Me and lil peep started working on diamonds in LA in late July of 2017. It was so exciting and fun to be making music with someone who enjoyed it as much as me. What made it so special is that, we were working on our careers but it didn’t feel like work at all. It was so freeing be able to express ourselves without boundary or judgement. When we went to London in August 2017, that’s where we did most of the recording. Everyday day and night we would spend all the time with each other. From getting food, to walking in the mall, go back to the studio. So many memories I have of just me and him being alone in the early morning hours of the London fog, walking back to the hotel singing our songs we just made and dreaming of performing all around the world. We were both so happy and fulfilled with the music and couldn’t wait to get it out and share it with the world. The experience overall was amazing. Feeling loved, appreciated and supported really helped to heal some of our past heartbreaks. We wanted to make this album a body of work that would be able to heal the world how making this project was able to heal us. I hope this music lives forever and forever because it is truly something special that we put our hearts and soul into and hopefully with every listen, the listener can feel the emotions and love we put into each track.
Yung One Era
I remember clocking in at Banana Republic with the absolute worse mood I could have. During this time I worked 5 days a week while picking up any sessions I could when I wasn’t working. That day I get a call from Val ( Makonnens manager at the time ) asking if I could fly out to London and work with Gus and Mak.
Without even questioning it I said yes, knowing I had a full week of shifts.
At this point I had already been recording with Mak for a few months and when he met Gus they instantly clicked.
The album never had any sort of direction, it kinda just started in LA with both of them creating whatever they wanted to.
The LA sessions felt like the first half of the creation of the album, experimental and in a way molding a foundation.
When I landed in London I was driven straight to the studio with luggage and all.
As soon as I walked in the door I was greeted with nothing but love and open arms. I will never forget the first thing Gus said to me when I walked in “ How are you? Everything is taken care of right? They got you a spot to sleep? They got you food? If you need anything let me know “.
We work in an industry where people like me ( engineers ) are not usually treated with that much care or respect so I was a bit taken back. That small gesture showed me who he was as a person, selfless and loving.
We worked every day while we were there ( about 2 weeks ) and it was unforgettable. One of my most memorable moments was when Mak freestyled all of Hocus Pocus in one take without messing up a single time. The raw creative energy in every song that was made was the best example of “ I don’t care I’m going to make what I want “. Another special moment for me was when Gus wrote his hook on Falling Down. The song was done from start to finish in about an hour and everyone in the room knew how special it was. We had a lot of fun, we laughed everyday and made music that will live on passed us.
I came home, I quit my job and because of Gus and Mak I was able to make a living off music full time.
I believe life is just an accumulation of special moments and working with Gus was one I’ll always remember.
Thank you, see you again one day
When we first linked with Gus in August 2017, I didn’t know any of his music that well. I knew that it didn’t sound like what me and Makonnen were making at the time, so I really didn’t know what to expect. I remember Gus walking in with the presence of a real rock star. He was totally unique. I remember he was telling Makonnen what an amazing artist he was, and how he was such an inspiration. That’s the way I’ve always felt about Makonnen, but Gus was one the biggest new stars at the moment. Seeing him pay his respects to Makonnen really made me like him and realize what a special person he was.
Makonnen would freestyle for so long and just leave Gus amazed. “How the fuck do you do that?” It was such a fun, happy room to be in. It really felt like a little summer camp or something. Just two artists having fun and loving and respecting each other. They connected in a way I hadn’t seen two artists connect before.
Prove my Love, Favorite Drug, I’ve Been Waiting, and Hypnotized were all songs that Makonnen and I had worked on over the years and never found a home for. I think we made Prove my Love at an Air BnB in Hollywood the year prior. Favorite Drug was one of the first songs me and Makonnen did that really came together. I’ve Been Waiting was a totally different song but one day I was listening to it and felt like playing bass on it, which I never did on any Makonnen song before that. I definitely didn’t expect that bass line would be a gold record with Fall Out Boy on it! I don’t remember when we made Hypnotized, but it was probably in 2016. We recorded hundreds of ideas all the time, so it’s easy to forget where they started. But I’m happy that they are ending on Diamonds.
I remember being skeptical that Peep would record on beats that sounded like that, but he was so down. I even asked Fish Narc to work on the beats in case they ended up not fitting what Gus was going for. But he was just as enthusiastic, saying these were our songs and we didn’t need to worry about it. I absolutely loved that attitude. Who cares if it didn’t sound like Peep?
We recorded for that first week or so in Hollywood, before the rest of the crew went to London to make the bulk of Diamonds. Sessions started super late and ran into morning. Some of the most memorable sessions of my life. Just such a positive time. Makonnen and Gus’ connection was infectious. Everything was so happy.
