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BOOM BIP

In just four years and two albums, Cincinnati-based Bryan Hollon, AKA Boom Bip, has gained considerable recognition for his work as musician and producer, and the arrival of his third album, Blue Eyed In The Red Room, confirmed the unpredictability and extraordinary talent of this young musician. Leaving behind him the hip-hop structures that had served him so well until now, he ventures into more varied territories but remains firmly in control of his art. We caught up with the man as he is getting ready to hit the road. With us, he talks of his modest beginning, his friend Doseone, recording under pressure and what the future has in store…

You grew up in Cincinnati, where you played in a few bands before becoming a DJ. How did you make the transition from rock to hip-hop, and was it easy to get noticed in Cincinnati?
It was easy to make the transition from rock to hip-hop because I was always a hip-hop fan. Even when I was playing in hardcore or punk bands I was still listening to hip-hop. Once I moved to Cincinnati I really did not have a solid band I was playing with so I wanted to explore things on my own. I had always had an obsession with turntables, so once I was old enough to get a credit card I went out and bought those. After that I focused mainly on turntablism and what was called ‘downtempo’ at that time. Cincinnati during that time was fairly easy to penetrate. There were several small venues that would let young DJs showcase their talent. The new school turntablism was new to Cincinnati in the early nineties and people were excited to see it in their venues. We also had a great, yet trashy, community radio station that was easy to get on. Those two outlets really helped me make a name for myself in Cincinnati.

Who were your influences at the time, and do they still influence your work today?
Well, in the early nineties, I was really influenced by Fugazi, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Pharcyde, Black Sheep, Bowie, etc... Those huge fuzzy guitars and pounding beats and intelligent lyrics were both so appealing to me. I remember being obsessed with Thurston Moore’s guitar rig and wanting every pedal, guitar and pick that he used. I also felt like in the early nineties, rappers started actually saying relevant things rather then just bragging on boasting as they did in the eighties. I am still a big fan of all of those guys, but their influence on my music is in the past. I am sure the influence is still there in some ways, but not directly.

How did you get to record for Mush, and was it how you got to work with Doseone on Circle?
Robert, who owns Mush, lived in Cincinnati at the same time Adam (Dose) and I were there. Adam and I had hooked up through a class we were both taking in college. We were hanging out a bit and Adam would come to my DJ gigs and freestyle during open mic nights. It was rad. There were times where Slug from Atmosphere, Sole, Dose, Why and Mr. Dibbs were all at my nights and just unleashing their talents… discovering themselves. Robert came out to a benefit show that I was doing where I asked Adam and Yoni (Why?) to improvise over what I was doing on the turntables. That gig was truly the start of Circle. Robert was there when we got off the stage and stated he wanted us to do a record on Mush. Circle was originally Yoni, Adam and I. Yoni decided to go to Spain instead of staying and recording with Adam and I, so Circle ended up just being the two of us.

Judging from the interview I did with him around the time his album with Subtle was released, he seems to be a bit of a character. How was he to work with on the album and on the tour that followed?
I love Adam. I really do. He is very entertaining, witty and a pleasure to tour with. Although, I see right through him and it is hard for me to see him through the eyes of his fans. He knows that. That is why we are such close friends. We see each other for who we are outside of this music thing. In a way we don’t really take each other that seriously.

How did you two work on Circle? Was it a true collaboration or did you have the music ready before Doseone did his lyrics?
I had a few things, but for the most part we did it all in the two-months-period in the studio. I would go home and work on a few loops and chops and bring them to the studio the next day. He would be writing poetry outside on the catwalk to the loops. While he was writing I would go around the city for interesting sounds and record them. After a few hours and a few bear claw pastries from the bakery downstairs, we would start recording. We worked very rapidly on that album. It was absolutely a 50/50 effort on our part. If I needing something more than the loops and samples I had put together that day or the night before, I would pick up a guitar or start banging on the sink to fill in the holes. When I listen to that record I can almost smell the studio we were in. It captures so many sounds and environments that we were surrounded by.

Most of your records have been released on Lex. How did you make the transition from Mush to Lex, and why choose a British label?
I choose a British label mostly because I was trying to get into the pants of the Queen. I was always a big fan of the British instrumental hip-hop scene so it was exciting when someone as established as Warp came to me with an offer. I knew it would be a good move for me and help me get exposure overseas. Mush was great, but at that time I wanted to get some exposure in the UK and in Europe. Mush did not have a distributor over there. My contract with Mush was fulfilled and the timing was right.

