an interview with Shlohmo (on running a label, dealing with others, Flying Lotus, Burzum, Yung Gud, Tidal & more)
LA producer Shlohmo is currently out on a headlining tour in support of his new album Dark Red. The album was a split release with the Matador Records-owned True Panther and Shlohmo's own label WEDIDIT. That tour, with WEDIDIT labelmates Purple and Nick Melons, hit Irving Plaza in NYC on Saturday (4/11). FACT was there and wrote, "Shlohmo and his live band hit the stage bringing a longing gothic romance punctuated by chunky rhythms and melancholy guitar, exhibiting the same energy we heard on his brand new album". We caught up with Shlohmo ahead of his Friday Chicago show, to discuss life on the road, running a label, hip hop, metal, Flying Lotus, future and past collaborations and more.
BV: Congrats on the release of the new album, how's the tour so far? Any stories?
Shlohmo: Oh man, a few things! The first show we did was at SXSW. We played two shows there, the first was at Fader Fort and then the second one-- we did a WEDIDIT showcase (our label). This blacked out girl just jumped up on stage and fell onto a stack of DI inputs. *laughs* Her hands just went only on the DI inputs and pushed them all over and I almost had to throw her off stage. but I composed myself and said "excuse me, can you please leave?" So that was like our second show. That almost got ruined by a drunk girl. Besides that, most of the shows have been pretty good. Nothing too crazy! We've had like three or four tour managers so far on this tour. That's probably the funniest part.
BV: Why so many?
Shlohmo: [laughs] problems, we'll just leave it at that.
BV: You started your label/collective WEDIDIT when you were still in high school, can you tell us a little about that?
Shlohmo: Basically it was me and group of friends. We went to high school together. LA is kind of funny, there's five to ten high schools from which everyone knows each other from. We had a group of friends from all these different schools and everyone we were friends with was kind of a creative person, making music, rapping, or making art. We would hang out and fucking make beats, freestyle. We were kind of the in-house production crew for all our older friends who rapped and stuff. At some point we were just kind of "fuck it, we gotta call the crew something" so it came about organically. It wasn't anything when we started it, we were like 17, and then I guess by the time we started college a bunch of us had started MySpaces (when the music MySpace thing was going). So it was just a big community of people sharing music and stuff. So around that point we started a website that was just a really bad blogspot that was just kind of our own stuff, promoting our own releases. It was a way for us to share with each other more so than other people while we were in colleges and different schools in the country.
When did you first realize that the label had gotten big and somewhat successful?
Honestly it's been a very slow scale process. The first thing that happened was that we were all just releasing music. I got signed to Friends of Friends through MySpace when I was like 19. Shortly after Jasper (Groundislava) got signed to the same label. So I think through them we started thinking maybe this is sort of a real thing. But even then we still didn't have any distribution. We weren't releasing our own thing anywhere else other then Bandcamp and a Blogspot. I think it's in the last two years-- I mean it's crazy-- at the time we were selling out shows at the Echoplex just with our collective. I think the first time we played at the Echoplex and sold it out (just us) was like really special. Like "oh shit this might actually do something". Since then it's been more of a real process of finding distribution, making a real record company and making a real platform and home for other people to come through to get signed and release their music.
Were you a full time student during this time or did you leave college to focus on the label and music?
I dropped out actually, well before any of that. I was in college for only two years. I thought painting, drawing, and printmaking was kind of my thing. I was very much a visual artist - music was just my hobby. So I dropped out on my second year right after I got signed. I think I would have dropped out anyway because I hated school and I realized I didn't want to make a living as a painter *laughs*. It just seemed like a bad scene for me, and I knew I was always going to make art as a hobby, but around that time music was starting to come into play and I thought it was maybe something I could make into a job. After that it was just a lot of me at home alone making [music]. Before Bad Vibes had come out we were still a very baby label trying to do everything. In the two years following that I moved to New York and moved in with Nick Melons, one of my oldest friends. It was around 2011/2012, when we really got to sit down together and brainstorm to make the label what it is now. We [the label] are currently based in LA.
What do you think made your label successful? What makes a label successful in 2015?
