Prefuse 73: "If it was up to me, I wouldn't tour at all"
Guillermo Scott Herren is fiddling, shuffling in a chair, twisting from left to right, from a stack of blank CDs to a laptop, pen in hand, scribbling.
“I was supposed to make all these radio mixes, but I am losing track of what sort of mixes I’m making, and I don’t want to give Gilles Peterson, or whatever his name is, a mix full of shit he can’t play on the radio… stuff that’s nasty and…y’know… hang on, one second… I’m scattered as hell.”
He puts everything down, shifts his computer to one side, takes a sip of water from one of two peculiarly large glasses on the desk we’re sat on opposite sides of in a quiet room at Warp HQ. The man better known to DiS readers as Prefuse 73 focuses. Minutes earlier he was venting: we walked into a shitstorm of vitriol aimed the way of a music-cum-lifestyle-cum-fashion magazine that dared to take a pop at a good friend of his, Dan Snaith aka Caribou.
“Did you read it?” he asks? I shake my head – the ‘it’ in this instance a review of Snaith’s Andorra album. “I don’t know what issue it was in – I was just reading it while I was eating my lunch. But that magazine… sheesh.”
But I don’t think you’re meant to take their music reviews all that seriously…
“They do use pseudonyms, they do hide!” he says. “For me, though, I would stalk whoever wrote it. I mean, they didn’t just give it a bad review – they said something like the record was about some bald dude realising their girlfriend was leaving them for their best friend. I was like, WHOA. I would, like, head straight down to their office. I would find out exactly who wrote that shit.”
So you’re not keen on journalists looking beyond the music an artist makes, shifting attentions to aesthetics?
“It’s weird, ‘cause Dan and I, and Four Tet, did this thing for Jockey Slut, and this motherfucker (the journalist) comes on tour, to Boston and New York, and this dude seemed like he wasn’t even into the music in the first place. I read the whole interview – we read it together – and the dude was basically more concerned with… Well, he totally annihilated the way Dan looks, like his appearance. Four Tet, he said was just boring as hell. And about me, he’s like, ‘So this is the dude that creates this futuristic hip-hop? And he’s wearing clothes that are tight and has hair that’s just a gigantic afro mess?’ Like, what the fuck is this guy’s problem. For me, I always question things; like, ‘Wait a minute, when did we piss this man off? Is it ‘cause we didn’t let him ride in the van with us?’.”
On topic: Prefuse 73’s Preparations (review), his latest album for Warp, is out on Monday October 15. It’s very good – a patchwork of sourced sounds and electronic flutters of a heart lying in the innermost shadows of a laptop. It’s hip-hop, but not as you – you being the man buying the Kanye album ‘cause of that maverick Daft Punk ‘sample’ – know it; it’s glitch-riddled but soulful, bursting with spirit but oddly alien. Much like what’s preceded it, then, albeit a step onwards. Everything congeals so much thicker these days; everything feels more organic, less mechanised, like songs are crafted from fallen trees rather than Japanese microchips.
“I don’t actually know how to use computers to make music,” states Scott Herren, immediately dispelling the notion that he’s a geek with one too many cut ‘n’ paste programs on his travel-around flip-up friend. “I can play with iTunes and use my e-mail; I can use Word, but that’s about as qualified as I get. I don’t know how to do anything on a computer right.”
But you can DJ, right? That’s how you started. It’s often – and mostly wrongly – assumed that electronica and hip-hop artists can DJ. I recall El-P telling me he can’t for shit…
“Yeah, I can DJ, and I did start as a DJ. But I got tired of it, really quick. A lot of my friends, to date, are really into DJing, and I do DJ a lot – I fly to DJ shows and back sometimes, like I’m about to go to Brazil, to DJ.”
That’s a bit of a trek just for a date with a mixer and a couple of CD decks…
“It is, but I have a son to think about, y’know, so fuck it if I get tired. I can wing it to some extent, but being ‘on’ for two weeks, answering questions – by the time you get somewhere to DJ it can be like, ‘Oh fuck, people bought tickets to come see me do this… To see me DJ, for an hour’.
“I don’t really play my own stuff – I have kinda invented my own rules for when I DJ, and one of them is not to play too much of my shit, unless it’s a mix tape for the radio or something. If I’m trying to promote something obscure, that I’ll do; but live DJing is a totally different situation. I’ll play anything and everything, and I’m totally not prepared. That’s why I have all these CDs with me – I can’t bring all my vinyl over to Europe. CD decks and a mixer, I’m fine, although a guy who I am DJing with, I told him: ‘Forget the CDs, bring vinyl’. Some people, y’see, expect a certain visual, and you don’t get that with CDs. I am just scared of being so tired I fall onto the decks!”
I guess it’s less of a concern, though, if you mess up through tiredness when DJing – you can replace the needle, or skip to the next track, whatever. Live, though, a mistake sticks, and it’s your material that’s on show. Just how does the Prefuse 73 sound manifest itself live, by the way?
