The artist, multi-instrumentalist, and producer I.AM releases a contemplative electronic masterpiece with, "88 (Save)." I.AM (a.k.a. Alex McKee) learned his way around a guitar, saxophone, and piano at a young age. Eventually becoming a sample developer for Hans Zimmer and a passionate worship leader, it was time for I.AM to venture onto his own unique path. With his latest single "88 (Save)," I.AM explores the reach for God when times get tough while supporting this message with beautiful electronic melodies that naturally uplift the listener. With a distinct inspirational atmosphere, I.AM holds nothing back on this track and reaches his arms for help from the power above.
Opening with spacious background pads and a pulsing synth, "88 (Save)" swiftly shifts into an uplifting electronic beat. Once the breathy male vocals kick in, we're left with calming vocals and nothing but pulsing synths synchronized with a thumping and exhilarating kick. Around the pre-chorus, the energy builds with the entire production, while the vocals serenade us with a relatable message of feeling lost and needing guidance from the creator. Once the beat drops, this sensation of freedom and fearlessness overcomes us with help from atmospheric background strings and an invigorating beat. I.AM has created a very sweet-sounding and introspective track with "88 (Save)," and reminds us not to hesitate to reach out when in need of help and guidance.
Your single "88 (Save)" truly gives listeners peace of mind. What message did you want your audience to take away from this piece?
The song is an adaptation of Psalm 88 - it's the only Psalm in the Bible that doesn't turn or resolve. It's raw, gritty, and gives us all permission to feel how we really feel. There is no sugar coating in these words. And that's a good thing! God cares about our real emotions and wants us to express those to Him so that we can eventually experience freedom from those things. We have to experience darkness to know what light is. And that's what I was hoping to do with this song. Looking at the lyrics, one might believe that it's bleak and without hope. The hope is buried in the first line of the chorus. "Oh God of my salvation" - right there, we acknowledge that God is the source of our salvation. He will save us and redeem us from whatever we are going through, but we still have to go through it. It's comforting to know that even through suffering, God doesn't leave us.
"88 (Save)" features beautiful male vocals to help emphasize the song's atmosphere. Are these your own vocals, or did you work with other artists when creating this single?
Those are my vocals and thanks for saying that! I worked with my good friend, Taurees, an incredible producer/mixing engineer, who really pushed me artistically to get the best out of me. He's a big reason why the vocals sound the way they do. But to be honest, I have really struggled with my voice for years and have never believed it to be good or beautiful. I've had vocal coaching over the past three years that has really helped me not only find my voice but love it for its uniqueness. I still have a long way to go, but I feel like "88 (save)" is the first big step in that journey to finding my voice.
Speaking on the production aspect of "88 (Save)," what was your creative process like when sculpting this detailed and intricate atmosphere within the instrumentals?
"88 (save)" is a complete departure for me sonically. I am a guitar player and typically write in a rock or acoustic/singer-songwriter style, but I have always been drawn to synthesizers and sample-based, ambient music as well. When I first started working on "88 (save)," I tried my usual approach and it just wasn't working. It didn't feel as isolating as I believed the song should feel. One of the sounds that I was experimenting with early on was a reverse delay effect on an electric guitar part, which essentially plays the part you just performed in reverse. For me, it created this melancholy vibe that I loved. It's taking your original part and transforming it into something completely new and often unexpected. After chopping it up, I threw a pretty basic drum loop underneath it and added an analog synth bass to complete the soundscape. From there, I was capturing the isolation, the despair, but with the faster BPM and dance feel, I felt like I had struck that balance between loss and hope. The first sound you hear on the song is the original reverse delay guitar sample. To create a lift in the pre-chorus and bridge, I turned to a favorite mellotron sample that adds warmth and the texture of strings, but with the warmth and warble of tape. I love using the mellotron because it is this slightly imperfect replica of sounds that we all recognize, but it's the imperfections that add so much character and depth to otherwise pretty standard string/brass sounds.
We've heard that you've recently released your debut EP '150.1.' What concepts do you touch on within the EP, and how does "88 (Save)" fit into the project?
Within the 5 track EP, I wanted to cover as much emotional ground as possible. My hope is that listeners will take 20 minutes to listen to the EP in its entirety so that they can experience the entire emotional journey. In fact, the EP has a cyclical construction and design that begins and ends in the same place sonically. The album opener, "98 (new song)," starts with resolve "I will sing a new song." It's how we want to start each day. The second track, "12 (save)," takes on anger at injustice. "88 (save)" is the lowest point emotionally addressing the depression, isolation, and loss so many of us feel. "85 (revive)" is a cry for revival, seeking God's renewal of our current moment. The album closes with "4 (sleep)" - a song of peace that dissolves into the synth pad that opens the album completing the cycle. I truly do believe that the Bible provides God's permission for us to feel our real emotions. He doesn't want us to cover up, put on a brave face, or be someone that we are not. With this album, I hope that listeners can experience some freedom from expectations to be perfect and believe that God loves us exactly for who we are right now.
What has been keeping you inspired throughout 2020? What can we expect to see from you next?
2020 has been such an unexpected year for everyone. No one is immune from the effects of this awful virus and it has changed life as we know it. With that said, I have found inspiration from artists still pushing to write and release new music. I've also been really proud of the artistic community stepping up to support Black Lives Matter and other social justice initiatives. It's an important time to stay active and continue contributing our voices - the world really needs artists right now. I am currently working on a full length follow up album which will expand on the themes (both musically and lyrically) I explored on 150.1. I'm also working on some live music videos to help promote 150.1 which will give people a sense of what an I.AM performance will be like when we can return to playing live shows.