"Breaking up is hard to do," goes the sappy old Neil Sedaka hit. But sometimes, ending a relationship can lead to artistic breakthroughs. That's the case with Prefuse 73 (underground hip-hop producer extraordinaire Scott Herren). His new album on the British electronica powerhouse Warp, One Word Extinguisher, was conceived and recorded throughout 2002 during a long, draining breakup with his girlfriend. The extreme emotions emanating from the split helped fuel Herren's creativity. "There's a lot more of an emotional aspect to the new record," he admits. "I'm kind of glad I had a little something extra to throw in -- not that [the breakup] was a positive thing, but I needed that push at the time, because I thought, 'What the fuck am I doing?'"
On top of Herren's mental turmoil, he also had to deal with the pressures of following up one of the decade's most acclaimed debut albums, 2001's Vocal Studies & Uprock Narratives. On that work, Herren chops up MCs' vocals like a sushi chef getting medieval with prawns, while splicing together mad amounts of samples culled from all over the musical spectrum, but mostly based in avant-jazz's halcyon era (1968-'73 -- before fusion went awry, in Herren's opinion; hence the name Prefuse 73). Using only an MPC sampler, turntables, and ProTools (strictly for mixing), Herren constructs dazzlingly intricate tracks that have seduced stoic IDM fans into hip-hop's head-nodding and Jeep-bumping pleasures.
Ironically, considering the circumstances under which it was produced, One Word Extinguisher boasts a more optimistic, upbeat sound than its predecessor. Perhaps Herren's spirits were lifted by the MCs and producers who lent their distinctive skills to the disc's hour-long seminar on hip-hop paradigm-shifting. Rappers Diverse and Mr. Lif donate tough lyrics to "Plastic" and "Huevos With Jeff and Rani," while Jenny Vasquez ululates sexy R&B flava on "Why I Love You." Ann Arbor prodigy Dabrye and L.A. mad scientist Daedelus bring fresh, quirky noise to "Uprock and Invigorate" and "Busy Signal," respectively. And skateboarding legend Tommy Guerrero lays down sweet acoustic-guitar licks on "Storm Returns."
Despite all the cameos, though, Extinguisher is assuredly Herren's brainchild. An ultra-vivid elaboration on the approach he pioneered on Vocal Studies, the new album can be enjoyed equally in both Dirty South strip joints and the bedroom studios of the most asexual laptop geeks.
Discussing his scrupulous sampling process, Herren says, "I'm taking random parts of the sample that people normally wouldn't take. It's not that I'm really treating the samples in any way; I'm taking 'em off the record in a brutal way, rather than carefully lifting a loop. I'm taking a piece of sound and working with that, rather than working with a 'perfect' piece."
After working with Herren, Dabrye and Daedelus had nothing but praise for the producer's methods and results. "Scott's Prefuse 73 work has profoundly affected what being a hip-hop producer is," says Daedelus. "So many people here in Europe [where Daedelus was touring at the time of our e-mail interview] find his music to be supremely relevant to them personally, as well [as feeling] his hip-hop to be inventive and cutting-edge. Scott has the amazing effect of a jazz musician's magic right now, pulling the music from thin air, as if it were always just waiting to be called out."
"[Herren] sounds more like a hip-hop producer than other electronic artists he's lumped with," Dabrye adds. "I hear a lot of other electronic artists actually referencing hip-hop in their music, rather than naturally fusing it with integrity."
Part of Herren's evolution involved his moving from Atlanta to Barcelona, Spain (though Herren did record Extinguisher in Atlanta, where he was able to make tracks with maximum efficiency and facilitate his collaborations). He bolted America for two major reasons: His father lives in Barcelona, and he sought refuge from the unsavory political climate ushered in by President Bush. Herren's new locale has affected his Savath + Savalas project (a more organic, post-rock-oriented affair; see his 2000 album on Hefty Records, Folk Songs for Trains, Trees and Honey). "Prefuse will keep progressing the way it's been," says Herren. "But with Savath + Savalas, I'm soaking things in and getting all sorts of inspiration from the outside."
While Herren has retired his IDM alter ego Delarosa & Asora, he says that Savath + Savalas is reborn. "Savath + Savalas could even replace Prefuse." We hope the threat is idle, but whatever the case, the next S+S album should see daylight by the end of this summer. This disc "is going to be different from the first one," Herren claims. "It's vocal-based, but nobody famous is on it; just people from Barcelona. It's gonna be fresh."
Expect more freshness from Prefuse's live show, which is "much sloppier" than his studio creations. "I make an effort so it's not so pre-calculated. I let a lot of random shit in."
One not-so-random addition to the Prefuse concert experience is Tortoise drummer John Herndon, a longtime friend of Herren's, who also appears on this tour in his A Grape Dope guise. One of Chicago's most in-demand percussionists, Herndon will surely add surprising elements to Prefuse's performance, if Herndon's new EP, "Missing Dragons," is any indication. "We have things in common musically," says Herren. "Our sets are open, our minds are open. Whatever happens, happens. We're going to build on that as we go. Every night will be different."