The Chinatown Fair Family Fun Center was closed for the night. With the doors locked and lights down, the fun had disappeared, replaced by a few maroon LED lights that shot horizontal rays across the long, low ceilings. The machines were quiet for the first time all day, filling the usually cacophonous arcade with an eerie silence. There were mumbles and short, barking laughs from the other journalists and fans milling about the space, but this was not a social event. We were all there to give ourselves over to the powers of darkness, as provided by Shlohmo and his Dark Red album.
The man himself, lesser known as Henry Laufer, appears briefly to introduce the album. Shlohmo is not one to wax nostalgic: Dark Red is a further departure from the beats that marked his ascension. The music has gotten grittier, as he purposefully targets sounds he describes as “the most fucked up.” With Dark Red, he’s taking listeners down a harsh, violent path that tests their toughness. That’s part of the reason why we’re listening to Dark Red in the shadows. This is not a communal album. It belongs to the darkness.
So aside from an after-hours Chinatown arcade, here do you think is the best place to listen to Dark Red?
Deep in the catacombs. Blood pours from the sprinklers. Like the opening scene of Blade.
The vampire rave?
The vampire rave.
I wanted to talk to you about the “Buried” video. It’s very, very intense, like much of the album. Did you have anything to do with the production or direction of that?
The concept of the video was created and directed by this dude, Lance Drake. He manned the whole fucking ship on that one. But we were definitely along with some of the people at the label. That video, just in conversation, went through a shit ton of edits. Just with what worked and what didn’t. It ended up being more what I wanted by the end, for sure.
Are there any more videos lined up with the album. Is it going to be part of a series? Do we see what this evil demon baby spawn becomes?
Each video is just going to be it’s own little vignette. There is no interlying or interweaving theme. It’s just little fucked vignettes.
There is no interlying or interweaving theme. It’s just little fucked vignettes.
What other songs are going to get videos?
There’s going to be “Beams,” “10 Days of Falling,” and then a tentative one for another song. I’ve never had real videos before. The only other video that I ever did was made by me and it was for “Trapped” in a burning house. It feels like forever, I made it four years ago.
Was that a conscious choice not to have videos? What changed this time around?
Um, money. Just being broke back then and being like, “This is what I want to do,” and obviously no one else is going to do it for free. Now it’s kinda weird having a label and getting treatments sent to us. It’s a very different thing. It’s cool. The aesthetic of my product has never been out of my hands even a little bit before. So, it’s a little nerve-wracking giving someone else the creative control of something that’s going to represent me in the long run.
Does it free you up in other ways, though?
Nope, because I still stress just as much. I mean, yes and no—I’m not spending the time at the shoot and in the editing room. Everything that I do is sent to me and I write an essay of notes and do that kind of process now.
This is kinda what you were talking about back in 2014 when you said the music industry is kinda fucked. Just the system and the structure.
It still is.
Has anything changed for you? Are you still laying eyes on the final cut of things that have your name on them?
Oh totally. Yeah, 100%. I will not fuck with anything that I can’t have final say on. Pretty much how our deal works out is that I am still my own creative director of all types.
Nice. Do you have your home studio/home base command center?
Yeah. I have everything set up to sound the most fucked up when I want it to. You know what I mean? It’s like whenever I go into someone else’s studio its perfect and pristine. And they’re like yeah, I have this dope brand new fucking whatever synthesizer and and all these soft synths and I have a whole waves and contact plugs-ins and everything. When I play it sounds like fucking, you know, whatever. You know. Something really clean, just whack.
And so at my house, my home studio, it’s just like a fucking Jupiter 6. It’s my dad’s old synthesizer. My dad makes music too so he just had the few pieces of gear he’s given to me over the years just because he’s like, “I don’t fucking want this, it’s a 1981 synthesizer.” This enormous piece of shit. And I got his old rolling space echo box. And these gnarly ungrounded cables. Like, nothings grounded. The whole thing goes into two older boss mixers before my computer. So it’s all overblown. Gets it fucked up. So I’m able to get that very specific kind of sound when I go home. It’s own little vibe.
What kind of music did/does your dad make?
My dad is a singer-songwriter. He’s made music forever. He’s a baby-boomer, Beatles, Neal Young, Bob Dylan generation. So that’s definitely his vibe. He makes some pretty good music and his shit has already been around. Just his influence. Not even from him specifically but from the people he kept around as his friends. My parents grew up in L.A., too.
What part of L.A?
In the valley back before it was developed. Tarzan and shit. His friends always played music too and they were all weirdos. They were around Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band, all that shit. He’s played with Frank Black and the Pixies and stuff like that. And his friend was Eric Feldman who is basically an uncle to me. He was the producer of the later Pixies albums like Trompe Le Monde.
So was that how you got deep into music, hanging in his studio?
I never really like went in. My dad has a studio at home but I always felt like that’s his thing. When I first started making music it was just my computer in my room. I didn’t want to intrude on his shit.
Speaking of collabs, you had that amazing No More EP with Jeremih last year. Is there anything else coming down the pipe?
Nothing right now but there’s always talk of doing shit with other people. I’m definitely trying to, working with J was awesome. But the whole situation with the label, with Def Jam, was really heinous.
