Ren Schofield’s decision to make techno was spurred on by just one track: Daniel Bell’s 1994 minimalist masterpiece ‘Losing Control’.
Well, that and the output of Swedish mavericks Frak. But it’s the DBX track that’s most audible in LP, Schofield’s 2011 debut album as Container. Much of that record and its 2012 followup sounds like a heat-struck interpretation of Bell’s original, its choked vocal samples and slurries of delay playing out over a hypnotic drum machine pulse.
Lately though, and with his profile growing, Schofield’s music has mutated into something else. The tempos have picked up, the rhythms have become snarled and knotted, the structures razor-sharp. The producer’s latest, Adhesive, is probably his most savage to date, and certainly his best. It’s due for release through Mute sublabel Liberation Technologies, reflecting Schofield’s success with the weirder fringes of the electronic music world. But his roots are in noise, and it shows.
Alongside Container, Schofield also operates as one third of Form A Log, with friends Profligate and Dinner Music, and remains involved in the vibrant noise scene of his home city, Providence – to which he returned in 2012 after a spell in Nashville. Schofield isn’t in town all that much, though; lately his short and sharp live sets have become a fixture at more adventurous clubnights across Europe (this writer saw him tear London’s Corsica Studios a complete set of new orifices in under 30 minutes). Read on for some tips on the sort of cushy jobs available to a Nashville resident with a van and a healthy brain.
How important is it for there to be a psychedelic quality in your music? Have you been known to enjoy LSD? Your earlier stuff in particular sounds to me kind of like the techno equivalent of a Grateful Dead concert.
Well, although I never really thought about it that way or intentionally added a part that I considered ‘psychedelic’, I know what you’re saying, and without those qualities I think the music would be pointless, so yeah I guess it’s pretty important. My high school years definitely involved some psychedelic drugs, but I haven’t really been involved with them since then. I tried to take mushrooms about a year and a half ago, but I’d been drinking whiskey all night and I puked before they were able to kick in. These days I’m all about Guinness, Tiki cocktails, and Scotch on the rocks.
Relatedly, I feel like you can hear the desert in those Spectrum Spools LPs. Could you talk about what it was like living in Nashville, and how that influenced your music?
Nashville is actually quite lush with greenery, overgrown with plant life to be honest, but figuratively it does have a lot in common with the desert. At first it was chill living there, I worked as a ‘parking attendant’ at this botanical garden and my job was to keep track of how many parking spaces were available, which entailed me hanging out in my van, reading books, and walking around the garden. Then after that I would work on music at home. This job actually inspired me to take music more seriously, because I realised that when the job ended no one would ever pay me to read in a garden again and that I would forever compare whatever job I had to that one and it was never going to get any better, so if playing music and touring is really what I like doing then I should find a way to make it work.
When I wasn’t working there anymore I would participate in psychology experiments at Vanderbilt University, which usually involved sitting in an isolation chamber with an electrode cap fixed to my skull keeping track of moving coloured squares on a computer screen for about $30 a visit. I did this frequently enough to be on a first name basis with most of the people who worked there.
What I’m getting at is that daily, working life in Nashville was pretty fun, but creatively and socially it was crushingly depressing. Most nights when I went out I would go to this NASCAR bar down the street from my house where my friend Crom worked. I’d hang around and play virtual bowling until the bar closed, then we’d buy more beer, go to his house and party ‘til 5am listening to Huey Lewis, Billy Joel, Eddie Money, and Harry Nilsson. Occasionally when people would come through on tour they would play at this bar… results varied. In the end, the monotony of this lifestyle coupled with the lack of musical stimulation and camaraderie, plus the fact that I wasn’t living there for any particular reason, just made me really depressed and angry and the only option was to move away. The first Spectrum Spools LP and most of the second one were both written in Nashville, and I feel like the only effect that living there actually had on the music is that it significantly slowed down the process of writing it.
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You’re back in Providence now, right? Why is that and how has it changed your musical activity? Do you feel part of a musical community there?
Yes. I am originally from Providence, but moved away in 2006 and then came back in the summer of 2012, just because it was the only place that made any sense to move to once it was decided to escape Nashville. I feel like I want to work on music more here than I did in Nashville, and the results of working on it are often more successful than they were there. There is a really tight music scene here. Shows are usually well attended and appreciated.
Until I started being more active with Container I didn’t really have any concept of how big this whole internet music blog culture really is, and that for a lot of people this is how they discover new music, which I find to be distressing, because the whole music blog scene is so polluted by PR guys who are paid to push artists into recognition. Like there might be someone whose press photo you see 100 times before you ever actually hear any of their music, and they’ll be booked to play all these festivals immediately after their first album drops. It’s just this ridiculous way of overhyping things that, in some respects, actually works somehow. This is something that I like a lot about Providence, because you take an artist who falls into that category, who maybe can pack a room in New York, and I bet that artist would have a hard time even getting a show in Providence, let alone getting people to come to it, because no one gives a fuck about that kind of shit here.
