Sometimes, finding inspiration can be a hard-won battle. On other occasions, it’s right there waiting for you as soon as you turn on your synth.
Case in point: Gorillaz’ Clint Eastwood. The familiar lolloping piano and drum beat from the band’s 2001 single wasn’t, it turns out, composed by Damon Albarn, but is simply a preset from the good old Suzuki Omnichord - the Rock 1 preset, to be precise.
Albarn made the revelation during an interview with Zane Lowe at the Blur frontman’s Studio 13 facility in London. There’s an impressive level of organisation going on here: each synth has its own spot on a labelled shelf.
And there are a lot of shelves. Albarn casually confirms that he has a whole roomful of drum machines, before showing off his BOSS VT-1 voice transformer and Yamaha QY10, which he used back in the day to create the bass synth line on Elastica’s 1994 single, Connection.
It’s when he turns on that Omnichord, though, that Albarn gets the biggest reaction out of Lowe, with the Apple Music One presenter seemingly amazed that Clint Eastwood’s groove was so easily come by.
“It just came like that?” he asks. “That’s it. That’s the preset. It’s the Rock 1 preset,” replies Albarn, before spicing it up with the Omnichord’s fill button.
Originally released in 1981, with the final model arriving in 1999, the Omnichord was a preset-filled groove machine that could play rhythms, chords and basslines, and had buttons that enabled you to switch between major, minor and 7th chords. The ‘Sonic Strings’, meanwhile, could be swiped to (sort of) replicate the sound of a stringed instrument.
This isn’t the only time a pre-rolled beat has been used in a hit record, of course. The drum loop for Rihanna’s 2007 smash Umbrella comes straight out of GarageBand (Vintage Funk Kit 03 is what you’re looking for) and Usher’s 2008 chart-topper Love In This Club also features Apple Loops.
While some will be disappointed to learn that Albarn and other producers have had hits off the back of what are effectively stock sounds, it just goes to show that you don’t necessarily need to sweat over every element of a song to make a great record. In all of the aforementioned cases, the skill came in recognising a loop’s potential when no one else had.