INTERVIEW: PREFUSE 73’S MUSIC BIZ SURVIVAL TIPS 101

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Last Friday, eclectic beat masters Prefuse 73, Falty DL and Nosaj Thing encapsulated and transported the Echoplex’s sonic youth into unearthly dimensions with each of their uniquely branded electronica. The OG of the three — Guillermo Scott Heren aka Prefuse 73 — was the center piece of the triple-act, smoothing out the transition from Falty DL’s dancey, high-energy production to Nosaj Thing’s more spacey version of the type of electronic beats that Prefuse began to explore back in the early 2000’s. Though only in his early 30’s, Prefuse’s subsequent amount of experience and knowledge came from his start in the biz as a teenager, and by the looks of it, he has no intentions of slowing down — especially with the help of some echinacea. Check out the interview below to see how Prefuse survives climate change and taking his music to the grave.

LAC: How’s life?

Guillermo: It’s good, just started this tour yesterday in San Francisco and that was good. It’s a short tour – maybe only seven or eight shows – but we’re going all over the place; we’re like flip-flopping climate wise. It’s crazy, we went from like negative-ten degrees wind chill to San Francisco that was beautiful, like 50 degrees or something and then down here where there’s like, humid heat. Then we’re headed out to Portland which is colder, and from there we hit like Texas which is hot then back to progressively freezing — Chicago, Toronto, New York. And that’s all within ten days so I’m definitely gonna be sick when I get back home (to New York.)

LAC: But I mean, you’ve been going to tours all these years, I would think you’d have a method to surviving the climate madness.

G: Well yeah, you just have to push through it and be positive. But like you said, over the years, you learn how to deal with it and take of yourself. Like, don’t eat a lot of junk, cause that’s what I learned in the past is that over the course of touring, bad diet and stress can totally weigh you down, at least it did for me. I don’t even drink too much anymore when I’m on tour, or smoke weed. As you get older, you get smarter about that type of stuff.

LAC: Tour Survival 101 with Prefuse. (laughs)

G: Yeah, it’s gotten to a point where I make sure I have like, Echinacea and all these preventative medicines with me. And I always Yelp the hotels we stay in so we don’t catch bed bugs, cause those are always a bitch to deal with.

LAC: And here I’m thinking tour life is awesome.

G: I mean, it’s awesome for the 21-year-old that’s never been out of the country. I used to just deal with all the shit that comes with touring, but now I feel like I’m kind of a prude cause I’m always double-checking everything and make sure shit is right; I didn’t use to be like that, I used to just roll with the punches and be sick all the time. I think I’m this way now because I’ve been doing this for half my life and it’s all just habitual now.

LAC: So what do you have going on for 2014, following this really condensed tour?

G: I’m working on a new record and doing a lot of collaborations for my own label. There’s a lot of work right now, and I’m kind of swamped, so the timing for this tour is throwing me off a bit, but this lineup is so sick that’s it’s worth doing. I mean, the tour is only ten days, but when you really think about it, ten days in the studio is priceless because you just don’t know what crazy shit could happen – maybe even three out of the ten days something magical could happen. So when you sacrifice that time to do something, you question it but at the same time it’s like, how often do you get to tour with your homies, with a crew where the vision is similar even though the music is different.

LAC: Over the years, you’ve gone under all these different aliases that aligned with a particular project. Should we anticipate a new alias with this new record?

G: Probably. That’s the way my mind works – I always make aliases. Not to be like, ‘oh, let me over saturate the market with an alias,’ but more like to not be me, so that it’s not to be confused with Prefuse 73 or any other alias I have. It’s just like freedom from the project because aliases should come from a complete idea of concept. You’re just trying to separate from what people are used to – it’s not like a gimmick. You’re doing something with the exact same total amount of passion – you’re excited about it, and aliases are cool because it’s new. You know, you have an idea and you think you can build an album around it and that people will like it, so let me call it something – anything, whatever’s in front of you – and that’s kind of how it happened. So right now I’m in Prefuse 73-mode production-wise but in that process, I could just turn the knob the right way to make an alias happen.

