Guillermo Scott Herren: Cut Through the Noise

Guillermo Scott Herren: Cut Through the Noise

Trevor Hunter: You’ve had this incredible, multitudinous career so far; you’re only 33 years old, but you’ve released more than 20 full-length records under at least 9 different pseudonyms, in several different styles—hip-hop, electronica, folk, prog rock, even to a degree modern classical. It seems like you feel comfortable in almost any musical setting, so let’s take it back to the beginning. How did your interest in music develop?

Guillermo Scott Herren: The interest in music came from my mom. A lot of kids are introduced to music as a kid; usually you start out on a piano, but my mom opted for sticking a violin in front of me, which even now couldn’t be more difficult for me to play. I kept switching instruments, and as long as I played an instrument and a sport, my mom was cool with that balance. She wanted me to just stay out of trouble. We didn’t live in the best neighborhood so it was a good way to detour me from those kinds of activities and the bad things that kids get into at that age.

TH: How did you make the leap from there into electronic music?

GSH: Well, I had to go through a listening spell, I had to go through a change. I grew up in a neighborhood that was prominently propelled by hip-hop. Some friends had an E-mu SP-1200, and I started on that. Just bringing different records over, looping up stuff—with the limitations you had with that technology in that era, what you could do with it wasn’t much. But it was a gateway, just being able to hear these little parts that I couldn’t imagine anybody else sampling. Of course some of them, especially with the more jazz and soul records that were my mom’s, everybody ended up sampling by the end. “Weather Report records, wow!” Really non-obscure records that I found very obscure because they were new to me.

I got out of high school early—not because I dropped out but because I finished everything I needed to do—and went straight to college. After moving to New York, I started working a job and going to school, and saving all the money from the job and getting hand-me-down instruments. Some of those instruments are still sitting around me; it wasn’t very wasteful. I would say I can get kind of excessive, but none of them were wasted. Everything that surrounds me, everything in this room, every one of these headphones, is probably used during a mix. I take advantage of everything. Even these nail clippers right here, I use to cut my nails.

I just started building on these secondhand instruments, buying them from friends, like some sort of made-in-Mexico Fender or a four track. I bought a drum set and wondered why my beats just were not turning out like these sample-based beats. Like, what’s the key ingredient? What am I doing wrong? Then I got a drum machine—still was not banging like these beats. And then finally, inevitably, after I had moved back to Atlanta to go to a school, I got a job at a studio. And the way that I got paid was with an MPC 2000, which was the answer that I was looking for. But I had to take on all of the mundane—

TH: You have to get coffee, you have to run to the liquor store—

GSH: Yeah, but I wasn’t only that; I was that cool motherfucker, you know what I mean? And I wasn’t even really on an MPC, I was on just a Kurzweil, you know, like da da da da da [mimics repetitive keystrokes]. Tracking everything one by one in the early Pro Tools days. Some cats going in there just to send stuff to tape—and I mean cassette tape. Doing all-at-once vocal takes, hitting two-inch tape back to Pro Tools, all of this just ridiculous blown-out stuff—and that’s what they wanted, just to bang in their car. Which is actually pretty cool. But these cats weren’t the most communicative dudes, I would say, and me being the only one in the studio at their leisure left me in a situation where my brain sort of flipped. Like, this is definitely not what I want to do with music and production. I don’t want to be a beat maker for random whoevers.

Akai MPC

I started getting into bands that were inspiring me at that time, bands like Tortoise—actually connecting with them very early on, like with John Herndon and K.C. Rice, their engineer, and developing friendships with them and them opening me up. My first record was actually with them, and that was in ’95, which makes me an elderly man now. [laughs] I mean, I just started really early. I was really on my grind, and it wasn’t top-notch quality stuff—I made it on a 4-track—but they really dug it and they saw what I was trying to push and do, and that’s where it all began. And those guys, they put me on tour with them and [Nobukaza] Takemura and Autechre back in the ’90s.

