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Soundchecking with… Shlohmo

Queuing up to enter Shlohmo’s sold out show at Hackney’s The Laundry, I overheard a debate about the genre of his work. As the conversation got more intense, it led me to think that this is exactly the kind of dialogue that he wants his fans to be having. As an artist, Shlohmo (real name Henry Laufer) refuses to be classified. The music he creates lends itself to a number of different genres; ambient, hip hop, R&B and more – yet the true craft in his work lies in its ability to paint the listener a picture within every moment. These emotional flourishes are reinforced by a strong, uncompromising visual aesthetic not only for his own creations, but that of his record label and collective, WEDIDIT. Before the concert, I caught up with Shlohmo to talk about his upcoming releases both by himself and with Jeremih, reactionary catharsis, and wanting to live as an outsider.


“I’m a perfectionist at being imperfect”


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Planet Notion: So you’re from LA. ‘Bad Vibes’ to me sounds like the sound that typifies that area, kind of like the Brainfeeder crew. Do you think your surroundings influenced that first album?

Shlohmo: Totally. Even before ‘Bad Vibes’ I think I was more influenced by the ‘Low End’ scene. Definitely when I was making ‘Shlomoshun’, I was going to Low End Theory a lot, but when I made ‘Bad Vibes’, I was already living in San Francisco for a year/two years. It kind of felt removed from everything. The SF scene at the time was like, fucking DUBSTEP. It was a really bad, hippie scene; chainsaw shit, a lot of white dreads, a lot of hula hoops and shit. I was like “FUCK THIS” and I just stayed in my room for a long time. I used what I had around me and felt kind of bummed about being there. I guess that’s what happens.

PN: So naturally you revert back to the sounds of home… The first place you started.
Yeah.  It just felt right at the time. It was more of just a hobby so I could feel something while everything sucked.

PN: It was more of a reaction to everything else that was going on around you.
Definitely reactionary. So with that, it was like ‘Fuck the chainsaw shit. I can’t deal. I need something soothing’.

PN: Cathartic from everything else.
Yeah. ‘Bad Vibes’ was really cathartic for me.

PN: So how did the initial link up with Friends Of Friends come about?
Myspace [Laughs]. 2009 – Maybe a few months after I’d released the ‘Shlomoshun’ thing for free on Myspace. Back then it was like, that’s how everybody got together. It was pre-Soundcloud and it wasn’t really oversaturated. There were less than 300 people in this little community. So I put out that EP and Leeor from Friends Of Friends emailed me. We re-released that EP (‘Shlomoshun’) with some new songs on it. I was 19 at the time, so that EP is what it is. We’ll keep it at that. But then we did ‘Bad Vibes’ and a few more EPs and shit.

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PN: I really like how your sound seems to have had a gentle shift with every release. Was there a conscious decision behind that? Or does it just kind of flow?
Nothing is ever conscious. Not to say it’s naïve, or unconscious. Everything is intentional, but I’m not thinking about changing the sound. Everything has to be different…  I never want to do something that’s even the same as the last song I made. I already said it once, I don’t want to say it again.

PN: I’ve always wondered what influences you musicwise. I get a load of different interests. I do kind of get the punk feel of it, in that it’s quite rough and ready and DIY, even though it’s subtle. Is that an influence?
Totally. One of my favourite bands are The Misfits and The Pixies are a huge influence. Also, Memphis rap, like Three Six Mafia. There’s a weird parallel that I can draw from all the music that I really like. There’s a certain sonic quality to it that sounds very real to me.

PN: What I love is that with the southern rap and chopped and screwed stuff, it becomes kind of fuzzy.

PN: Yeah. I love that you’ve got a similar texture and vibe to that, yet it never feels pastiche or anything like that.
I like taking things, removing them from the immediate, putting it in its own space, then building its own context around it. I’m putting it in its own little box.

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PN: The EP with Jeremih, ‘No More’, comes out this month on Def Jam/WEDIDIT. How do you feel releasing on Def Jam?
I never expected any of this. It’s a trip when I go way back. I never even thought of releasing music, like a record. That’s cool enough. Whoever makes that, that’s tight. But then for it to be Def Jam, it’s been something that I’ve been staring at for the past 20 years of my life. It’s fucking rad.

PN: How does it feel knowing that this is probably going to expose your music to a whole new, different crowd of people?
It makes me feel really weird, honestly. I feel weird saying I don’t like it because I know there are a lot of people that would kill for the opportunity, but at the same time “Yo, there are enough people that like my music”.

PN: You said that you were into the small amount of people back in the Myspace days, do you still feel like you want to retain some of that now with your own music?
Totally. Not even necessarily the communal aspect, but there really is a base level audience that you need to sustain a career as an artist. I already have that, and I don’t need any more. I’m not an attention seeker, I’m very much the opposite. So, more exposure makes me more anxious. It makes me wish I had a stupid gimmick mask or something.