LAC: Has Prefuse 73 always been your center “alias”?

G: Yeah, because I think it’s been the most digest-able stuff I make. Savath and Savalas was really mellow instrumental music, there’s only a certain amount of people that are into that: it had Spanish vocals laced onto it, so (I knew) in the US that wasn’t going to pop off. At the same time Prefuse was the one marketed the most because it aligned a lot better with the other stuff coming out of Warp (Records.) I kept on doing the aliases because I loved making music, I didn’t really care about racking up a whole bunch of dough off of the side projects I had, I just had ideas and wanted to share them. For me, I didn’t make music because I wanted to make millions; I feel like if I were to do that, it would go against my own personal integrity as a musician, and I try to stick to my guns when it comes to the integral part.

LAC: I feel like that’s a standard crossroad any musician comes across: either you get lucky by being able to make your music, hit a target audience and that pops off, or you sell your soul to make millions.

G: You gotta make that decision going into it. I started at a time when I was lucky, I was in the right frame of mind for doing it, I was in front of a lot of people where there maybe remotely five guys that were making the same sounds that I was and that went on for like four years. There wasn’t really anyone for me to compete with, no one for me to really tour with like this – Four Tet may have been the closest one for me to tour with, but even then it was still very different from the stuff I was making.

LAC: Because your music is more hip-hop based.

My shit is so deficit of attention, so many ways for me to play it because I always like to change it up and it comes from a distinct ‘I-grew-up-on-hip-hop’ background, no matter how weird it gets, it still has that similar hip-hop beat. You’re talking about a kid that figured out to work an MPC in a really primitive era, who had a day job at a studio making prehistoric trap beats that hated making them, and out of that Prefuse was born — making trap in Atlanta before even Outkast was blowing up. I hated it, but it was something I had to get experience and learn from. It was what drove me to do something weird.

LAC: How was all that received?

G: I grew up with a whole bunch ‘hip-hop purists’ who hated it. I would play my stuff for my friends and they literally told me that they hated it, so I had to learn how to eat shit for about two years until I got a (record) deal. Nobody was feeling it, but I knew I had to keep at it, I knew it was going to work because it was coming out of me naturally, like it wasn’t contrived. People were so set on this standard formula for a hip-hop beat where you were only supposed to have like 16 bars, a hook, a kick and snare – the weirdest you could get was looping a sample lyric. So what I did was like some obscure part of a sample – like the air in between the rhymes – and make a whole song out of that. I wanted to obliterate this whole system of making a beat and turning into music and letting it mesh – that became the goal for me.

LAC: Do you ever think about what role you’ve played in this whole mashing-up-of-the-genres movement that’s been going on?

G: I leave it up to other people to give me those decorations. I’ll listen though, and see what labels they place upon me, like how they say I invited this genre or whatever, but I’m just whatever about it. There are people in Miami that were hating on me, saying like I’ll never be the best or there are dudes that are way ill-er than me, but I’m not even trying to be the best, I’m just trying to come up with some fresh shit. I recognize that for some of these new producers, I might have taken some weight in a journalistic sense because I was doing these pressing interviews where hip-hop outlets back in the day were saying shit like I’m degrading the role of the MC, and I never understood where that came from because I have the same respect for the MC as much as I do the beat. So I took all these overcomplicated, dead serious shit back in the day and I was able to take all those harsh vibes away from the dudes that do it now; they don’t have to deal with that today. Anybody can make an album, put it on the internet and as long as it’s good, they can pop off and enjoy their life and success, but they don’t have to answer up to a lot of people that I had to, which is a bunch of people that were only listening to two records at a time back then.

LAC: Do you think these new cats look to you as a uhh… I don’t want to say pioneer, because that makes you sound old.

G: Everything makes me sound old. People will call me out like, ‘he’s been in the game for 17 years,’ and I’m just like, “Damn.” Somebody tracked my whole discography all the way back to the records I don’t want anyone to hear. I mean, I’ve been making music since I was 16, but when they call me out like that it makes me sound like, I’m 80. (laughs) I don’t have problems interacting with Nosaj Thing, and I’m not on my death bed, so I don’t understand.

