In retrospect, music is meant to connect on a psychological level. It’s a reality that continually gets lost, especially when a genus such as the electronic community is repeatedly subjected to pop stereotypes and, in turn, stripped down to be a playlist for fist pumps. Luckily, there are artists like SHLOHMO. Henry Laufer is formally known as the Cali-born producer responsible for WEDIDIT, but he’s also one of the few composers that regularly chases innovation. He’s helped resurrect “the remix”, worked with the who’s who of Soundcloud, and somehow manages to test his own individuality on the regular.
That’s where Dark Red comes in. His sophomore effort is four years removed from his debut project, Bad Vibes, and while it followed a bout with personal tragedies, it converts that time and place into a visceral mix of ’90s IDM, jungle, R&B, and distorted fuzz. In simpler terms, it’s a natural and expansive collection that truly underlines who Shlohmo really is and why. With Laufer set to reveal his new live setup in April (click for tour info), we caught up with him for a quick update, discussing the new full-length, his past collabs, and how he’ll never give up on making his own “weird shit”.
A lot of people tend to use emotional trauma/loss as a crutch. What motivated you to make your new album, Dark Red, in spite of the recent losses in your life away from music?
I mean… I don’t feel special about it, you know what I mean? If it happens, that’s kind of a constant of life. I wasn’t trying to use it as a crutch or anything; I was just trying to do me and go about my shit and make another record. Obviously it was in my head the whole time during the creative process but it just inevitably came out. It wasn’t something that I necessarily wanted to even talk about, but it kind of became an important aspect of the process of the record. Like what I ended up wanting to talk about.
Has it been a great outlet for you in regards to how you feel?
Music? Hell yeah (laughs). It’s just always been a good thing. Wanting to create anything or make anything that has to do with music is already an easy escape.
I understand you used a lot of your Dad’s old gear from the ’80s on the new record. What piece of equipment did you enjoy experimenting with the most?
There’s actually two pieces and the record couldn’t have been made without either of them. One’s an old Roland Jupiter-6 synthesizer and the other is an old Roland/BOSS RE-20 Space Echo – like the old analog tape one. Basically, this record would not sound the same without that shit.
Did you purposely choose to use that equipment to achieve a certain sound?
It was a combo of both. It was something that was right there as it was passed down to me so it was easy to make the decision to use them (laughs). It was also deliberate in a way as I didn’t want anything to sound clean at all and I think that’s why my Dad passed these on to me.
As history shows, you’ve done a lot of collaborating – whether it’s with Jeremih, Banks, and How To Dress Well. What’s the dynamic like of balancing two different styles?
It never felt like a “thing” – like it never felt like a big change for me. What I listen to everyday sort of varies, so like I’ll listen to a rap mixtape and then put on a Godspeed vinyl. I like a bunch of different shit and when rap music is in its most proper, trite form, it’s one of my favourite things in the world. Like I haven’t even delved into the kind of ignorant rap production that I want to make more stuff out of. And I love pop music too. It’s easy for me to go in both directions because I’m a fan of both worlds.
Did you take anything out of your sessions with Jeremih?
Oh, totally. Whenever you collaborate with someone, you always learn something new – like what you should do next time and how to be better at being in the studio with them and making compromises. It’s all about finding a middle ground where you’re still both being true to your sound and individuality, but also finding a way to meet halfway. Jeremih has a very interesting process of going into the studio without notes and coming up with some melodies in the booth. Like he doesn’t write anything down, so he’ll come out afterwards, listen to a loop over and over again, fill it in with lyrics in his head, and then go back into the booth to record take by take. I’ve done that with him and I’ve also worked with other people who’ll do things in one take. There’s just a lot of different ways people work.
With the way the genre is, people are just lumping all electronic music together so as a producer, how do you avoid the stigma of being “just another laptop guy”?
I think that’s always been the case. EDM is just a new word, or was last year, I don’t know. Literally, like fucking five years ago I would tell people I make electronic music and they’d be like, “Oh cool, like techno?”. Electronic music wasn’t even in the American mainstream or a popular conversation until last year – which is so mind-blowing to think about but it’s true. There’s just a thing with what gets categorized, like people coming up with some new electronic music genre every year, and it’s just a trend that’s associated with business and not music, so I really don’t give a fuck. I’ve never been enticed by that kind of music and in terms of my own production, it’s not something I think about.
Are there any facets of music that you still want to explore later on in your career?
Oh yeah, in every which way. I’m still learning. Like every time I try to make a song or put together a piece of music or make a record, I’ve learned so many fucking new things – whether it’s technically or creatively. I’m still a student of myself and shit (laughs). But right now, I have no idea. I want to do all different types of shit and I’m definitely down to produce for more people, but I’ll never give up on making my own weird shit. Whether it’s music, movies… I’m down for whatever.