By Dave Cantor
A few weeks back, Guillermo Scott Herren and Ramble John Krohn played a show in San Francisco after not having performed on the same bill in almost ten years. Hitting the stage, these gentlemen performed as Prefuse 73 and RJD2.
Musically dissimilar, Krohn and Herren have traversed similar paths through adversity, releasing music encompassing an unwieldy range of influence. Herren’s had the good sense to erect various pseudonyms to work under, differentiating his Spanish-language pop constructions under the guise of Savath & Savalas from the production work being released as Prefuse 73. Krohn was simply clobbered after releasing “Third Hand,” a collection of pop songs at odds with his established DJ persona, under the RJD2 banner. Discerning Herren’s various intentions, though, hasn’t insulated the New York-based producer from criticism. But releasing work at the rate he does almost ensures pissing off some of his most dedicated fans.
“Me going down different paths, and maybe alienating my audience, it wasn’t my intention,” Herren says over the phone. “The last record I did [2011’s “The Only She Chapters”], I won’t even call it psychedelic, it’s a palette of sound and frequencies. I flushed it out of my head, and I’ve been reevaluating my own approach to beats.”
With “The Only She Chapters,” Herren dismantles hip-hop, giving it an airy feeling tied to avant-minimalists from the second half of the twentieth century. The work reveals delicate beat production, with “The Only Contact She’s Willing to Give” unfolding slowly enough to allow for pastoral vistas to emerge amid Herren’s glacially developing rhythms. He hasn’t abandoned what made Prefuse 73 a hallmark of millennial music, he’s just gone and expanded his aural spectrum.
Even prior to that 2011 left turn, Herren’s Prefuse project endured misunderstandings and lazy explications in the press. By his third disc, 2005’s “Surrounded by Silence,” song titles like “Expressing Views is Obviously Illegal” began cropping up as the producer was simplified with genre names like IDM and being expected to factory-produce track after identical track. Herren’s response was to issue “Security Screenings” and include a momentary pause called “Illiterate Interlude.”
“That was actually one of my friends who was touring with me at the time,” Herren says. “It was taken off a video tape of him for two hours in traffic just going crazy like that, acting like a redneck, based on a review we just read.”
Thirty seconds of Herren laughing while his buddy asks uninformed questions—repeating himself—and taking on the persona of the most reprehensible journalist on the planet lightens the album’s atmosphere as the odds and sods collection whirs through digitally trembling beats, sans vocal guests.
By 2006, Herren had already established sundry names to work under. And the ensuing years only produced more. Most recently, he’s released a disc under the name Piano Overlord. “Aninha Mission” isn’t too far removed from sounds associated with Prefuse, but the piano and drum tracks amount to a dramatic reduction in production.
“[The name] sounds like a speed-metal band,” Herren says, emphasizing the fact that the recording came out of his daily noodling as opposed to a significant push to reimagine his approach to beat making. “It wasn’t meant to make you mad, but if I did, fuck. It’s cool… It’s understated, I’m not trying to take over the world with Piano Overlord.”
Herren’s forays into pop and other musics, though, couldn’t have properly prepared listeners for “The Only She Chapters,” unless they were actually paying attention. Closing out “Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian,” a 2009 disc, the four minutes of “Formal Dedications” point to the future of Prefuse; there’s a heavy bass figure masked by found sound snippets, shivering pops and fizzles cropping out of the song’s almost indecipherable structure. It’s not free music, but the chaotic element that’s made Prefuse such an enduring product holds the track together while tearing apart preconceptions of what beat music should sound like.
The ideas concluding “Ampexian” become fully realized compositions on Herren’s latest Prefuse offering, but more importantly, the album functions as a therapeutic exercise for the producer. “That record was like taking a shower,” he says. “I had to get the past off of me and go into whatever chapter’s next musically.”
Purportedly, Herren’s set to unloose a set of tunes he’s worked up with Teebs, a SoCal producer affiliated with Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder imprint. The project, Sons of the Morning, won’t be taking the Prefuse moniker to new sonic territory, but the songs are intriguing collaborative terrain. “January Suite,” from the unnamed pending album, whistles with organic sounds as Teebs’ ethereal style washes over drum patterns simple enough to be hip-hop, but broad enough to be backing for a cerebral pop band.
A flurry of new work’s set for the coming year. And only Herren knows where Prefuse 73 will go next. Maybe old will become new again. Or maybe Herren’s explorations haven’t totally satisfied him and future projects are slated to sate his curious nature.
“I started to hit the breaking point, so much has changed,” Herren says. “Let me go way left—I’ll be back. Ya know, I’m not gonna win any Grammys.”
January 25 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 North Lincoln, (773)525-2508, 10pm. $18.