no mastering, no outside help, etc. You’re getting the rawest stuff possible, for better or for worse. Another note: I released most of these songs under the artist name [Post-foetus], which I (happily) dropped when I started releasing music as Baths. I think of [Post-foetus] and Baths as being the same thing, one just predating the other.

I had a wild experience revisiting these tracks! Hope you do, too!

“Timid,” 2003 (age 14)

Inspiration: At 14, I was in love with the album Europop by Eiffel 65. I think I first heard the song “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” on Radio Disney (when that existed) and couldn’t stop thinking about it. It got me really interested in dance music and emotional synth-type sounds at a very young age, even while listening to almost nothing but nü-metal. I didn’t have words or genres to differentiate anything yet–I just knew I loved “Dance Music” and Eiffel 65, so, naturally, my first stab at making music was to emulate what I loved.

My brother John pointed out to me that this sounds exactly like this song called “Grid ][ (Trance Mix)” by the Cynic Project that we were both obsessed with as kids, and still are. “Timid” is total plagiarism, but terrible plagiarism, so maybe it’s cool?

Production: After trying to write songs on piano for a bit, this song is among my first serious attempts to use a Digital Audio Workstation (often called a “DAW,” referring to programs like Ableton Live or Pro Tools). I was introduced to the world of composition and recorded music via the program Digital Performer.

In digital music-making, there is this thing called quantization that allows you to snap notes that you play to a grid, so that everything sounds rhythmically accurate and…good, basically. Whether that’s piano notes, synth lines, or drum parts, you can line up everything with more or less a single click. For my first three or four years of making music, I had no idea that option even existed. I just tried to physically play parts on my keyboard as accurately as possible, and this song is a perfect example of how WEIRD that sounds. Unquantized stuff can be good, but with my lack of overall production prowess, the music sounds goofy as hell.

Songwriting: I’m not trying to claim any songwriting credit on something that’s a work of total theft! Still, it was a good jumping off point for 14-year-old me. There’s a simple structure: A section, B section, return to A section. The B section in the middle comes out of NOWHERE though, and sounds SO ridiculous to me! I love it, maybe? Christ, this is such a terrible song. Believe me, this was the LEAST embarrassing of the 13 songs I could’ve chosen from the first full-length record I made.

Personal Rating: 1 out of 5. Barely listenable now. My first and worst music was a necessary evil.

What I’d Do Differently: I’d…make a different song. I want to pretend this never happened, haha.

“My Wallet,” 2004 (age 15)

Inspiration: Firstly, please GOD try to not pay attention to the nonsense lyrics. Fuck. This song was kind of a love letter to the train/travel sequence in the movie Spirited Away. The lyrical narrative strays from the movie’s, but I’m almost positive that it was directly inspired by that. I’d probably just discovered Björk and the Postal Service around this time, too. I was beginning to get into “pop” electronic, especially any songs that included strings.

Production: This was my first time attempting to use my voice as a lead vocal. I sound SO YOUNG here omFG! At some point around this time, I got a decent mic for recording and sampled everything I could find with it. I slowly realized my voice was such a readily available tool that I might as well start practicing singing and recording my voice.

All the beats and sounds are unquantized in this song, too. It’s so funny to me that I still didn’t know what quantization was. It sounds a little more organized, and I got a little better at bashing out drum parts out on my keyboard, but things are still so rickety.

Also, I was learning viola, and couldn’t help but throw it into the stuff I was making on my own. So that playing is me! I copied and pasted the hell out of the best passes I had, a natural cheat to recorded music.

Songwriting: This was maybe my first real and true attempt at songwriting where I took the effort seriously. I tried my best at writing words, singing them, organizing a coherent song structure, creating an emotional build, etc. Even at the time, I didn’t think I totally succeeded, but I was well aware that I needed to start trying if I ever wanted to get anywhere.

