The shuffler: Guillermo Scott Herren, producer and musician behind three new projects with new albums: Prefuse 73, whose Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian is out on Warp, which also recently issued Ice Capped At Both Ends by Diamond Watch Wrists, Herren’s project with Hella’s Zach Hill. Finally, there’s Savath Y Savalas, a Latin-tinged singer-songwriter project with vocalist Eva Puyuelo; the group released the new La Llama on Stones Throw.
Unicorn, “Don’t Give Up Trying”
Guillermo Scott Herren: I’ve never hit shuffle before. I usually just go by the playlist. Oh wait—this [menu] is alphabetical by songs. I’m always on the other page. Okay, here we go: This is a band called Unicorn from an album called Uphill All The Way, and the song is called “Don’t Give Up Trying.” I think I bought it on a reissue. It’s sort of a pop band from, I suppose, the ’60s; I don’t know their history. The song [title] says it all. It happens to be a pretty uplifting song. I have so many of these random things in my iPod; that it remembers this one is cool. I’ve played it a lot. I think I’ve put it on compilations, but I don’t listen to the entire album that much.
The A.V. Club: How do you feel about other people picking your albums apart like that? Do you prefer that people listen to them from beginning to end?
GSH: The newest Prefuse 73 album is something in itself. It should be listened to from the beginning, despite various opinions that I’ve run into, even people that totally dig it. I’m always going to run into the opinion of, “I wish this would turn into a song and go somewhere.” If I wanted the song to run longer than 30 seconds… the album would be crushed. It would be overkill.
Jameson, “Windows And Doors”
GSH: This is from an album called Color Him In. I don’t know much about the dude; I’m not historically familiar with what he did. From what I’ve been told about him, he went out of his mind and never made a record again. There’s a song called “Look At The Dawn” on it—kind of throwback psych. It’s more soulful than that, though. It’s one of those things I checked out. Ava from Savath Y Savalas was laughing that I had it. She knew more about it than I did.
AVC: How do you find out about music? Through friends, or from going record-shopping?
GSH: Probably. My friends who work at [New York record store] Other Music know my taste really well; they know what to hand me. It could have been somebody that was like, “This album’s the shit.” I trust my friends’ advice over my own. If I walk into the store, if I happen to have money on me, I’ll buy anything that looks interesting.
AVC: Do you trust your friends’ advice and opinions when it comes to making music, or just buying it?
GSH: Just listening to it. What has always come from me in output has been based on the indirect influence of what I listen to, but a lot of it is different from each other stylistically. Being in a record store isn’t that fun. I’ll be in there an hour; I just take way too long. Sometimes I need some help in the record store. As far as my own music goes, it’s good to be able to play things back-to-back. Not when I’m making an album; I don’t want other music from any era to obstruct the view.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy, “You Don’t Love Me”
GSH: It’s from his newest album. I’m just now getting familiar with this album, but I’m a longtime fan. The bass player in my touring band tours with him as well, so that definitely kind of turned me onto him. I’d never paid attention to [Will Oldham]—it wasn’t anything I was against. I think my friend Katherine told me about one album. I think it was four albums ago. I’ve gotten every one since.
AVC: How do you hire musicians for tours?
GSH: I don’t really hire anybody. It could be anything from whom I’m actually working with in a studio situation. The bass player, for instance—his name is Joshua Abrams—he was the Roots’ first bass player. He plays in various free-jazz ensembles. I’m very unfamiliar with the modern free-jazz [musicians] he plays with, but we’ve become pretty close friends. I met him in Chicago recording the third Savath Y Savalas album.
DJ Screw, “Screw You Haters (Side B6)”
AVC: This is interesting. It’s a slowed-down rap remix, not dissimilar to what you do in terms of warping hip-hop.
GSH: That whole aspect of making music and editing is just as important as everything else. People like [DJ Screw] made a living off making cassettes when people were making CDs. Some people might not like it or be able to sit through it, but my mind can definitely go into that mode—a lot of time spent in Atlanta, places like that. You’re gonna hear all that, you’re gonna be exposed to all that firsthand. It’s not mysterious, but being introduced to it—cats who have versions of their albums chopped and screwed, they’ve been doing that for a long time. You’re hearing the music in a totally different way [under those circumstances]. The particular way they cut and do doubles of it is fascinating to me.
Bon Iver, “Blood Bank”
GSH: This is just a random thing for me to be into. I got introduced to it because my friends who did the last round of press shots for me were saying “It’s really, really good.” I bought it, love it, it sounds good—it’s one of those records you can just play a lot. I got the EP when I went to buy it, but I like both.
AVC: Do you see any sort of kinship with him as an artist?
GSH: I could see that, definitely, after the fact. Especially the Savath Y Savalas album for Stones Throw, which was finished a year and a half ago. I could definitely see the attraction to the calm side of music, as much as I’m into crazy, noisy, abrasive stuff. The dude can also sing; he’s got an amazing voice. At first, it’s one of those things you put on, and on the fourth song, he sings with his voice completely modulated. For an album in that style of music, for him to go there and do it really well, it made me go back and say, “This dude is really on some shit. I’m gonna go back and buy his record.” The song I’m referring to is called “Woods.” It’s so beautiful; it’s not a trick or ironic. It’s done really well. If it were a trick or ironic, I wouldn’t like it, but the first time I heard it, I was blown back. It rules.