LAC: I would think it’s a respect thing.

G: I would hope so, unless someone’s trying to play me and be like, ‘this old motherfucker.’ I mean, I grew up listening to jazz records from my mom so I see everything from a jazz musician’s perspective – none of those dudes quit, they died making music. These guys died in their 60s-70s-80s, and not to place one over the other, but they weren’t mapping out their careers to call it quits once they make a ton of money. They were making music because they wanted to make music for as long as they could. It seems like everyone I followed in that jazz era just suffered as musicians – they had really high points and really low points and this never stopped them and that’s kind of how I came into it. And when I think about these jazz dudes, they took it to the grave. That’s how I’m going to go out, no matter what I’m making. This shit I’m making is always going to be relevant to me; it’s what I started making, it’s going to be what I’m making no matter what aliases I go under.

BENEATH THE BASS: THUNDERCAT TALKS “APOCALYPSE” AND HOW MUCH HE APPRECIATES DRAKE

Last Thursday, Los Angeles born-and-bred Stephen Bruner, better known as Thundercat, topped off his North American fall tour with a fantastic homecoming show that would make any native proud to regard him as an Angeleno brethren.

Thundercat’s latest album, Apocalypse, was recently mentioned at number 29 on Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Songs of 2013 for his hit, “Oh Sheit It’s X,” and has received rave reviews on the album since it’s release earlier this summer. An album ripe with inklings of Thundercat’s genre-versatility – due to previous stints with acts like Suicidal Tendencies and Erykah Badu – and the thundering cohesive direction from Brainfeeder brother Flying Lotus, Apocalypse was built with just as much emotion as it was with skill and talent, a feat that transferred directly to his performance that night.

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Photo courtesy of Michael Melwani | IHEARTCOMIX

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Photo courtesy of Michael Melwani | IHEARTCOMIX

We got to chill with the cat right before he went on to blow everyone’s minds away, and while maintaining eye contact during the conversation was a little difficult due to his Rick James-esque hair-do, talking with Stephen Bruner proved that he is everything we’ve heard about him and so much more. Check out the interview below to see what he had to say about coming home, his appreciation for Drake and how hard it is to sing and play at the same time.

LAC: How does it feel to be back in LA? Good? How was the tour?

Thundercat:  Feels good, man. Feels good to be home. Anytime I leave for a long time I get weirded out cause I miss the dynamic of being at home. The tour  was really tight. (laughs) It was fun, everyday was different, it was an adventure. At one point I had both of my brothers with me, and then we switched in the middle of it – it was just a lot of fun.

LAC: What was the craziest city?

T: Toronto, by far. Toronto goes nuts. The club we went to after the show was just nuts. But I do want to say that I did have a lot of fun on the other side of the states, like towards Philly, New York, Chicago, folks there were really into the show.

LAC: Anything like that New Year’s party?

T: (Laughs) No, not at all. Yeah that’s still the epic one – to this day we still refer to that party. (Flying) Lotus still gets mad about too, he was in Australia and we talked about it the other day and out of nowhere he was like, “It’s cool, we don’t have to talk about it,” and I just laughed. He missed out, he can still feel it.

LAC: Has the transition from being a sideman to a front man gotten easier as you’ve been working on your music and been on tour?

T: Yeah, it’s been a couple years since I started that whole process. I’ve still been learning a couple things about being the frontman, but it’s funny because I still get nervous when I come home. I feel like it’s too personal (because) there’s a lot of people here that are friends, and they’re all looking at me, or family’s here and they’re all like, “Oh, look at my baby!” Kinda weirds me out a bit, but it’s cool.

LAC: As your vocals styling’s have expanded, has that changed how you write your music?

T: It has a bit, I mean, I am absolutely more comfortable getting ideas out without being held back by the fact that I’m concerned how it’s going to come off how I sound. I know areas I’m comfortable with and areas I’m more willing to explore – I wouldn’t mind being pushed a bit though, you know?