Honestly I couldn't fucking tell you! It's just been a lot of strange coincidences. People really like us. It's just come really naturally. Coincidentally people want to hear what we make. I think we've always just had a tendency towards branding and merchandising, which a big creative outlet for me. I've always wanted to build a brand and that's a creative focus of mine. I think that's most important when you're making a brand. To make it an individual thing, make it unique. For me it's just design and packaging and making the whole label feel like it in itself is a character. I think a lot of labels are faceless.
Does physical merchandising play a big role in that?
100%. I think that was always a big goal of ours, to create a brand. Sometime when we were in high school, me and Nick were always working in clothing stores and kind of seeing the back end of all that shit, how it worked. We were always visual artistic people ourselves. We always wanted to do that ourselves. So I think it just translated really easily to this label and the merchandising and the product aspect. It came really easy for us. We wanted to make something unique.
Being an independent artist, do you make most of your revenue touring and selling merchandise?
For me it's pretty much entirely from shows. A lot of the merchandising and product stuff stays in the label. Any money I make through the label I invest back into the label. I don't see WEDIDIT neccesarily as a money making thing for myself. For me, I have my own music career to do what I need to, and WEDIDIT is my baby. I'm going to throw all my money at it *laughs*.
I've heard you're a pretty big Flying Lotus fan, also an LA artist. What did you think of his new album?
I respect him more than most, just in terms of boundary pushing and sound creating. He just opens so many people's minds to new music and what music could be. For me personally, when I first started listening to him in 2008, it really changed my whole ideals behind music. Him and everything he did with Brainfeeder, everyone surrounding him, Samiyam and Ras G. I would say those two were more influential to me than the Lotus records themselves. To me Lotus' early stuff is more inspirational. I have less of a jazz background, so to me that kind of style [on You're Dead] isn't something I'd put on every day.
What have you been listening to lately? Any favorites from this year?
Pretty much all the new music I've been listening to is rap music. I don't really listen to any new rock, metal or electronic. I think the last electronic thing I listened to was Syro (Aphex Twin) which I liked. Mostly I've been listening to a lot of Migos, Chief Keef, Young Thug. Lot's of ignorant shit, you know? *laughs* I'm a fan of outsider art in general. I feel like they're the biggest proprietors of punk, outsider DIY shit right now-- super context driven. Chief Keef, Young Thug, Peewee Longway are like the punkest shit in the world *laughs*
You and Jeremih released No More as a free download on your label's site. What made you guys decide to release it this way? Wasn't there supposed to be a physical release?
It was actually supposed to come out through Def Jam, it was not going to be a WEDIDIT release. We were planning on doing a proper Def Jam release. There were basically just a lot of issues with the company at the time. I can't really speak on most of it. It was a lot of internal reorganization. I think they were firing a lot of people basically and restructuring their entire internal corporate structure while we were trying to get through to everyone to come up with the roll-out release plans. They were being really difficult. Basically after 6 months of on and off silence and not responding and sort of responding, wanting to put it out, not wanting to put it out, they basically came back at us with "We don't have the legal authorization to release this record". Which basically isn't even a real statement. It basically meant we don't want to do it. It was mad confusing to all of us like don't you guys want to make money? Because I'm pretty sure you could. So yeah, nothing ever happened, we were super pissed about it. We were just brainstorming trying to figure out how the fuck we were going to get this thing out, talking to Jeremih's camp everyday-- they wanted to put it out too-- but they were obligated to Def Jam. So we said fuck it, we're going to make a website that's not associated with us that's just going to be a download website for the EP, and it's free, and hopefully we won't get sued-- and we didn't. *laughs*
So what do you think of Jay Z's new streaming service Tidal?
[laughs] It seems pretty fucking stupid to me. I haven't even checked it out, I just heard that they were all like "all the money needs to go to the artist!" and then they ripped the Haxan Cloak song without paying him for the commercial. It's the funniest thing I ever heard *laughs* "All the money needs to go to the artist except the artist that's making music for the commercial!"
Dark Red is a very moody record. There's a very dark vibe flowing throughout the tracks. What inspired that sound? You've said some of your very first releases were kind of reactionary to the music scene around you. Is Dark Red also a reactionary record?
I think everything I do is fairly reactionary, but I don't necessarily think this record was reactionary to other music. I think it was more of a life reaction *laughs*. I wasn't listening to contemporary music when I was making it, other than the obvious rap shit that sounds nothing like it. For this album a lot of the sonic inspiration came from mostly older music. Stuff from the 80s and 90s.
