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Friday, April 3, 2009
Managers beware: Herren hits Japan
By IAN MARTIN
Special to The Japan Times
"That's always been their therapy: to bring it together, at least for themselves, in their own environment and their own space. You know, like flowers and rainbows, beautiful people everywhere, and everything's nice."
Such are the thoughts of Guillermo Scott Herren, the prolific and eclectic musical mastermind behind pioneering electronic hip-hop unit Prefuse 73, as well as his numerous other musical projects, as he considers how artists make sense of the world. It's a nice image, but he knows nothing's that simple.
"Then you get out of the studio and, oh hell, everybody's losing jobs left and right, and it's just insanity."
For Herren, the way he deals with that insanity and maintains his focus is though music. As he explains, "It's the only place where a collected thought can actually happen. On the other hand, if we go to a bar and start talking and having a beer, the topics are gonna flip every five seconds. Music brings that all together into one place."
Sure enough, when the Atlanta, Georgia-raised artist talks, he skips easily from one topic to another, talking passionately about U.S. politics ("It's amazing how much of a mess Bush has left the place in."), gay marriage ("It's funny, the idea that homosexuality is something that needs to be deliberated and regulated by officials.") and the embargo on Cuba that currently keeps him cut off from his Irish/Cuban mother's side of the family ("It's something that Obama talked a lot about early in his campaign, so I'm optimistic they'll do something about that.").
It's tempting to see this tendency reflected in the intensity of his musical output, with April this year seeing the release in Japan of no less than four new CDs, including two from Prefuse 73 and one each from the groups Savath y Savalas and Diamond Watch Wrists.
Herren admits that his work rate sometimes causes problems: "Managers are scared to work with me now," he explains, "because of having all these records coming out at once, you know. They're like, 'Hell no! You're on overload, there's no way to do this!' "
He then shrugs and points out, "But I do it."
Herren grew up in a single-parent family, mostly in one of the poorer areas of Atlanta. "I had this childhood where I was in the middle," he says, "like the Spanish/Latino in a place like Atlanta, in this dominantly black area, and all the white kids were sort of weird and trashy, like in the movie 'Gummo' (Harmony Korine, 1997)." As a result of this background, he concludes, "I didn't fit in their world, so I just sat in my own world. So I had a lot of cultural awakenings early."
If left in this state, he might easily have just drifted. He credits his mother first of all with introducing him to music: "She was really good at exposing me to this cool sh-t that I would never have seen otherwise. I was this young kid watching these crazy jazz concerts in Atlanta."
More importantly, he says she gave him the self-discipline to see his ideas through to completion. "I grew up playing music from 6 years old," he states, "starting with the violin, going to piano, then all this stuff — I must have played every instrument. But the whole point wasn't really an instrument, it was just the discipline." He claims that having a child of his own has brought this into sharp focus for him.
Of his wide-ranging musical output, Herren explains Prefuse 73, his best-known project, as being "the immediate response to what I grew up on, and having my roots in hip-hop. That was the first music I really responded to and think of as my own, and what it's manifested into."
He claims, however, to be confused by the labels some people have come up with to describe his music. "Its roots are hip-hop and I still hear it as hip-hop," he says. "People have called it so many things over the years. I mean, "glitch-hop," "click-hop," blah, blah, blah. What is that? This isn't even made on a computer!"
He describes Savath y Savalas as being more the collaborative result of the various musicians involved, as well as an exploration of his Catalan father's roots: "When me and Eva (Puyelo Muns, vocalist) started out," he explains, "it was all about, 'How can we make Catalan language sound pretty? How can we sing in Catalan and make just a beautiful song out of it?' "
Of the group's latest member, Roberto C. Lange, Herren goes on to say, "He's from Equador, so we're not going to make him sing in Catalan. So what we've got is a kind of fusion. It's a blend of Latin music, Brazilian Tropicalia, and then all this Spanish psychedelic music that's pretty much all we listen to these days."
The last of his three current projects is Diamond Watch Wrists, a group Herren formed with drummer Zack Hill — "just the sickest drummer" — from the U.S. experimental rock band Hella and featuring vocals from Tyondai Braxton of math-rock group Battles.
"When it started out, it was just so simple," says Herren. "And then Zack came in, and suddenly there's all sorts of crazy stuff happening inside of it."
Considering an upbringing Herren describes as "kind of hippie-ish" and the importance of collaboration with other artists in his work, it's not surprising that his attitude toward music is communal.
"Music should be communal," he firmly states. "Those who treat it as this ego thing and this power to rise up and be this face and this superficial, iconic pop figure and then fall off the face of the Earth, those people just make the wrong decision."
Though he spent a period of time living in Spain, Herren is currently based in New York. As for his immediate future, he talks casually of the daunting prospect of dealing with all his projects without management or tour support.
"We're trying to consolidate all these projects at the moment and take them out on the road," he says. "That's great for everybody, but it means I have to play three shows a night."
More distantly though, Herren has one more dream he would like to pursue. "I'd rather be back in Spain," he says. "There's a little square house, just outside Barcelona, between there and Girona. I'd like to set up one of the rooms and record people there, and give that opportunity to people who don't have access to a studio, or don't have money, or even who don't have a place to live, and just use it as a sort of artists' commune."
As always, he dismisses the challenges of the venture with an easygoing shrug, adding, "It's a dream, but it's something that's not that hard to do."
Prefuse 73, Savath y Savalas and Diamond Watch Wrists release four albums throughout April. The three units will play together in Tokyo sometime in May — keep an eye on www.prefuse73.com for details.