Electronic music wasn’t really, like, my forte. I was sort of faking what I was hearing on MPCs, you know, this clickeity-clack electronic music, but I was adding way more melody, I was playing live instruments. Even if it was something abstract like Oval, just something with really rich tones. My introduction to modern classical music is as entry-level as Steve Reich. I took the path, because Reich sort of set up the whole rhythm pattern, and that’s sort of what aligned everything [for me]. That’s what got me out of the cluttered mess of when I started, of things just going everywhere, and that project was called Delarosa and Asora. And that gave birth to this thing called Prefuse 73, which has lasted for a decade on Warp Records.

TH: But those weren’t even your only projects during that time period.

GSH: Yeah, in the interim between all that, I was doing Savath y Savalas as a way to sort of not lose that “playing live instruments” aspect in developing a certain sound. It’s still continuing after all this time. Actually, Savath came before Prefuse.

TH: Savath started as a solo project in 2000 with the Folk Songs for Trains, Trees and Honey; I can definitely hear some Tortoise influence on that record. But the sound and dynamic changed once you moved to Barcelona, and you added vocals to the mix.

GSH: Well, essentially it initiated there. When I was making One Word Extinguisher, which was the second Prefuse record, I was already living in Spain, but I had to go to Atlanta to do it. I just wasn’t ready to do it abroad; I needed to be around what I was used to—the onslaught of Atlanta hip-hop, and that being integrated with the use of R&B music. But I went back to Barcelona after that, and Eva Puyuelo Muns, my roommate there, has such a distinct voice—just even the way that she speaks—such a beautiful voice. And I would hear from the living room her singing in the shower, and just going, “Man, if she rocked it, she would kill it.” So I’m like, “Let’s try it,” and for some reason she didn’t even resist. I said I’ll write it, we’ll do it—this was immediately when I got back from making One Word—and we just went for it, and we recorded it so quick because we were so inspired and kind of excited.

When we started, we didn’t know what we were doing, or what we were going for. We knew exactly what we loved, we knew exactly what our influences were directly, but we were going about it in our own way. We recorded Apropa’t so cheap, we had nothing. We got done with that, I released the outtakes to One Word [Extinguished, 2003], then I went to Chicago to actually mix the Savath stuff; because we recorded it so cheap, I had to clean it up. And that was sort of the solidification of where I wanted to take Savath y Savalas. And knowing that, no matter what, me and Eva were going to be able to exchange that part of our culture, that side of our taste in music, and integrate it into something and keep building on it.

And just recently, Roberto Lange comes into play—he’s the newest member. Now it’s just the perfect exchange, because he records things different than me, he writes different than me. If I’m writing something, I’ll write more extended everything’s-changing-all-the-time sorts of parts, and he writes these beautiful repetitive pieces that change within themselves.

TH: And you have even more going on now—Diamond Watch Wrists with you and Zach Hill, and this new project Risil, which has contributions from more than a dozen different people.

GSH: With Risil, the collaboration with people is so completely different. It could go into something else; it could be more about the different collaborations under that name. But I just wanted to see these different people work in the same area, under the same umbrella at the same time, and see what would happen. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s not like every time it’s gonna be: [snaps] “Boom! Dude, this shit is genius.” That’s why it’s just one of those records that should be seen as a standalone project. Which is cool. That’s actually something semi-new for me, to create a project-based thing that doesn’t really have to go anywhere. Although it can; it’s up to what happens with it.

TH: It’s obvious to anyone who spends time with your work that being a collaborative musician is an integral part of who you are. But at the same time, a lot of the time has to be spent just sitting in your studio by yourself.

GSH: Yeah, even with Diamond Watch Wrists, it all starts alone. But the collaboration part, you’re right. I definitely see music as something that should be really collaborative and communal. I’m not really about that whole, like, “Yo, this is just for the fam. You’re excluded.” These separations and these “cool quotas,” it has never really registered; I just don’t get it. Because I see music as not only something that can be communal, but also something where your friend is making something that’s twice as amazing as yours. And for me it’s always been a really strong goal, if I am ever able to, to help that person out. To get them where they’re telling me they want to get to.

