Laurel Halo on working with Hyperdub and the pursuit of “sensual ugliness”
By, Mar 24 2012
Photo: Tim Saccenti
Laurel Halo is set to release her debut full-length album, Quarantine, in May.
Interestingly, it’s being released through Kode9’s increasingly catholic Hyperdub label, meaning it will share catalogue space with King Midas Sound’s Waiting For You and Burial’s two LPs. But Quarantine isn’t some lurching attempt to engage with the London soundsystem continuum, rather it picks up where Laurel’s hugely acclaimed Hour Logic EP (Hippos In Tanks, 2011) left off – although this time time-warping, ambient techno drift feels more fraught and more fragile, its surfaces grainy rather than glassy; it’s altogether a more human record. “Painfully human,” the Brooklyn-based artist confirmed in a short chat with FACT this week about its conception.
“I’ve been a fan of Hyperdub for years, so it was this insane rush of excitement.”
How and why did you come to release the album through Hyperdub?
“I sent Steve [Goodman, aka Kode9] the LP demos back in November, and I was shocked when he got back with immediate positive interest – I thought he might be interested in the King Felix tracks but not necessarily the Laurel Halo tracks. I’ve been a fan of Hyperdub for years, so it was this insane rush of excitement. I respect Steve’s work and I loved that we could jam on about music and gear and production, just leveling with him as another musician in that way made it feel like it would be a good label
How would you say your work connects to the other music in the Hyperdub stable?
“The ‘stable’…I guess I’m the newest workhorse imported from the States? To me the record connects with the Hyperdub aesthetic in that it’s timbrally off-kilter and bass plays a central role.”
“I wanted to make something more present than my previous records.”
How long has the album been brewing?
“I started the record in July last year and finished in February. I made over 30 demos, 18 of them were awful and had to be deleted. Some tracks took a while but a few tracks were done in hours. I made it all at home in my studio apart from a few days recording guitar, synth and Wurlitzer in London.”
Was there a particular theme that you were looking to address or explore on Quarantine, or something that links the tracks on it together?
“Contrails, trauma, volatile chemicals, viruses…I wanted to make something more present than my previous records.”
“I wanted to combine the sounds of my previous records into something cohesive. I think my sense of writing has always been good, but I now have a better sense of production than before and am honing in on a personal sound.”
Were there any guests or external contributors on the record, and if so, what were their roles?
“My friend Zeljko helped me mix it at home. His dog Prince served as spiritual advisor during the sessions, he’d hang out in the studio and drift off despite that we were blasting the tracks…I think if you can lull dogs to sleep with your music punishingly loud you’re doing something right…”
Your vocals are foregrounded in Quarantine in a way that they’re not in your previous work.
“I started out with a ton of echo and reverb on the vocals, but it sounded supremely boring to me, so I was curious how they’d sound dry in the arrangements and got rid of most of the wetness. It ended up creating this amazing contrast effect, the vocals slicing through the mix, giving rhythmic contour to the tracks that was previously missing in delay haze. It was tempting to use autotune but I decided against it because there’s this brutal, sensual ugliness in the vocals uncorrected, and painfully human vocals made sense for this record.”
“Painfully human vocals made sense for this record.”
Tell us about the cover art. It’s pretty…visceral…
“It’s from a piece called Harakiri Schoolgirls 2002 by Makoto Aida. The piece in real life is so vivid, in person it has this beautiful holographic gridded mylar sheet over the illustration, sadly it’s too expensive to recreate that with the vinyl packaging…I love that it’s brutal and violent but colourful and slow to sink in. I find it super humorous, just how fun these girls are daggering themselves and letting their intestines hang out!”