Kotov Syndrome: Companion Playlist and Commentary

I got asked for this. I must deliver.

For those who don’t know, I tend to write with music on in the background. And when writing the first drafts of my longer stories, I usually give my chapters working titles. These working titles tend to be based on songs I was listening to while writing them or songs that conveyed the mood I was aiming for while writing the chapter in question. I kept these playlists on Spotify (or YouTube) for myself, both as a way to track my musical thoughts, and to give myself something to listen to.

In promoting Kotov Syndrome, I got asked to share my playlist for the book. To which I thought, yeah, I could just share the Spotify playlist with everyone. And that’s fine. But I also wanted to give some context as to why I chose certain songs — where it makes sense to do so, that is — as well as to just gush over how good some songs are. It’s been a while since I’ve done a true playlist exploration post on this blog (NaNoWriMo 2015 to be exact)1We don’t talk about my 2015 NaNoWriMo project.. But I feel like when you self-publish your first full novel, why not.

If you’re only here for the Spotify soundtrack, scroll all the way to the bottom of the post. Also, this post will contain spoilers for Kotov Syndrome, as I kinda of need to do so in order to make some of the pairings make sense. So…spoilers ahead, read at your own risk and/or pleasure.

[1] Impressionable: This Will Destroy You – Quiet
A lot of my writing music tends to be instrumental rock, combining two of my favorite things — rock music and people not talking to me — into one genre. I chose this song as the background music of my first chapter because it felt like a song that’d be playing in the background during a movie scene where a lonely character wakes up in the middle of the night and is struggling. Needless to say, it fits Erika well.

[2] (Start) Static: Plini – Selenium Forest
Another instrumental rock song, though the melodic, almost seductive guitar part kicks off much earlier in the song than you’d think. There’s not a lot of build before you get right into the solo, which I think is a nice fit with how omnipresent Erika’s desire for love is in her life. That said, considering her picky nature (amongst other things), the erratic nature of the guitar part makes it feel like she’s chasing something and running from it at the same time.

[3] I Will Return: Skylar Grey – I Will Return
While I did make an effort to change most chapter names from their temporary song title-based names, there were some chapters where the title just fit. In those cases, the chapter title remained. In exceedingly rare cases — like this chapter — I actually came up with the chapter title first and then picked the paired song based on that title. I love Skylar Grey’s voice and her lower singing register is close to how I imagine Abby’s voice would sound in real life.

[4] How a Burn Starts: Cloudkicker – Dovetail
There aren’t a ton of bands that I didn’t know before writing this book that got as hooked on as Cloudkicker. This song feels like a long journey in the dark, fitting in well with the early morning drive Erika takes at the beginning of this chapter. There’s really nothing more to it than that.

[5] I’m No Savior: *shels – The Conference of the Birds
The Conference of the Birds has a bit of a futuristic vibe to it, though I can’t put my finger exactly on why. As the first chapter where we see Abby in person, this pairs up really well in my mind. The original chapter title here was just “The Conference”, as using the full song title made it sound like I was calling Abby and Erika (or Erika and Amy, depending on how you look at the chapter) birds, which just felt weird to me. The chapter was then retitled Savior, as Abby says earlier in the book that Erika is the only one who can save her. That said, Erika’s personality would very much lean toward her saying that she’s not a savior for Abby at all, hence the final title.

[6] Lillies and Thorns: Nothing More – Go to War
Erika and Abby aren’t going to war so much as they’re fighting because they’re exes forced to live together. The concept still fits, but I went with an intentionally softer chapter title as a result.

[7] You Can Call Me Al: Paul Simon – You Can Call Me Al
In Kotov Syndrome, the conscientia support group that Minerva leads is called “The Friends of Al”, so chosen because the shorthand for artificial intelligence — AI — looks a lot like the name Al in the right font. The song seemed like a natural choice and is the only chapter title I knew for certain I wouldn’t be changing from draft one. It’s not the only chapter I knew I wouldn’t change the name for…but we’ll get to the other instance of that later on.

[8] Always a Fighter: Four Tet – She Just Likes to Fight
Early in the drafting process of this story, I put out a request for people to give me suggestions of instrumental songs to listen to while writing. Four Tet’s music got suggested to me a couple of times and I liked this song the most. It floated around as the backing music for a few different chapters in the book as I was drafting, but this is where it eventually landed.

[9] Precious: 65daysofstatic – Radio Protector
The bell chimes and piano at around the 2:30 mark of this song are AMAZING. I absolutely could see that specific section playing as part of the ambiance of a fancy restaurant like the one Amy, Minerva, and Cecil are in. Granted, not this whole song, but just that section. I also noticed I had an unintentional habit of having chapters where Amy has a lot of speaking also have songs with interesting piano parts. I don’t have a good reason for this.

