Friday, March 14, 2014

Andre Lafosse 13 questions

Andre LaFosse is a guitarist, producer, and chronic deconstructionist tortured (solo) artist. His eclectic, obsessive experiments with gene-splicing his own musical DNA have won him acclaim, controversy, and more than a few puzzled looks from his listeners.
His first CD, Disruption Theory (1999), juxtaposed live electric guitar against intricate electronic programming, and was greeted with both serious critical praise and serious commercial obscurity. In spite of being an instrumental guitar-driven record, the album was profiled in music publications as diverse as Alternative Press, MOJO, Outburn, Expose, and 20th Century Guitar.

His follow-up, Normalized (2003), documented an utterly iconoclastic approach to live sampling/looping that utterly rejected the ambient, effects-heavy progressive guitar paradigm, drawing inspiration instead from turntablism, glitchcore, hip-hop, and dance music. As documented on Normalized, Andre’s looping style, based around one guitar, one looper, and one tube guitar amp, led to performances at the New York Guitar Festival, a featured episode of WNYC’s New Sounds, and guest spots on the scores to several Hollywood films.

After a lengthy absence from recording, Andre has returned in 2012 with two separate solo albums that are as different from one another as they are from anything he’s previously released. The Hard Bargain is his self-described “mid-life crisis rock album.” Built exclusively from a foundation of guitar, bass, and drums, and featuring tightly composed, elaborately arranged material, it’s the completely unfashionable instrumental guitar recording he spent most of the last fifteen years avoiding making. The sister album, Do The Math (aka “the mad scientist modular synth hauntology krautrock album”), places his guitar playing atop a foundation of massive, buzzing, unstable electronics and hypnotic grooves.

What's your preferred device in the sound chain?

It sounds pretentious to say this, but: the guitar itself. I'm not trying to be clever; I genuinely find that changing the guitar, and the way I'm using my hands, has a much bigger impact on what I play, and the way it sounds, than changing anything else in the signal path - amps, effects, cables, you name it.

If we're talking about things that exist after the guitar's output jack, though, it would have to be the Echoplex Digital Pro looper. I've developed a very specific vocabulary of techniques with it, using functions and possibilities that just don't exist in any other hardware looper, and only a couple of software solutions.

Which was the last record you bought with your own money?

"Ege Bamyasi" by Can.

What do you expect from music?

I actually find that as time goes by, I increasingly try to NOT expect anything from music.

So, as a listener, I try to deal with music on its own terms, instead of judging it based on how it does or does not live up to my own personal preferences or preconceptions. As a live performer, I try to deal with each gig as its own distinct entity; one of my favorite things about playing live is the possibility that no two gigs will ever be the same, and that things will happen that I'm not expecting.

But talking about "not expecting anything from music" is admittedly an absurd thing to say, because we rely on expectations all the time. They're the things that cause us to choose to listen to something, to revisit an artist over a period of time, to go to a gig, and work with a particular musician or entity. So I guess I try to strike a balance between following my expectations to a certain point, but trying to not let them override my having an honest experience with music.

Which work of your own are you most proud of, and why?

If we're talking about recordings, it's a tie between two solo albums: Normalized (2003) and Do The Math (2012). Normalized is a solid document of the early breakthrough period of the "turntablist guitar" looping approach I do. I still have a lot of mixed emotions when it comes to looping and its place in my life, but if I end up being known or remembered for anything, it'll be for my looping work. It was undertaken as an attempt to rid myself of any preconceptions I had about what guitar looping was "supposed to sound like," and if only in that regard, it's been a success.

If my looping style has been largely defined by deliberately making certain musical elements off-limits for myself, then Do The Math was about giving myself permission to work with those things again. Using synthesizers, writing melodies and structured compositions, and playing a ton of "normal" (i.e. un-looped) guitar are all things that I love doing, and I feel really good about having gotten those things into what I consider a very solid album. I'm as proud of Do The Math as I am of any work I've done, even though there are still some long-term friends and supporters of mine who have literally refused to acknowledge the album's existence or discuss it with me.

What's the importance of technique in music, in your opinion?

If there's something you want to play, it's important to cultivate the techniques that will allow you to play it.

Now, when talking about guitar playing, there's a tendency to equate "technique" with "fast, overtly virtuosic playing." And that's fine. But technique is a huge, vast subject, that potentially encompasses every aspect of putting your hands on the instrument. Bending, vibrato, slides, harmonics, intonation - these are all huge categories of technique in and of themselves, with enormous range and variety.


