ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE BRAIN-SCATTERED MIND Guillermo Scott Herren/Prefuse 73

The prolific, multi-instrumentalist and
IDM master faces a failure to communicate.

 

BY
DAVID DOWNS

 

Guillermo
Scott Herren feels a little overwhelmed. It’s April in the prolific IDM star’s
Brooklyn apartment and the artist has three album projects – Prefuse 73′s
Everything She Touched Turned
Ampexian,
Diamond Watch Wrists’ Ice Capped At Both Ends, and Savath y Savalas’ La
Llama
– all appearing at roughly the same time. The meticulous
sampler and multi-instrumentalist is trying to coordinate recording and video
shoots with gonzo drummer Zach Hill, plus a summer tour and press interviews.
All the while, his cell phone keeps cutting out despite AT&T’s promise of
more bars in more places. “The short answer is, ‘Don’t get an iPhone’,” he
jokes.

 

A
failure to communicate dominates Herren’s concerns right now. He knows people
won’t understand the new, highly, anticipated Prefuse 73 record … Ampexian,
let alone Diamond Watch Wrists’ acid folk harmonies. And why are both works –
along with an EP – coming out on top of his latest Stone’s Throw label project,
Savath y Savalas’ La Llama?

 

“It’s
a bit ridiculous and I sound so brain-scattered that people are giving me the
same answer. ‘Get a manager. Dude, stop trying to do everything.’ There’s just
a point in time you can’t do it all.”

 

Herren’s
almost resigned himself to the fact that people will misunderstand a few things
this year:

 

1)
the new Prefuse album isn’t twenty-nine tracks, it’s actually one song that’s
been chopped into bits for marketing purposes.

 

2)
He knew Diamond Watch Wrists was going to alienate hard core Prefuse fans with
what he calls some “psych folky shit”.

 

3)
And regarding Savath y Savalas – yes, it’s too much at a time when he would’ve
preferred to give his projects space.

 

Herren
readily admits that being a prolific, cutting-edge electronic music artist with
too many projects to handle is one of those “good problems”. Over the course of
twelve years since his debut, Herren has become a riveting master of beeps and
whirs, but he’s rapidly innovating outside of such digitalism.

 

Born
in Miami and raised in Atlanta by Catalan and Irish/Cuban parents,
he grew up playing piano and other classic instruments. Rebellion meant less
jazz and more hip hop, punk and electronic music, which led to DJ gigs and
production in the Dirty South scene. Herren debuted as Delarosa and Asora on
the world stage in New York
with LP Sleep Method Suite in 1997. The year 2000 brought the first
Savath y Savalas record Folk Songs For Trains, Trees, And Honey. But it
was 2001’s first Prefuse 73 album Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives that
began a series of fortunate events.

 

Prefuse
73’s One Word Extinguisher in 2003, 2005’s Surrounded By
Silence,
as well as 2006’s Security Screenings turned Herren into an
electronic music lodestar. Ghostface Killah, El-P, Blonde Redhead, GZA, Wu
Tang, and Aesop Rock counted him among collaborators, yet he grew nervous
behind his Akai MPC. While Prefuse’s success had solidified the tastes of his
fan base, he was shoving off from his IDM style in four spare, analog Savath y
Savalas projects that explored uncharted ethnic instrumental realms.

 

Even
as he released his S&S experiments, Herren says he was embarrassed of his
most quiet, simple recordings – often featuring just him and a guitar. For
seven years, Herren says he’s been recording folk instrumentals and vocals
while convinced of how much they sucked.

 

“I’m
sure it’s total garbage to cats that were into, say, the first Prefuse album,
it’s just garbage. Diamond Watch Wrists has nothing to do with this. That’s my
dilemma or my problem is that stigma from Prefuse,” he says.

 

“I
started working on that stuff totally on the D.L. out of embarrassment maybe
when my second record was recorded. There wasn’t much to it – it started to
grow and develop over a slow, seven-year build. It took [Hella drummer] Zach
[Hill] and Ty from Battles and my really close friends which have nothing to do
with music – which is almost a more constructive opinion – to be like, ‘Wow.
This set of songs done is fucking sick. I’m into it.’ And then me feeling like,
‘It’s sick?’ I gained a little bit of confidence from other people, because it
certainly wasn’t coming from my end.”

 

After
Hill contacted Herren to produce Hill’s solo record, Herren sent Hill the naked
arrangements to add drums, thus beginning a years-long collaboration via mail
that finished in time for him to work on the new Prefuse in late 2008, which
would be as sample-heavy and dense as DWW is instrumental and light.

 

“With
this one, my partner basically came in and was just like, ‘Yo, if we’re really
going to flip this shit, just abandon everything you’ve done, think of all the
dope hip hop, prog shit, weird textural shit that you heard that made an impact
on you and make it into a progged-out, long piece.'”

 

Herren
spent six months sampling, splicing, combining and pushing the output to
recycled Ampex analog tape, recorded on a refurbished Ampex recorder bought
from eBay. He envisioned a tapestry-like sonic journey perfect for road trips
or vinyl beat junkies laying on their living room floors, headphones sealing
off the world. He didn’t know the 48-minute piece would be chopped into 29
songs for iTunes indexing and the like.

 

“Those
titles on the album actually have absolutely no relevance. It’s the necessary
evil of marketing. It’s outside of my realm, because if it was up to me, the
title of the album would’ve been the song. It would’ve been this
however-many-minute-long piece. That would’ve been it. A lot of people are so
confused. ‘Why are the songs thirty seconds when I want them to go on?’ And
it’s like that because it’s all one song. It’s like a musique concrète record. It’s supposed to be where all these ideas
and things are passing you by and you’re catching different things each time.”

 

Recording
to Ampex tape added an extra dimension of noise, artifacts and chaos that
Herren says is missing from plastic Pro Tools compositions dominating today’s
musical landscape. “It’s like Polaroids and things like that. That’s how I
wanted it to sound, and a lot of people might not understand that, like, ‘Why
is this lower in volume?’ Because if you brought the volume up – ‘cus we
mastered it analog — it would disintegrate. Those things can only get so loud.
If you make it loud, it’s not going to bump. The intention is it’s not to be
played in clubs.”

 

Taken
with the latest groovy Catalan vibe of the Savath y Savalas record, La
Llama,
Herren is clearly refining a personal aesthetic. The three are
united by meticulous construction, both thoughtful and bizarre, and I find it
telling that Herren would rather not disclose his date of birth to the public.
Even though he is a young man, he feels the pressure of the kids coming up from
behind, and he knows how deft they are at Pro Tools. Music has gotten too easy,
too glossy, and too automated Herren says. He wants people to know he’s paying
closer attention to each and every annotated bar.

 

“These
programs that make music for you. That’s fine -I totally support it for them
kids. I’m not trying to battle anybody. For me, I like to write my music out. I
like to do my shit more manually. I work very meticulously, beyond what people
would think about how anal I am about this.”

 

And
with that it’s time for the maestro to go. Another scheduled interview
interrupts him and drummer Hill is on his way for Round 2 of Diamond Watch
Wrists. What’s done is done, there’s a tour to book, and more dropped phone
calls to reassemble, all the while trying to maintain some measure of sanity.

 

“Man,”
he concludes. “We’re in a very, very, very strange place.”

 

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