When things kind of roll off and you get bombarded—say, like right now for me—it’s sometimes just devastating. It stops the workflow, it stops the communication flow. It just stops everything, because you really want to work while you have the time, when you don’t have to go tour, to just consolidate all the things you need to do for the records. Support them. Be thankful that you’re getting press. Do the press, shut up, don’t bitch that it’s hard, and just do it. And things should run smooth, but unfortunately, all these different projects build up. And I just watched these things happen with the exact people I tried to help, and I can’t put them on for that same reason. It’s just because they’re so bombarded because they have so many things. They’ll come at me one day, like, “I have this one band called Blah blah blah, I’m trying to get them here. And I have a chance, but I need your help by saying this, because you know this person.” And I’m like, “I can try.” You know, then there’s another person on the other side of the world saying the same thing, “I don’t understand why I can’t get a break just doing this!” Then I’m like, well, I feel the same way. I mean, I got stuff that’s out that just isn’t doing what I thought it would do, or it’s just not hitting people the way it should.

But, that’s life, you know? You just gotta stay on top of your game and not depend so much on what other people are going to do for you. When it comes to your own artistic endeavors, you have to put yourself in control first. But it’s best to always think of others before yourself at the same time. It’s always better to get those people’s backs. I mean, I don’t know what’s a better feeling: if you had some mega successful record just pop off, or to watch a friend’s record just explode and pop off. I don’t know what’s more satisfying.

TH: You talked about Atlanta, Barcelona, New York…

GSH: Right, right. Barcelona being my absolute number one favorite place.

TH: There are all these different communities you participate in, across the U.S. and Spain. There’s the work in Atlanta, the work in Barcelona, the work in New York, there’s the people you collaborate with like Tortoise and Sam Prekop, bringing Chicago into it. Does each place influence what you do differently?

GSH: I say for sure, because I was born in Miami, so I have those influences to equate into the mix, and then equating that with stuff from Atlanta, which is a lot of the time really obscure. It doesn’t have a distinct name or sound that anybody’s emulating now on some throwback level. And then I had some of my teenage years and my college years and a lot of my adult years in New York absorbing all kinds of music.

Yeah, location is key, and working with different people in different locations is interesting as well. Chicago has its completely separate vibe, and then I have my whole crew in L.A. who are the polar opposite of New York cats. They’re just beautiful. The people I’m actually very close to there, I’m more in that steez. They get their work done, but they’re also more mellow. They’re not overwhelmed with anxiety and stay up all night. With Spain, that’s more like home. Like half my family is from there, and my friends there are like family.

The reason Barcelona is my favorite place is because I can be locked up in my studio there, but I can be like, yo, I wanna walk to the beach, sit, and actually have that freedom to think. I actually do want to look at the sea, and I actually do want to enjoy the weather. I’m not overwhelmed by business things. Other than my son, there’s absolutely no reason and no desire for me to stay in New York and pay this level of rent, and be in this sort of entrapment that I feel when I’m here. I get really closed in. Despite my friends, who I love here, very much, and the music they make. Everything going on here is exciting. But it’s more exciting at a distance.

TH: But if you didn’t have your experience living in New York, could you make the Prefuse 73 albums? Would it be the same thing?

GSH: Who’s to say? That’s speculative because I lived in New York before I started the first one, came back, you know, there was always a flip-flop between different locations. It always took on different shapes and forms, but alls I know is that, contrary to some opinions of what the best and worst thing is, when you take a journey on a career and you keep it going, you constantly question yourself. I say this many times, and truly stand behind it: Running from your own clichés is one of the main things you want to try to do with your music. You want to maintain certain aspects of the personality in your music for your fans, and not isolate them, but you always want to run from the things that you’ve done, but you know, just grab on to what’s yours, and not let go, because you own it.