On the making of Diamonds
As summer 2017 peaked in Los Angeles, I was finally in a somewhat stable situation for the first time since moving in April. I had a one-bedroom apartment near MacArthur park that I shared with Skyler, mainly for sleeping and showering, and was working on music steadily with Peep, among others. July turned to August and Gus and I had written and recorded all of the songs that would comprise Goth Angel Sinner, and he was bouncing between London and LA. After such a rush of creative and personal activity, and the rapid, intense bonding that came from two friends making something they both felt was beyond what they had previously ever done, I was lonely when he went to London. Still, there was plenty to do, and I filled my time with work and traversing the wide strangeness of LA.
When Peep got back, he asked me to come over and hang with him cuz he was jet lagged and I woke up naturally early. He ended up coming to my place instead, where I made him a green smoothie which he drank before falling asleep in a half-seated position that I came to recognize as his favorite way to doze. I didn’t realize it at the time, but these quiet, mundane moments would stick in my memory more than any others. It was upon waking up one day in the apartment in MacArthur Park that he would tell me about the project with ILoveMakonnen. We were fans of his music, both of his unique melodies and cadences, and his based (at the time this word only referred to the music/aesthetic/ideology of Lil B and was not a part of right-wing lexicon) vibes. In a typically off the cuff way, he said that we were going to work with Makonnen at a very fancy studio on Sunset that night, and “do the acid that the Beatles did.”
I had never been in such a crazy spot. It had a platinum plaque for “Bad and Boujee” and a wide ass mixing board. Introductions were made, Makonnen ordered fancy sushi and hot donuts, and we set to work. The first track we did was Really Loving You, which was written around the chords that Makonnen recorded, standing up and with gusto, immediately after cracking his knuckles and picking the stock piano sound. Gus and I looked at each other, mutually aware of the significance of the moment. Shortly after, we sampled the LSD which was purportedly made by an old hippie chemist who had supplied the Beatles, and the night continued in a state of lysergic bliss.
We got into a rhythm: Makonnen and I would collaborate on the melodies and I would structure and produce the instrumental, send it to Era (who was engineering), who lined it up in a project file and blasted it through the monitors. Peep and Makonnen would take turns freestyling, usually landing on the first or second thing they did. The Goth Angel Sinner songs were only a few weeks old, and Peep’s new style of recording that had evolved during their making carried over into these sessions. He no longer needed to hole away, mixing dozens of vocal tracks and effects into cohesion. He was working looser and with a renewed confidence, not only in his musical and poetic abilities, but the strength of his persona and character, which could be expressed with less effort. I recall an atmosphere of joy and freedom, some optimism about the future! Peep was genuinely excited to work with Makonnen and proud of being an artist that could do such a thing.
We did three sessions at this spot, and out of them came all the songs I worked on for the project. A few songs used beats that I had made prior to the sessions, however. The first is “Nasty Names,” which uses a beat I had made while producing Horse Head’s 2017 album This Mess Is My Mess, and I associate it with that sound. Secondly is “Smokin’” which features an instrumental I had made with Zubin, the first time we ever hung out.
The month of August 2017 was significant beyond music making, it was when Gus and I deepened our bond as friends. It was always more than music, and now we really had plans and big dreams for the sound we had created. He opened up to me a lot that month; we discussed our childhoods, families and exes, the events we felt had shaped us into who we were, and the ways we wanted to become better, more complete versions of ourselves. We talked about forming a band, playing rock and roll. We talked about gender and sexuality, love and friendship. A lot of the time we didn’t say much and were comfortably quiet. I was only 25 then, but felt much older than his 20. Because Skyler had moved back to Seattle, and Peep’s own apartment was chaotic, he stayed with me for a lot of the nights he was in LA that month.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were both pretty lost, and our friendship was something that helped me feel like I was at least a little bit on track. There we sat after an all-night session, on shitty twin beds on either side of that tiny room. It was 7 AM and the upstairs neighbors were blasting norteño with sub-boosted tuba and getting ready for school or work. As Gus dozed off, I sat awake hoping that life would always make sense like it did in that moment.
Peep and Tracy at a session for Diamonds in August 2017. Photo by Fish Narc.
It is very easy for me to recall when Gus was making music with Makonnen. It was at the end of July, 2017 that they began making music.
In the spring of that year, Gus had begun staying in an Airbnb in London. After a month or so Gus began working in fashion shows in Paris and Milan. He seemed excited by his new digs and was his usual, busy self. We communicated regularly, if briefly, at times. Sometimes it was hard to know where he actually was—London, Paris, Milan, or Los Angeles. In mid-June, Gus’s phone was hacked and he began to have new phone numbers about once a month. I now had several numbers for him in my iphone: Gus Brand New, Gus Friend, Gus England, New Gus. He would FaceTime me from Los Angeles and London, sometimes introducing me to his friends or telling me about shopping at flea markets in his neighborhood.