Personal Rating: 4 out of 5. This was a super earnest attempt, and I remember how proud I was when I’d finished. It was a glimmer of hope that my dreams weren’t impossibly out of reach.

What I’d Do Differently: The lyrics, omg. “Your face is there to greet me / Always dead and cold completely / Leave you my wallet as a gift,” ???? Wtfff, looool. Nothing else, really. All the weirdnesses about it make it special to me.

“Vrouw (Luna Mix),” 2005 (age 16)

Inspiration: I can’t point directly to any one inspiration with this song, just to the general influence of electronic music, and an attempt to make something groovy? I dunno. It’s important to note that the guitar on this track was played by my friend Mario Luna, but that happened a year or two after I initially made the song. The original version is definitely from 2005, though.

The final version kind of symbolizes the start of our friendship. It was born of that era of sharing music and connecting through Myspace. We literally met and became friends through Myspace! Mario and I ended up trying a bunch of different musical ventures together, along with our friend Luke Silas (aka Knife City, also a member of Anamanaguchi), and the three of us ended up starting a math rock band called Nephews. We’ve all been best buds ever since. Also, Mario photographed the cover for my new record, Romaplasm. <3

Production: I had a much better workflow in Digital Performer, so I tried new ideas more confidently and more often because I could get them to sound decent. I was obsessed with slicing up audio clips and shoving them together to get sounds that were impossible with normal instruments.

There are a lot of quick cuts and tight clip editing in all my music around this time. I thought of that tight-clip-edit sound as a distinctly “electronic music” thing, so I used that technique as much as I could. I was amidst a major identity crisis, having not come out of the closet yet, so touting myself as an “electronic musician” was important to me. It gave me some grounding and a sense of self.

Songwriting: Listening back, this was one of my better approaches of structure from around that time. There are no words to help move the musical narrative along, so it was all in the rise and fall of the different parts of the music. Once Mario’s guitar work was added (and trumpet! I forgot!), there was an improved flow to everything that I couldn’t fully execute on my own. It’s a satisfying listen for me, even now, which is a big deal considering the hundreds of other shit tracks I had made up to this point!

Personal Rating: 3 out of 5. Mario gets a 5 out of 5, since his stuff is easily the best part of it. I don’t feel as much of an emotional pull from this song, but I’m still super proud of it.

What I’d Do Differently: Just different mixing, but that’s always the strangest hurdle when making music on your own, especially early on. If someone is in the position of having to mix all their own material, I feel that it’s not easy to teach someone the right way to mix without them experiencing a loss of identity in their music. They need to make those millions of little failures on their own to figure out their voice, the same as learning to draw, or learning to play an instrument. I’m still learning every time I make something new; it’s a never-ending process. The soundset between every song I make is different enough that there’s never one right way to mix anything I do.

“B. Dimlit Wet Night Fields,” 2005 (age 16)

Inspiration: This was inspired by some of the slower moments of the anime Inuyasha. The titular character was my first big crush as a closeted youth. I read a ton of fan fiction about the show when I was younger and tried to write accompanying music without revealing too much about myself.

Production: From my earliest experiences with electronic music, I was always fond of sound-design-y rhythms, and I pushed more for that in this track than I normally did. There are water sounds, pillow-slapping, box-hitting, etc… Cool, organic-sounding nonsense. I had my high school classmate Ali Reeves (I’m pretty sure?) record violin for the track, as well.

Songwriting: This was the second track on a five-track…conceptual EP??? A small narrative called We Have Tonight: Tomorrow We Leave The Planet was connected through the five songs. For some reason, I named all the tracks with letters:

A. Dusk
B. Dimlit Wet Night Fields
C. Sleep
D. Dawn
E. Upwards

Lol, WHYyy?! Experimental ambition got the better of me. It was definitely more important to fully execute ideas at this age than to say no to my instincts. I wasn’t much of an editor yet, so I did shit like… title my songs with letters.