It’s something I learned from Tyondai Braxton, and from his dad. He’s like, “the music that you make, make sure that it’s your music and that you own it,” to quote him. But I thought about it, and it was just profound. You made it. You weren’t mimicking anybody, and a lot of times those happy accidents happen, and it becomes yours and it can develop into something. Which is really cool with a lot of bands, not just Prefuse. You just figure out a path, and it kind of opens up a doorway, these accidents. And that’s what, definitely, Prefuse has been based on. It’s been rooted in hip-hop timeline-wise, but always based on accidents. And always based on these sounds that are a mesh between what would be typically considered hip-hop sounds, and then on the other end what could be typically considered some Christian Fennesz-type processing.

TH: Okay, I want to talk about that, because the thing I would say that sets you apart from anyone else, especially as Prefuse, is the structuring. But now you’re talking about everything being based on accidents. When you start making a new Prefuse album, how much of it do you have a plan for beforehand, and how much of it is just reacting to your own spontaneous creativity?

GSH: Every album has had a definitive preconceived concept that I’ve gone for. Like, the first Prefuse record [Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives, 2001] was more loose, you know, naive; sloppy. Nothing was based on production; it was all based on what I could take from hearing that moment in time of mainstream hip-hop doing the whole indie hip-hop transfer/crossover thing, which was cool and really exciting. Even with mainstream hip-hop having a crossover like the Neptunes coming into the whole scene, and what OutKast was doing at the time, it was all really inspiring.

I had to fight a strong reaction during that time, because there were a lot of people who thought that I was desecrating hip-hop. And that was far from the point; I was trying to celebrate it and bring it to the next level. I was just like, “Hey man, we’re kind of in this lockdown.” Like, it was all out of this stereotypical, what people call backpacker hip-hop. Or it’s this Dirty South 16th-note, 32nd-note patterns that are all the same. Template music, I call it. And then I got further into time signatures, and that’s when I just kind of lost my shit. It wasn’t anything vindictive, it was exploration. I wanted to progress from record to record. And you had people who were for it or against it.

I wasn’t out to be as abstract as people were setting me out to be. My first record came from a really simplified place. And it was taken out of context, like, “Oh, it’s so completely fucked up, and it’s abstract, and it belongs instantly to this category.” And it’s like, no. And I would have to fight. I was just so much younger, and so much more willing to see a bad review and be like, “Hey motherfucker, what’d you say? You got it all wrong!” It was so embarrassing. It’s still embarrassing sometimes, if I ever get in the mood to give up feedback to a critic or something. But especially when you’re just starting out and you’re taking everything so damn seriously—not as if you’re not taking your music seriously now; it’s more like your ego doesn’t know how to equate to the music and how to differ it from criticism without it making you totally heated and out of your mind. And I used to go out of my mind a lot on really stupid things concerning music, shows, getting paid.

I mean, I think it’s a normal run for kids that get into things. They think it’s going to be easy. They think that if they get signed, their ass might instantly get wiped. And even if they had a major label deal where they were getting their ass wiped, in the long run, the percentages and everything that panned out I don’t think would really be satisfying. It would be very temporary. And the lifespan of your career would be halted by people in charge of these industry things, these evil empire things. And that’s where everything gets really messed up. And some of these pathetic aspirations that people have to meet a certain pre-set format, in disregard to anybody’s name, I’m saying the mentality is disgusting to me. “I must meet this to be this, to make money. At least to find the in-between, I gotta do this.” It’s like, yes and no, it depends. Is that what you do? Or is this some, like, deep undercover thing where you’re trying to make money?

But at the same time, hey man, I’m on tour, and I’m in the middle of nowhere, yet there’s this Starbucks drive-through where I can get awake and stay awake and abuse coffee. I don’t want to drink waffle house or gas station coffee because it might not taste as good. I mean, I know what kind of evil empire Starbucks is, and what I could be contributing to. But it’s just like the ideals when you get older obviously come down, because mine used to be like this [indicates a level just above his head]. I had a manager that was like, “So, I talked to them. They’re picking you up in a limo. You just produce this person’s album—easy—spend four weeks in London just doing your thing, and it’s over.” That was at a time when I was so far up my own ass that I would just let these things pass me by. Because that’s not the same thing I was talking about where you’re taking your personal music to a place where you’re just trying to turn dollars; where you’re just trying to flip money. That’s cool in a sense, but the integrity of what you do shouldn’t change.