“We have a few electronic tricks, but we’re all musicians first – it’s a live show, and we play within the spectrum of the beats. The secret to the Prefuse live show is taking the beats apart – decisions are made based on what we leave in, what we can’t do live, and what we just leave out. People want to hear the beats, so they’re low in the mix so a drummer can improvise on top. There’s an awesome fight with how we set it up, so that we can get free with it but that the crowd will get the songs.
“There were a lot of people on the last tour expecting a typical hip-hop show, and they left early. I was playing drums through the whole set, alongside another drummer – it was hard as hell, but people saw the live show and were like, ‘What the fuck is this?’, and having it heavy and industrial – that’s what we were into at the moment. We wanted to give people something stunning, something unexpected. We wanted to give people what they wanted, but with a twist, with some different shit.”
There is something of a traditional hip-hop album in the Prefuse catalogue: Surrounded By Silence, released through Warp back in 2005, saw Scott Herren leave his then home town of Barcelona to stay a while in New York, to work with rappers including Beans, Aesop Rock, GZA and the aforementioned El-P. He’s remained in the city since, anchored by commitments to his son and son’s mother.
“I lived in Barcelona for five years, but worked on Surrounded By Silence in New York because it was convenient – everyone I wanted to work with was there – but I got kinda stuck there. I still have a place in Barcelona, but the next thing you know I’ve got the mother of my kid going, ‘Um, I think I’m pregnant… what do you wanna do?’. So that kept me there. But now I want out. I was in Spain five days ago, and that was not a good idea – it hit me over the head: that’s where I want to be. You can walk around Barcelona at 3am and not get fucked over or shot.”
It’s Scott Herren’s parental duties that keep him on the road – a place where he’s clearly not at his happiest. Income’s essential, and touring equals pennies in pockets. But the touring life’s not something he’s keen to pursue indefinitely. An already hectic schedule weighs heavy on his mind, scratching at his neuroses.
“If it was up to me, I wouldn’t tour at all, and just play one-offs and festivals that seem cool, or shows with my friends that’d be like family reunions.” His eyes roll, fingers clench; he’s visibly distressed at the prospect of his upcoming US dates. “Playing night after night, senseless shows in the US in the middle of Bumfuck Nowhere with five people in the audience… to sell three more records? What’s the point? Get in your car, drive to the next biggest city. I only asked to play five shows this time in the US. I’ve ended up with 30. After here I tour the US straight away, and from there it’s Japan and Australia… and I have a son to take care of. His mother’s in a band too, on tour with Blonde Redhead, so things are getting tight. Nobody’s listening to me though, and someone needs to listen to me before I put my foot down and cancel shows. I don’t want to do that, but does anyone in the office want to take care of my kid for a month? Of course not. It’s not their responsibility, but it’s definitely mine, and I want to be a good father. I am way more concerned with my son than being a musician and putting out a good record.”
A noble position, no doubt, but one at odds with the perception, cliché though it is, of a touring life littered with sexual liaisons and hedonistic extravagance. “The funniest thing is that the other day a person that plays with me, DJ Nobody… he doesn’t understand it, but he and the Battles guys were like, ‘We don’t understand it, but the girls come out for Prefuse shows man… what the FUCK’. There have been crazy amounts of girls, and he’s married… and that’s when they come out, right?”
But that’s not for you, at least not anymore?
“I’m not rolling with no crazy 21-year-olds who wanna get crazy, go party and get groupies. I’m done, man. I’m totally unable to be with anybody, I’ve just given up. I am not with my son’s mother –I make a bad boyfriend. I’m too busy, I’m always gone.”
And when you’re gone you generally keep expenses to a minimum, save for a decent hotel to spend the night in after a show, right?
“I do insist on good hotels. That’s my one rock star bad habit. I tour for no money – I usually go on tour to comply with Warp’s wishes, and to make them happy, and to promote the record and make fans happy – but I don’t want to be in any shitholes. Put me in a bling hotel, and I’m gonna be happy. I want to wake up and feel good in the morning, ‘cause you can feel shit on tour. For me that’s worth it. People are like, ‘Yo man, that’s stupid – you’re not gonna come home with any money’. But I don’t want to make money this way – I don’t want to make money as an entertainer. I am a musician, and a producer – I’m not a clown, and if I tour it’s because someone asked me to, not ‘cause I have to go tour.
“Just to be able to have an hour off to watch TV in my hotel, that would be luxury. The hotel I’m in now, though? MAN… I was drinking there, and the guy I was with – he was drunk as shit already – sees something move, and I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s a mouse… thanks for putting me up here’. No New York style rats though.”
You know, in London, you’re always something stupid like only ten feet away from a rat or something? There’re loads of them in this city.
“Really? Oh man, don’t. I can’t stand rats. In New York, where I live right now, you’re always jumping over rats.”
Prefuse 73’s Preparations is out on Monday through Warp. See him on tour here:
14 Dublin The Village with The Field, Hexstatic
15 Leeds Room 237 with Beans
16 London Scala with Chrome Hoof
17 Manchester Academy 2 with Battles, Dirty Projectors
18 Oxford Zodiac with Beans