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Songs from Scratch


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Songs from Scratch


All In

Written by Frances Capell
Photographs by GL Askew II

 

Aaron Carmack is exhausted. Fresh off a whirlwind European tour, the Soulection-linked producer better known as Mr. Carmack has logged only a few hours of sleep in as many days, yet he’s here at York Recording Studio in Eagle Rock, Los Angeles, instead of recuperating in bed. “I was in Berlin a couple days ago. Before that, Cologne, and before that I was in the UK. That was my weekend,” he recounts in a mellow, hushed tone that feels more like a permanent state of chill than the result of sleep-deprivation. “Then where did I play on Thursday? I can't remember.”

 

He’s fastened to his swiveling chair, eyes shiny and glazed as mint-green and lavender boxes move like puzzle pieces in the Pro Tools interface on the monitor ahead of him. This afternoon his heart is a little heavy, too, as his team reports that his dating life is on the rocks.

En route to the studio is Oakland-bred R&B powerhouse Kehlani Parrish, and unlike past Songs From Scratch sessions, these two are already pals. There’s no need for introductions when she arrives with boisterous energy and crimson hair. Since their social circles are connected, she’s already filled in on his romantic entanglement and, coincidentally, fired up to create a track about a similar issue that’s plaguing her.

“Crazy things happened to both of us in the same couple of days,” says the singer. “I feel like we didn't even really have to speak about it, because we’re both fully aware of our situations. ” The lyrics flow from Kehlani faster than she can type them out on her laptop as Carmack toys with the barebones of a beat, freestyling on keys over bass and a sparse, reverberating fingersnap. “He played the beat and I was like, Ok, the topic is you're either all in or you're not,” Kehlani says.

 

Crazy things happened to both of us in the same couple of days,” says the singer. “I feel like we didn’t even really have to speak about it, because we’re both fully aware of our situations.

“Is this too mellow?” Carmack wonders. But this song is meant to be a slow-burner, with Kehlani moving intimately close to the mic so she can whisper-sing the first verse in the booth. As her feathery vocals fill the room, a surprise harmony rings out from Carmack’s corner. “I’m still learning a lot. I come from mainly just in my bed, in my boxers like, writing,” he explains. However, for this son of a bar pianist who was raised on jazz standards, hands-on production seems to come naturally. He’s hit by a noticeable boost of energy when Kehlani lays down his vocal idea, rising up out of his seat with hips swaying.

 

Artwork by Sam Churnside

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Chapter 2


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Chapter 2


“It was just two very creative people in there expressing,” Kehlani says later. “It wasn't even like a singer and a producer. It was just freedom.” For her, creative expression is a coping mechanism that stems from a tough childhood spent hopping around places in Oakland while her mom was absent. “I feel like art in itself is a blessing to someone who has a lot of crazy things they're dealing with. Music, for us, it's what we breathe,” she says. She’s known to finish a week’s worth of tracks in a day, followed by days where “it just doesn’t happen.” More experiences need to be lived in order to add fuel to the fire.

With her vocals wrapped for the day, Kehlani says her goodbyes and heads home. Engineers and managers zip in and out of the room, and all the while Carmack remains perched in his chair, zoned-out and zen-like, peeling back layers of the track, snipping and rearranging. He can hear a string section at the end, so a late-night call is made to a cellist in the same manner as ordering pizza delivery. “I’ve never directed strings before,” Carmack says while we wait. In thirty minutes or less, the classically-trained cellist in tribal sweatpants, Gabe Noel, arrives and Carmack fills him in.

It was just two very creative people in there expressing,” Kehlani says later. “It wasn’t even like a singer and a producer. It was just freedom.

“You haven't slept for three days? Why not?” Gabe asks.

“Because I wanted to hear you play cello,” Carmack responds with a grin. Gabe delivers one long take, which Carmack later chops and weaves into a cinematic conclusion.

There isn’t much left to do on the following day except listen to the track and discuss its finishing touches. The pair consider trying to squeeze in another collaboration, but Kehlani’s already gotten everything off her chest. “My friends will hear a project and know exactly what happened, and when and with who,” she explains. “It's hard for me to write about things that I'm not exactly going through right now.”

At this point Carmack, who’s opted to remain silent about whatever it is he’s going through, chimes in: “I think this song is pretty fucking relevant.”

 

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About


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About


Songs from Scratch is an original series from Yours Truly and adidas originals that documents and delivers new songs, from scratch. Each song is the result of a curated collaboration between artists whose craft and passion inspire action. 

 
 
 

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