Let’s flip this whole thing up. Let’s say I’m speaking of it in a current sense. Because it’s kind of funny how people are chasing the dollar so hard, and it’s like now is the perfect time to start this whole musical revolution. Because yo, the well is empty, so the mind flood and the flow of your ideas should just combust. What comes out of you should just be so free and open; it would be great to hear more people do that. I’d love to hear a lot of people that I already love just go completely crazy with it, you know? And I think a lot of people do. Because of the situation, it’s putting a lot music in a lot of people’s own hands. And it’s making people make a lot more independent decisions of their own.

TH: But the thing is, you’re kind of having your cake and eating it to. You’re staying true to your ideals and you’re making a living.

GSH: Yeah, it’s easy for people to be like, “Listen to him talk when he’s making a living!” And it’s really not what people interpret as making a living. It’s really hard for me to go on camera and say that every label has their limitations that have changed, like what they can do as far as spending. But I will state for myself that, besides the necessary expenses, I have to find outside things to bring in and do to support myself, and to support my son each month. I gotta move out of this place to a cheaper spot, you know, and that’s all good. So what? It’s always good to get humbled by something. You don’t have to be a defeatist against yourself and just be like, “Aww, fuck! I give up!” It’s like, that shit should just spawn new ideas and new ways to reconfigure your operation.

I remember maybe at an all-time high of making money with music, it really just amounted to my next record getting done efficiently; being able to pull off paying what I had to pay in rent, which has to be a room big enough to hold my studio. I still had junk everywhere, but I love it; that just gives me more options. I’d love to have a separate space and all that, but living within your means is what it’s all about, and keeping yourself limited is also a good thing. You gotta keep your priorities in check.

TH: Let’s go back to album concepts. Maybe the most interesting one for Prefuse was Interregnums, the companion disc to your fifth full length, Preparations. Because, outside of that, Prefuse is mostly about the beats. And then that’s not at all what Interregnums is about.

GSH: Yeah, I think that whole thing was just a test of myself, to see if I could compose with the MPC that way, without it sounding like a pre-composition. The thing with that was, as I made each beat, I was making these—the only way I could consider them would be these sort of modern classical versions, by using classical samples, but doing it on the MPC rather than notating it and then getting somebody to replay it. That would have been cool too, but that would have been definitely out of my budget. And man, there’s millions and millions of outtakes of different versions of them; I would start the classical version first, and then mimic that with the beat side, or vice versa. And that was just as—if not more—labor intensive than anything else I’ve done.

But the sad thing about that record that I think is a tragedy, as far as the way that record was perceived, is that second CD didn’t go out with the press. Just the beat side did. So I’m going on the whole side of the Europe-Japan press tour having to explain that there’s this missing CD and this missing component to what this record is, and how the progression of this relates to the last one. And I thought that was a really cool place for me to take it. And I believe that you take it or leave it. It’s either you like it, or you just don’t listen to it. But for me, I enjoy it more. The genuine concept that was there, I guess was pretty heavy and pretty long-winded, but interesting.

TH: And in the end you didn’t keep going down that road. On the new record [Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian, 2009] the beats are back.

GSH: Yeah, it’s still rooted in hip-hop—it’s rooted on beats, and strange beats, strange time signatures, and these analog sounds. But it’s actually supposed to be, like, a tape record. The snares aren’t banging like any of my other stuff, the kicks aren’t banging; that wasn’t the point. Actually, I wanted the whole thing to be one continuous piece called Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian. But, due to the fact that it’s on a label, you have to index songs and separate them and have them on iTunes for download. It’s something that I was told to do, and I did. It’s not a bad compromise; it’s something that you just agree on. But, at the same time, I feel like it confuses people. It makes people think that you have these 30-second songs that don’t go anywhere, when they’re really parts of a continuum. You’ll hear how things are reoccurring. You’ll hear the same sounds come up throughout the album. It wasn’t supposed to be broken up like it is.

