Prefuse 73, Delarosa & Asora, Piano Overlord and Savath y Savalas are all the work of one man – Guillermo Scott Herren. Best known for the glitch-hop of Prefuse 73, he’s been producing interesting and engaging work for well over 10 years as well as producing and (re)mixing music with a list of artists as long as your arm.
New album The Only She Chapters marks a change in direction for Herren and Prefuse 73, with the record a textured, compositional work that calls to mind avant-classical composers like Philip Glass and John Cage. It also features all-female guest vocalists such as Zola Jesus, Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond and the late Trish Keenan of Broadcast. It’s a wonderfully atmospheric record, and shows off the effects of working with the Polish Ausko Orchestra and a change in Herren’s own approach to recording music.
I caught up with Herren recently to have a chat about the new album, and how it feels “weird” compared to other Prefuse 73 releases.
Hi Guillermo, how are you? Where are you right now?
Hey, I’m good. I’m in the Warp records office in New York.
So, has it been a busy start to the year for you?
Yeah, pretty busy man. I’ve been working on a lot of different stuff in a short space of time. I guess that’s good, but 2011 has also been a strange, strange year – lots of bombings and catastrophes and depressing things at the same time.
Yeah, absolutely. You’ve done a track for a Japan benefit compilation (Benefit for the Recovery in Japan), haven’t you?
Yeah that’s a great compilation, lots of people on it are super-good. It’s amazing that so many people got together for it in such a short amount of time. I think I was asked to turn something in, and then the next day it was just out. And it was cool; people actually bought it, y’know?
People do seem to have reacted well to the disaster, to any benefits that have been put together.
Yeah totally. It’s crazy but it’s such a relief that’s still there. I mean it doesn’t have anything to do with illegal downloading; it’s just cool that people will fork out 15 dollars and still get good music, y’know?
You’ve been mixing the Ford & Lopatin record as well, how did that go?
Yeah, I just got done with that. Played a few shows with them just to get them off and running (at SXSW). So those dudes just finished their stuff and they’ll come to Europe to play soon.
Ok, let’s talk about the new record. You’ve described it as being a little “weird” compared to other Prefuse 73 releases – is this down to how you approached it, or is it the recording process?
Yeah, the weirdness definitely equates to the way I went about actually recording all the instruments and making all the sounds happen, and sequencing everything. It’s just a totally different way of working. Then by using this thread of consistency by using female voices, for texture, or layer. All the stuff combined isn’t the typical ingredients for a Prefuse record that people might know from the past.
Did you think about releasing it under another name?
Umm, no I think I’m full of aliases! I think I’m cool with what I have to work under at this point. It’s like, the last one that I’ve even left to use, or is even worth using, is just my name – my real name – and then I have to stop with the aliases!
You’ve mentioned that the record flows as one piece, and I think the vocalists have strong, similar sounding voices. Was that a conscious decision?
It’s weird, because I was going for collaborators who did have a very different or strong, distinct character in their voice. It was just the method that was used, y’know the way the record was recorded. That helped it make sense, so that it came across as a full piece. Yeah, I think it’s more the method, because everyone has a really, really strong voice of their own so I guess that comes across in the production methods.
Was there anyone that you wanted on the record but didn’t, or couldn’t get?
No…wait, let me think…no, that didn’t happen. Most people on the record I had previously known so it wasn’t that hard to hook up with them. I didn’t really reach out too far outside the realm of people that are friends, or friends of my friends. They’d be close by and I’d be like “let’s do this” and we could just knock out the vocal recordings in a day rather than work on a track for millions of dollars.
What about the Trish Keenan track? Is that something that’s hard to listen to after she passed away, or do you not listen back to your own work much anyway?
Well, it’s weird, and I kinda do have a problem listening back to my own stuff – I can listen back when I’m outside of my own studio, if I’m listening to it subjectively I can listen to my own music usually…but it’s kind of tragic to hear that, or to have it sort of…I don’t know…to be connected to something that she was happy with, I was happy with…it’s kind of tragic, sure, to listen back to. But I don’t want it to be, I want people to enjoy it. She left behind years of beautiful music.
Of course. That debut Broadcast record, Work and Non Work, still stands up as a classic record.
