Currently in the midst of a worldwide tour promoting his latest LP 'Dark Red,' we sat down with LA-based producer Shlohmo at the Berlin Festival to talk about Supreme, why he thinks Jay Z's TIDAL is a joke, his beef with major record labels and more.
Since the launch of his collective/label WEDIDIT in 2008, LA-based producer Shlohmo (aka Henry Laufer) has collaborated with the likes of notable talents Jeremih and BANKS, racking up millions of SoundCloud plays in the process thanks to his maverick take on electronic music. Currently promoting his second studio album - the emotionally stark Dark Red - we caught up with Laufer in Berlin to hear his thoughts on everything from his dislike of Jay Z and TIDAL, to when he worked at Supreme, to the “nutsack” designs of Rick Owens.
The music industry and society in general tends to be extremely fixed on labels and categorization when it comes to music. As an artist who fuses a myriad of genres in their music, how do you feel when people dub your sound a certain way?
I feel like people have always tried to categorize me as something and it's usually whatever the buzzword is that year and my music stays the same and then the word changes that year. So I think in the span of my "career" or whatever the fuck you want to call it, I've probably been called like eight different genre names. But that changes depending on who the fuck is calling it and kind've whatever else is happening at the time. I try to not have very much contemporary content for my music. I want it to be a timeless thing so it's really fun when everyone is constantly moving with these new buzzwords and shit and trying to label it.
Like "word of the week?"
Yeah, word of the week shit. And the places that end up coming up with the words end up shitting on the genre of the word that they coined. That's always funny to me, too. But yeah, I don't know, I think the thing that we've ended up saying to like cab drivers is "Oh you in a band, huh?" and we're like "Yeah." But like what do you say? Like what kinda music? To the most basic person we just say like dark electronic music and we play guitar sometimes.
With regards to style, the difference between Dark Red and Bad Vibes is pretty steep. Was this a conscious effort?
It's usually very unconscious. I don't necessarily think about stuff before I make the song, I think it just kinda happens and then all the shit that happens on the track is very much like a gut reaction. Then, thinking about it afterwards, I'm able to kind've piece together some kind of backwards-ass philosophy about it. But usually it's a very instinctual kind of gut thing. It's kind of like "what comes next?" And Bad Vibes, I made that when I was what, like 20? You know it's been a few years. I think I've grown up a bit, seen a little bit more of the world, I don't know.
I think if it didn't change it would be weird, but also at the same time I feel like it isn't that much different. It's definitely more intense, where Bad Vibes is very subtle and subdued. To me they're speaking in the same language but just different tongues. For me it just felt like an addition. Everything is a new journal entry in the big fucking book of shit.
Your work has a rather cinematic feel to it. Would you say that this is accurate? Is there a narrative?
It's usually a visceral or emotional narrative than a written or visual thing. When I'm making music, words are definitely the last thing in my head. I'm definitely just working with feelings and anything else is more of an after thought. I guess when I'm making it there is imagery in my head, but it's all abstract. I want it to be a movement, I want it to go somewhere. I think with music it's kind of an interesting thing, you don't have to be specific and it's very ambiguous and it always gets taken wherever the fuck. I think I definitely do that more than thinking: "Ok, this is a story I'm going to tell and this is the main character." So not it's not like that.
The album is quite heavy and immersive. Did the darkness of the album surface as a result of a personal darkness that you were dealing with while you were recording it?
Yes and no. I was definitely more or less going through a weird time in my life. Nothing crazy. Just a lot of family stuff, health sickness in my family and just a lot of funerals. Not anything particularly abnormal, just life shit. It was one of those fucking years. It's like where a bunch of people die and get sick and it sucks and it just happens all at once. So I moved back to LA and tried to find what's good with myself again and I think music has always been like a kind of unconscious release thing. Sometimes I'm like "OK, like I need to sit here and just meditate (record music)."
You recently had a less then stellar experience with Def Jam Records (regarding the release of your collaborated EP with Jeremih). What's the biggest thing you've learned from that experience?