Talk about your daily routine. How much of your life is dedicated to music? Do you work another job too? And how has a busy touring schedule affected your relationship to the place you live?
Because of touring a lot and working on music a lot, I haven’t had to have another job for a while, aside from doing the occasional focus group, so that’s been nice. A general day for me would be: wake up around 10, make some coffee, check my e-mail, make some eggs and a smoothie, take a shower. I just got a Kindle for Christmas so I’ve been reading a lot more – maybe read for a little bit, head into the jam room, either work on writing some new tracks, or recording some source material, or trying to record tracks, or just messing around. Probably I get distracted by the map at some point and I spend a while looking at that, after a while I wrap up the music stuff, run to the grocery store, stop at the beer store, make some food at home, some people come over, we have a few beers, listen to some records, maybe play a couple games of Yahtzee, and then if theres a show going on we head out and scope the show.
I really like touring, but I’m more used to driving tours, and I’ve been having to fly a lot recently which is mentally very taxing for me, although I’m starting to get used to it. I feel that being out of town a lot is great, because in the past I’ve been known to suddenly develop feelings of ill will towards the place I live and move out unexpectedly. But I’ve been back in Providence a year and half and haven’t had a desire to leave, which I think is owed to touring, because by the time I get back I’m so stoked to be home and just chill and have time to work on things again.
Speaking of touring: how has performing your tracks – hearing them on a big rig, and seeing a crowd respond to them – informed the kind of stuff you make back at home?
I don’t think it has really changed or inspired my writing process or interests at all. When I’m practicing in my jam room at home, I play through a PA that I bought from some guy in Nashville whose wife wanted him to get it out of the garage, so he sold it to me for $500 and claimed it used to be used by the band Atlanta Rhythm Section, although I’m not sure I believe him. So before my van died I would drag this thing around with me to gigs and play through that as opposed to the house PA, just because I knew exactly how it would sound. This is a thoroughly abused ‘rock’ PA, by the way, and generally I think my sets sound better when I’m playing through PAs like that as long as it’s super loud. I’ve played at some of these techno clubs through the Funktion One systems and sometimes it sounds terrible, just because it’s all tuned up to have this insane bass response, that obviously is going to make some people sound amazing, but it just kind of muddies up what I’m trying to do. I guess if anything this has led to me actually doing a soundcheck before I play, albeit a very quick one, but a soundcheck none the less which usually results in me requesting less lows, more highs.
Much of your success has come through what we could loosely call the dance music world. Do you like to keep a hand in with the noise scene too? You have this band, Form A Log. Is there something you enjoy in certain kinds of music or performance that Container can’t provide?
‘Noise’ is such an ineffective term at this point, but using it for simplicity’s sake, I identify with that scene more than I do the dance music world. Having seen a lot of sets in the past year from both of those worlds, I’ve found the properly executed ‘noise’ sets that I saw to be much more moving and effective than the dance ones. Not to say I didn’t see some great dance sets too, but I think my issue is that some dance people are so reliant on software and modern equipment that sonically it becomes stale very quickly in a live setting, and they’re doing an hour long set. Mostly I’m just interested in seeing people play really weird music live, regardless of what genre it might fall under, and in the dance scene you don’t see the same level of freakishness and absurdity that you would at a good noise show.
Honestly, I find dance shows and club nights to be kind of boring. I’ve played a lot of these nights where I’m the only live act sandwiched between some DJs, and before and after I play I have no idea what to do with myself, because you can’t really stand there and stare at a dude mixing tracks on his laptop. There just isn’t enough going on for my taste. Not to knock DJing at all, but it’s really a foreign thing to me, because the shows that I go to at home never involve DJs. Maybe if someone was feeling it they’d throw on a ’90s playlist from their iPod between bands, but that’s about the extent of it. So now being involved in this culture where DJs are so highly regarded has been interesting. The first time I saw a flyer that said ‘live’ next to my name, I was so confused. Looking at all the names that didn’t have ‘live’ next to them my first thought was, ‘If these other people aren’t playing the show, then why are they on the flyer?’. Because at the shows I’m used to it would be assumed you’re playing live and if anything people would want to be notified if you weren’t, not the other way around.
Form A Log definitely allows me to work on music in a way that I never would in Container. For example, sometimes I’ll be working on some Container stuff and then absent-mindedly I’ll find myself across the room playing free form guitar solos, and I’ll be like, “What the fuck?! I’m supposed to be working on this new record! This isn’t helping at all!” Then I realize maybe it’s time to take a break from the beats and I’ll just record some guitar solos onto a tape and eventually they might find their way into a Form A Log song. Because all the Form A Log source material is recorded independently of the other members of the band, it allows you to focus on recording sounds without any ideas of composition and songwriting getting in the way until later. So when I’m not in the mood for doing Container stuff I might spend the day recording different tapes of jazz cymbals, bass riffs, feedback, drifting synths, and weird vocals which will eventually work their way into Log tracks the next time we get together. It’s my favourite band I’ve ever been in.
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