LAC: Prior to, you were just writing music to play on the bass and now you’re singing and also a solo act. Is there a way you balance your expression between your instrument and your vocals as you become more comfortable?  

T: Yeah, a little bit. It’s funny because sometimes I’ll see footage and if I start playing, I’ll stop singing because it’s difficult for me (to do) both at the same time. But for the most part if I’m playing something solid and steady, it’s easier for me sing. But a lot of the time with the music, we try to use improv as much as possible and sometimes they get mixed up.

LAC: So it’s almost like, once one switch is turned on the other gets turned off.

T: Yeah, that’s where it can get hairy, but I think that’s also the fun part too because it leaves the door open for other things to happen.

LAC: You’ve said being a bass player it has forced to be creative and determined in a particular way.

T: It’s aided in the melodic structure in music for me in a lot of ways. It’s also like, looking at different examples and bass players in the past as big shoes to fill, but it’s also brings about this thing where there’s this inquisitive thinking on how far I can go playing and singing. There’s a lot to it, but it’s a bit simple when you spend time with it I guess, but you really have to dedicate yourself to it. It’s a funny thing because a lot of the songs, with some of the progressions I can’t outright sing over it. Sometimes I have to literally sit out and think about sustaining my voice over these chord progressions that are going on under it.

LAC: It gets super technical to a certain point.

T: Yeah, some of these songs, I’ve gotten good when I’m singing them at home. (laughs)

LAC: Considering the wide range of acts you’ve played with – from Suicidal Tendencies to Mac Miller and The Internet – what are some of the differences when playing with artists of varying caliber and ages?

T: I mean, there are always differences but a lot of the times you just try to feel out the vibe. Everybody has different sets of emotions and things that come with where they’re at, so I try not to over or under estimate anything, I just try to find a good balance to how whatever is going to occur between us musically is going to happen. I remember when I was in Suicidal and they would always be saying to me, “You know this stuff ain’t no joke, you gotta take it seriously,” and yet it felt really simple to me. The funny thing is that most of the time, when someone can’t tell you what they’re not hearing, that’s the part that’s actually a little bit more difficult. You know, I never judge, I just try to give what I can when I’m involved.

LAC: I’ve heard that you’d love to work with Drake.

T: I think it has to do with the fact that I’m a big fan of Drake, naturally. At the same time I’m a fan of where he comes from. That coupled with the fact that hearing about he’s really in touch with how he feels with his music, no matter what anyone says, he set a trend for people – that it’s okay to be sensitive, it’s okay to be emotional about certain things that happen when before it’s always been about downplaying (those emotions.) It was just something I always appreciated about him as an artist.

LAC: Is it much of a stretch to say that Apocalypse is as much FlyLo’s project as it is yours?

T: It’s not a stretch at all. The best way to describe is that the only thing that I can think of is that I put a lot of care into Lotus’s music and I treat it like it’s mine, straight up and down. And I would hope that people can see and tell that that’s how it feels. That’s why I don’t have a problem with his say-so in mine because I know he treats my music as his too. The lines have always been blurred between me and him and it’s never been anything weird. When we first started working together, it was just like me and him watching Adventure Time, have a computer one, have like, three basses lining up and just collaborating and coming up with ideas. It was a constant, “Let’s do more,” with me and him at that point. And we try to capitalize on it as much as we can.

LAC: So what’s up for 2014? Big things? A haircut?

T: (laughs) Well the hair isn’t changing, that’s for sure. We got a long of things in the works, me and Lotus are always trying to take over the world. That coupled with a bunch of different things, a lot of collaborations, I’ve been doing a lot of work with Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, Donald Glover, a few more things. I’m working on a new album of course. Kind of trying to take it easy, but still be as fast and forward as I can.