PN: So how do you feel selling out a show in London?
That part is fucking cool. Here’s 700/800 people that want to see you and know your music and stuff. There’s just so much exposure and oversaturation that comes with them having to see it every day. Then there’s people that we don’t like. We can definitely agree that everyone who listens to this kind of music is a very like-minded person. I’m not trying to turn anybody’s mind, and I definitely don’t want to attract people that I wouldn’t hang out with. My ideal show is not one that people are trying to get their picture taken at.

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PN: You’ve got such a strong visual aesthetic. How does that come about? Do you sit there and think about how the visuals should be as you’re making music? Or does that go to someone else? I know that SUSBOY does a lot of your visuals.

S: I’m definitely 100% conscious of the visual aspect. I’d say I’m more of a visual person than a musical person. SUSBOY is just our homie that we fuck with on WEDIDIT and he does visuals for shows and shit. All my stuff that I put out is all my art.

PN: I remember when ‘Laid Out’ came out and you dropped the artwork for it, and a lot of people were up in arms about it.
The whole cover is just fucked up. It looks like shit. It’s supposed to look like shit. I did it on a free internet version of fake photoshop. If you look at the bottom of the album, the bottom of the 13 patch is cut moved to the side. I didn’t even realise till it had been printed. Totally wrong. I’m just really influenced by branding and mass manufacturing ending up in shitty places.

PN: I guess it’s anti-major. Everything about those products is very pristine and perfect, and you want yours to be completely unsheened.
Yeah exactly. Someone said to me recently that I’m ‘a perfectionist at being imperfect’. I’d never thought of that before and I think that’s really good.

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PN: That explains it perfectly.  It’s always better to be on the outside looking in than the inside looking out.
I’ve just never ever felt inside. I’ve just always been looking. Observing for a long time.

PN: How did the EP with Jeremih work in the studio?
I’d made a lot of one minute sketches. Then he would pick one and I would build on it. He’d think of a top line while I’m building the beat or something. A lot of it ended up being him laying down everything, or at least as much as he can think of off the top. Then we’d do another take and just stack and stack. Then it would be me at my house with three hours of Jeremih, and it’s all good. So I had to line it up and work out the structure. There’s this quality that all those kind of dudes have. It’s this kind of way that they procure that shit in their heads. It’s the cadence and the drama of the sound. The movement of the words, rather than the words themselves.

PN: That kind of suits your music more though. Your music is more about the moment you’re listening to it.
I was thinking that too. I’ve never really enjoyed lyrics. I think lyrics are really weird. I don’t think  ‘Oh, I’ll try to write a lyric’. UGH. It’s just bullshit. I’ve never really been able to remember lyrics either so it kind of funny. That’s why I really like How To Dress Well. He writes lyrics, but it all gets kind of lost in this room sound. Even how he uses his voice, it means something to him. Whether or not the audience understands it or not is up to them.

PN: The new track (‘No More’), sounded like I could hear distorted guitar drones in it.
That’s actually me being on hold with Equifax. I was trying to cancel their bullshit because they kept charging me. I was on the phone for two hours and I was just recording their awful hold music. So I chopped the shit out of it. It’s all 3 times slowed down and pitched. So all those weird tonal sounds, that’s all Equifax. Everytime I play it I know that’s where it came from and it’s funny.

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PN: With excitement about music comes disappointment too. So what to you sucks about the music industry?

S: Pretty much everything. There’s not a fucking thing that doesn’t suck about it. Everybody is in it for the wrong reasons and there’s less and less people that are not. It’s really hard to find even musicians now that aren’t a suit. Every fucking musician nowadays is a suit. They’re on soundcloud with their ties on, trying to advertise; paying for advertisements on Facebook, trying to get me to like their fucking page and download their EPs and shit. It’s rough and it’s hard to find new music like that.

PN: Do you feel like everyone’s looking for a cosign nowadays?
Everybody is looking for a cosign and a fucking selfie man. Fans are getting crazier and people are trying to make music cool. A&Rs are dumber, it’s weird. People are stealing SO MUCH. I know people have stolen shit forever, but it’s crazy how little you need to credit anybody.

PN: I’m interested on what your position is on that, because effectively you run a record label yourself, but you’re of the internet generation and mindset. How do you feel about illegal downloading and things like that?
I love illegal downloading! (Laughs). I fucking download everything for free. I don’t pay for anything. I will find a way to make money, download my music. My manager will fucking hate me for saying this, but for real, pirate shit. I don’t care. I do it.

PN: None of it really goes to the artist anymore, does it?
It does, but people make money from shows and merch. I’m learning to tour and make clothes for people that want it. It’s just funny, running this label and having a big part of the visual internet language. We didn’t pioneer anything, but we brought about certain visual elements to the people if you know what I’m saying.

- Mitchell Stevens

- Photography: Naina Sethi

Shlohmo & Jeremih’s ‘No More’ EP is released via Def Jam/WEDIDIT this month.

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