When visualising what the modern artist represents, Shlohmo is probably the most complete embodiment of the concept. The community he and the rest of WEDIDIT have forged around themselves makes him brutally aware of his impact and the reception to his music, even when he tries to shut it out. And his obsession with managing his projects from their early conception through to their physical distribution gives him a keen awareness of his significant presence within a thrashing crossflow of global musical influences. He’s coming to Australia and NZ with the WEDIDIT crew from July 23 to August 1 thanks to BBE and ACCLAIM. More info on the tour here.
You’ve spoken to us a couple of times over the last few years but last time, it was in October while you were working on Dark Red. You described that album as being entirely your own from production to cover design. Do you think that vision stayed true?
Yeah, completely. In terms of vision, I’m very confused. I don’t know what the fuck is going on. I never really set out with a vision in that sense. But in terms of everything staying my own, one hundred percent. Everything is me. I made all the final calls.
Was that liberating or did you find it straining?
It’s very much both. It’s a lot of work when you’re a weird kind of perfectionist. I need to have a hand in everything from the website design, to the flyer design, to every piece of merch. So when everything is made by me, I’m also the one rendering all the file types and putting them in the fucking Dropbox folder for everyone and communicating with every different person at the different labels and everything else to get every fucking thing done. So in that sense, it’s stressful and a lot more work, but I don’t think I have a choice. In my mind, I don’t think I could do it any other way.
It seems like you thought very deeply about how to make the album identifiably lo-fi without falling back on the tropes of a lower fidelity sound. Instead, there’s an atmospheric approach that makes it unique yet identifiable. How did you approach creating that?
That’s a hard question. It’s kind of a gut feeling so this is difficult to explain. Certain sounds, to me, are referential without necessarily being garish or nearing cliché. There’s maybe a certain point in time where the sound was cliché, and now that context or reference has changed since the decade it was cliché and now it’s kind of changed. This is a very esoteric conversation! [Laughs.]
I don’t know. It came out of more a necessity thing at first when I started making music. I was like “I can’t make it sound perfect. The closest I can get is computer perfect, which sucked.” so it was like “Well, I can make things fucked up, so why not do that instead?”. It kind of came out of that when I was young, but I’ve since developed a sense of enjoying that sound and finding a uniqueness out of it. The practice of creating an album is trying to find these fucked up vignettes that I can build off of.
Within those vignettes, your use of repetition is interesting. ‘Ten Days of Falling’ loops almost incessantly while subtly building to this anxious, climactic moment and it feels very similar to listening to a film soundtrack. Are you influenced by music like that?
Oh, totally. A big inspiration for that was also the band Suicide. They were a punk band from New York in the late ‘70s. They were the first drum machine and electronic organ using punk band. It was one guy pressing play on a drum machine and doing rock riffs on an organ while another dude screamed poetry about dystopic America. Yet somehow, it feels like doo-wop. Like you’re listening to a classic ’50s group in some pleasant town or something. The tracks kind of take on this almost trance like element; you kind find the beat but you keep moving and it’s not good, but it’s great. I can’t quite explain it.
Have you listened to the recent album Lost Themes by composer John Carpenter?
No, I haven’t and everyone has been telling me to listen to that new stuff but I haven’t had a chance. A huge inspiration for this album was a lot of the old John Carpenter music. I reference a lot of his old soundtracks when listening to stuff. It’s really interesting, it’s amazing.
You once said “it’s harder for me to make a song than it is to make a texture or an atmosphere”. Do you think Dark Red is a succesful marriage of both?
I would hope so, yeah. I think that’s what I’ve been focusing more on, songmaking. I think these [tracks] are those. There’s melodies on this [album] that get stuck in my head.
I’m not classically trained, so I can’t read or write music, I just do what feels right. When I go back into my music with the band and finding out how to replay all these songs that I made in the first place, it’s interesting to find out that I wrote real songs as I go. Finding out “Oh shit, this is in fucking A minor”, it turns my music into sheet music that I can literally hand to an orchestra and they can then play my album. That’s something I couldn’t do before when my sound was based on mostly textural and atmospheric things. Those things are still a huge sonic factor in my music, but I was just more drawn to the challenge of creating songs. I think I’m getting there.
You recently mentioned in an interview how abrasion is attractive to you and I agreed with your point that what originally attracted people to punk decades ago now exists in rap. You said there was no punk in punk now. Do you think the growing popularity of caustic rap music will distort it in the same way punk was changed?
I stick with what I said. I think new rap music is the new punk, I don’t see punk anymore. People are scared of these motherfuckers, not punks. The same way people were scared of a dude in a leather jacket with a pin through his cheek in 1975 London, people are now scared about some dude walking down the street in True Religion jeans and Air Force 1s. People don’t want to associate with them, they have no idea. Adults don’t get it, kids don’t care, they just want to get high and rap.
Do you know what I mean? That’s Darby Crash now, that’s kids getting high until they fucking die.
There is that sense of aggressive nihilism that’s carried across.
Exactly, that’s exactly what it is. There is only enough awareness to know “fuck everything”.
You’re on the road and doing a lot of press now. How has that affected your creative process?
It’s funny, it’s something that I try to completely not think about when I’m not doing these interviews and also when I’m making music. The most important thing for me is to shut out the idea of people listening. More than critics or talking about my music, shutting out the concept of people buying the music and listening to it in order for me to feel honest in my process.
It’s the same thing with interviews and stuff because it’s made me have to articulate myself and study my own work. Because otherwise, I make the record and I don’t think about it. When I’m doing it, it just happens and it feels good. My inner dialogue isn’t necessarily words, you know?
I think your music is an outright reflection of that. Dark Red is a deeply anxious record, but there’s no words to express that to me, I just feel that way from the melody and texture.
I’m glad that’s what’s felt because it’s definitely what’s going on in here! [Laughs.] That’s incredible.
You used to be scared of flying. Has your growing tour schedule eased that fear in any way?
Yes and no. Every time I get on a plane, there’s always 99% of my brain saying “you’re in a tin can that’s about to go in the sky”, but the other 1% is growing strong saying “it’s all good because the tin can always makes it to the other side”. Xanax helps too.
ACCLAIM Magazine is presenting your Australian tour. You’ve been here a few times. Is there any aspect of the music scene that’s been distinctive to you?
To me, Australia is interesting because of how big electronic music has always been for the last eight years. It seems like the first audience for electronic weirdos came out of Australia. That’s really interesting because I noticed that through the WEDIDIT Google Analytics. I realised half of our fucking following was coming from one place and it was Australia.
I bet your last merch drop reflected that as well.
Completely. It does every time. We see it with our record sales. More than 20% of my vinyl for the last album went straight to Australia as pre-orders, and Australia isn’t 20% of the world! That’s crazy.
What’s amazing to me is how you guys have been able to have such a loud voice. It’s kind of incredible. In the last year of being in America and seeing how everything gets filtered through, the crossover to you guys is really incredible.
23 July Kings Arms Auckland – Tickets
24 July Bodega Wellington – Tickets
25 July Rocket Bar Adelaide – Tickets
26 July Splendour In The Grass Byron Bay – SOLD OUT
30 July The Corner Hotel Melbourne – Tickets
31 July The Metro Theatre Sydney – Tickets
1 August Villa Perth – Tickets