THE GASLAMP KILLER EXPERIENCE: THIS IS SO FREAKING MAGICAL
photography by theo jemison
The Gaslamp Killer is always an experience, hair thrashing and body writhing to weird, musical life. But this is different. Back in 2013, GLK assembled an L.A. all-star band (with Andres Renteria and Kamasi Washington among many others) and put on what amounted to an orchestral live show at the Mayan Theatre. That Gaslamp Killer Experience is what’s captured here, a fully-fledged vision of GLK’s worldly desert-baked psych with percussion, string and horn sections. This is GLK in a meditative state, a sound far removed from those that come gushing through every crack in the Airliner. Tracks like “Apparitions” and “Nissim” (adapted from Breakthrough) swirl about as if they were caught in a sandstorm, a sort of psych-jazz like something off of Lloyd Miller’s A Lifetime In Oriental Jazz. “Shattering Inner Journeys” is right off of Death Gate, reprised here in full force with the backing of his arkestra and a few GLK expletives. (It wouldn’t be a GLK record, after all, without at least one “motherfucker.”) “In The Dark” is the probably the record’s best, a spiraling descent into GLK’s own darkness that eventually transforms into devilish triumph, as if Michael White’s “The Land of Spirit and Light” had turned to the dark side instead. He will lead the Gaslamp Killer Experience live as part of Grand Performances on Friday, June 19. This introduction by Miles Clements; this interview by Kristina Benson.
How did this music go from Ableton to an arrangement for a chamber orchestra?
That’s the fun part about my music. I don’t use Ableton. The Breakthrough album was a lot of one-take stuff that was actually recorded live. I make the rhythm tracks out of my own drumming, and I bring over musicians to play stuff. Then once I’ve reached my limit of creative abilities—or once I’m entirely fed up with what I’ve done and don’t think it could get any better, I bring people over to jam. With Breakthrough, I had a ton of rhythm tracks—I guess you’d say ‘beats.’ But none of them felt like songs, and I needed help. This has been a thing since My Troubled Mind and Death Gate—I would go over to Computer Jay’s studio and he’d lay live synths on it and I’d realize, ‘This is so freaking magical! I can’t believe that all it takes is a little outside perspective to turn this beat into a song.’ That inspired me. So with this, I got the best musicians I could get together in a room, and they helped me. I just tell musicians I can whistle and sing pretty fucking well. When I get with musicians in a room, I’m the same way that I am when I’m performing. I’m a spazz full of energy, trying to get my point across, and I think I nailed it because everybody was super-inspired to play—and they played the way I wanted them to play. I ended up just chopping up a few takes. That’s how I did Breakthrough—I was taking live takes and chopping it up and rearranging it a little bit.
You just mentioned that you can be a spazz when you perform. But this is very understated—even very restrained—in comparison to the live performances I’ve seen.
I’m around a lot of session players who are extremely focused and even though I’m a spazz in the studio—I think all of us producers, when we get into the studio, we know that when you hit record, it’s another level of seriousness. You have to calm down so you can focus on getting the sound. Thankfully a lot of my stuff was recorded at home, but still—when you’re inviting people over, you only have a couple of hours with each musician. It pushes you towards the serious side—less fun and free, more like, ‘I have an idea that I want to execute.’ That’s the amazing part of working with these incredible L.A. session players—they’re used to people barking orders at them. ‘Here’s the music! Read it! Play it!’ I don’t do that. I leave it a lot more loose and I think that what they’re doing is so incredible. I’m giving them tons of positive feedback—a shitty take to them is an amazing take to me cuz I don’t shred on my instrument the way they do. For me, everything we get is gold. I’m like, ‘Hey, I’ll save that—let’s do another!’ I save every single take.
Hard drive space is cheap so why get rid of something that could work?
Exactly, and you end up getting a few things that are lost in the sessions. Then when I get with an engineer, they go, ‘What is this session down here?’ ‘I don’t know—let’s listen to it.’ Maybe I’ll get three seconds I didn’t even know was there, and that’s what I name the song after because there’s a moment with a weird flutter and I’m like ‘That’s the song! That made the song!’
You could have released a studio version—why record and perform this music live?
