HOMESHAKE, aka Peter Sagar, is a solo musician from Montreal known for RnB influenced indie-pop with a lo-fi, home-recorded aesthetic. Formerly Mac DeMarco's live guitarist, Sagar uses cheap synthesizers and drum machines to accompany his guitar playing and soft vocal delivery; his newest album, 2017's Fresh Air, expands upon his sound by incorporating adult-orientated rock into his palette. I'll dive into his sound, analysing the equipment Sagar uses to craft his sound and the way that Sagar likes to choose and program his tracks.
Sonically, there’s a lot more of an electronic influence on the record – what about this genre made you want to dive into it on the album?
One thing was that I was becoming disenchanted with the guitar a little bit as a writing tool, and I found the more instrumentation you allow yourself, the more texture and feeling you can convey through your music. I just needed something else to work with… And I found a good synthesizer for a good price on craigslist, so that helped. -Peter Sagar
Sagar's go-to pieces of equipment are a Korg Poly 61 and a Dave Smith Instruments Prophet 08. The Poly 61 was the successor to the Korg Polysix, and like the much more popular Roland Juno series, it used DCO's for a sharp, bright sound. The Prophet 08 is a versatile modern polysynth capable of lush basses, mellow leads and super deep basses, it is commonly used by a variety of artists (Thom Yorke, James Blake, Sufjan Stevens) who appreciate it for it's versatility.
I'll use the software synth TAL U-NO-LX to emulate the Korg Poly 61 patches, as it's an emulation of the similar Roland Juno. The Poly 61 didn't have an onboard chorus effect, so none of the HOMESHAKE patches will use the chorus effects section. A great software version of the Prophet synth is Arturia Prophet V, which is an emulation of an older Prophet synth, the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5, a legendary 1978 synth that the Prophet 08 is somewhat based upon.
Every Single Thing
Let's start with creating the keys sound in Every Single Thing using TAL U-NO-LX, which will introduce some of the modulation elements involved in the HOMESTYLE synth patches. The patch uses a single square wave oscillator, so turn off the saw and sub oscillators and turn on the square oscillator. If you're using another synth then keep in mind that this synth sound utilises digital oscillators (DCOs) as opposed to analog oscillators.
Next we'll adjust how the brightness of the sound changes over time, to make it sound more mellow and less static, which we'll do by adjusting the filter (VCF) and envelope (ADSR) sections. Set both the HPF filter and VCF freq to around 4 to close the filters, then raise the VCF env to between 3 and 4 to start modulating the filter using the envelope. Now set up the envelope with a low sustain and very long decay (around 6/7) to create a fading envelope. Play a chord and you'll hear the filter being controlled by this fading envelope.
Lastly we want to create a detuned effect, like the sound is going out of tune slightly every time we play a chord, which we'll do using the synths LFO modulation. In the LFO section set the trigger mode to sync and the delay time to 1/1; this will keep the LFO in time with our DAW's tempo. Also click the INV button in the LFO section which will make the oscillators go flat, rather than sharp. Apply this LFO to our DCO's tuning with the LFO fader under the DCO section, at the top-left of the interface. Raise it to a setting between 1 & 2 to keep it subtle, as extreme settings will make the synth sound nauseatingly out-of-tune.
You can experiment with using the onboard chorus, which is a from the Roland Juno synths and will give you a Tame Impala / Mac DeMarco sound, however HOMESHAKE's synth doesn't have this onboard chorus effect so your patches will sound different from the HOMESHAKE sound with the chorus activated.
The synth sound in Wrapping Up involves using modulation to create a swelling effect. Set up a similar square wave patch to the one in Every Single Thing, but this time rather than applying envelope modulation to the filter, we'll apply it to the overall volume. Switch the VCA mode from gate to env, which will control the amp volume with the envelope, then set the envelope with a long attack around 7, no sustain and a medium decay and release time. Set the LFO to subtly drift the tuning, this time in free time mode with a low rate setting. Check out the exact settings below.
