"I love things to sound f--ked." Why Shlohmo in 2015 is not like the old shit.
After hearing barely a Bo Peep out of him for two and a half years, 25 year-old Los Angeles-based artist Henry Laufer - Shlohmo - is finally back. And he's beaten the hell out of some vintage synths to make some bloody good music! Released just a few months back, Dark Red stands strong, a consummate execution of Shlohmo's evolution as a artist: standing behind this album is an individual eager to demonstrate his musical intelligence, and demonstrate the capacity for career longevity beyond the hobby/fun mentality he approached music-making with as a 19 year old, when his wildly popular underground record Bad Vibes first took off, and the then-teenager began to amass a global base of fans emerged for Shlohmo and his creative / party lifestyle of his collective of friends and collaborators (incl. Ryan Hemsworth, Groundislava), WeDidIt.
It's deepness and maturity all round: the dark, sci-fi, semi-industrial electronic opus that is Dark Red seems to reflect the world's pains on a macrocosmic level, but moreso acts as a sonic depiction of inner turmoil: Laufer's previously spoken of the grief caught up in the album's creation: of personal losses, hospital visits and funerals, of partying too hard and creative block, although without knowing any of that, the emotional heaviness on Dark Red is palpable. Its style and mood should see it become an instantly recognisable album in years to come: much like Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, or Michael Jackson's Thriller - it already stands out a mile in the 2015 electronic music landscape, where it's a shitfight to get noticed even with the Internet's propensity towards sharing on your side.
Currently touring in Australia (info HERE and at end), with a stint at Splendour in the Grass and shows in each state, we caught up with the electronic producer, who gave us a behind-the-scenes account of Dark Red's creation and told us all about how the new live show is going to play out, before sharing his insights into his growth as a person and an artist (AKA why the new Shlohmo is not like the "old shit.")
WIN! We have 2 x double passes to see Shlohmo live in Perth on Sat Aug 1 at Villa. For your chance to win, email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject line 'you don't have to like it' by midday Friday 31 July.
You’ve been to Australia before but this time down under is different because you’re bringing the whole WeDidIt gang along - D33J, Purple and Nick Melons. How does it change the dynamic when you’re touring with mates – is it more energising, or do you prefer the solitude of solo touring?
It just feels much more relaxed and grounded, travelling with a group of friends alleviates your mental stress – it feels like a little bit of the chillness of home comes along with you everywhere! It’s also more fun, being able to talk shit and share humourous experiences with the guys.
So for these Australian shows you've been performing with a full three-piece band, live. You've got D33J doing guitars and synths onstage together with you, and a dude on drums. What prompted the progression in your performance to a live format?
It’s always been a thing that was on my mind, a goal of mine – making a band happen and performing my music like that, but I never had the financial means in the past to do it. I tried to do this one man band thing, with the Bad Vibes show way way back, where we played everything and had a loop pedal but it was a pain in the ass. We also weren't making enough money off the shows to keep doing it, to bring a band on the road. But this was the first time I not only had the means to do it, but I felt the album I had made asked for it – there was no other way I felt comfortable performing the music live. It couldn’t have just been me and a keyboard, there needed to be this live element to it, something more… it was the perfect time to make it happen.
The scale of the album kind of neccessitated a new live set up - it sounds like the new format of the live show has really stepped up to meet the bigness of Dark Red. What are the challenges that performing with a band presents to you, as opposed to when you were Djing?
It’s a totally different animal! Soundcheck is a real thing, travelling is a real thing. With the band setting up all the gear – we have in-ears, monitor-checking with the in-ears versus the house – it’s over a two hour process to do that as opposed to just showing up and plugging in when you need to play. Before it was just me a laptop, some speakers…soundcheck wasn’t even a thing, it was just like “You have speakers, right? Do they work? Cool” (laughs).
Were you familiar with the processes required to put a live show into action, or has this been a bit of a learning curve for you?
Half and half. I grew up playing guitar and bass so I knew what was going on in terms of that, but making everything work was new. Like, playing electronic pieces with a band where the drummer has an enormous f-kn mini controller pad that has like, thirty triggers on it that all change for each song. That was something I had to teach myself – making instrument racks with Ableton, and splitting up each individual drum sample that you hit with each of my songs on the record, and putting them all on individual pads for the drtummer to control live. That’s nearly 300 sounds that had to be cut up – that shit was a challenge. Learning that I wrote…songs…I don’t really know how to read or write music like that per say – like I don’t know shit about sheet music, I never had classical training.
So scoring the arrangements were challenging?
Yeah, I don’t know what I did to make the sounds. I had to relearn my own songs, reverse engineer them. I definitely know a lot more now than I did then, for sure.
The new live set up (Pic via Radio UTD)
I feel when we're looking at Dark Red and Bad Vibes side by side as albums, Bad Vibes is very lush, and subtle, whereas Dark Red feels colder, more abrasive. To what would you attribute that shift in style?
I think it was a lot to do with myself, and the time difference – it’s been five years since I finished recording Bad Vibes. I've grown up a lot - I made Bad Vibes when I was 19 - I'm 25 now, I've learnt a few things since then. But also, just I think the context of the world, and where the music is getting made from, when its getting made from. My mentality about music making hasn’t changed, but maybe how I say what I wanted to say was changing, the language I was communicating with. It’s hard to describe – I just felt like what needed to be said this time needed to be loud, and overwhelming. I had some heavy energy I needed to channel. The present time is very confusing and chaotic – I think it reflects that.