And it’s completely based on that ever-changing landscape of sound. There’s always these breakdowns, these upward and downward moments, rather than there just being crescendo beats—I’ve done that, and I can do it again, and again, and again. I just decided to do something different, and not these certain structures and formulas that I’ve already hit on. It’s like, let me just depart from that for a minute. And, you know, it’s not the end of the world, man. It’s just a record. Just music. I was doing an interview yesterday where the guy was like, “Well, for this to be just one long piece, parts are brash, they just change!” Yeah man, like, you ever listen to punk rock? Brash moments do happen. And I’m sorry for that, but it’s still a continuum-type record.

And I think that’s the confusion of it all. They’re like, “this guy’s trying to be like J-Dilla!” And it’s like, no, I’m not trying to be J-Dilla. “This guy’s trying to be MadLib.” No, not that either. It’s not me trying to be somebody. If I was just trying to make a beat tape, you could refer to Extinguished, which was more songs in a less amount of time that was treated completely different. And that was completed in 2002. This record is obviously more of an ode to tape music and interwoven prog processes. The indexes and IDs, all that stuff is irrelevant. I guess somebody was searching for a single on there, but I certainly wasn’t. This was a record that I put a lot of labor into, and so did the person that helped me out, my boy Roberto Lange. For it to be written off as something that it isn’t is a bummer, but what are you going to do?

TH: I don’t know that it’s being written off, though. Most of the reviews I’ve read so far have been positive.

GSH: No, I’ve been amazed. I’m surprised that cats actually responded to it, because its quite different compared to a lot of the things that cats are up on right now, and would probably expect me to make—which is a very sterile, sort of clear digital recordings. And, you know, I love all of that stuff too, I’m not opposed to it in any way; it’s just that a lot of the programs that you make that on can simply do it for you. And a lot of this stuff on the record is a completely different process. You know, you’re not using things from computer presets. It’s just a whole different thing.

TH: It seems to me you’re thinking a lot more about just pure sound than usual, especially with the use of analog Ampex tape to record it.

GSH: Yeah. It’s just me being really nerdy and listening to these tape records, these weird throwback Nonesuch records. I’m the first to go to the old experimental music section and just buy all the dollar records that nobody buys. And everybody’s like, “Pfft, what are you buying? Oh, I got that, it’s so boring.” But you listen to it, and you’re like: What is going on? Because those records are like, one minute will be this beautiful kind of composed piece, and all of a sudden swoosh. And it’s so random. And it all came together.

TH: What are you buying when you empty out those bins in the experimental section? Are you literally just picking up anything you can?

GSH: Here’s my method; I have two. One is going to stores that have vinyl and used records. There, I’m self sufficient. I’m left alone and I’m there for way too long, digging for cheap things, but things that nobody would buy. Like, the children of Spanish Harlem would make street sounds, this musique concrète—these really rare random records. And they’re a dollar, because nobody’s going to buy it. Who’s going to buy it? Who’s going to go to some place with all these funk 45s and all this really banging stuff, and go and buy that record? Me. That Prefuse dude, he’ll be the one that’ll buy it. And I’ll probably buy like five records and leave the place with like 10 bucks spent while everybody else just blew their load.

Whereas, the other technique is I’ll go to a place like Other Music where I have friends that work who know my tastes to a T. They’re like, “Okay, well, he obviously loves this sort of beautiful, weird modern classical music—Morton Feldman, Meredith Monk-type stuff, Julie Tippetts. He likes throwback folk stuff a lot, the harmonies, these rarities which are just really beautifully written and composed and ahead of their time.” And so basically I can go into a store and tell my friends, “You know what I like.” But its usually never electronic records, because I don’t know what new ones I’m supposed to buy, unless its somebody I’ve been buying, like a Christian Fennesz-type person, or somebody that’s sort of a go-to for me. Cause I don’t know what is particularly cool.