“Hi Mama, I’m in the studio. I’ll call you in five minutes. Love you, Mama.” He would say sometimes when I called him. When he said that, I knew he was busy, so I told him that I just wanted to hear his voice and tell him that I love him. Sometimes I missed his calls. Nevertheless, we were in close contact via both text and phone calls throughout the summer. He FaceTimed me to introduce me to Fish Narc and, later, to Makonnen. He was excited for me to meet both of them.
It was May when Oskar and I had last seen Gus in person. He had come to New York City for a photo shoot with Mario Testino. Gus stayed with us for a night or two before flying back to the West Coast for his Peep Show tour.
We had not seen Gus since then. But he would tell me he looked forward to coming home in the summer, and he knew that his grandfather’s 80th birthday was August 14th. Beginning in June, I began to email Gus’s managers to tell them that he needed to be able to come home for his grandfather’s birthday and that we hoped to have him visit for as long as he wanted to stay. It took repeated attempts to get a response, but I did get an answer back in late July. Gus had flown back to Los Angeles on July 17th and would come home August 11th.
A couple of days after Gus came home, his new album Come Over When You’re Sober leaked. He was furious. He had been wanting to release it since June but had been told to hold off. Now it had leaked. He missed a lot of his grandfather’s birthday celebration dealing with the problems the leak caused. He hardly sat down at the table.
After we got home to Long Beach from Cambridge, Gus had to fight to keep the “Awful Things” video the way he had made it. There was pressure to remove the entire fire from the video. I remember him saying to me, “Mama—that would mean I have to take Tracy out of the video.” He was so upset. In the end, Gus won that battle. He stood his ground and kept the “Awful Things” video intact.
Gus and Makonnen maintained close contact from the moment they met until the week before Gus died. Gus took a selfie with Oskar and me to send to Makonnen.
That week off for Gus turned out to be full of work and included a performance in Brooklyn almost as soon as he got off the plane at Kennedy airport. Other than that performance, the work was simply a struggle. He was fighting to maintain the integrity of his craft, his creativity, and his decisions. Gus began to express a wish to be done with the music business. He ended up getting about three days of actual rest, at the end of his visit home—he even extended his stay.
Gus at the No Ends Brooklyn concert on August 12, 2017.
Photo by Simply Greg Photos
Gus was absolutely thrilled about working with Makonnen. He was incredibly proud of the work they had completed so far, from July 27th to August 10th. When any one of Gus’s friends stopped by, Gus would play the music on his iPhone for all of us to hear—holding the phone up with the volume turned up all the way. One of his favorite songs was “I’ve been waiting.” One of his friends begged him to send him the mp3 for “ballin,” but Gus would not. He was very leery of things leaking and had too much respect for Makonnen and this project to risk anything happening to the song.
Gus could not wait to get back to making music with Makonnen. He knew there was more music to make, and he had just found out that he had to go on another tour in a couple of weeks, so he knew he had limited time. Gus and Makonnen completed the first fifteen of what would be twenty-one songs and would later be known as the “Diamonds” project in Los Angeles. Makonnen had invited Gus, Smokeasac, Fish Narc, and Yung One Era to the Electric Feel studio on Sunset Boulevard. The studio had been new to Gus, and the music was a very new style for him to hop on. He loved every minute of it.
He organized his next chunk of studio time so he could meet Makonnen where Makonnen suggested they meet, this time in London. Gus left for London on August 21st. He paid for Smokeasac, Edgard, and Fish Narc to fly to London so they could reconvene and continue the work they had all begun together in Los Angeles. They made six more songs in London— ‘November,” Don’t Lose Focus, Sunlight on Your Skin, Guilty, Waiting in Line, and IDGAF.
Gus and Makonnen relaxing in studio in London. Photo by Richard Stilwell
Gus and Makonnen communicated often while Gus was on tour. Gus was desperate to get back to work with Makonnen to finish and release their music.
When Gus died, I knew that this last, special project had to come out, and come out the way these young men had made it. It has taken too long, as far as I’m concerned, but I am so grateful to Makonnen for waiting until the moment was right. I am also grateful to him for reconvening the Diamonds team to tenderly complete the songs—just giving them the lightest finishing touch—so they could be released. They even remembered certain tracks or takes that Gus preferred and made sure to use those. I am grateful to all of them for the care they took to release this project, at long last, with such loving consideration of what Gus wanted done with the music.
Gus was proud of this work. I know he would be happy that it had finally been released by friends who were dear to him.
Photos by Richard Stilwell
Gus usually wrote lyrics on his phone--in the notes app. I have 598 of them, many dating way back to 2014. Below are the lyrics he wrote on his phone, the lyrics he wrote by hand, and an idea for a tracklist.