For drum sounds HOMESHAKE gravitates towards old drum machine sounds. Redditor theonlythinman claims that Sagar uses a Roland TR-8 for his drum machine sounds, which is possible as the TR-8 would allow Sagar the flexibility and variety of sounds he uses through his albums. Check out the track below using some Roland 808 drum machine samples from Goldbaby, although any decent 808 library will suffice.
The thick sounding keys track in Heat was likely recorded on the Prophet 08, utilising its polysynth capabilities to make an otherwise simple patch sound much richer. Start with the basic template Pro5 2 Osc and lower the fine-tuning of oscillator B to 1%. Lower the filter cutoff to halfway and raise the resonance to the 10 o'clock mark. Run this patch through sparing amounts of medium-sized hall reverb to make the patch sound less dry. Check out the full beat using a Prophet bass patch and another drum machine sample kit.
Under The Sheets
Under The Sheets features a particularly complex synth patch that takes advantage of some of the Prophet synths advanced capabilities. Start with the Pro5 2 Osc template and set up the oscillator A with an octave up (+12) square wave, and oscillator B with a saw and square with the fine tuning set to 33% and PW (pulse-width) to the 8 o'clock mark. This will give you a really rich sounding base to start from. Now lower the cutoff to 9 o'clock and raise the env amt to 3 o'clock to start modulating the filter. Set the envelope with no attack or sustain, decay at 2 o'clock and release at 12 o'clock. This produces a sharp decay that together with the rich sound gives you a metallic plucking effect. Use reverb to make it sound less dry and you've got a killer synth patch.
Call Me Up
This song has a clear 90s soul vibe to it, and the choice of synth patches and drum machine sound are largely responsible. The mellow lead synth is another Prophet patch, this time just using a single sawtooth oscillator (one oscillator sounds mellower and thinner than multiple detuned oscillators) and another envelope modulated filter, this time with the cutoff at 9 o'clock and the env amt at 11 o'clock. Set the filter envelope with a medium attack, long decay, low sustain and medium release, check the screenshot below for the exact envelope settings I found sounded closest to Call Me Up. When playing this patch pay attention to the different sound between long notes and short, punchy notes. Experiment with the filter envelope settings to see the different effects you can get, especially with the relationship between the attack and decay portions of the sound.
For the pad synth chords, we're going to turn to the Roland D-50. Billed a 'Linear Synthesizer', the D-50 was a powerful digital synth that was released as an easier-to-program competitor to the Yamaha DX7, and like the DX7 was capable of rich, complex sounds. It featured a joystick for easy sound manipulation and was the first synth to feature onboard reverb. D50's are still relatively inexpensive to find second-hand, and Roland have also released a smaller boutique version, the Roland D-05, as well as a software version that uses samples on their Roland Cloud service. Listen to the Call Me Up chords on the Roland Cloud D-50, with the preset Flute-Piano Duo. Check the D-50 sound and the full arrangement using my Fender P-Bass and another sampled Roland 808 drum kit.
I’d like to do an ambient relaxation tape, but I don’t really know how I’d do it. Maybe just turn all my synths on and let them go crazy. -Peter Sagar
Thanks for reading! I've had tons of requests for this article ever since I wrote the Mac DeMarco pieces. Hopefully the walkthroughs shed some light on how these type of wobbly, modulated synth patches are created, and hopefully you'll be inspired to take these sounds into your own music.
The Ableton Projects for my HOMESHAKE synth tutorials, containing all the MIDI tracks, patches, samples and recordings you hear in the tutorial audio. You'll need Arturia Prophet and TAL U-NO-LX to run the MIDI tracks, as well as Roland Cloud D50 for one of the tracks, although I've provided the frozen audio for those without the Roland Cloud plugins. The projects use VST plugins and can be opened on Mac and Windows.
Check out the screenshots to check out what's included!