It was. Still is.
Yeah, I would really like to stay as far away from that, doing that kind of thing, but working with artists like Jeremih, that’s still awesome to me. So we’re always talking to other artists, singers, rappers whatever. Just trying to feel what seems right.
So let’s talk a little bit about the album itself. It’s definitely a darker, almost hellish vibe compared to some of your earlier work. How did that come about?
It’s always weird. I always put myself in a room and see what happens. I think the shit around me kind of will lend itself to what is going on in my head.
Do you have anyone else in there when you’re mixing
Never. Not when I’m making shit.
Do you binge?
Yeah totally, it’s definitely more of a solo thing, when I can be alone and just zone out. That’s the only way I can make stuff. Obviously, there’s different shit when I’m in a studio with someone and it’s collaborative. But for me, the most honest, real shit that I’m happy with and most proud of happens when I’m completely alone. You know, not even anyone in the house. When I know I’m completely solo. Not being worried about someone hearing shit that’s not done.
But in terms of the actual process, it was just different for every song. It was weird. I think what I tend to do is start fucking around with sounds at first. Either I’m on a synth or a keyboard or a drum machine and I just try and make something fucked up and once it’s there, once I create a little thing, my brain just wants to add more and more shit. I’ll have an atonal melodic thing that doesn’t go anywhere and then the bass line will start to appear. And from there I’m just chasing the right feel, that feeling.
That’s a special place, when it feels like you don’t have to make any decisions. It’s just flowing.
Those are the only tracks that I put out, the ones where I feel like I’m not trying. You know what I mean? There were three other tracks that I cut because they weren’t right the first time. And I kept trying, but I knew after not even that many edits. It was just four edits of each song. And I was like you know what? It’s just not happening. And they’re good and people would still like them, I know it. But it just didn’t happen like that, as it did for the rest of them
And now you have this little archive. Of unreleased history.
Yeah absolutely, I have all these fucking b-sides.
It sounds like you would rather them never be heard though.
Definitely, but—it’s like everything that I’ve done, I’ll revisit in one year and I’ll be like, “This sucks,” and in two years I’m like, “This is the fucking worst” and then three years and I’m like, “Okay that was me three years ago,” and five years out is when I’m finally like, “Damn, maybe I was on some shit.”
How long have you been making music on your own? When did you first pick up the computer?
I played guitar and bass and shit when I was like a child and then in middle school I was in punk bands. I played bass in like a shit punk band and just covered Misfits songs.
In middle school I was in punk bands. I played bass in like a shit punk band and just covered Misfits songs.
And skated around LA and hated cops, probably?
Yes, then just one summer when I was 14 or 15 I started making sample beats on GarageBand. I didn’t know how anything worked. I didn’t know how the grid worked. But then I got to talk to the dude who developed GarageBand. He works for Apple, a software developer, and I was talking to him and I said GarageBand changed my life.
That was the only reason I was able to develop any skill in software or fucking anything, that was my stepping stone. He was like. “Word how did you make beats for it?” And I didn’t even think I should be telling him this, but I would drag in MP3s from my desktop, and he laughed and said, “you found out the hack. You weren’t supposed to be able to do that.”
Do you prefer to DJ on-stage when you play live? Or do you like picking up some instruments?
As of now, the only shows I have really done have been either a DJ set that’s labeled a DJ set, or if it’s a live set, it’s me, my computer and some pads and it’s sort of recreating the songs as much as I can, just electronically. But the recording process is so weird, so audio-based, in the actual process of recording. I can’t bring that shit with me. I can’t recreate those sounds lives. So a lot of it’s just triggering whatever the fuck. But that said, this next tour I’m doing is going to be actually a band. First time ever.
It is a metal album in some ways, it’s begging for some big gnarly guitar distortion.
Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. Pretty much. I was listening to a lot of doom and stoner metal and shit. So I don’t want to make a shitty corny bad, like a fusion fuck band. I want to make a metal band. It’s going to be an electronic metal band. It’s going to be weird.
Do you have the group together yet? Are you guys practicing?
Yeah, this is going to be the first, live, real live tour that we’re doing. We’re going to be playing guitar and synth. And d33j is on synth and guitar and Bill is on real drums and pads and stuff. It’s going to be really, really ripping apart the album. And putting it back together again. It’s going to be tight.
When do you guys start that?
We start the tour the last day of March, March 31st, throughout April then back to L.A. in May. Then we go out to Europe. Same shit out there.
Where are you really looking forward to playing?
Here always, New York. I think people have always just got it here and I’m playing at Irving Plaza. Yeah, I’m fucking nervous as hell. And playing the Fonda again in L.A., the L.A. shows are always surreal. It’s my own city and it’s a place I’ve always driven past a million times but never even went. You know what I mean?
I got to play the Fonda once two years ago. That was really cool. But I really love the Echoplex, too. Just where it is and the sound system. And it’s directly beneath the Echo on Sunset. It’s like three times the size of the regular Echo and it has a huge system. It’s a really easy place to throw parties and that’s where we threw all of our first Wedidit events. Warms my heart.