Dick Annegarn, “Je Te Vois”
GSH: I don’t know if he’s from Brussels—he’s not from Paris or anything, but that’s where he grew up, and from what I know about him, he’s a man with a strong personality in his day. I was introduced to him by The Science Of Sleep; I heard one song and was blown back. A friend had all his albums. They sounded like shit; they were mp3s. I went and got everything from that era, early ’70s up through, like, ’77. He plays guitar—I don’t think I’ve heard anybody play the way he plays. I can’t tell from my perspective; I don’t know French dialects. I thought it was African—not this song, but some of the songs I was hearing, the way the guitar played and tuned, and his voice. It’s crazy; it’s a beautiful thing. Some of the French guys are like, “You like that guy?” And I’m like, “No, it’s all good; I can listen to this guy back-to-back all the time.”
Raphael Saadiq, “Let’s Take a Walk”
GSH: I just tripped on that he went full-fledged with that kind of [throwback R&B] production on [2008’s The Way I See It]. It’s really cool. And then to do that same sort of production and have Jay-Z show up on the album—kinda killing it. I don’t think I’ve got one friend who likes this album. I’m the only one who’s into this record, but I’m really into it. It doesn’t sound gimmicky at all. He’s got a theme he sticks to; from beginning to end, it’s very focused. I can imagine his live show is sick.
AVC: Do you work the way Saadiq did on this album, deliberately choosing a sonic palate and production style to follow for a project or an album?
GSH: Oh yeah. As every record goes along, you come up with a certain idea to follow production-wise within the realm you want to work. The last Prefuse 73 album [2007’s Preparations], I wanted to be analog, hitting tape more, in response to hearing too many beats—not only my own, but everybody I’m hearing beats from, sound too sterile, too digital. There’s not really any personality. I’m like, “I’m even gonna bring down the sound of these kicks and snares.” Sometimes it bangs on its own, and sometime it slides. You always learn something new whenever you’re in the studio.
AVC: You’re in Brooklyn now. You used to live in Barcelona, and before that, Atlanta. Does where you’re living affect the music you’re making?
GSH: Yeah. It’s weird. I lived [in Barcelona] for quite a while, and got a lot done. I have a son, and that’s what made me move back. Now I’m having all kinds of ideas. People ask if Spain has an effect on music, I don’t know—I know Atlanta does. I’ve worked really hard, and the way I lived, I had so much day-to-day stress that doesn’t exist living in New York. It’s a totally different feeling. It didn’t feel as oppressive. I felt I had more freedom, more room to walk, was not so holed up—I feel like I have a million job duties and I need to step back and make music and focus on that, focus on the best father I can be. But also for the sake of my own sanity, making sure things are balanced in my environment so I’m not doing all this administrative work on top of the music. I’m at this point where I feel like this is what I should be doing, instead of spending eight hours a day in front of a computer answering e-mail. That becomes a little bit strenuous.
Recently, I was playing Sonar in New York, and a lot of my friends were like, “You need to gain weight. You’re skinnier than I’ve ever seen you.” They’ve never seen me outside of Spain, and although I was happy to see them, I was a ball of nerves. I feel it used to be way more kicked-back, not as scattered. It’s decision time: What can I do to make things more clear so I can focus?
Linonada, “Pasteles Der Des”
GSH: They have another band, too. I can’t remember the name of the other band. Maybe they’re Argentinean; I don’t know. I guess it’s from the early ’70s. I highly recommend that album. Out of everything I’ve played, that’s the one I’d recommend. It’s self-titled, it’s been reissued really well. It’s a great start-to-finish album. It’s kind of psych-pop stuff, not a difficult listen. It’s really a contrast to some of the other things I just talked about.
AVC: You say they’re two bands at once. Do you have so many projects just to express particular parts of yourself?
GSH: Stylistically, I like to differentiate my music. I wouldn’t mix [the music from separate projects] together. I don’t even know how I would do that. That’s how I always saw things working; I had an idea and stepped to it. I have a big discography, but I’m not prolific—I’m not half the things people say I am. I’m seen as mega-prolific, but it’s just differentiation. Something that involves me and my friends Ava and Roberto in Savath Y Savalas cannot be on a Prefuse 73 record. We can’t call that Prefuse 73; it sounds nothing like it, it’s not how Prefuse 73 was introduced or has progressed. It has to do with the exchange of people being involved as well. It’s nice—I’ll take all the credit you want to give me. But it’s not just me.
I knew from the beginning with my friend Zach Hill, Diamond Watch Wrists, [was] going to get super hated on, the ultimate mixed reviews: “This should be constantly mind-blowing, and not so mellow.” I just read that it’s Prefuse 73’s biggest flop. I don’t even know what Prefuse 73 has to do with it. It’s like two different people.