The sound of Prefuse 73 has come to be associated with heavy beats and electronic glitches. But on The Only She Chapters, Guillermo Scott Herren, the man behind the music, rewrote his own audio script. Herren’s eighth full-length release as Prefuse 73 calmed the aggression of the beats and brought in an all-female lineup of guest vocalists, including My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden and Zola Jesus, whose bold interpretations gave a new meaning to the phrase “feminine touch.” The Miami-born, Atlanta-raised artist and producer, now based in Brooklyn, NY, spoke with CMJ about hearing his songs get the orchestral treatment live in Poland last year, the “super nerd” process that went into making the new album and breaking out of the Prefuse box.
How did the collaboration with the Polish Ausko Orchestra happen?
I did a group of work a few years back, and it was released. I think it was more of a limited CD. But it came out. And there are like some interpretations of Prefuse songs done orchestral-ly but all sampled. So I sort of revisited them, made compositions with that orchestra, and it was really cool. It took a long time, but it sort of made every part have a distinct section—like a violin section, a cello section, whatever—and then random sounds. It was cool.
It’s really beautiful stuff.
Yeah, I was very surprised. And the show was cool.
And the tracks that I was listening to, there was cheering at the end, so I’m assuming that was live-taping stuff.
Oh yeah, it was in this abandoned, not abandoned, it was a salt mine at one time. So the acoustics were really interesting. I mean people treated it like it was sort of a, I think the orchestral people were more bugged out that they were clapping after every song. I don’t think that’s appropriate behavior, so they were just kind of like, “Why are you interrupting us?”
Yeah, for the academic set.
What was the crowd size at that show? Was that a one-off performance?
Yeah, it was a one-off. I don’t know though … whatever the capacity is of a salt mine?
Normal salt-mine capacity. Did those live tracks come out as a full LP?
It will come out. I worked on mixing it after the fact, just to make things more level because there are people’s feet [shuffles his feet] and so many mics on every instrument. I sort of had to revisit it. But that was cool too, mixing my first classical record.
When will that come out?
No set date really. It’s definitely for release, but I have no idea. I’m kind of behind on this release.
I think that’s fair.
Yeah, I’ve just been working on so much other shit, I’m just kind of like, for the first time, this might be the first record where I’m just like, letting things play out.
What was it like hearing your music put through this classical filter?
It was pretty amazing. I don’t know any other words to describe it besides, one, flattering that people actually were clapping and getting into it. The few that could catch on to what song it was, you know, reinterpreted, that was just kind of cool to see. I had to hold back some emotion right there in the live setting. And the conductor was really cool. I really liked that dude. He rocked a do-rag. Like at the rehearsals, in the total academic environment where they were practicing, he’d rock a do-rag. Like this big Polish dude who was super gay and fresh, and when we played he was wearing a suit and still rocking the do-rag. It was so gangster. I was like, wow.
Did that whole experience trigger the approach you took on The Only She Chapters?
I think it sort of coincided. During the time that I was reinterpreting those compositions was when I was working on the back end of the record. It did definitely have an overlapping effect, but I was sort of in the vocal stage while I was doing that simultaneously.
Why did you want to change your approach on this album?
I wanted to get outside of the box of just being a beat-maker or making beats. And just exploring different avenues and different ways of producing, making sounds out of really strange methods of recording everything acoustically as opposed to working in the electronic realm.
Does that give you a totally different vibe?
Definitely, because half of it is process, which is really cool, and then you get the satisfaction of actually making a sound that’s yours. You get to hear it back and mold it. And the songs sort of took shape out of the vibration and the recordings that were made. So it was just like, how can I record an acoustic guitar completely backwards? Just attach, you know, contact mics to it, like you would do with a violin if you played. And then record it the normal way. And then create this, more of a vibration or a reminiscent tone or like a—you know like the faded memory of the sound of a guitar? It’s like there, but it’s not there. And then it’s just building this sort of tapestry of sound. It was cool. I mean, it was super nerd, it was a super nerdy process. I don’t know how interesting that is to your readers. And then you have like the other side of what people are used to with Prefuse music. You know, “OK, he’s gonna do some beats. It’s gonna be like his signature style, chopping up the shit out of samples,” and I just wanted to get out of that sort of confine.
Prefuse 73 ‘The Only She Chapters’ Album Sampler by Warp Records
How did you decide to make The Only She Chapters a female-centric project in terms of vocals and theme?
I thought that the actual songs-slash-compositions, however you interpret it, when they took shape and started to sound a certain way, it made more sense for there to be a consistent thread of female voices versus me just going “I need guests, I need guests to sell this record.” Instead of an idea of getting like … who knows … I’m trying to find an example. I don’t think a male voice would, I mean it could work, I just think that the consistency of it as an album made a lot more sense to me, especially the amount of time I worked on these songs, for it to be female based. The songs sounded really, they had a more feminine touch, so to speak. I’m not trying to stereotype or anything like that the other gender at all. I’m trying to say like, it seemed way more feminine especially in a juxtaposition to how Prefuse tracks sound previously and how they’re made. It had a much more like, eh, not all the time gentle, just different sort of aspect to it. It didn’t seem like a dude needed to be screaming on top.
What were you looking for in your female vocalists?
I chose the people based on them being completely different sort of voices. They’re all very different. I wasn’t trying to go for a certain consistency as far as them being lyricists or vocalists or whatever. It was more like, who’s the polar opposite of Zola Jesus? That would be Shara [Worden] from My Brightest Diamond. But the method and the whole process of making it, it sort of made sense because everyone was treated the same in the process. But the people are just so spread out and different. To get the same sort of singer, it might be more predictable. Have to do something to …
Shake it up?
Yeah, have to shake it up a little bit.
Where were you guys recording?
Sometimes in my studio, sometimes other studios. Shara recorded her stuff on her own five days before she had a kid. And it’s a whole linear song about her life. Like the track that everybody is downloading is this pre-maternal, like she’s about to give birth to this kid and she just completely almost freestyled this song from her inception to, whatever, the end, like she’s being carried away dead. She killed it. I was just like, when she told me the concept, “OK, I came up with something, it’s just my mind thinking, but here it is,” and gave me like a sketch, I’m like, holy shit, that’s more than I could ask for. That’s super sick. But everybody that I collabed with on this was super respectful and down to do this as a project, as a concept. And it seems as if they got it, you know, nobody was like, “Dude, this is not the Prefuse that I like.” [laughs] You know, “This sucks. I thought it was going to be over this boom-bat beat. I’m pissed.” It’s like, well, that’s just not what happened on this one.