Do as much shit yourself as possible and don't listen to people with old suits. They all bought them a long time ago and those suits are getting old. Everyone just sends letters to each other and they talk about how to not do stuff. It's kind of the major label way of things. Shelving shit for no reason is beyond me, I really don't understand it. But that being said, have we ever heard anything good about them? [Laughing] "Oh yeah major labels are great, they're so cool, everybody loves them." So yeah it wasn't surprising to me. It was kind of like "Oh classic." It wasn't detrimental, but you know I wish them all the best and they still put out all my favorite music from the past 30 years. But, you know, it's a very different company now than it used to be. They all are. The world is a very different place for music than it used to be and it's much more vulture-ish because money is scarce, or more scarce than it was, and they're feeling it. So they fucking know what it is.
At the same time, why wouldn't you wanna make money off of this easy record to make money off of? We just want to put it out. Ya'll can make money from it. So that's the situation I guess. I couldn't really tell you why, honestly.
If I learned anything, it was "Get the fuck outta there!" But also I don't want to get people confused. Major label artists are a part of the major label or that music is part of the music industry or vice versa. The music industry has almost nothing to do with music, it's just the exploitation process of such, and major label artists are smart people that are getting the most bang for their buck. But there is never any shade that way, working with Jeremih was really great. A lot of people ask me, "Oh you don't wanna do major label again?" It's not like that. I would just rather not have to talk to their bosses.
Do you believe they're a necessary evil?
No. I do not believe that they are necessary and I do not believe that we need them, especially with the Internet. I don't think that people ever really needed them, but there was a time when people would ask, "How are you ever gonna get found?" There's no Internet, you can't just make your Bandcamp and hope someone finds it, you have to play shows and be a local fucking hero. We have this thing called vinyl and we are the ones who press it, but now...what the fuck are they here for? To force you to share all their assets with them and use your shit to make them and their bosses money without very much return other than fame. I mean a lot of people give a fuck, but I don't fucking care. I would rather be rich than fucking famous. It's just a co-sign at the moment, everything crashes and burns anyway.
What are your thoughts on TIDAL?
I just found out about it from my friend telling me they stole a Haxan Cloak song. Maybe not stole it, but it sounded something similar or exactly the same. So I thought that was kind of funny. "Power to the artist!" and the first thing they did was jack another artist's song.
I never liked Jay Z. I really never cared. Maybe it would've helped if I grew up in New York in 1983. But I didn't and, ugh, it's so uninteresting. It's just another thing. He is so rich. I don't even think he has anything to do with it. Someone made this thing, like an app developer, and was like, "We need a music streaming site, there's none of those" and they were like who should we get and they made a list of 10 people: Justin Bieber, Jay Z, Skrillex, Tiesto, Diplo, etc. They called all of their representatives to see who they could get and where like, "Fuck! Diplo's not down. Fuck! Diddy's not down! Who's left? OK, Jay Z is left. Alright we'll see how much money is left."
You remember the Samsung deal? He's going to do the same shit again. Jay Z's new fucking record that no one bought. I don't have Spotify. I like to own music. I like to know that I have that on a hardrive somewhere, that it's not floating in some corporate space.
You used to work at Supreme, right? In LA?
Yeah. It was mostly with my friend Nick Melons who runs WEDIDIT with me, he was working there for a few years. They called him Bebe Mellon, because we're all like 15. We didn't even realize how cool it was, for us it didn’t have the same stigma yet.
No! 2005 Supreme. It was what it was, in New York, that’s how we knew about it. But outside of New York, no one knew what Supreme was. My parents' house is a few blocks away so I would just start seeing it all the time and it became like the local skate shop. And it was the only place I could get new decks without having to go to Santa Monica or Culver City. So yeah Supreme came around and we had some friends that worked there and Nick [Mellons] started working there and then Nick and his other friend got me a job working the other street.
What is it about streetwear or fashion in general that resonates with you most?
I'm materialistic in a very funny way where it's just so much for myself. I love holding things that I like a lot. It's just something that I have always been fascinated with, textures and objects and styles and aesthetics. I think my parents always used to joke about what I would notice in movies. There first movie I saw was Hook. But yeah I was like "Oh Man did you see like Smeas belt buckle?" and my friends would be like "Dude, what the fuck are you talking about?"
