Next week, Wise Blood will release his debut album, Id. For a while, it seemed like that day would never come.
Wise Blood is Pittsburgh songwriter Chris Laufman. Laufman builds non-traditional pops songs from dusty samples and earworming loops, structuring them like towering houses of cards. His breathy, half-sung vocals alternately give him the air of a long-forgotten bluesman and a tent revival preacher: there’s pain, hope, and a creeping uneasiness to his twisted nursery rhyme lyrics.
In 2010, Chris Laufman self-released an EP, and the These Wings EP dropped via New York indie Dovecote Records the next year. Laufman showed a knack for reworking samples (‘B.i.g. E.g.o’ features the iconic drums of ‘When The Levee Breaks’), and his songwriting had an otherworldy, anachronistic quality to it (e.g. ‘Loud Mouths’). Yet despite all the promise, a full-length effort never materialized and Laufman seemed to drop off the map.
FACT spoke with Laufman about what he’s been up to since his last release, the process behind Id, why he lives in Pittsburgh, and why he’d love to hear his songs in commercials. In addition, we are proud to present Id for your streaming pleasure (on the next page), in advance of the album’s June 25 release.
What have you been up to since These Wings? I’ve read about some schemes you got caught up in.
I took a detour into some distractions, getting into dubious ways to make some money. I had completed an album after These Wings, but I was in a weird spot. It was an instrumental concept album but I realized that is was pretty bad and I threw away all the files. Then I refocused and made this album. Since then, I’ve been working: I have this album, an extended mix of original material that will be released for free in September, and I’m eight songs into the next album.
How has your musical process changed between These Wings and Id?
For These Wings I was making songs that were me playing instruments with samples accompanying it, accentuating different parts of the melody. I started to realize I didn’t like doing that. On this album, a lot of the melodies come from looped-up samples. It’s kind of the opposite of what it was: I’ll accentuate it with instrumentation, but the core of it is sample-based.
It took me a little while to get comfortable. I felt like I had to change and do stuff made mostly with instruments, but I eventually said, “fuck it, I like making music based on samples.” I can work very quickly like that, and I’ve come to peace with the fact that I like working with loops and I’m going to keep doing it.
Have you always worked alone?
Music has always been something I’ve done on my own. I’m a big control freak and I’ve always been isolated. I started working with samples a while ago and I’ve just been trying to get better and better with it. Something about working with samples is just more interesting and exciting than working with instruments. I don’t know what that says about me.
There is a hip-hop influence in your work. A lot of people who sample heavily were influenced by Endtroducing and the like. Are those records in your background?
I gravitated more towards artists like Eric Copeland [of Black Dice], Panda Bear, and Danny Elfman. Those are the people that got me interested in using samples to make melodies and pop songs. A lot of recent producers, too: SpaceGhostPurrp, Blunt Fang; I’m doing some remix stuff with Metro Zu’s Lofty 305.
How would describe your relationship with pop music?
I always turn on [Pittsburgh Top 40 station] 96.1 Kiss and end up finding a song that I fall in love with that I need to listen to. Selena Gomez’s ‘Come and Get It’ was a song recently where I had to download it and listen to it on repeat. There’s so much [pop producers] can do because they’re working with such great technology and equipment and big money; it sounds epic and big and hits so hard. Pop music on the radio is my first love. I’ve always had a great relationship with pop – so much of the most exciting stuff being done is on the radio.
More underground musicians are coming out about loving mainstream pop music.
It’s become accepted – it’s no longer considered a “guilty pleasure;” This is good, the producers making this are really talented and are doing some really awesome stuff. I think it’s cool that people have come around to that.
Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 1/2)
What was your writing and recording process for Id?
I basically had these songs in place, and then I went in with Nicolas [Vernhes], which is great, because he’s worked with people that I love, like Eric Copeland, Animal Collective. We took the songs and switched a sample here and there or recreated samples live to get the quality better. It was cool to see how he does things and get some tips on how to fine-tune my production: how to make it sound bigger and cleaner but maintain its shambolic quality. I’m looking forward to mixing this second album. The more I go into the studio the more I’ll get a grasp of it. I definitely have a new perspective when I’m making a track now.
It seems like there is a loose concept on this record. How did you approach that?
I didn’t want to make songs about a girl. I made it without the idea of a narrative but it may play out that way. I saw it playing out like a John Waters’ movie; I really like Pecker, I love Cry-Baby. He’s a Baltimore guy. I think along the Rust Belt — Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit — there’s an affinity for what he does. Ever since I was younger I’ve had a huge crush on John Waters.
What do you like about Pittsburgh?
I moved around when I was a kid but I’ve been in Pittsburgh since I was 9 or 10. I recently decided that this is the place where I’m going to stay. When I was a teenager, I thought I’d leave, and I did for a bit, but it just feels right. I’ve always loved it.
Pittsburgh is awesome, it has a cool scene. It’s not a place that attracts people, like New York does, with a tractor beam. Pittsburgh doesn’t have that. It’s more cloistered and more its own weird thing. It’s gotten into my blood a little bit. It’s a lot slower-paced; I couldn’t live in a big city — it’s too much, too fast. I want to live where I can do whatever the fuck I want and be isolated a little bit.
It has big, suburban department stores that I’ve always loved; I’m attracted to that kind of thing. Strip malls, big parking lots. I’ll find myself just going there and not buying anything. I’ve started recognizing that in myself.
On that note, ‘Target’ is probably the poppiest song on Id, and it’s also earnestly about your love of Target. How would you react if they licensed it for a commercial?
I would love that, if Target sent me some money. I have no qualms. I think that would be one of the best; I’d be totally down with it. Seeing myself on TV during Modern Family would be great. [laughs]
It reminds me of when Of Montreal changed ‘Wraith Pinned to the Mist’ for an Outback Steakhouse commercial.
That’s funny to me. Usually people frown upon it, but I think that kind of stuff is awesome. The idea of selling out is the stupidest fucking thing. Do whatever you want, do whatever makes you happy – if making a song for Outback makes you happy, do it.
In 2010, you said that you wanted to “take over pop music.” What are your ambitions these days?
It’s taken me a little while, but I’m starting to figure out how I make music. I’ve started to crack the code. I’ve tempered my ambitions a little bit; I’m going to do my thing and see if people respond.
Do you feel that having blog coverage early in your career affected your growth?
Having that happen, I felt that I had to change things up or do something different. It took me two years to realize that that’s not what I wanted to do. Foregoing expectations is probably the best thing, and not getting discouraged if it takes a little while to click perfectly. I’m really ready for the future now.
Use your keyboard’s arrow keys or hit the prev / next arrows on your screen to turn pages (page 2/2)