 

ELECTRONICA AS NARRATIVE: JON HOPKINS ON THE VERY HUMAN PROCESS OF PRODUCTION

Not to be confused with the top-rated university, Jon Hopkins reigns from a decidedly more contrary world — music. The UK electronica artist crafts tracks that manage to achieve a rare combination of emotive expression and technical precision. There’s a perfection in the atmospheric pulse of Hopkins‘ tracks, a meticulousness to every sonic movement. His ability to weave resonant narratives through electronic music has caught the ears of everyone from Imogen Heap, with whom Hopkins jumpstarted his career as a guitarist, to ambient legend, Brian Eno. With collaborations and remixes with respected electronic innovators like Four Tet and Nosaj Thing under his belt, Hopkins more recently found resounding success with his June 2013-released LP, Immunity, garnering his second Mercury Prize nomination.

We caught up with the rising musician ahead of his upcoming show (Saturday, November 30 at the Echoplex) and talk movie scores, technology, and the very human process of music production.

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LA CANVAS: You’ve spoken in interviews a lot about the tension between technology and human emotion – why do you gravitate toward electronic music in particular to express emotion?

Jon Hopkins: It’s hard to answer that really, I mean my primary motive is just following my instincts – it was just as soon as I heard it when I was a kid, I connected to it. It was just more exciting to me to hear sounds that I had never heard before. it occurred to me even then that it was like an open platform – it would evolve like people do. It’s impossible to imagine the type of sounds that will be possible to make in time – and I love that idea, much more than trying to find new ways of playing the piano – which is the other side of what I was doing. But as the years went on, what I wanted to do as a kid has come true. So now I can imagine the sound and make it.

LAC: Speaking of making any sound you want – you mentioned listening to raindrops coming down a pipe and really wanting to capture that sound – what’s been the most difficult sound or image that you have tried to capture?

JH: I don’t actually try to capture the [exact] thing, it’s more like inspiration for things. So the raindrop thing was actually water running through pipes in a hotel room – it happened to be resonating in a way that was inexplicable. It was like causing this chord to happen and it was a completely random thing. It seemed like a random passage. It wasn’t like I was trying to replicate the sound but more the feeling of it. I don’t go around with a recorder.

The sounds that are on the record that are real world sounds, are ones that I captured from around the studio where I am. To me they seemed really logical to include. It’s like incorporating the world and my own reality into it. So I don’t go to lengths to capture things around me unless I am actually writing.

LAC: You’ve worked on a couple movie scores…

JH: Yes, I’ve done four actually.

LAC: If you could pick a movie score – not necessarily the ones that you’ve worked on – but just in general, if you could pick one to represent your life, which would it be?

JH: Hm, the reality of my life – it would be Twin Peaks. It has a pretty exceptional score. Theres something incredibly dark and deep and beautiful about that score that really resonates with me more than any other score has. It is just so well arranged. We imagine some art closer to our hearts than others – and that’s definitely the one for me.

LAC: When we listen to your music we get the sense that it is deeply personal. Does the process for your music ever exhaust you emotionally, or do you find that it energizes you?

JH: It’s a total mix of those two things actually. When you said ‘does it ever exhaust you?’ I found myself nodding. It’s like I put nine months of work into that album. It really takes a toll – it really takes over your life. It makes it in some ways difficult – when you’ve had an amazingly intense day, and you’re making a breakthrough on a track, it makes it difficult to come home and relate normally to a girlfriend or anyone I see – you’re in a different world. The best thing to do is take a few days off to become a normal human being again. But then after I take a long time off – after a week or so with no music at all, it feels like I am lacking something, lacking energy. Somewhere in there, there is a balance. I just haven’t found it yet.

LAC: Are there any challenges translating your productions into live shows?

JH: Actually it’s a difficult part of the album cycle. You have in your head that there is this huge fanfare and you go to mastering and you commit to it and then you have to deconstruct it all again for the live album. It is painful- you have to get right back into it and figure out how to do it live. Then it becomes fine when you actually start doing the shows, you think you’ve prepared properly. You take the tracks even further than they go on the record … there’s more you can do in the live arena. You can make them longer, heavier, more extreme in some ways and you can even feed off the crowd. It’s a great opportunity to explore the ideas you didn’t have the first time around. Again, it’s difficult, but amazing.

LAC: We’ve heard you speak about being against trends, and how they lead to a sound that can be identified as old. But, has there ever been a new trend that has caught your ear and had  you a little bit tempted?