Although Seed To Sun was a bit of a departure from Circle, perhaps because it was almost entirely instrumental, there were some similarities between these two records, especially since it was largely inspired by hip-hop culture. How did you approach working on Seed To Sun?
Seed To Sun was the sound of isolation. I don’t remember much about recording it. I do know that I was setting out to make an album that truly captured my mood and emotions during that period. So I would try and record in extreme situations. If I was completely wrecked from a death in the family or some worldly disaster I would go and record. If I was ecstatic and comfortable, I would go and record. I just tried to capture a moment. The next thing I knew I had a record. Circle was different because it was a frantic time. Adam and I were graduating from college and he was moving out west to San Francisco at the end of the summer. We had a lot of drive and energy at that time. The only limitation we had to deal with on Circle was time. Everything else was open.

It has been a while since the release of Seed To Sun. How do you look back on this record now?
The album sounds green. Some good ideas were started on there, but I feel I could have done so much more. This is the case with everything I have ever done though. Blue Eyed In The Red Room is the same way. I just know I can do so much better. I am the type that looks back on what I have done and try to learn from it. I am not satisfied with what I have done in the past.

Whose idea was it to collect EPs and previously unreleased recordings on Corymb, and how did you think it worked as an album?
Well, during and after the touring for Seed To Sun I had a lot of offers to do remixes and also people offering to remix me. I wanted to take advantage of that so I decided it would be good to do a couple EPs of remixes and add a few new tracks on there as well. We only did those on vinyl. I had also done a Peel Session with my band and thought a few of the tracks we had recorded were worthy of a release. It seemed like a good idea to put all of these scraps together to make a collection of work. I know people don’t like remix records. That is why I put some new tracks and the Peel Sessions on there. Hopefully, people felt it was more than just a remix record. Corymb is not an album. It is more of a compendium of work done between Seed To Sun and Blue Eyed In The Red Room.

You have had your work remixed by a variety of people. Do you get to choose who remix your work, and what makes you want to ask someone for a remix?
All the people that have remixed my tracks have been friends of mine. That is very important to me. Otherwise, it feels as if you are just using their popularity and status to gain recognition amongst their fans. I don’t like the idea of that. It feels much better when it is casual and you and your remixer share a vision of what the outcome may be.

You have also remixed a wide range of people, from Four Tet to Amon Tobin and many others. How do you choose to remix a track, and is there anyone you would love to remix?
I remix people based on whether their music is good or not and if I have the time. It is that simple. I would love to remix some of the early Neu, Rolling Stones, Glen Branca, James Chance or Can. Although, I would be really afraid of fucking it up. That is the problem with remixing your favourite artists or tracks.

You said once that you wanted to go ‘way beyond hip-hop’. Do you feel you have achieved that with the new album?
Well, I did not set out to go ‘way beyond hip-hop’ with this album. I guess there isn’t any hip-hop on there so in a way I have left it behind for this record. It is my intention to take music as far as I can take it. This record is fairly straight forward and easy to listen to. There is a reason for that. The next one may not be so easy to listen to. I have big plans and lots of ideas that I want to explore. This album dabbled in that a bit, but I was very sane for this record. In fact, I was really comfortable in my environment and you can hear that. I want to think outside of my head for the next album and approach music in an entirely different way. Who knows what will come out? I am anxious to find out though.

Your music has relied on samples a lot in the past, but you haven’t used any on the new album. Were there times you were tempted to change your mind while recording? Did that make your life more complicated?
To clarify a bit, a few samples were used on the album. Mostly atmospheric bits and some drums. So the album is 98% live instruments. There were a few times that I thought it might be easier to grab a sample and fill in the blank, but that only made me work harder to come up with something more creative. It was nice to be able to explore different recording techniques and be able to record directly what was in my head. Even when I am searching for samples, I have a good idea of what the sample should sound like. I can skip the searching process now and just grab a guitar, bass, keys or drums and lay it down. Samples are fun, but not nearly as fun as having a tangible item in your arms and expressing yourself through it.

Why did you choose to play everything on the album? Was it so the album was easier to transcribe to the live environment?
When I first started on the album I had the live show in mind. I was frustrated with doing live shows with the sample based music I had created in the past. I was either tied to doing deejaying gigs or doing laptop shows. I just don’t feel that satisfied or that entertaining when I am there behind a laptop. I still do it every now and then and certain environments are fine for that, but rock venues are not laptop friendly. When you have a few hundred people staring at you on the stage and all you are doing is bobbing your head and staring into a monitor it can be perceived as boring. In clubs where you are in a DJ booth then I feel a laptop is fine. For some artists the laptop works really well for the live show, but for mine I just don’t think it does. A band is much better for this new album and will allow more room for improvisation on the stage than what I can do with a laptop.