TH: You mentioned Meredith Monk and Julie Tippetts, two women known for their vocal work. Vocals are kind of in everything you do—not only the samples in Prefuse, but also the vocals in Savath y Savalas. And now you’re doing Diamond Watch Wrists, and you’re doing all the singing. I would say that it would appear all along that vocals are something totally integral to what you do, but this is your first record with just you in front of the mic.

GSH: That goes back to Savath. Eva has such a strange range; it’s so beautiful, but her voice is what it is. So I would sing her mega-low parts, and her high parts; nobody knew where I was at when I was singing with Savath y Savalas. So I was getting away with singing, but I was sort of building myself up confidence-wise, and in the meantime I was writing things by myself, and they just started to stack. And through the encouragement of friends like Ty Braxton, I started to use different ranges of my voice that I hadn’t tapped into. The ones that I just did for Ice Capped at Both Ends with Zach, I would consider the embryo record, the one that’s sort of the intro to it all. We’re just about to start recording our next batch that I’ve stockpiled, which are way more stepped up. There’s 22 of them, so we have to weed through those and figure out which ones we’re going to do.

TH: Something that’s interesting about both Savath and Diamond Watch Wrists is the amount of vocal harmony you’re using. And, well, if you delineated all musical factors and pressed me to say what’s the most different from beats and rhythm, I’d say harmony. But that seems like it’s totally your thing too.

GSH: I think it’s just something that I was always attracted to. The stuff I would hear as a kid with my mom: some Crosby, Stills & Nash-type stuff, Fleetwood Mac-type stuff, where it all comes in on a crescendo, harmony-style. Or in hip-hop, everybody would do their hook together and there would be a harmony in there of some kind. And it sort of just turned into absolute chaos when I got into all that psychedelic folk stuff, around 2000. Instead of going to the psych section at the record store, I’d always end up with like this overblown prog record—just too many solos. Then I just started hitting up the folk sections and going, “Whooooooah.” And then came all the Spanish and Tropicalia stuff, and the rare stuff that Eva was showing me. And I’m like, “That’s a man? I want to try to do that too!”

And then it becomes one of these things where you work on these harmonies, and you’re not so concentrated on whether they work in an academic sense or not because you get into all this other stuff—hearing strange dissonant things like Julie Tippetts and Meredith Monk—and you’re like, “This is actually cool against this. And it’s creating this dissonant effect.” So it became interesting, and I’ve been using that as the main means for Diamond Watch Wrists. I think I’ve been working on promoting that since December, since everything was done and mastered. All of these releases coming out at the same time right now is purely coincidental. They were all finished at different times, so they just piled up on top of each other and just turned into complete bombardment for me. Since February, I’ve been speaking on behalf of Eva, Roberto, and Zach, and anybody else involved in any of these four projects. And it’s just been crazy.

TH: It’s like this multi-headed beast, where your individual projects are totally focused, but you yourself are all over the place, project-wise, even though you’re primarily known for Prefuse.

GSH: Well, you’re right, I’m stigmatized by Prefuse. I’ve had to come to several points, more often than I’d like to admit, where I’m like, do I need to kill this project out of the necessity to get rid of the stigmas? So all my other projects don’t have to carry the weight of Prefuse? So I don’t have to go back to the “schizophrenic, beat-chopping, frenetic freak” that does this? It just hinders a project, or it sets it up to be something it’s not.