Personal Rating: 3 out of 5? I feel critical about this track, but: This song always felt like the best part of that EP. It had an atmosphere that genuinely met what I was trying to talk about in the lyrics. Still feels good.

What I’d Do Differently: I meant to keep things a bit softer than I did. I struggled with the discrepancy between trying to evoke a strong emotion with atmosphere versus using sounds and a mix that were maybe more intense or louder. It took me a while to figure out the balance of conveying strong emotions without forcing the feeling down your throat. Showing versus telling. I think the song “Softly,” which I include later in this list, is a good example of succeeding at that?

“.I Stood In A Field,” 2006 (age 17)

Inspiration: I took a field trip to Yosemite National Park in middle school that ended up being very special to me. My entire school class got to chill in cabins for a week, we hung out by campfires… and there was a MESS HALL…the whole business. I loved it.

There was a particular hike we went on where our guide asked us to just sit down and stay quiet for a few minutes in the middle of a giant field. As a rowdy ADHD teen, I rarely afforded myself those sorts of moments, so it really stuck with me. This track was my slightly older teen self reflecting on that. Goddd, my lyrics for all these songs are SO embarrassing though, and for this one in particular. The refrain is, “A prime example of godly time spent / On a simple but perfect event.” Eugghh~~~

My friend Mario and I started to become friends around the time I shared this song. (Remember that the guitar he added to “Vrouw” happened years after I originally recorded the track, so it was probably around this time.) We both had tracks on this compilation of local bands in LA, and it was thrilling to see my name on something with other bands I liked! Super inspiring and validating.

Another note on the title “.I Stood In A Field:” I did another ridiculous thing with the titles for this one record where I had a period at the start of all of them… I can’t really explain it away other than I wanted to be cool and different. It’s just as silly to me now as putting a letter before every track, like the last song I featured.

Production: This was easily the most cohesive track I’d made up until this point in my life. I still had this drive to use as many disparate audio and real-world sounds as possible (all the drum sounds are sourced from deep splashing water), but I married that philosophy to a really structured beat, which surprised me once I had finished. I was surprised that I was cool with that normalcy, and that I felt it worked, and that I was cool with having the track remain so similar all the way through. This song was less fidgety than most of my other stuff. It feels to me like a rare example of my young producer self being able to take a step back and ride out a feeling.

Songwriting: I found myself with a pop song at the end of making this and didn’t hate myself for it! That was big. It was important that I was able to be happy with something so “pop” and still felt it was experimental enough. Very new territory for my stubbornly ~weird~ teen aesthetic.

Personal Rating: 4 out of 5. This represented a lot of growth? For me?

What I’d Do Differently: The fucking lyrics, lol.

“Spend the Night,” 2007 (age 18)

Inspiration: Thiiisssss was the song! THIS was where I think I cemented my future in making music, at least in my own mind. Even if I never found success, I got an ‘I can DO this!’ sort of feeling after completing “Spend the Night.” Crucially, I had come out of the closet by this time, and was finally able to write lyrics that were true to me, and everything I did from here on out was the better for it. This was my first taste of living my truth, and it’s as unhinged as it should be 😀

There are songs of mine around this time that I like more, but this was such a thesis statement for the kind of music I wanted to accomplish in the future. A solid blend of wild experimental stuff, a strong emotional core, and a bit of pop convention to have it all go down smooth. All those things coming together while trying to make something NEW was my game from the very beginning, and totally still is when it comes to my Baths material. Even if I fail at that, it’s what I’m ultimately shooting for.

Production: This was me going as wild as possible in my DAW. I had no ideas to start with. I just wanted to make some loud garbage. After a while, I couldn’t help but try to bring some focus to the mess. It eventually pivoted into this blooming thing in the second half, and I fell totally in love with the idea of turning it into an actual song.

All the sounds besides piano and vocals are sourced from samples of pulling out cables, and then this technique (lol?) of distorting a bunch of tracks by turning up volumes way too high, recording it, and reducing the volume again.