[10] A Puff of Dust: Sugarcult – Los Angeles
Remember for a moment that Kotov Syndrome takes place in 2033 and 2034. “Los Angeles” was a single by Sugarcult from 2006. Since most people tend to associate the most with songs from their teenage years, this would put the lead singer of the band at Side Pocket, Petra, as being born in the late 1980s, making her about 50 or so in this chapter. It’s not shocking that she could be having a mid-life crisis where she wants a different life than the one she has with her shitty husband/bandmate. As a result, I imagine the song that Petra has the band play at the beginning of this chapter is “Los Angeles”. That said, the chapter name had to change because the chapter really isn’t focused around Petra, Red, and the rest of the band — it’s around Abby and Erika (albeit indirectly through Abby and Tara).

[11] Girl That Won’t Talk Back: God is an Astronaut – Echoes
I did, however, work a reference to “Los Angeles” into the title of the next chapter. I felt like it fit a lot better than Echoes did as a title, particularly when the thing that causes the confrontation between Red and Erika to escalate is Erika’s snarky mouth.

[12] Nothing Good Happens After Midnight: sleepmakeswaves – It’s Dark, It’s Cold, It’s Winter
This is by far the chapter title I debated on for the longest as it’s the only one I felt like I had two really good names for. I haven’t done a ton of overarching imagery in my stories, but I do like playing on the concept of snow or winter being a symbol of love, or at the very least foreshadowing it. As a result, I really wanted to keep the song title as a chapter title here. That said, Erika’s near-immediate regret for making out with Abby reinforces the chapter’s title. Erika feels like the type of person that would have been given the advice “nothing good happens after midnight” in the past, only to ignore it and drink hard. Yet, in her sober state, she listens to this advice (as well as to Grace) and stops her advances, even though Abby’s completely on board.

[13] Damselfly: Loyle Carner – Damselfly
We follow a chapter where I had too many good names with one where I just couldn’t think of a better name than the one I had. I even threw this one out to my beta readers to ask for a better title, but no one had anything I liked. Damselfly is really only intended to be a background song and beat for everything in the chapter that happens before Valentine’s Day, but I think it’s just a nice fit with that section.

[14] Exit Strategy: Alabama Shakes – Hold On
Okay so, fun fact: I had no idea who Alabama Shakes were prior to writing this book. They’re a big deal but I had zero clue about this. Just goes to show you how much I pay attention to the modern blues scene. That said, this song was very much a choice of dissonance. Pairing the very charged, hateful rhetoric of the speeches given in the beginning of the chapter with the upbeat blues rock of Hold On is a textbook case of the action of a film not matching the scoring behind it — a tactic I adore in film. This will come up again a little later.

[15] Catalyst: John Coltrane – My Favorite Things
While My Favorite Things was always my song of choice to pair with this chapter, Coltrane’s version wasn’t the version I’d originally had in mind. That would be this one by Gabriella Quevedo. That said, that version wasn’t on Spotify when I originally created the playlist, so I put Coltrane’s in as a stand-in. It ended up sticking. I know Coltrane isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I quite like him. I feel like Cecil would too.

[16] Il Gioco Siciliano: Bush – The People That We Love
Of all the song pairings with chapters in this book, I feel like this song fits the least well with the chapter it’s paired with. Yes, it’s a chapter about an engagement party (are those a thing?), but I didn’t want to pair it with something super sappy considering the comedy and the harder emotional scenes that are in this chapter. So I paired it with Bush. Golden State was a criminally underrated album. I’m open to suggestions for this chapter’s music pairing. Leave them in the comments if you’ve read the book.

[17] Unmistakably Close: Red Sparowes – As Each End Looms and Subsides
A slow, haunting song leading up to a wedding? That’s ominous, right? Actually, the song is meant to be paired with the scene at the beginning of the chapter prior to the wedding where Erika and Abby are the focus. Considering Erika’s hesitance to associate herself publicly with Abby in the past, this a big, scary step for her. This song feels like it’d fit her mental state and nerves leading up to going out with Abby in this setting. Combine that with the sight of the protestors outside the courthouse and you can time up the cacophonous end of the song really well.

And yes, I know there’s a song directly called out in the chapter. We’ll talk about that one more in a later chapter.