When you first teased Dark Red, you accompanied it with the statement “you don’t have to like it, just listen to it.” What’s the feedback for Dark Red been like so far from your fans?
Ahh, Fans say the best shit. Overall, it’s been really positive fan wise. Of course I’ve heard the classic “why doesn’t it sound like the old one?” But, you know, there will always be those motherf—kers.
The critics though, I think they all hated it, which is always a fun thing. It means you’re doing something right I think? I read the Pitchfork one, which was pretty funny. [Pitchfork awarded the album a 5.9, saying that it was “a slog”: “the four tracks that make up the album’s mid-section are unmemorable, a fact that their names Apathy, Relentless, Ditch, Remainsseem to acknowledge explicitly”.]
Wherabouts did the majority of Dark Red get made, and what was your recording routine like?
This dark room in my house, in my apartment, in LA. It all got made in that room. I started making it about two years ago, after I finished Laid Out. The creation of it was sporadic – I knew I was recording a whole album but it was probably the whole course of that two years, recording stuff, then putting it away, then recording something new, then opening the old stuff from months ago and taking it in a new direction or having a new idea for it.
You used a lot of old synthesisers on the album, which is nice, it lends the material a kind of imperfect feel. It takes away the sheen. What do you like most about working with analog equipment?
Pretty much exactly what you said – it takes away that niceness, I love things to sound f--ked. My favourite music is music that sounds like it exists in a separate place in time from where you’re listening to it from. When something’s really clean or digital, it doesn’t have that place feeling, it sounds like it exists in your computer.
Did you own a lot of those synths already, or did you have to acquire them?
The main synth I was using for it was a Roland Jupiter Six, which is a really old Roland synth from the ‘80s. It was actually my Dad's! He just gifted it to me a few years ago, he was like “I don’t want this old f—king thing anymore.”
..and you went and made a whole album with it!
That, and his Roland Chorus Space Echo Box, one of the early ones, it’s a real big analogue tape box.
Not bad, Dad. I take it your Dad’s a musician? What’s his opinion of Dark Red?
He is, yeah. He’s stoked on it!
Shlohmo Live at Splendour in the Grass 2015 (Pic: BBE Facebook)
The visuals that accompany Dark Red have been a huge highlight for me, and many music and film lovers. The Buried video really hit me for six - so chilling, so vivid. I loved the retro cinematic aesthetic it drew on – it called to mind films like Rosemary’s Baby or The Exorcist. Were the allusions to a demonic childbirth symbolic of anything in particular, in regards to the album’s thematics?
That was the director, Lance Drake’s vision - the idea was brought to us by the director, and we riffed on it back and forth until we came up with the complete treatment. In post-production it went through about six edits just ‘coz of my notes!
Above: The official video for Buried, directed by Lance Drake
You said you liked ‘fucked up’ things... so are you a horror film fan? Any favourites?
Growing up I was a huge fan of Evil Dead, and one of Peter Jackson’s first films, Dead Alive. That’s one of my favourite “shit horror” films.
Yeah Peter Jackson’s a genius, king of genre films. Kiwis and Aussies really excelled at making those lo-fi, splatter horror films for a while back there in the 70s/80s... Bad Taste, Razorjack, Undead…So I was kind of hoping Buried would form part of a series of horror clips - is it a one off or is there more stuff with a similar aesthetic to come?
We're very much hoping to create another part of the story - we're actually trying to get an animation done - I wanted it to be this pre-quel to Buried, but have it be in a completely different medium. But its surprisingly diffficult and expensive to make an animation! We'll see.
The visuals for Beams go in another direction altogether, and are also amazing, they really capture the chaos of being young and wreckless. Was was the concept driving that video? Was that an actual night out some kids were having and they filmed it, or did you pre-meditate the streaking and graffiti writing and stuff?
That was us reaching out to this kid Jack Irving on Vine, and this was all just shit he actually does, with him and his friends. Pissing on cars, running around rooftops, drawing on shit. We have a few friends in NY who knew him, so we got in touch and asked if he’d like to contribute some of his Vine footage to this video, and he was like “f—k it, I’m going to film a bunch of shit.” And he just sent us batch footage of exports of Vine footage, 7 second long clips. It was mainly Purple (Luis) editing them together on the computer and me looking over his shoulder. It has this forever nostalgic teen vibe, the song fit perfectly somehow.
Above: Official video for Beams, directed by Jack Irving
You’ve been making music since you were 12, and you were 19 when you made Bad Vibes. You're 25 now. Is the energy with which you approach music, and shows, as high as it used to be back the, or has a weariness crept in?
Oh, there’s definitely some weariness (laughs)! But actually, with this new live band, it’s been getting more and more fun, I’m very excited about it. In terms of the music making - that's gotten more difficult. There's more responsibility now that music is my full time job - my life is very different now, back during Bad Vibes I had just dropped out of uni, so music was just for fun. It's also a bittersweet kind of difficult now I've achieved a level of notoriety with it, to block out the thousands of Twitter voices weighing in on everything I do… but that’s my entire intention, when making music, to block out everything. Music is never something I’m going to be weary of enough to stop doing altogether. If anything – you just won’t hear it anymore.
Above: Young Shlohmo
Thursday, 30th July
The Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Tickets: The Corner Hotel
Friday, 31st July
Metro Theatre, Sydney
Saturday, 1st August