JH: Oh yeah, I mean I talk a lot of bullocks in interviews (laughs). It’s not quite as clear cut as that. But there are some elements of my sound that I can pinpoint, ‘Oh that was inspired by this’ everything was a trend at one time. So it is difficult – you really do feel differently about what you do everyday so sometimes you will say things like that…

There is a particular type of compression that’s very common, sidechain compression – I can’t really describe the sound – its like a way of making a bass drum or whatever part you like displaced with the part behind it and it makes everything sound fat and amazing. It is definitely a trend of the moment. I try to do it subtly so that it isn’t like super obvious. There are some examples where it is being used too extremely years ago when it was at its peak.

I just prefer to cherry pick the things I love the most and not worry about what trend they’re from, I guess thats a better way of putting it.

I do like the idea of combining sounds of all different times, whether it is right now or ages ago.

LAC: Do you have any guilty pleasure listening?

JH: I prefer to call it ‘proud pleasure listening.’ I am quite an admirer of ABBA and the production in ABBA – and not everyone is into that. My dad was always playing it. And Fleetwood Mac as well. Im quite proud to announce that I like these things cause there’s a reason why these things are so enduring, it’s cause they are amazing. They have a common level of skill and writing and production.

LAC: Lastly, what’s next for you? Where do you see yourself in the next few years?

JH: I don’t really know at this point. The album has opened up all kinds of new opportunities. You know if you asked me this a few months ago I might’ve said I was going to do another collaboration – but now I want to set up my own studio. I really want to start my own place that is custom built. Eventually I want to do my own solo album – take it to another level with that. So that may well be a two year project. But yeah, you don’t know who is going to call and have something exciting for me. You never know if you are going to get a call from a director and be linked to a 4 month project.

I’m touring ’til August, and everything else is happening after that.

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Catch Jon Hopkins playing at the Echoplex this Saturday, November 30 alongside fellow European electronic musicians, Clark and Nathan Fake. Purchase tickets here.

Photo: Oddbjørn Steffensen

RECAP: TOUCHÉ AT THE ECHOPLEX

Earlier this month, Los Angeles-based duo Touché filled the Echoplex with the sounds of synth pop and art-rock. If the names of bandmates Alex Lilly and Bram Inscore ring a bell, it’s because these multi-instrumentalists are well known in the local music scene and have collaborated with many beloved artists like Twin Shadow and Beck. Pupils of Art-Ed, they excitingly and effortlessly showcased the mastery of brain, beauty and beat that night for the record release party of their first album, “It’s Fate.”

No stranger to theatrics, Alex appeared on stage in a superhero-appropriate ensemble of all black, outfitted in a studded bustier and costume cape. Bram sported an oversized windbreaker and grandpa glasses. Beginning their set with “Lock and Key,” and moving into “Everything He Wants,” Touché showcased the two-member band’s ability to sound like a four piece band, with Bram and Alex handling various instruments and vocals seamlessly. With its funky and syncopated bass line, Touché’s track “Bad Dream” had the audience dancing energetically. It was only appropriate, then, that during the song’s bridge, Alex dropped to her knees and shredded with an electrifying guitar solo. 

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The crowd’s energy really ignited, however, when saxophonist James King of Fitz & The Tantrums joined the duo on stage for a few numbers, which were in the vein of Yacht meets Talking Heads. Barbara Ruska of The Belle Brigade also performed with the group on drums. They shouted her out while declaring that the next song was for “all the ladies”, and then broke into “Men Change.”

The last song, “Snow White,” was my favorite. It’s a quirky and clever rendition of the classic fairytale, and fuses elements of funk, rock and jazz. The latter genre is especially apparent in the song’s chorus, with its jolting “zoots” that can be likened to works by jazz legends such as Duke Ellington.

Speaking briefly with Bram offstage, I learned he was ecstatic with the turn out and that “Big Fan” was his favorite song performed that night. An eerie and experimental tune, “Big Fan” is about an overzealous admirer. With such a great performance that night, we’re sure Touché will have plenty of inspiration for future stalker-inspired songs. Just kidding.