I had a lot of friends pushing me in that direction. What I mean is I get together in the studio with all these players and I realized … if I’m directing them in the studio when we hardly have any time and we’re recording and it’s all thinking, ‘What is this for? Why am I doing this? Is this coming out on a record?’ That’s so much stress. But with a live show, it’s like, ‘OK, we’re doing this live, so let’s have rehearsals where we spend all day jamming until we feel so good about what we’ve done that we’re ready to give it to the world.’ It just made sense to me. I’m already working with all these live players who are used to reading music and playing shows. And OK, I almost died on my fucking scooter and I never did this live. A bunch of my friends have live bands and I’ve always wanted to do stuff with live bands, but I said it was too much trouble. Then my friend said, ‘Dude, you need to do this shit. This is your opportunity to put together a band and show people the dynamic range of GLK. You almost lost your chance.’ I got everybody in the room and realized, ‘Holy shit, this is huge.’ I have to make sense. I can’t speak in musical terms the way that people read and notate music could. I have to push myself here so I don’t waste these guys’ time, and really get the message across. So it pushed me to do that and I’m really glad I did.
How did it change from what you expected? The arrangement isn’t just a copy of the original release.
No way. I told the musicians, ‘You guys are incredible and I want you to lend your vibe to my songs. They do not need to be exact. I want you to play them the way you feel them.’ I gave everybody room to breathe! These are live versions so there are things we can do that are way crazier than what we were doing before. With a live show, everybody wants to strut their stuff—everybody wants to kick some ass. I’m giving them the opportunity to let themselves fly as high as they want to fly, and that makes my music that much better when they get to be themselves. These players have been training for so many years. They know what the fuck they’re doing. As long as they get the rhythm—the rhythm section has to be right cuz otherwise you won’t recognize the song as being mine in the first place. The rhythm section is what they’re all about—the drums and the bass hitting hard and heavy. Ever since I started making music, the first eight bars of the record is what I sample. You want that beat that gets stuck in your head. Full arrangements don’t get stuck in your head the way that an eight-bar loop does. That’s what the essence of hip-hop is. These guys are sampling incredible records, and instead of sampling the sax solo in the middle, they’re sampling the first moments of the record and that creates the foundation of their beat. I try to do the same thing. Then once we’ve got the foundation, you’re free to elaborate and accentuate and experience something new. It’s so fun when you do it that way.
You almost died on your scooter—that’s part of why you did this. Did that experience help you decide you needed to do anything else?
I decided I needed to enjoy my life and not work as hard. It didn’t push me in this direction of ‘I gotta make more music! I gotta leave my mark!’ No—it made me realize that life is fucking long. You can be on this earth really a long time fucking twiddling your thumbs with nothing to do, or you could live your life trying to be better, or you can try to be in the middle. I’ve been struggling for a long time because the older people in my life told me, ‘OK, get it while the getting is good! You have one chance—strike while the iron is hot! People think you’re dope right now! This is your moment.’ And all that shit—it stayed with me and I appreciate how they’re trying to motivate me but in reality, there’s no rush. The industry sets standards that are being shattered by the new generation of internet warriors. The standards that have been set in this industry are really old and don’t have legs to stand on any more. I don’t think I need to beat myself within an inch of my life cuz right now is my moment. I think we can have multiple moments in life. Some of the greatest artists in the world take their time and come out with stuff when they want and they don’t break themselves for the people. The people don’t want you to be sick and tired and burnt out—they want you to be enthusiastic and alive and happy to work. The people want you to be authentic. And if you’re miserable and having to fake that you’re enjoying yourself, then people are going to notice. I’ve seen a lot of great artists crash and burn. I definitely don’t think there’s any rush.
THE GASLAMP KILLER EXPERIENCE PERFORMS ON FRI., JUNE 19, AT CALIFORNIA PLAZA, 350 S. GRAND AVE., DOWNTOWN. 8 PM / FREE / ALL AGES. GRANDPERFORMANCES.ORG. THE GASLAMP KILLER EXPERIENCE LIVE IN LOS ANGELES IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM LOW END THEORY / GASLAMP KILLER RECORDS. VISIT THE GASLAMP KILLER AT THEGASLAMPKILLER.COM.