Reverse Engineering: A Conversation with Shlohmo

Not everybody is built to be a full-time musician. When I first starting producing, I …

Not everybody is built to be a full-time musician. When I first starting producing, I was only concerned with one thing: I wanted to make a song that I'd like. From a young age, I had been on a journey to discover the perfect artist or style of music, and soon realized that the harder I searched, the more I knew I was never going to find something more authentic to myself than my own material. Hence, I started to make my own music to satisfy this desire instead of trying to find it from other artists. Every musician has a different goal; mine was to make music for myself to enjoy, and with that mentality I had briefly considered making music my full-time profession. That's when I knew that it was not meant for everybody. As soon things started picking up, I realized that a career in music is very different from it being a hobby or a part-time gig. Oftentimes, it was more about how your business is set up, many other uncontrollable variables, and most of all, how much one wants it. I wasn't a very business-minded person (at least not with my own music) nor did I have a team to take care of the non-music side of things; having my eyes opened up to the harsh reality of the business felt very off-putting to me at the time. If I was able to achieve the goal of "making music for myself" as a hobby or part-time thing, I was more than happy to stick with that; anything beyond that was extra.

For many musicians, this isn't the case. Their dreams lie beyond "making a good song"; some want to spread a message, some want the respect, some want to try things beyond bedroom-production, some want to play for an audience, some want to be well-known, some want to be rich, and some want a certain lifestyle that comes along with it. 25-year-old LA producer Shlohmo is one who had started with the "hobby" mentality without following a particular plan at first. Fortunately for this talented individual, things started falling into place after a while. As years passed, what had seemed impossible to achieve before -- like bringing a band to go on tour with him or finally profiting from doing shows -- are now becoming more feasible. We met up with him in his Melrose studio to talk about his growth as a person and as an artist. In our conversation, he revealed to us the amount of grueling behind-the-scenes work outside of making music that was required to make things happen, as well as how the business side of things can take a toll from the fun side of music-making. He also talked about his new album Dark Red, detailing his evolution as an artist and a visionary from his previous projects. Tune in below for an insightful read.

When did you start working on Dark Red?
About two years ago, right after I had finished the music for Laid Out.

When did you know it was going to be a full-length album, and how was the process like?
I knew that’s what I set out to do the whole time. I had stopped working on it and started mastering at the end of last summer, so the process took about a year and a half.

What has changed in your personal life since the last release?
I grew up a lot. I made Bad Vibes when I was 19. I had finished a few more by the time I turned 21. I’m 25 now and it feels like I’ve learned some sh*t. My life is very different now, back then I had just dropped out of college and started realizing that being a musician could be my job, more than something that I did for fun.

How much of it was actually planned?
None; it’s really been a really weird f*cking snowball. It’s been really slow-scale; it started out from literally nothing. The musician life is over-glorified by others -- I drive the same car I drove since high school, I go to this studio that’s covered in ash, I live in a first-floor apartment. I’m leveling up, but it’s as they make it seem.

I understand. Since you’re done with the album now, what do you do before going on tour? How do you spend your days?
It’s the most frustrating part. You tell yourself 'I’m done,' and that’s not really a distinct point in time. You'd think it’s done and weeks go by with little*t doesn’t get done in forever, it’s a really weird thing in itself. 'I have to leave this alone; its done.' Music business-wise is the annoying part; you have to deal with all the sh*t with the press: the planning, the business side of things, which might not be the most fun. It’s a very different medium -- figuring everything out with the press and rollout. It’s a really weird time, a purgatory of sorts. It’s also the first time I’ve had a band. We’re setting things up for this tour and it’s hectic to figure out how to reverse engineer these songs and play these sounds with real instruments. And while dealing with press and the business side of things, it’s just been really hectic.

Why did you incorporate a band this time?
It’s always been my goal to step up, scale up a little bit, but it was never viable financially for me to do so before. I tried it before with Bad Vibes as a one man show -- and it worked -- but it wasn't viable to sustain and to bring that on the road. I wasn’t making enough money per show; it was literally paying to play. Now, years have passed and I’m finally in a situation where I can just barely bring a band on the road and make it work. It’s something I really wanted to do and I think this album translates well.

How much planning was involved?
Getting everyone together to practice is a totally different process than making music. The first step for me is the translation of recorded music. It’s humanly impossible to play all the parts, so it’s hard to break down or “reverse engineer” all of it. I was not classically trained so I don’t know how to read music and know chords and stuff. I’m slowly learning how to read music with this translation process. Technically we can give the transcriptions to an orchestra and they can play out the songs. But when I make music I just make what sounds good together. For the shows, I’m gonna be on a synth, guitar, and sampler -- which does the parts that are impossible to remake live. D33J is our guitarist and synth player; Bill is our recruit on the drums. It was difficult to export drum sound and putting it on the pad, having 12 completely different songs with 12 drum kits of like 20 to 30 samples each. It’s going to be like an electronic metal show. There's going to be a light show, but no visuals other than that though.

What’s your favorite instrument?
I don’t know...drums would be nothing without the bass line. Rhythm section would be mostly everything though. But then I would pick up the guitar and have the most fun, finding patterns to coexist with the bass.

How creatively hands-on are you with video directing?
I try to be really involved. The “Buried” video was the first time I had ever hired a director like, 'hey make this video' and let someone else take the reigns of the vision. He came back with a treatment that was almost like my vision. There was a lot of back and forth edits on the phone, but I wasn’t on the shoot or anything. For “Beams,” my friend Nick Melons found Jack Irv, a kid from New York who does really quick 6-second Vine sh*t like pissing on cars, drawing on sh*t, and running naked on rooftops and sh*t. It’s a feeling. Nick was like asked the guy for some clips, my friend Purple edited it and it all came together in like four days...and it matched the vibe.

What's your plan for the next five years?
I want to slow down in a weird way, not product-wise or with music stuff. I want to slow down in the behind-the-scenes stuff. I want to build a base and sell merchandise. I want to just get in the studio by myself and with others, get a lot more gear, and spend all my money on drum machines.

I know you really like it here in LA. Are there were any other places where you feel like you could get inspired and get some good stuff out?
I loved San Francisco. I love New York -- I lived there for almost 2 years. In terms of cities, I feel like I get it all already...I’m like, I’m straight. It would either have to be Tokyo, or in the middle of nowhere, like a house in Oregon or some sh*t. A lot of places I like gets too cold so I don’t think I can live over there. We get spoiled rotten over here; you don’t realize until you leave.

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