Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on August 2009
I’ve wanted to meet Guillermo Scott Herren for ages. Not so much to talk about his music, but simply out of curiosity: on at least half a dozen occasions, Japanese people have thought I was him. When we finally come face to face, his impressive locks are hidden away in an oversized beanie, making it hard to spot much resemblance. The guy’s skinny. He’s got a bit of facial fuzz. He’s white. Near enough.
“People come up to me thinking I’m somebody else in New York,” he says. “I mean, like random people: ‘Hey John, how’re you doing?’” Well, at least the experience is mutual.
This was all back in the spring, when Herren was in Tokyo to promote a triptych of albums that he was about to release: Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian, the latest offering under his Prefuse 73 moniker; La Llama, the fourth album by his electronically altered Catalan folk band, Savath & Savalas; and Ice Capped at Both Ends, the debut release by new project Diamond Watch Wrists. There was also a Japan-only Prefuse 73 album coming up, which played in the background as we spoke, and talk of a Japan tour that would ultimately fail to materialize (though he’ll finally be playing as Prefuse 73 at the Metamorphose festival on September 5).
Herren, as you’ve probably guessed by now, likes to keep himself busy. “All the same amount of work and devotion goes into all the projects,” he says. “I’d say they all have different things that are important. You know, the different kinds of exchanges that went into each one sort of make each one special. But I can’t put one over the other.”
Amazingly, he keeps all of these plates spinning singlehandedly. “I don’t have a manager or anything to do all the administrative stuff, so that’s all on me too,” he says. “Anybody that knows me is like, ‘You need a manager really bad…’” That’s not as simple as it sounds, though. “I don’t have the best reputation of being the easiest person to work with when it comes to that kind of stuff,” he confesses. “I’m into staying on top of my stuff pretty hard.”
This obsessive attention to detail often shines through in Herren’s music itself. As Prefuse 73, he pioneered a twitchy, intricately layered take on instrumental hip-hop, using an Akai MPC sampler to perform painstaking micro-edits on beats and vocals. His 2003 album One Word Extinguisher ranks as one of the most influential electronic records of the past decade, informing the work of a whole new generation of producers like Flying Lotus and Hudson Mohawke.
Escaping its shadow hasn’t been easy, though. Each subsequent Prefuse release has been compared—often unflatteringly—with Herren’s supposed masterwork, and the album is also frequently used as a yardstick against which to judge his other projects.
He makes little attempt to conceal his frustration on this point. “I’m thankful for all the opportunities that I’ve had, but I feel like it’s hard to get away from being ‘that Prefuse guy,’” he says. “That’s not my identity.”
Even when working on his best-known project, Herren seems determined to avoid being pigeonholed. With Everything She Touched…, he “wanted to depart from what was expected,” and chose to record the album to analog Ampex tape rather than using digital methods. “It sets it in a different sort of spot,” he explains. “It gave it a feeling that it wasn’t so pinned down to the other records—it was kind of a departure from the others.”
The album plunges even deeper into the psychedelic fug than Herren’s previous Prefuse releases, while demonstrating an even shorter attention span. The tracks, many of them less than a minute long, blur seamlessly together in a manner redolent of the late J Dilla’s swansong, Donuts. It’s woozy but also a bit weightless—the kind of record you could almost forget was playing after you’ve stuck it on. Whatever: you certainly couldn’t accuse him of resting on his laurels.
“A lot of people told me I must make music like [my] first two records,” he says. “If not that, it’s like the opposite, where I have to do this certain record that somebody likes, or I have to sound like newer kids who are influenced by me but do things their way. That’s definitely not who I am. I’m just doing what feels right.”
Metamorphose, Sep 5. See concert listings (popular) for details.