Like, I noticed that the ads that are running right now for Diamond Watch Wrists, it says Prefuse 73 with Zach Hill. It’s like, okay, that leads people to believe that maybe Prefuse 73 is chopping up Zach Hill beats for 45 minutes. Which, to me, doesn’t sound that interesting. Maybe it would 8 years ago, but that’s not what the project is. It’s just Guillermo and Zach making music together. And he’s playing a different way than he normally would be heard playing, and I’m doing different things than I would be used to being heard. And both of us, on that record, there’s tons of parts where we’re just like, [makes low whistling sound]. But at the same time, it’s dope. I mean, we’re happy with it. It’s not like, [declamatorily] “IT’S DOPE.” We’re content with it. We’re like, that’s the beginning of something really, really dope, because we’re showing a type of restraint that we’re not really known for. We’re stigmatized by the opposite, you know, by just going over the top and having ADD.

TH: So is this kind of the point of all of your different identities, to destroy preconceptions of what something might be?

GSH: Yeah, I yearn to destroy the stigmas attached. That’s my goal. I would like everything to be seen as what it is. I mean, these projects come out of the same studio usually, more or less, but it’s not always the same mind. It’s not always the same decision. People are just immediately like, “Oh, well I can hear on this one that this is Savath y Savalas leaking into this Prefuse 73 album,” and it’s like, absolutely not. I’m really open if that’s your opinion, that’s fine. But it wasn’t made that way. It wasn’t made to mimic one of the other projects. I would make sure that I said so. It would probably be like, featuring Savath y Savalas, or featuring Diamond Watch Wrists, or whatever. But unfortunately, just beating that stigma, after this much time, is the hard part. If Prefuse had stopped after the third record, maybe it wouldn’t be a problem.

But you can look at it two ways, man: It’s in your favor and then it’s not in your favor. The longevity of something, and its constant reinvention per album is there. But even if you’re continuing to do different side projects, it always goes back to like, your second album that you released. “He just keeps on trying to do One Word Extinguisher and I just don’t get it.” And you’re like, “What? Wait, wait, no!, wait….” And then what are you going to say? I mean, it’s the written word on a random blog, and why you’re reading it is already just nihilistic. You shouldn’t be doing that.

But like I was saying about the clichés, if I was to make record number three sound the same as the one before it, then after record number three I would be done. And I would have made that decision very happily and moved on. Because I constantly think and have ideas and want to do new things. And I’m blessed and honored to have the ability to sort of engage and do it. Even if it involves getting other people together, I can at least write it out and sort of make it happen, just to hear it done.

TH: In a lot of your liner notes, you give shout outs to people who are trying to progress music. Why is that such a virtue in your life?

GSH: I guess just because I respect the idea of people taking a chance with their music, and taking a chance against what is preconceived of them. And then just taking a complete detour maybe, or just coming with something completely beautiful and out of this world. Those are the things that I live for with past and present music: the whole idea of just change, and just progression, so things don’t stay stagnant; it’s pretty simple.

But things aren’t stagnant. I think right now, because of the state of everything, people are pushed to make their music just even more. I think in the past six months there’s just been an onslaught of good records of all different kinds. Like hearing the new Animal Collective for the first time, and then hearing Abe Vigoda’s newest EP, to hearing all kinds of different music. Grizzly Bear just came with the perfect pop-rock album as far as production and composition in that realm of music. Because I was already sitting there listening to the Department of Eagles record going, “What?” I know I can call out some influence, but that doesn’t matter. They’re taking it somewhere, and it’s really beautiful. I was just, “Okay, um, I think I quit music. For life.” And even Fever Ray, as simple electronically as that is compared to something that I could maybe do that would be more advanced, it doesn’t even matter. She burned what I do to me. I’m completely just shocked. Then there’s this guy Dimitri. He records as Dimlite. And he’s another one of those guys that is completely unsigned, one of the most talented people in the world, and I don’t know what his problem is. It’s just not coming out, and it’s as good as all the stuff I just mentioned. He’s just a brain that—[indicates an exceptionally large cranial capacity]—it’s overwhelming.

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

One thought on “Guillermo Scott Herren: Cut Through the Noise

  1. Pingback: 2tall, DJ Clockwork and Kper present… A Boom Bap Continuum – ABBC samples #4 – Scott Herren on accidents

Comments are closed.