Features I by I 25.05.16

Quiet zone: Huerco S. swaps lo-fi house for timeless ambient on his therapeutic second album

Brooklyn-via-Kansas City producer Huerco S. isn’t new to exploring the sludgier, introspective side of electronic music.

His releases over the past five years on labels like Opal Tapes, Future Times, Software and Proibito have seen the producer born Brian Leeds carve out a distinctive sound: dusty, loop-driven house music tailored for more pensive moments on the dancefloor. Leeds’ second album though, the unwieldily titled For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have), finds him tapping more deeply into one specific aspect of his discography. The entirely ambient record, free from beats but rich in soothing melodies, traces common threads of repetition built from hours of improvisatory jams

Where his 2013 debut album Colonial Patterns saw him tie his work heavily to a specific theme, that of his own studies into the history of pre-Colombian communities in the American Midwest, his latest effort pushes in the opposite direction. Working more freely, he opted instead to allow the album’s “common thread to reveal itself over time, instead of trying to push it into a hole that it wouldn’t fit in,” he explains. Describing the album as “about everything and nothing at the same time”, Leeds worked into the night over a number of months, setting aside studio time away from the distraction of touring in order to create the follow-up.

Ambient music had a long been an obsession of his, having discovered the music of Japanese composer Hiroshi Yoshimura, Wolfgang Voigt’s Gas project and of course Brian Eno, whose series of Ambient albums, released between 1978 and 1982, can be credited with birthing the genre as we know it. “Ambient Music is intended to induce calm and a space to think,” state the liner notes to Ambient 1: Music For Airports. “It must be as ignorable as it is interesting.”

The risk of boring people is a worry that Leeds confesses to even now, having completed the album. Thankfully, For Those Of You Who Have Never… finds that sweet spot Eno recommends, tapping into something simultaneously captivating and therapeutic. Ahead of the album’s release on June 6 through Proibito and an appearance at Paris’ Weather Festival on June 4, Leeds told us about trying for timelessness, falling asleep at his synth and why he’s never wanted to be a “lo-fi” producer.

“A lot of producers can engineer music to make it sound completely flawless, but that’s not what I’m about”

This is your first extended project since 2013. What are the differences between where you were then as a producer and where you are now?

Stylistically this is a big departure, because a lot of my earlier material is more sample-based. After the first album I made an effort to stop using samples, so it’s all been a lead-up to this. It feels like this album is completely ‘me’. All the pieces have been taken from extended jams that I recorded. Sometimes pieces were around an hour long and I would edit them down, finding various interesting parts and looping those as well as finding parts I liked to re-sample from myself. This is so focused on myself and sourcing the sounds completely from my own mind rather than using external samples.

Why did you decide to stop using external samples?

I’d just been doing it for a very long time and seeped into the habit of using them. It’s important to progress, though, and try new means to produce and express yourself. It was also just getting frustrating trying to find original samples to use. Maybe sometimes I would find something I loved and then discover somebody else had already used it in some way, so it’s like ‘oh shit, somebody beat me to it’.

Have travelling and touring fed into the way that you work on music?

I don’t get to produce while I’m on the road. Even if I could I don’t think I’d want to, because I think those are times when you should unwind, and you have to actually be inspired in some way to make music. You can’t just be constantly going at it all the time, or I can’t at least. I think it’s important to just take a step back sometimes and give yourself some space so you can let ideas come to you rather than forcing them. Travelling really helps me to do that and, of course, I do that mostly when I go places to DJ.

Why make that move into ambient music now? You’ve explored it on past material but this is a significant departure.

It seemed like a natural move based on a lot of the music I had been listening to. I had been listening to a lot of Gas, Dettinger and Hiroshi Yoshimura. Their music is obviously ambient and very minimal to me and they are people that make records that are purely timeless. You can listen to them and say that they may have come out in 2000 or 1983 or whatever, but it all sounds like it could have been made whenever to me. I wanted to explore that idea of making a timeless record in that sense, as stupid as that may sound.

Can you pinpoint any specific albums that are important to you?

The biggest one is most definitely Pop by Gas; there’s Multila by Vladislav Delay, Pier & Loft by Hiroshi Yoshimura and Brian Eno’s Ambient 4: On Land. Those are the big records in that world for me. 94 Diskont by Oval is a special one too.

Huerco S.
Photograph by Mathilde Chambon

“I would just fall asleep on my synth while jamming and I think that’s a really beautiful thing”

The album title is rather unwieldy.

I feel like it’s not even grammatically correct. I found it on the back of a record that my friend had. I think it’s a funk/soul record from the ‘70s and I had no idea what this record was. I tried to Google it and couldn’t find out any information on it. Instead of a ‘thank you’ sheet on the record, it had this note saying ‘For those of you that have never (and also those of you who have) tried…’, blah blah blah. There was a list of things that the people behind the music recommended that other people should do, like ‘a long walk on the beach with your lover’ or ‘eating a plate of collard greens’.

I thought it was such a weird concept, but it made sense in the context of the album because there’s this range of emotion and you are obviously not going to feel it all at once, but I think it’s really important for us all to understand that some have and some have not experienced or felt certain things. The name is quite playful because, despite the sounds on the album, I also don’t want to be seen to be taking things too seriously.

A lot of the album is formed from loops created during jam sessions. Do you think there’s something therapeutic about that with regards to the repetition?

The album is definitely therapeutic to me. Making any music is for me because it gives me the opportunity to unwind. I don’t live a particularly stressful life but making music just affords me the chance to release certain energies.

I’ve said before that even with the travel I do as a DJ, it is quite a high-stress and high-anxiety time for me personally. One of the ways that I would deal with it while, say, on a long plane journey, is to put on one of these albums that uses the same kind of ideas with loops and repetition, and just lose myself and maybe nod off to them. I would wake up and just have no idea if five minutes or an hour had passed.

I had some of the tracks from this album on an iPod while travelling, so that meant I was able to do the same with my own work. Even while working on the album late at night, I would just fall asleep on my synth while jamming and I think that’s a really beautiful thing. If I can get that relaxed from the music I’m making, that’s perfect.

Were there any frustrating elements of producing this album? Did a lot of ideas go in the bin?

A lot of the music featured is isolated from much longer recordings, so there’s a lot of unheard material and ideas that I haven’t used. For each track on the album there are around four or so versions and then maybe another 30 scrapped tracks. I could have made the album much longer, but even now, listening back, I wonder if I made it too long. It’s difficult, especially with making an album that is entirely ambient, to have confidence that you can maintain people’s attention for the length of a record. I don’t want to bore people, that’s my worst fear.

In the past your music has been described as ‘lo-fi’. That came to be a trend of sorts. Did you find it reductive to your work or did you even care?

For sure. Once any ‘scene’ or ‘micro-genre’ gets to a certain point, you might think ‘look, I’ve had enough of this’. I don’t think it was intentional but people naturally latch onto a sound and pound it into the ground I guess. Obviously I don’t consider myself to be a ‘lo-fi’ artist and I don’t strive to degrade things when it comes to how my music sounds. It’s a natural part of my process.

Maybe I’m just not a great engineer. A lot of producers can engineer music to make it sound polished and completely flawless but that’s not what I’m about. I want to make the music as tangible and true to myself as I can, so I’ve never felt to alter my recording process for any reasons like that.



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