I was listening to a lot of metal. A lot of stoner metal. I've always been a big fan of doom and stoner metal fan. I was more into punk and metal in high school, but I've been revisiting a lot of Electric Wizard, Sleep, and even some Norwegian metal. I love Mayhem as a band, just that they exist, but I can't really listen to thrash/doom metal like that. My favorite shit is when Burzum lost his mind, all the music he made in prison with synthesizers. Again just kind of this weirdo outsider art that holds so much disgusting feeling and context. I think that's a lot of the stuff I was listening to at the time. I was trying to shape something new for myself. All these sounds I was listening to just needed to come together somehow. So less reactionary to contemporary music. I wanted to make something that sounded like it didn't come from today.
Where did you record it? Was it recorded in various locations? On tour?
Pretty much all of it was recorded in my home studio, which is just a little room with a computer and few synthesizers. I kind of always have to lock myself in a room to make an album. It's hard for me to think clearly when I'm in someone else's room or surrounded by other people. Just creatively I need to be alone. I think I just get self conscious when people are around, like I can never be honest with myself or something.
What track are you most proud of on the new record?
Honestly I think the riff on "Buried", the high guitar, is one of my happiest moments. That and "Beams", I'm really happy with Beams. I was trying to make an enormous post rock song [laughs] and I think it worked.
I've noticed your label and album artwork have a very specific aesthetic. Even your live shows have a kind of iconography. What's the story behind those?
The whole WEDIDIT aesthetic is designed by me and Nick. We've always been inspired by bootlegging, like not even fake art. Growing up in LA--and there's kind of the same thing in New York-- there's so many home-run businesses, and just the concept of each business having to create an entire design pallet for themselves, and to create their own entity as a business. It's always funny for me to watch that when people don't know what they're doing. A lot of stuff that we're inspired by is people fucking up unintentionally and making bad designs. Like food trucks that will have a huge picture of a cactus or something but it's completely pixelated and then they'll have text on top of it that's perfectly high res. I think that's the kind of stuff I'm most inspired by visually. Just growing up in LA you see so much bad business art. In a time when everything has the ability to be so perfect, I'm intrigued by things that are intentionally shitty.
This aesthetic seems to be a trend with other artists like Yung Lean as well.
Yeah, big supporter of them. We've definitely fucked with each other [laughs].
Any possible upcoming collaborations with him?
No, no talks about anything. He's just doing his god damn thing! If anything I've talked to Yung Gud kind of often. We've all just played some festivals in Europe this past summer where we met for the first time. We kept meeting at festivals and we'd be the only fools trying to find weed together. [laughs] It's more of a personal friendship than a professional one at this point. But yeah, me and Gud talk every now and then and I think we're going to try make something together, a production collab or something.
Last question. How would you describe your music to someone who's never heard it?
Man, I was trying to describe it to the border officer going into Canada. I was like fuck... you wouldn't like it either way, it's kind of electronic. At this point I would describe the new show as a very electronic, shoegaze, metal show. It's as if Boris and Built to Spill, and Boards of Canada all hung out [laughs]. It's a lot of psychedelic metal, a little bit of shoegaze, post rock and whole lot of electronic and R&B influence.
shlohmo -- 2015 Tour Dates
Thu 04/16/15 The Hoxton Toronto ON w/ Nick Melons, Deebs
Fri 04/17/15 Concord Music Hall Chicago IL *
Sat 04/18/15 The Billiken Club St. Louis MO *
Sun 04/19/15 Vega Lincoln NE *
Wed 04/22/15 Bluebird Theater Denver CO *
Fri 04/24/15 Neumos Seattle WA *
Sat 04/25/15 Celebrities Nightclub Vancouver BC w/ Nick Melons, ROOK MILO
Sun 04/26/15 Branx Portland OR *
Wed 04/29/15 Arcata Theatre Arcata CA *
Thu 04/30/15 The Fillmore San Francisco CA *
Sat 05/02/15 The Catalyst Club Santa Cruz CA *
Sun 05/03/15 Velvet Jones Santa Barbara CA *
Thu 05/07/15 The Fonda Theatre Los Angeles CA
w/ Purple, Nick Melons