[18] Perfect Day: Lou Reed – Perfect Day
Oh hey, it’s my cinematic dissonance love kicking in again. I adore Lou Reed’s calming voice and this calm song is a perfect foil to the chaos that is the fight scene post-Cecil and Minerva’s wedding. That said, it was a very conscious choice to choose a song that moves this slowly here. In the beginning of the chapter, Erika talks about her ex-best friend, Paulina, going through a car accident and having time slow down around her. Considering Erika has the same thing happen to her in this chapter, I think the meandering pace of the song is both the perfect dissonance and pairing.

[19] Doppler Shift: Maybeshewill – We Called for an Ambulance But a Fire Engine Came
The intro to this song sounds like sirens despite being a guitar. There are a lot of sirens in this chapter. Eventually the song is slow and sad for moments. This chapter is sad. I love Maybeshewill and the song fit. There’s nothing really more complex to this pairing than that.

[20] In My Veins: Andrew Belle – In My Veins
Though I intended this pairing to be with the first half of the chapter where Minerva is mourning Cecil’s death, I think it pairs quite well with Abby and Erika’s fight in the second half of the chapter. It’s a sorrowful love song about someone who has their love leave them — which is what happened to Minerva a couple of chapters earlier, and is what happens when Abby walks out on Erika at the end of this chapter.

[21] Great: Amy Shark – You Think I Think I Sound Like God
There are times in my writing where I’m subtle. The RPU is not one of those times. It is very much an expy of a certain political movement in the US in the mid-2010s (and ongoing to this day). I originally had this song by Amy Shark as the chapter title, as I felt like it fit really well with the hateful speech with a religious tinge that crops up a lot, but the title felt a bit clunky. As such, I shortened it to one of the words so often co-opted by that real-life movement — a movement whose hate for minorities and those less fortunate is so strong that they do not deserve to be named directly here.

[22] Hemorrhage: Fuel – Hemorrhage
The chapter is the second instance where I knew before the chapter was even written what the chapter title would be and what song would be paired with it. Hemorrhage is the only song directly mentioned by name in this book, though the chapter it shares a title with isn’t the one it’s mentioned in. This was chapter was written nearly a full year after the rest of the book and was by far the hardest piece of writing I’ve had to create to date. When I am going through my anxiety spirals, I often get 3-5 seconds of a song stuck in my head repeating over and over, to the point where it only serves to amplify the anxiety I’m experiencing. Considering Abby’s love for this song and the fact that Abby leaving Erika is the trigger for her breakdown, I imagine this song would be playing through her head on loop — more specifically the line “leave love bleedin’ in my hands, in my hands again”.

[23] U-Turn: Jakob – Safety In Numbers
There’s not a lot to this one. Tara is moving in with Jericho and Caroline — a u-turn from her independence — in an effort to feel safer. Sometimes the best explanations are the simplest.

[24] Fragile Dreams: Anathema – Fragile Dreams
This is such a pretty song, yet has kind of a nightmareish vibe to it. Considering this is the first chapter where Abby starts having dreams despite being an android — and no, they’re not of electric sheep — and that those dreams are nightmares just like Erika has, I love this pairing. But there’s a dual meaning here, as this is the first chapter where Erika and Abby both seriously consider the prospect of dating each other. It’s a fragile dream for them, one that they’re both more than a little scared about. Combine that with Erika’s revelations about her drinking and Grace and there’s a lot that happens in this chapter that tempers what would otherwise be a happy moment for the new couple.

[25] Gatekeeper’s Lullaby: Hozier – Arsonist’s Lullaby
I love the title Arsonist’s Lullaby, but there isn’t an arsonist in the chapter. There is a murderer, but they don’t use fire. So we’re going with gatekeeper for reasons that will become clear in book two of the Azaes Realm series. On that note, this is the first of three chapter titles that serve to turn the focus from the events that happen in Kotov Syndrome itself to the coming events in the next book in the series.

[26] The Clockmaker: Frames – Don’t Stay Here
The title of this chapter comes from the scene at the beginning of the chapter where Erika and Abby are discussing the clock at the bar, while the song is meant to pair with the second half of the chapter where Amy and Raymond work to get Erika and Abby on a flight out of the USA.

[27] With Our Eyes Turned Skyward: Explosions in the Sky – Your Hand In Mine
The final chapter of the book presented me with an interesting problem, as I considered both the song title and the name of the band who wrote the song as the filler chapter title. I mean, both of those are really good names. Explosions in the Sky is just a baller band name, while Your Hand In Mine fits the narrative fact that this is the first quiet chapter we have with Erika and Abby just being together. In the end, I went with a bit of a play on the band name as the chapter title here, though more directly calling out the actions of Abby and Erika at the end of the story.

So that was a lot more writing than I expected. If you made it all the way to the end of this post, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Are there any chapter and song pairings you particularly liked? Any you hated? I’d love to hear from you.

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