As Gonjasufi, Sumach Ecks brews up some seriously potent sonic moonshine.
The San Diego resident sidled into the limelight with a guest appearance on Flying Lotus’ 2008 Los Angeles, giving a startling performance that sounded like it had been recorded straight onto wax cylinder. His frail voice – so delicate it might dissipate into smoke at any time – sounded like very little before or since. His Warp debut, 2010’s A Sufi And A Killer, saw Ecks showcasing his smoggy pipes in a range of different musical contexts. Flying Lotus, Mainframe and (primarily) The Gaslamp Killer all contribute production; madcap garage rock (‘She’s Gone’), boogie funk (‘Candylane’) and coruscating head-nod (‘Ancestors’) are all represented.
Subsequent releases have seen Ecks experimenting with smaller canvases. Last year’s 9th Inning giveaway EP featured four hypnotic miniatures, and included a guest spot from Blu. This year’s 25 minute MU.ZZ.LE mini-album – a steampunk approximation of late 90s trip-hop – turned out to be his most melancholy work yet. Diverse as Ecks’ releases are, they’re all linked by that unmistakable croon: a fuzzed-out, spindly force of nature. We caught up with the San Diego resident (and sometime yoga teacher) to discuss Beth Gibbons, playing live, and why it’s important to “just smash all that shit!”.
“I took the risk of taking the band out, and completely demolishing everything”
A Sufi And A Killer was an enormously varied record; MU.ZZ.LE, by contrast, had a more sonically consistent, darker mood throughout. Is MU.ZZ.LE a better realisation of the sort of music you ultimately want to make compared to your first album?
“MU.ZZ.LE to me was just more of a darker time in my life, so that was my way of producing light – getting light out of that space. On the first record, GLK was just chopping a bunch of old songs; this next record that’s I’m working on, it’s just so different from anything I’ve ever done. I had to put MU.ZZ.LE out to widen the spectrum for the listeners to really understand me. It’s about going in all directions.”
What challenges does performing your recorded material live present? And what creative opportunities does it give you?
“You know what? I enjoy it more now. I used to really be concerned and worried about the fans and the listeners the first time I came to Europe. I was really tied up in the head on whether they would accept me, because I knew they wanted to hear the record. I’d done so much more previous work, and I knew they wouldn’t really understand me live yet. I knew it would take a long time for the live show to make sense to people, to my fans that may expect the record.
“So now I took the risk of bringing the band out, and completely demolishing everything, saying “Fuck those records, we’re gonna make this shit live, improv 80% of it”. That’s what I’m doing now with Skrapez, we just make shit up. I enjoy that. It’s part of the performance, going to those spaces. Doing the record live, it’s just boring man! I don’t wanna do that shit! I mean, I can do it – but there’s a time and a place for that. And now is not the time for that. I try not to concern myself with whether they get it or not – I know my audience is an intelligent audience off the bat, so most of them are open enough to know it takes a minute.
“Of course, there’s always people who throw on superhero capes, hide behind computers and press a bunch of keys and talk shit. They say: “your show was just the most worst shit I ever saw in my life, you fucking squit, go hang yourself”. But they’ll never come to me in my face and say that shit, so that shows me who they are, not who I am.”
Your voice is such a wonderfully distinctive instrument. Are there any contemporary/classic artists with voices that you’re particularly inspired by?
[After some lengthy deliberation] “Beth Gibbons. Just from where she’s singing from, man. The pain that’s in it. I feel like I’m in a room when I hear her voice, I can smell, I can see the whole setting, the ambience. The Rustin Man record – the Out Of Season one – that shit is incredible man, I never fucking heard anything like that shit. Something just different. A lot people are trying to be different, and they start trying to sound like her. There’s a whole genre of everyone trying to sound like Björk and Portishead. But what makes them so special is that they don’t sound like anyone. It’s okay to not sound like anyone, but don’t sound like them and then try to pretend you don’t sound like them, you know what I’m saying?”
“There’s always people who throw on superhero capes, hide behind computers and press a bunch of keys and talk shit”
You’ve worked with some phenomenal producers and enlisted a brilliant range of talent on The Caliph’s Tea Party. Are you collaborating with anyone at the moment, or have your eye on future collaborators?
“Yeah, I’ve been working with Media156 out of Las Vegas. Him and me pretty much got a record that’s finished, it’s just kind of happened over the last couple of years. Other than that, I’m still working with the same cats, man. Me and Psychopop doing shit. Tony from Crime Kills, Scumbag Tony, I’ve been lacing some shit with. Other than that, I have some projects that are done with some heads out of SD. Right now I’m just focused on my own production again, and I’m focused on Black Hail Mary, which is my wife’s record. That’s making me do my record. My focus has been to get in the lab, and playing drums, and learning this piano, playing the guitar, chopping shit up, making her record right now.”
Prior to your Gonjasufi work, you worked on a number of hip-hop releases. Are you still rapping, and is it something that might filter into Gonjasufi material?
“The next record Warp are preparing to get has all the above – whether they take it or not is on them. With me, it has to be all of me, man. A Sufi And A Killer, that was just one shade of the whole spectrum of what I love. It may seem like it was in so many different directions, but to me it was so focused, it was really one sound. This other shit that I’m working on right now is just like, let me just smash all that shit! One record, you know what I’m saying? Every fucking genre, all the shit that’s coming out – let me just put one record out that just shits on everything. That’s the focus.”