With the new album, you explore a lot of new musical grounds. Aren’t you worried some of your early fans might get disconcerted by this?
Not really. If someone is truly a fan they know that every album I have ever done has had the combination of live instruments and samples and dabbled in different genres. As the albums have come out I have used less and less samples on each one. Circle had strong rock elements on there and Seed To Sun had a few tracks that were more rock based than anything else. So I don’t think people should be that surprised by the sound of the new album. Those who only know me through the eyes of the media might be shocked because a lot of times the media makes me out to be just a hip-hop producer. The true fans will understand.

How did you get to work with Gruff Rhys? Did you know Super Furry Animals before working with him, and was it a reason why you got together?
I got to know Gruff through touring with SFA. I was one of their support acts on a tour of theirs. At that time I had never really heard SFA, but went out and grabbed a few albums before I committed to a tour. I really enjoyed the way they went in and out of pop tracks with unexpected electronic elements. After the tour I was asked to do a remix for them and in exchange for payment I asked Gruff to do vocals on a track for the new album. The guy has an amazing vocal range and I wanted to work with someone that was really capable of nearly anything vocally. I had only worked with rappers in the past, and Adam, so it was uncharted territory for me. It proved to be very satisfying.

You have now collaborated with a few people on your records. Are you planning to work with more people in the future, an dif yes, who would you like to work with?
I am sure I will work with vocalist in the future. I like what it adds to my music. The most desirable collaboration would be with me. I really want to begin singing myself. It will be much cheaper and less of a headache.

There seem to be more and more issues with albums being leaked on Soulseek or other P2P. Scott Herren recently posted a virulent reaction to his forthcoming Prefuse 73 album being leaked. What is your opinion on this, and would you take a similar step?
This is a touchy subject these days. There are really good arguments on both sides of the fence. I guess it really comes down to statistics doesn’t it? I am on the fence about it. I know it feels good when your album is downloaded and the demand is there for your work, but I also know it feels bad when your album sales are low and you don’t recoup yet everyone you talk to has it. I think the record labels really need to address the situation because CDs are not that exciting a package. The vinyl buyers out there have always supported and always will because you get more for your money and vinyl cannot be replicated easily. I can’t blame someone for not wanting to spend $14 on a piece of plastic when they can get the music for free but I can blame someone for realizing they are not supporting independent artists and still not give a fuck. We need incentives from the fans and labels to continue doing what we do. Otherwise we have to get day jobs and touring is not possible, nor is putting out records for years to come. People just need to be aware of what they are doing and realize there are consequences to their actions. Moderation is fine, but don’t abuse the industry. Just be conscious and compassionate.

John Peel was a very respected radio personality, not only in the UK but around the world. You have recorded a couple of Peel Sessions with him. Had you heard of him beforehand, and what did you think of him after meeting him?
I really did not know who John Peel was until I was asked to do a Peel Session. I knew about the sessions themselves, but never knew about the man behind the curtain. It was not until I was in Leeds on the Mush tour at our soundman’s house that I saw a BBC documentary on his life and realized how important a figure he was. Once I recorded the first Peel Sessions I started listening to his program as often as I could. I was blown away by his diversity and knowledge of music. It was incredible. The next Peel Sessions I felt slightly star struck, whereas before I was relaxed and really just felt he was a nice guy with a radio show on the BBC. The last time I saw John was at Sonar this past year. He was there with his grandchild and he was so proud. We were both genuinely excited to see each other and not one bit of the conversation was about music. He was an extremely friendly and sweet man and he will be missed.

What are your projects for the next few months? Can we expect to see you play live in Europe and the US soon? What can people expect to see?
The next few months are dedicated to touring. I am deep in the rehearsal process right now. I will be doing Winter Music Conference in Miami, Florida this year and then off to Europe with a four piece band to do a rather large UK and European Tour. We will be there for the entire month of April doing shows. Then I return back to the States to do the Coachella Festival and then an East Coast and Midwest tour with Mice Parade in May. Once that is finished it is off to the West Coast to do a headlining tour with Fog supporting. Once we recover from those two months I may take a small break and then back to Europe for a few festivals in late summer. I would like to fit Japan in there if possible.

The band is a four piece, made up of drums, guitar bass and synth with lots of little toys. The members are Hazen Frick (Pearline), Matthew Alsberg (AntiMC) and Kenneth Holland (Her Space Holiday) and I. People can expect new renditions of old tracks and much harder hitting versions of the new. It will be loud and it will be hard. Don’t expect the slow or sappy songs for this tour.

Email interview February 2005
Thank you to Bryan, Tom and Justin

FURTHER READINGS
BBC Collective: interview

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Reviews
02'05
Blue Eyed In The Red Room
07'04
Corymb
09'02
Seed To Sun
07'02 Circle

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