Yeah, that was a very very big inspirational role in me even signing to Warp in the first place, back in the day. I mean, I like all this other stuff but I’m really feeling Broadcast. I think I heard them on the John Peel Show that was broadcast into the US and I was like “What the fuck is this? Is it old or is it new?” and I just went crazy on it.
The band did have a timeless sound, you know, it could have been from the 1960s, or last month…
Yeah, all the influences that they pulled from are just insane. They’re like an encyclopaedia band, they pulled from all these influences to make these amazing albums that are different, and they’re not all the same record. They’re a really dope band.
What about the influences for this record? To me it’s a modern compositional piece, and kind of reminds me of Steve Reich, John Cage or Philip Glass in places. Is that something you’re into?
Yeah, yeah. The composers you mentioned make sense because the music is cyclical; it goes in cycles and waves, and waves. Also, just the whole process of early electro-acoustic recording was kind of like how I recorded all the sounds. I was using all these damaged mics and contact mics, and then really expensive high-end mics and put it all together. I was following that, and I’d even go so far as to look up old YouTubes of how they worked, watching these old engineers with white gloves on who’d do all these crazy things. As far as the process goes, I think the whole early electro-acoustic stuff is really inspiring.
Was the choice of all female vocalists something you had in mind as a concept, or did it fall into place?
It fell into place with the tracks. After I was working on a track, or with the intention of what the track would become, it just felt like that would make more sense, or give a way more sensible thread to everything…rather than be some random guest-heavy record. I didn’t want to do that, I didn’t want it to be a bunch of pop songs. It was about trying to make everything wrap itself up into one complete piece.
Talking briefly about collaborations, you do seem to work with a hell of a lot of people…
Do you get restless working on your own or do you prefer working with other people, just for someone to bounce ideas off?
It’s kind of random, I mean a lot of the time it’s all based on scenarios. Sometimes people come to me to do something and I can get really into it – like if someone asks me to produce stuff or whatever, I get really obsessive about their work and what their idea is for what they want, kind of just to prove to myself I can actually get it the way they want it and that I can be happy about. As far as collaborations, I think that maybe I’ve spent the last ten years of my life making so much music on my own that it’s a relief to work with someone else sometimes….but I do prefer to work alone. When I mix other people’s records I do that alone so that no-one can tell me what to do.
It’s like when you’re young and you do a painting or a drawing and you don’t want anyone to see it until you’re done – it’s the same, it’s always been the same. It’s like “OK, I’m gonna take it back to my studio and work on it and then I’ll come back into the studio and we can play with it.”
And are the people you work with happy to let you go off and do that?
Yeah, they think I’m a weirdo! They don’t understand why I wouldn’t want to be in a studio with a huge new console, it’s like “OK, what the fuck? OK, whatever….this guy wants to be alone.” Like what I was saying with the picture drawing thing, you’re staying undercover and going back to try and shock them! I’m all “do you hate me now, do you love me? Are you gonna kill me or what?” Usually when I work alone I have that space in my mind and not having someone breathing down my neck. I don’t think I could do anything with other people if they were breathing down my neck.
So do you look for approval like when you were the child drawing the picture? Or does that not bother you so much?
I’ve been doing, as Prefuse, this for such a long period of time I’m just lucky to be able to make music and make a living out of music. I think I’d like it if people are into this, as much as if I did another beats record, or if they like it at all! I’m more into what I completed on this record than say my last record. Y’know I can’t sit around my house all day and listen to beats, the stuff I listen to at home is a lot different to anything that I would even make – just that contrast, it needed to come out of me, out of this alias.
But definitely not to be vindictive to anyone! I mean I don’t want to let anybody down and I can always drop beat stuff forever, for free download, I dunno! But I’m just so into this whole method and process of recording that it’s not something that I think about.
And what about touring this record or playing it live, is that something you’ll be able to do?
Oh yeah, totally! I’m going to have a mini-choir and minimal instrumentation, but like a three-piece girl vocal choir!
So more of a recital feel then rather than the regular show?
Yeah I mean any different configuration would be fun, just something different. Completely uncharted territory for me to do live would be a lot more fun than what I’m doing now. I mean I love to play live but I want to take the live show and the record to the same place.