Jonathan Eng about the music in The Sailor’s Dream

It was a big departure for me to start writing more ambient music. I had always been very focused on melodies before, but it was rewarding to think of music as more than chords and melodies. I’m really happy with a song like Empty Vessel. It contains small creative whims, like the first seconds of accordion which sounds a bit like an inhale before diving below the surface. Or the falling chromatic piano keys, which are more a sound effect than music. That song captured something mysterious and grand, like a big sunken ship.

For inspiration, Simon and I created a collaborative playlist, which included old sea shanties, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, British folk music and Tom Waits.

Overall, I think the album sounds surprisingly good production-wise. I’m not much of a producer, so it really has no business sounding as good as it does. There aren’t that many instruments involved, so I guess that’s the saving grace. I mainly used piano, steel-string guitar, banjo, melodica and glockenspiel for the project. We also bought a concertina specifically for this project. It was challenging learning how to play it, since you need to be mindful of not only pressing the right buttons, but also whether to pull or push to get the right note. The melodies written on the concertina were very much shaped by the limitations of the instrument, which is always a fun starting point.

The whole recording setup was very basic. I recorded the first songs in my old living room, which had windows facing the street. As the weather got warmer, kids started playing outside and you could hear them in the recordings, so I had to move the whole setup to a small room next to the kitchen, where I started building a simple home studio. Everything was recorded with a single mic (AKG Perception 200) in Garageband on a 2009 Macbook Pro that had to be left outside the room, with cables running under the door so the fan wouldn’t be picked up in the recording. The song Midnight Sketches is even more lofi. it’s just a single take iPhone voice memo.

Overall I’m proud of the soundtrack, it really sounds like the ocean, seagulls, love and longing. I think it turned out well.