Band of the Week: Johnny La Rock & Furface

Concert Preview

Meet the Band: Johnny La Rock (samplers, turntables), Will Hooper (guitar), Furface (MIDI controllers)

Strength in Numbers: Furface and Johnny La Rock, who both played in the local hip-hop outfit Presque Vu, have been making music with one another for years. When that band split up, they both started focusing on solo projects before reconvening to form Johnny La Rock & Furface. "Being a one-man electronic thing gets pretty boring," says Johnny La Rock. "So, we merged our solo projects and just started playing live as Johnny La Rock & Furface." They then added Ottawa guitarist Will Hooper.

No More Words: The band creates moody electronic music that harkens back to the '90s era DJ Shadow and has a more contemporary comparison in RJD2. "We've both been heavy into instrumental electronic and hip-hop music for a long time," says Johnny La Rock. "We dabbled in it in various projects before. What makes it special to us is that it allows the listener to create their own ideas about what the song is about. Without vocals painting a clear narrative, people can sort of use the songs to create a soundtrack for a mini-movie in their heads. As for style, we try to stay away from any subgenre fads. Our music combines a lot of elements: hip-hop, electronic, funk, R&B, indie rock, etc. I always hesitate to tag things because I think that often alienates people from music they may be into. Artists like DJ Shadow, RJD2, Moby — those are people we respect because they do the same thing. They don't pigeonhole themselves into any one genre."

Blending In: For the new single, the band released a track by Furface, a track by Johnny La Rock and a track that blends the two tracks to create to a unique mash-up. It includes a few vocal samples that the guys lifted from various sources. "As for the samples, some of them I can reveal, some I can't," says Johnny La Rock. "In 'Number 9 By the Fire," there's a lot of samples from an obscure 1950s educational film about dating. The hook sample in that tune, and the ones in Furface's 'Neon,' will have to remain a secret. Typically, we only use samples to spice up a track — vocal stabs and whatnot. The foundation of our tunes is built from scratch, programmed or played out by us."

Where You Can Hear Them:

Why You Should Hear Them: The band's forthcoming album SPLITTAPE is a split release that includes six songs from Johnny La Rock and six from Furface. "Furface and I have a similar vibe, so even though it's divided, there's still a lot of cohesion," says Johnny La Rock. "The mood of the album has a nice balance. There's lots of downtempo chill moments, but certainly still some bangers." Band members recorded everything themselves at their home studios. "All of the programming, sampling, and instrumentation was handled by us," says Johnny La Rock, who adds that the album will be available as a digital release and on cassette. Technically, the album doesn't come out until July 21, but people coming to the Sage Francis show can buy the cassette a few days early.

Where You Can See Them: Johnny La Rock & Furface performs with Sage Francis and p. stoops at 9 p.m. on Sunday, July 19, at the Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights.

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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