Songwriting: The structure that comes together in the second half is everything for this track. The noise is fun, but the ultimate pull into such a focused and simple chord structure makes the rest of the garbage happening turn into something really special. It was a “less is more” thing with the chords/part writing, because there was already so much chaos going on.

Personal Rating: 5 out of 5. I still like to think of this as the “thesis” for my future musical efforts.

What I’d Do Differently: NOTHING!!! I love it!!!!!

“Softly,” 2007 (age 18)

Inspiration: If “Spend the Night” was the heads side of the Young Creative Will Wiesenfeld coin, “Softly” would be the tails side. This track was an excellent distillation of the other side of music I wanted to create. It didn’t aim to accomplish anything new. It didn’t need to be experimental. I just needed it to feel good.

I often have the desire to write music that way: music that pays little attention to what personal goals I’m trying to accomplish and comes only from feeling and instinct. It’s always an extremely liberating experience. I don’t value one form of music-making over the other. It’s just a different, but equally thrilling, way to express myself.

I can’t point to a specific inspiration for this one. It floats a little outside of my memory, but that’s also why I find it special. I honestly don’t even remember making it, which is one of the most interesting things as a creative person. ‘Where the fuck did this come from?’ is always a cool thought to have about your own stuff.

Production: This song doesn’t contain any trademark production things from that era of my material, which is another thing that’s interesting about it. It uses a super basic kit and structure that sounds like I threw it together in five minutes: basic pad/bass synth, basic melodic synth, etc… It’s full of cheaper or, like, less considered sounds, I guess? I didn’t use any real instruments, this must’ve all been synths from GarageBand (a free DAW that comes with most Apple computers). It feels cohesive, though, which is the fun magic of it: All the sounds in it are pretty stock, but the end result doesn’t sound horrible.

Songwriting: “Softly” is basically an intro, then an extended chorus, and that’s it. Super simple. The lyrics are simple, too. I like this song so much because I think I succeeded in making something that has a very strong identity, even though that identity is really small. It’s this fleeting, good-natured little pop track, and it doesn’t aim to be anything beyond that.

Personal Rating: 5 out of 5. I’m still so into this song. It landed so much better than I ever expected it to.

What I’d Do Differently: Not much. Maybe a more effective outro? I made this song SUPER fast, so I don’t think I thought about the small bits of it for too long before moving on to other (and what I thought at the time were more important) songs. I wouldn’t change the stock sounds and laptop mic vocals, though. They still totally work for me.

“Goodbye Vanowen,” 2008 (age 19)

Inspiration: I made that first album with the song “Timid” (at the start of this feature) at the house I grew up in, but everything since then was made at my second family home—we moved into it around the time I started high school.

This was the last song I made at that second house. I’d made like 90 percent of all my songs there, numbering in the hundreds, so I was super attached to the place. This song was a wordless little love letter to what was the most important place in my life.

Production: The song is just heavily edited guitar, glockenspiel, and vocals. Nothing stands out to me from a production standpoint. I was using my same tricks and tactics as I was on anything else I made around that age, but it was cool to keep it this simple. It’s always tougher for me to do less, as I’m a pretty fidgety producer, so this another nice example of holding back.

Songwriting: N/A, haha. More like a sketch that I was fond of.

Personal Rating: 4 out of 5. I’m emotionally attached to it.

What I’d Do Differently: I’d love to try an extended version of the first section. There’s a meditative feel I get from it. I separately began to fulfill that desire for meditative material when I started to make Geotic records, which was right around this time. My Geotic output grew into a larger than expected, but equally satisfying, approach to creating music.

28-year-old Los Angeles native Will Wiesenfeld has been making records for over 10 years, and describes his music as “electronic music from a songwriting perspective.” His new record as Baths is called Romaplasm, out now on Anticon Records.