September 22nd, 2015

exclusive interview la priest

People are calling La Priest‘s debut record Inji weird.

Across all media outlets, this appellation has been stamped on it with the type of viral abandon journalists feed on, creating the distinct sense that La Priest (Late Of the Pier‘s Sam Dust) is some sort of zany new figure fresh on the scene, wowing listeners left and right with his atypical sonic brainchildren.

Yep, well … They’re all right.

Here’s a list of Sam’s less-than-conventional undertakings on Inji.

  1. Recorded electromagnetic resonance at a Cryolite hot spot in Greenland with a Dictaphone.
  2. Made rooms talk by leaving a microphone on a drum in a room and recording the soundwaves that come off the drum. “You get a representation of the physicality of that room,” he explained. “When people walk in, it changes notes; it’s like the room is singing to itself.”
  3. Made his own modular synths and briefly considered a business doing so.
  4. Conducted scientific research whilst wandering around the world, semi-aimlessly.
  5. Recorded in a Welsh cottage with no one but geese to hear him.

As such, Inji is full of resulting oddities and quirks, from its affably-named song titles (‘Gene Washes With New Arm’, ‘Lady’s In Trouble With The Law’) to the actual music itself. As NME notes, “‘Lorry Park’, for example, is a two-and-a-half minute track built from loops of the singer’s manipulated “ooh”s and “eee”s that make him sound like an awestruck dolphin. ” Meanwhile, ‘Oino,’ the album’s undisputed banger, is inspired by a story Sam’s grandfather used to tell about a “man imprisoned in the desert who escapes by singing to a wizard.” Yeah. Not your typical yearning love song or butt ballad.

It’s not that the music is weird. It’s actually blissfully melodic most of the time, with some songs exhibiting distinct flavors of Prince and Serge Gainsbourg, while others champion the prog rock influence of Brian Eno. The only punctuation of melody occurs when he confronts you with an absurdly catchy bass line or a synth riff that sounds like it fell off Neptune, and suddenly, you’re awake and in the present, asking yourself … “The fuck was that?” as you desperately rifle through the GarageBand library.

You won’t find any of those songs there though. Many of of the most delectable samples on Inji are sounds that Sam recorded himself during his five-year hiatus with the aforementioned Dictaphone. Consequentially, Inji is a record that has its own logic and exists in its own time zone. And in today’s ever repetitive musical landscape, achieving that level of musical absurdity is a tall task.

So, given that La Priest’s idiosyncrasies are what make the record so strong, I wanted to find out how he approached weirdness in his work, and whether or not he could propel me toward a similar astral plane of absurdity. Turns out, he had a lot to say about it, including some advice on how to be weirder yourself, what he finds most perplexing about humanity, and his diabolical plans to record an underwater album.

I caught up with him right before he walked on stage to a show in Santa Barbara, and this is what he had to say:

One of the topics I want to focus is weirdness and absurdity, two things that Inji has been praised for. Why do you think everyone thinks this record is “weird?”

It kind of makes sense to me that they would. If you’re going to write original material and make something new, people will inevitably go that route, right? I think it says a lot that they are surprised when they hear something unusual. I know there’s a lot of records that I like that are a hell of a lot weirder than this one though. I just like to push the boundaries and be a little zany.  It’s always a good thing, basically.

“Weird” is one of the higher compliments that you can get because the word “weirdness” conveys novelty or being confronted with a new sensation. The fact that your music elicits that reaction in so many people just means that you created a sound that people aren’t used to, and that’s rare these days.

Yeah. I’m sure it’s quite easy to make a sound that people aren’t used to and they find really horrible as well (giggles British-y). I guess the art is if you can get a good reaction at the same time. That always keeps it exciting and keeps it a challenge, really, to balance innovation with listening pleasure.

What role does absurdity play in your music?

I think one of the things that kind of pushes me in that direction, in the sort of weirder direction, is that I feel like I have a bit of a short attention span or I get kind of fidgety. I have to move on to new things. I listen to music, other people’s music, for a very short amount of time, and then I don’t listen to it for a few years sometimes because I just kind of keep having to hear new stuff. In that way, my listening habits are quite absurd, and that ends up informing what I create.

What’s the weirdest thing that happened to you when you were making this album?

The whole Greenland thing was pretty weird. I didn’t go out there to record, for a start. I just happened to record what I thought was going to be silence out there on my Dictaphone. I bought this really cheap little kind of recorder and when I got back, I found that it had sort of recorded imperceptible sounds that I couldn’t hear when I was there.

