by Alisa Lyakhovaya With the anticipated sold out concerts at the iconic Wembley Stadium just days away (two days at the time of this posting); and with BTS' album, Map of the Soul: Persona and single Boy With Luv being their most successful UK releases to date, we continue our [decoded] series.
This week, BTS Radio UK are joined by a duo who had a hand in not one, but two tracks on the Persona album. The glitteringly beautiful 'Mikrokosmos' that concert goers can look forward to hearing live, and the emotionally charged track 'Jamais Vu'. We are of course speaking of the UK's very own home-grown talent, ARCADES.
Thank you so much for joining BTS Radio UK for this interview. I am so glad we could finally get in touch and just chat all things music, producing…and this one rather unknown album called Map Of The Soul: Persona! :)
In your Spotify bio it says that both of you used to be part of a band? What made you quit and start this wonderful duet, now known as Arcades?
Max: We both played in bands, but not together, we had or own projects back then. We actually ended up working in the same studio but one room apart so we knew each other’s work. “James F Reynolds” who has mixed for BTS since day one suggested we hook up and work together. As soon as we started writing together we knew we had something special as it came quickly and easily and our work was getting lots of good feedback and recognition right from the start.
Quick question about the story behind your name. As far as I understood your name was inspired by the name of the studio you two work at. However, on your Facebook page it shows that your name used to be ‘Digital Army’. What is that all about?
Matt: We worked under a few different names for the projects we've worked on together. Digital Army was one of them but in the end none of them really stuck. The name "ARCADES" was born after we moved into our studio. Max has a true passion for video games, so he built a fully working arcade machine for us to play on coffee breaks with writers & artists, so the studio was named after that.
Before you were given the opportunity to write/produce the songs for the new BTS album, were you given any specific theme to write about? Any specific guidelines?
Max: When we got sent the pitches telling us what they were looking for they had such a detailed idea of what they want, although they still gave us free reign to be experimental with it, which is the best way for us. It means we have a purpose behind our ideas but we still get the chance to be creative.
‘Mikrokosmos’ and ‘Jamais Vu’ are emotionally gripping in both sound and lyrics. When producing them, were you trying to convey a specific emotion? How did BTS weave the story and melody to their own style?
Matt: I think that instrumentally we were guiding the tracks in a certain direction, and the melodies really compliment that feeling. A lot of the emotion in the tracks is down to the vocals. They're so well performed and recorded, and you can really feel all the emotion in every line.
How did this opportunity present itself? Was it you/your manager that approached BTS or was it the other way around?
Max: One of our managers James F Reynolds has mixed BTS tracks for years. He's mixed tracks such as Fake Love, Idol, DNA etc. so that's given us real insight into their sound and arrangements. BigHit eventually became aware of our work thanks to James.
The names of the tracks; did you come up with a name yourself or was it BTS?
Matt: We had different English lyrics when we sent it off, so the title got changed, and they came up with those titles along with the lyrics that you hear now.
I can tell that Mikrokosmos is your personal favourite. Not that we’re picking favourites here! Did the songs change conceptually after you submitted them? I’m assuming you obviously had thematically different lyrics, unless you were given a specific topic to write about.
Matt: The songs changed conceptually after we submitted from our end for sure. In saying that they hadn’t actually given us a theme to write about with ‘Mikrokosmos’.
Did you get a heads up prior to the public release of the track list or did you find out at the same time as everybody else?
Max: We had no idea what the track list was going to be. We posted a video on our twitter of us finding out. We were actually in a session with Ryan Lawrie who is also a writer on Mikrokosmos and we were all buzzing to see the songs up there. We didn’t even know how many songs would be on the album let alone what they were.
How many versions of the songs did you have made in the beginning? How many were approved? How long did it take to achieve the final result?
Matt: I guess both songs were different from the process of starting through to finishing. Mikrokosmos felt like there was a slightly longer process as there are more parts to it.
Which song was easier to work on?
Max: Mikrokosmos was loads of fun to work on as it’s such a fun upbeat song, so I suppose in that way it was easier. It always feels somewhat easier working on something uplifting rather than heartbreaking. Jamais Vu was great too as it gave us a time to put lots of emotion into it. It’s also a lovely chord progression that we are proud of.