Streetwear just kind of came out of that. Just because of where we were. skateboarding and graffiti and shit. Especially in like 2006. That was like the fucking “hey day” dude. I was just always a skateboarder so it just came hand in hand, graffiti and streetwear and shit.
In design, referencing real life to me is more important than fantasy. It's so not a universal truth at all. To me I'm so much more intrigued by tech shit. Plastic-dipped anything. I've just always wanted to make like military stuff. I'm super into maharishi and people who are really taking language and making it something that’s more street level. That’s very interesting to me, where it's not very streetwear because it's still too expensive. I think that’s about as street level as I get in terms of who I appreciate design wise. Besides that I have always loved what Supreme does. It's just pop art, it’s pop streetwear. It is what it is. They've established this aesthetic where you're expecting the pink yellow green purple and it's somehow punk. It doesn't matter, I love that shit.
I heard you were a big Raf Simons fan.
Yeah, I mean who isn’t? I think it's his thing of doing what I like, of combining this utilitarian, almost militant language to very sleek Belgian and French silhouettes. What's really inspiring to me more than the new stuff is just looking back and being like "Oh 2001, everyone is trying their hardest to just not even be as good as Raf 2001.” It's fucked.
If you look back on those 2000 - 2003 collections, it's like, “What else do you want to make ever?” Those could just be my clothes forever. If had every piece from Raf 2002 I don't think I would ever need to go shopping again for the rest of my life. Everyone is trying to do this image on some fucking bomber jacket in some random location and it's like, “Yo, your location doesn't have any meaning, the image doesn't have any meaning and the jacket doesn't have any meaning and Raf did it like 15 years go. So Fuck off!" [Laughing]. That’s why I think he is king.
What about Rick Owens?
Rick is really crazy to me because I'm a huge fan of him but I don't like his clothes. One of the only Rizzoli books I own is the Rick book. It's so inspiring to me. Even though I really don't like the clothes. At all. Obviously he makes the best bomber jackets in the world. Ever.
This whole LA grunge aesthetic thing. The texture of the leather he uses. The slouch leather. I can respect that everything looks like a giant nutsack. I also love watching the shows. He’s not just sticking up the middle finger, he’s like finding new ways to say the middle finger without people even understanding that you are flipping them off. I think thats what he is doing, which is cool to me.
You started your collective/label WEDIDIT back in high school, how did that come about?
Very naturally.We were just like every high school kid that grew up together, making beats and DJ'ing at all the high school parties. We were the real resident high school party DJs. I think as soon as we graduated from high school we wanted to keep in touch and keep sharing all the shit that we had been making and a chain email felt retarded. We thought, "Why don't we start a blog and keep posting shit for each other?" We all had Myspace music and shit and so through that other people just found out about the blog and we started getting more traffic. It was kind of a huge series of coincidences and we just wanted to keep making stuff.
When did it start to pick up?
It's weird because it's still picking up. It feels weird all the time, I see kids with weird tattoos. I don't have it tattooed on me and there's like kids all over the world. It's not that many yet, but even just one kid, that's crazy to me. That's like one logo that I designed in my room.
Are there any projects you're all working on?
Tory Lanez, he's a rapper/singer from Toronto. Young dude, like 20, 21. We were just like doing a whole tape, and every producer from the crew has a song from him. We've been slowly putting them out online I think me and RL have both produced separate songs from him. It's going to be like a five-track EP to showcase a new friend. This is our crew, but this is our new friend and this is his record that we all worked on. Super excited for that. Some of the tracks are really amazing. He's talented, it's fucked up.
After the tour is over, what's next?
Sleeping! I'm gonna be back home (LA) for like a month and a half or something and then I have to go to Australia and New Zealand, which is going to be fucking rad because I'm going with all my WEDIDIT friends which will be cool. It's the first time we've all done that.
Until then, just really excited to post in the fucking studio. We just have a really great communal studio that we work out of all the time. It's the best friend escape, being back in LA, being in the studio listening to rap music together.
So that's what y'all can look forward to, me being high as shit watching YouTube [Laughing]. I want to make more beats for people and more shit that no one wants to here ever.