And there are plenty of techniques that involve the ears and the head at least as much as in the hands. Becoming familiar with the SOUND (as opposed to just fretboard shapes or metronome markings) of a scale, chord progression, key change, meter - all of these are big, big areas with a huge range of approaches and degrees of complexity in them. These are all "techniques" (and, for better or worse, nearly all of these are techniques that I've found far more important and seductive to me, as a player, than the virtuosic, speedy stuff.)

What quality do you admire most in an artist?

Some of the characteristics that a lot of my favorite artists seem to share: a visceral "directness" of emotional content; a serious attention to detail in the way they phrase notes; the ability/tendency to be extremely "stark;" a willingness to push aspects of their work into unfashionable, awkward, and/or uncomfortable territory; an unconventional or iconoclastic relationship to "style" or "genre" (also see: a "healthy disrespect" for tradition.)

What’s the difference between a good guitar and a bad guitar?

Playing a good guitar is like meeting someone who it's very easy to have a conversation with. Sometimes the subject of discussion might be challenging, or outside of my usual range of experience. But my favorite guitars are like old friends who I always know I can have a deep and stimulating discussion with, even if I haven't seen them in a long time. And just like some of my friends are people that other friends of mine can't stand, some of the guitars I love wouldn't appeal to many other players.

What are the challenges and benefits of today's digital music scene?

It's absolute madness. Trying to visualize "today's digital music scene" feels like looking at an impossibly dense and complex piece of abstract art: I can't understand what's going on; I keep seeing aspects of it that are alternately deeply inspiring and profoundly horrifying; and yet, as overwhelming as it is, I can't seem to tear myself away from it. It's both the greatest and the worst thing to happen to me as a musician, I think.


Define the sound you're still looking for.

Expressive, abstract, stark, emotionally direct, distinctive. Aware of tradition but not beholden to it. Covering a wide range of stylistic ground, but consistent in a core identity.

(Wow, that reads as impossibly pretentious! I'd better send this off before I come to my senses and change my mind…)


Why do you love the guitar?

I think a lot of it has to do with the electric guitar being a very literal bridge between the acoustic and electronic worlds. It's fundamentally an electronic instrument, and yet all of that technology is being used to magnify and reinforce things that are still acoustic in origin. Both of my parents were professional classical violinists, and I played cello for about five years. At the same time, I was very drawn to synthesizers and effects processing, long before I bought my first guitar. So I think the electric guitar's ability to simultaneously occupy both of those worlds satisfies a lot of potentially contradictory interests of mine.

One thing do you have learned with effort in the guitar?

For as long as I live, I'm always going to feel like I'm not a fast enough player. I don't know if it's because I'm lazy, or because I've spent energy in areas other than speed, or if I'm just genetically uncoordinated, but speed has always felt like a big obstacle for me, even in the times when I've spent countless hours inching up my single-note playing a few metronome markings at a time.

What dead artist would you like to have collaborated with?

For me, the best collaborations seem to be based on a personal rapport and chemistry, moreso than what might seem like an obvious similarity in sound or style or approach. So I'd probably need to spend some time with them before I'd have a sense of whether or not it'd be a good match. Add to that the fact that I'd probably be squeamish about meeting a person I held in high esteem, out of fear that a) they might be really unlikable as people, which could adversely color my taste for their work, and/or b) they might deem me unworthy of working with, which I'd just as soon not get confirmation of.

What’s your next project about?

A lot of different things:

- A new live quartet, Epically Cracked, which I'm a full-on democratic member of; it's sort of an experimental funk/jazz thing, with a lot of through-composed AND improvised material.

- Many, many different recording ideas, currently sitting on my hard drive in various states of completion, based around various concepts I'm intrigued by. Not "concept" in the sense of setting a philosophy essay or a Dungeons and Dragons campaign to music, but foundational ideas: I really like this synthesizer, effect processor, approach to composing/improvising, way of playing guitar, etc… what kind of recorded work could I get out of it?

- As always, a lot of things I want to improve on with my guitar playing. At the current top of the list: expanding my harmonic palate; trying (for the umpteenth time) to get some speed happening; being able to comfortably improvise in the diminished scale without getting dizzy or seasick.

- Probably continuing to explore my on-again/off-again relationship with live looping.

- And continuing my day jobs as a guitar teacher and music transcriptionist.