You posted your first Persona teaser on July 10th, 2018. How long after was it that you got in touch with BTS/their producers?
Matt: The songs we wrote on the 10th July with Ryan were actually different songs as we wrote a lot together so it wasn’t a teaser, BigHit and BTS work so fast that we didn’t actually start working on it till Dec ‘18 / Jan ‘19 so it was a quick turn around.
And here I thought I was the modern day Sherlock Holmes... I’m going to assume you pulled multiple all-nighters throughout those couple months also, judging by those ‘monster’ selfies!
Was it stressful at any point? As you said BigHit work so fast; was such pace something you weren’t so used to at first?
Matt: Ahh yeah a lot of monster energy got consumed as me and Ryan are big fans haha. Yeah BigHit have an incredible work ethic and it definitely made us raise our game but it is something we have adopted on our end.
With regards to working via long distance...Is there a specific process/routine you normally go through before starting to work with someone? Was there a lot of back and forth throughout the working process?
Max: We do 99% of our sessions in one room all together so working long distance was a new thing for us too. Once we handed our ideas over to BigHit and began collaborating on new ideas, the process was very streamlined and straightforward. One of the first things was when Pdogg made an edit of our arrangement and he heard it in a totally different way from us, so we got it back and straight away we thought.... WOW! He’s a genius! So any back and forth was very easy because whatever input we would send off, the guys would just make it even better. It was a great collaboration.
Your song ‘In the Air’, featuring Sarah Walk, reflects on similar emotional topics as Love Yourself: Tear. That is also the song that J-Hope added to his Spotify playlist towards the end of August last year. Did you need to provide any of your existing work prior to the collaboration? And do you know which one of them actually sealed the deal? Matt: No we just got told J-Hope had added the song to his Spotify playlist and straight away we started getting loads of lovely messages. We then realised how powerful the guys were on social media as we hadn’t experienced anything like that. We owe so much to not only J-Hope but the guys at Big Hit and of course the BTS boys. Listening to the ‘Map Of The Soul: Persona’, do you connect with any of the other songs? Do you relate to the messages that BTS promote through their work? Matt: We definitely relate to the whole album, it is a piece of art and conceptually it shows great growth which we love. I actually got the Persona heart tattooed with the lyric ‘shining lights’ in Korean which really stuck out to me. That really resonated with me. You have described BTS’ fans as very ‘loyal’ and that you feel ‘welcomed into the family’. Can you describe how it feels to have such positive and overwhelming response to your work? Max: To have songs we have co-written on an album as big as this we honestly didn’t know what to expect, but it has been so heartwarming to get all the lovely and kind messages and it’s a testament to the boys (BTS). You mentioned that you will be travelling to Korea for a ‘writing session’. Should we be expecting any more exciting collaborations with any other artists? Or is that for the purpose of drawing inspiration from a new and culturally different environment? Matt: Well the writing trip is definitely on the cards so we are hoping that there will be more collaborations in the future for sure but you’ll just have to keep looking out. Now that you’ve mentioned future collaborations...You’ve been posting quite a lot about your upcoming projects! (Yes, I do check your stories, as I find them quite entertaining) What’s the project schedule like for Arcades? How busy are you right now? What projects should we be shouting from the rooftops about? 🙂 Matt: First of all I am glad you enjoy our stories 😉 LOL. And we are definitely busy. Since the album we have been in Sweden writing and are about to head to LA for a month, with a little week's holiday in between in the Canaries. We are getting ready to drop a few of our new tracks including another one with Ryan and Marcus who worked on Mikrokosmos with us, and some collaborations which we are still in the process of finalising at the moment. This is so exciting, I'll make sure to spare some space in my summer playlist! Thank you both so much for joining me for this interview, it has been an absolute pleasure. We at BTS Radio UK wish you the best of luck for all your future projects and hope to hear more from you soon! You can follow Arcades on:- Instagram: @arcadesuk Twitter:@arcadesuk Join us next time for the next installment in our [decoded] series. Follow BTS Radio UK on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @BTSRadioUK; and turn on your notifications to keep up to date with our posts. Images courtesy of @arcadesuk - Instagram