I recently published my first freelance piece for 2023, a Los Angeles Times profile of Thes One and how he put together, Farewell, My Friend, a beautiful elegy for his PUTS partner, Double K, who passed away two years ago.
It’s been a long while since I’ve worked on a reported piece like this: four+ rounds of interviews with Thes — which he described as “therapy sessions”, ha! — plus secondaries with keyboardist Kat O1O, mixing engineer Michael Brauer, and bugging Rhettmatic and Myka 9 for testimonials. All that plus several rounds of edits with my Times’ editor, Craig Marks, who I thought did a great job of helping trim the fat off the piece without losing the heart of it.
But…there were things trimmed off and I’m using this opportunity to touch on some of the things that didn’t make the final edit.
The darling that was hardest to kill was talking more extensively about how much trouble Thes had with finishing the album. I do get into this in the finished article but originally, I had suggested that the end of the piece could be oriented on this particular angle. In particular, some of what was cut included Thes sharing how Mike and him would talk about how much they agreed with Anderson .Paak after he revealed his tattoo stating how he wanted his music handled after his hypothetical death.
More importantly, part of the larger context is that Thes and Double K often worried about their own hypothetical deaths and this (unused) quote really drove some of this home:
Thes: We had always assumed we’d end up dying together on the road somehow. Part of the pain of of [Mike] dying is kind of feeling left behind. Every last song on every album was our potential last word because we were always convinced in the two years between the latter records, we’d get into [a] drastic car accident or something with our touring schedule the way it was.
In that sense, Farewell, My Friend, followed a similar ethos: if Thes didn’t finish the album, he was risking the possibility that someone else would and if there was one thing Thes and Double K insisted on, it was having the last word about their own artistic expression.
However, Thes was simultaneously confronted with a problem. He had a very hard time bringing himself to actually finish the album, specifically doing the mix for it. Thes has always mixed his own projects but this album was very different for obvious, emotional reasons.
Thes One: This project both froze and came to life the day [Mike] died. Like, it stopped, but it also started, and I didn’t know how to end it. I think if left to my own accord, we probably won’t even be having this conversation.
Me: Because you’d still be in the middle of working on it?
Thes: Yeah, it’d give me something to do for the next 10 years and I’d never have to really close this chapter.
Here’s what was cut from the original draft of the article:
To force a resolution, Thes did something he had never done in his entire career: he turned the album over to someone else for the finishing touches, hiring acclaimed sound engineer Michael Brauer (Coldplay, The Rolling Stones, Irene Cara, etc.) to complete the final mix. Brauer admits, “I didn’t really know much about his band, I didn’t know anything about his partner,” but he understood the essence of the project was different from a conventional album aiming for pop charts or record sales: “the agenda was simply a dedication to his friendship and his relationship with a man he loved very much.” His job was to figure out how to convey those emotions through the mix which speaks to the level of trust Thes was putting into his hands.
Brauer began sending his completed tracks back while Thes was in rural Mexico with his family and he had to drive around to find a strong enough cellular signal to download them. The moment of truth came when he compared Brauer’s mix with his own and he exhaled in relief: “they were head and shoulders better than what I had done.”
Note: the image of Thes, driving around, holding his cell phone in the air trying to catch a signal he could tether off of makes for a pretty funny image.
The other major thing that got lopped off was a deeper description about how the songs were composed. Since the songs aren’t covers/remixes in any conventional sense, I thought it might have been helpful to try to explain what Thes and his musicians were trying to do. Again, from the draft:
For the sessions, Thes integrated his well-honed sample-based production techniques with directing studio musicians to rework passages from those audio-biographical songs from his and Double K’s lives. For example, “90s Mike and Chris on the Porch” both samples from and interpolates Monty Alexander’s funky jazz cover of Al Green’s “Love and Happiness.” It was one of Double K’s all-time favorite songs given how it was looped up by 1990’s hip-hop giants like The Beatnuts and A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip.
Like the rest of the album, “90s Mike and Chris On the Porch” isn’t a remake. Rather, it uses parts of Alexander’s original as the foundation from which Thes and the session players could build something new yet familiar. Thes suspects this is why Double K was so encouraging of the project, often times sitting in on the recording sessions: “he was urging me to get these musicians together to make songs that were his favorite songs. That was his dream, to see these songs redone with our sensibility.”
However, we had to get the piece under a word count threshold and while this is descriptive, it just didn’t feel essential enough to keep. Anyone who hears the song side-by-side with “Love and Happiness” can pretty quickly figure out the similarities/differences between them so describing that difference felt unnecessary.
Thanks to everyone on the socials for showing love to the piece; for obvious reasons, it’s an article I really wanted to make sure I got “right” to the best of my ability. And meanwhile, be sure to check out Farewell, My Friend.
(Originally written for the Soul Sides Stray newsletter)