Tell the recorder what you’re doing. “Right now, I’m eating Whole Foods sushi, and I’m currently squeezing fake wasabi out of a wasabi packet,” says Los Angeles native Henry Laufer, half-leaning into the microphone, half-fixed on coaxing out all that the single-serving pouch contains. The 21-year-old producer hadn’t even slunk out of the apartment he’s been crashing at in Manhattan until now, he says, and this is the first thing he’s eaten today. (One should note that it’s 5 p.m.) Is it shrimp tempura? “I think so,” he nods. “I’ve been getting the salmon rolls recently, but I felt like I just had to switch it up a little bit.”
Laufer was 19 and interning at the wonderfully exploratory Dublab radio when his bassed-out weirdo beats were picked up by Friends Of Friends label owner, Leeor Brown. He pieced together his bedroom concoctions using a slap-dash homemade method, presenting Shlohmo, his musical persona, as a happily gluggy explorer of the low end. A number of EPs were released, time passed, and after working on it for just over a year Laufer came up with Bad Vibes, his 14-track debut full-length album, released last week.
The young producer decided to change tack from the beats trainspotters came to know and love, coming up instead with a contemplative exploration of the ideas at the coccyx of the L.A. beat scene. CMJ writer Ari Lipsitz condensed it into something comprehensible: “In between the tape hiss, the nature sounds, the subtle reverb, the sighs, it becomes clear that Bad Vibes has a soul.”
As much as Laufer says his album is personal, Bad Vibes is also stuffed with musical ideas and environmental influences. He’s in favor of Drizzy (“I think Drake is the best thing that ever happened to rap music, and people will hate me for that forever.”), which may account for some of his boyishly emo track titles—”I Can’t See You I’m Dead” and “Your Stupid Face.” He reps Minaj, Lil Wayne and even carries a weird heart-shaped torch for Chris Brown. “His fucking songs are great,” Laufer says. “I don’t give a shit if he doesn’t write ’em. It’s dope. His new album was fucking crack.”
Your album is great but completely not what I’d expected. Have you been getting that comment a lot?
Yes, and I think that’s a good thing, ‘cause I definitely wasn’t trying to make the same stuff. It definitely wasn’t a specifically conscious choice, like, “I’m going to make stuff that sounds like this now.” It just started happening during the recording process. I didn’t even really realize how different it sounded until almost all the way through the recording process of the album. Like, I didn’t realize the difference in sound, but I’m glad because, honestly, I didn’t really like the old stuff.
You didn’t like your old stuff?
No, I thought Leeor [Brown, FoF label owner] was crazy for signing me. I didn’t understand.
What didn’t you like about it?
It just sounds young, sounds like a kid fucking around in his room. And, I mean, that’s what it was. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just that it wasn’t serious.
I read an interview where you mentioned that you wanted to take a kind of new direction with the album, but yet it kind of happened unconsciously from the sound of things. Can you reconcile those two points?
The idea was to record everything. I barely sampled on the other ones either, but it was kind of a regular process of mine, sampling. I was more into making hip-hop and stuff like that, and you know, sampling is a big part of hip-hop, so it was just kind of second nature, but I kind of wanted to stop doing that altogether. And I think when you have sampling in mind as part of the creative process, it just makes it different. Like, even when you’re not sampling, you’re still thinking about creating music like you’re looping something or making a sample, so I kind of wanted to get out of that and write songs. Like, I still don’t write music or know how to do that. I just wanted to make songs, not tracks.
What’s the difference?
I think tracks are loops that fade out. I don’t think any of my tracks faded out, but if they had that general vibe, just something that’s static, that’s kind of the same all the way through. There’s no direction, and it’s just kind of like a static emotion. And I guess I wanted to make something that was a whole idea and thought process, as opposed to one idea or one thought. I’ve always been recording sounds and using weird percussive sounds that I’ve recorded in my room, but I kind of wanted to do that for everything and use my voice, play guitar and stuff like that. So I think that definitely played a part in the difference with the process and the sound.
Was there a sense, when you decided to do away with sample-based music, that there were less constraints in terms of what you could create and the ways you could create it?
Yeah, but at the same time it was also just different. In one aspect, there were less constraints, but in another sense it was like too much. You know how if you throw multiple balls at a dog, they won’t catch any of them? It’s kind of like that.