In 2020, SZA invited listeners to a new sonic universe with “Good Days.” The track’s ethereal production and lyrical honesty captured the purest essence of the singer’s artistic genius. For a deeper dive into the track, Rolling Stone caught up with producer Carter Lang, mixing engineer Shawn Everett and vocalist Jacob Collier, who joined SZA’s sonic voyage.
The story of the track began in 2017 when Lang received the beginnings of the song from producers Los Hendrix and Nascent. Los Hendrix’s spritely guitar riff and Nascent’s blossoming beat laid a strong foundation for someone to build upon. After one listen, they knew exactly who it was destined for. The track sat in the vault for a year until Lang received a phone call in 2018 to meet SZA for a studio session.
SZA tapped British musician Collier for his lush vocal arrangements and expansive harmonies. A departure from his usual process, Collier acted on instinct for this composition and let the music take the front seat.
“I think that was a new process for me, and it taught me a lot, actually,” Collier said. “Returning to my own songs afterwards felt kind of fresh. It was like, ‘Oh, OK. Maybe I don’t have to build up all these thousands of voices. Maybe it is that the simplest idea will do, you know?”
Back on the production, Carter weaved retro synths underneath musical embellishments to expand the track’s musical landscape. Lang looked to the sonic worlds of Mort Garson and Brian Eno as inspiration for how he wanted to approach creating this new universe.
“You want people to hear a little bit of humanness,” said Lang. “Setting up little things so that whenever you hear it, you can always appreciate a little part of it.”
With the track taking form and fans clamoring for its release, SZA tapped mixing engineer Shawn Everett to round out the production. To achieve a dreamlike mix, Shawn revisited a familiar process of mixing he used for Devon Gilfillian’s Black Hole Rainbow. He looked to collectives like the Numero Group’s process of recording re-issues to capture the nostalgia he felt after listening to SZA’s “Good Days.”
“There are certain people in the world that are just born with having a voice that’s made to sit inside of a recording,” said Everett. “It just sounds like that’s the way you want a voice to come out of the speaker. And not only does she have that, she has the ability to move it around and melodic ways that I mean, not a lot of ordinary human beings know how to do. And so you combine that with a voice like that and you got like a real lethal combination on your hands.”
“Good Days” put SZA’s genius on full display and served as a sonic escape amidst the uncertainty and heartbreak of 2020. Delicate vocals paired with sonic ingenuity created a unique moment in SZA’s musical canon.