That was one of the strangest things, because it was just sort of a gift, you know. A lot of the time, that is the weirdest stuff that happens in the studio when you’re recording; stuff you don’t expect or know is there but when you find it, it feels like you’ve been given it on a plate, like it’s a gift from somewhere. I’m not very traditionally religious but that’s probably the closest I’ll get to a religious experience.

But truly the weirdest thing really with the record is that it wasn’t set out to be a record. It was just experimentation and it was trying things out.

Yeah, it’s been five years since your last release. What was keeping you from making this record? What made you realize you’d just go for it?

Well, thank god I had something to record all these sounds on, because I probably wouldn’t have even bothered otherwise. I was just doing it for fun. Then after a while, after a year or so, I just had this sort of library, like a collection of experiments and I kind of like saw that it could be a record. I played it to one of my friends who works at the label that I’m now on, and I didn’t even know if they would really kind of hear anything in it. I played them the tapes and they were like “Yeah, you can put out a record. Finish this and we’ll put it out.” Then I was like “Oh, shit. Now I’ve got to think of it as an album.”

To make Inji, you recorded at a cryolite electromagnetic hotspot in Greenland, figured out how to make rooms talk, and made your own modular synths. What is the importance of creating your own unique sounds to you? What excites you about sonic experimentation?

I remember going through a bit of a phase of looking for this kind of new sound and it didn’t really work because you can sort of drive yourself a bit crazy if you’re looking for something totally unique. Most of the sounds that we can hear, that human ears are capable of hearing, are out there or have been heard in some combination or some context. Really, it’s better to find those new combinations of sounds that already exist.

A lot of the time, when I’m looking for this kind of new combination, I’m also thinking of a lot of music that I grew up with that I can’t quite put my finger on. Things that you’ve heard but you don’t know what it was and you just have this idea of what it is. There’s a lot of nostalgia and sort of mixed memories of different sounds that I’ve heard through my life that I try and capture and find new ways of making them.

Are there any other sounds,  terrestrial or otherwise, that you would like to sample?

Cicadas.  I’m hearing them now. I’ve always wanted to record them properly, but it’s really tricky and you always get background noise.

Also, I really want to record music that’s meant to be listened to under water. I remember I haven’t had a bath at my house for ages. I’ve only got a shower. When I used to have a bath, I would put music on and then put my head underwater and some music sounds good underwater and some music sounds not so good. Obviously, it sounds totally different and you get this whole different soundscape.

You’d have to sit in the bath for ages!

I was going to say! Recording would be so weird. You’d have to just be in a pool.

Yeah, you’d record the music with your head underwater and you’d never, in the process, hear what it sounded like normally. You just have these kind of speakers outside. Then at the end of it, you’d have to get underwater microphones and record the piece. If you wanted to, you could just make it so that it can only be listened to under water so people have to get in the bath. With a crowd it could be tricky. You’d have to get them all in a swimming pool. Everybody, get your heads under the water.

You actually plan on doing that or is that just a pipe dream?

I think about it quite a lot actually. Yeah. I should really go for it and try it.

What’s the weirdest part about the human experience to you today? What do you find perplexing or bizarre or embarrassing about being alive?

One of the things that surprises me is that people sometimes think they know something for sure. I think everybody’s in too much of a hurry to be wise and to truly know something and it’s weird to me that people think they are right. I think the world would make more sense in general if people accepted that they might not be correct more often. People can just go “Hey, I’m probably not right about this,” because everybody’s got different ideas. How can we all be right?

What advice would you give to somebody who’s trying to be weirder or express themselves better?

First of all, you don’t have to be cool. To make something new, it’s never going to be cool straight away. Sometimes I make stuff and I go “I imagine that people like this,” but they don’t because it’s not very cool Just ignore that. Then, second is probably to have fun with it and do it because you enjoy it. Those two go together pretty well, I find. Keep chasing the surprise elements of what you hear, go in that direction.

See La Priest and all his weirdness live (I hear he has a modular synth covered in hair) at any of the following dates. If you live in the North or East, you’re fucked, but you already knew that.

Tues Sept 22 || Santa Ana, CA || The Observatory || TIX *
Thurs Sept 24 || Los Angeles, CA || The Wiltern || TIX *
Fri Sept 25 || Los Angeles, CA || The Wiltern || TIX *
Sun Sept 27 || Phoenix, AZ || The Crescent Ballroom || TIX *
Wed Sept 30 || Brooklyn, NY || Babys All Right || TIX

Inji is available on CD, LP with download code, Deluxe LP with download code, and digitally with an instant grat of ‘Oino’ and ‘Party Zute / Learning To Love’. Get the album through Dom Mart HERE and through iTunes HERE.