Boom Bip: Me And People

A man of many projects, <b>Boom Bip</b> explains why he really can't seem to manage a 'solo' album

Feature by Paul Mitchell | 29 Aug 2011

“A mutual friend of ours was at a pool party, typical LA summer’s evening, and he introduced us.” Thus Bryan Hollon, bastard, better known as Boom Bip, tells us how he met Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, in advance of their collaboration on Hollon's new album Zig Zaj. It’s the American producer’s third solo album and his first release in the aftermath of an inspired teaming with Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys as Neon Neon, the fruits of which became a Mercury-nominated paean to 80s synth-pop, Stainless Style in 2008.

This 90210-style method of doing business, is, he explains, a common occurrence, and not the dramatised stereotype one might like to think it is when watching TV. “Well the music scene in LA isn’t very large, so we intermingle a lot. It’s rather easy to meet the various people involved. It’s how it works here, I’m sure it’s the same in a lot of metropolitan areas. LA is a very transient city, so there are always different bands or friends around at any one time and we just go to the park, or some space to just jam or sit and record and get something which we can come back to later.”

The name-dropping throughout our conversation doesn’t let up, but he’s not showing off; Hollon is, after all, a much sought-after collaborator. In the past, he’s remixed work from the likes of the aforementioned Furries, our own Mogwai, Amon Tobin and even the late Syd Barrett. And so, for this ‘solo’ effort, he managed to enrol an impressive cast of poolside playmates in the form of renowned Beastie Boys collaborator Money Mark, Jenny Lee Lindberg of LA art-rockers Warpaint, recently appointed Chili Pepper guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, Mike Noyce of Bon Iver, and Neon Neon vocalist Cate le Bon along with the aforementioned Kapranos who, Hollon explains, was a bit of a special case.

“I had created this song and I kept hearing his voice over the top of it," he starts. "I even had the verses written out and a theme, but it was his voice that I kept hearing from the beginning. And so when we got introduced I mentioned to Alex that I had this song where I could hear no one else but him on it and if he could take a listen that would be great. He spent a few weeks working on it in Scotland; we did some laptop sessions on it together and came up with what you hear, which is now called Goodbye Lovers and Friends. It’s rare that I have a track where I completely hear just one person’s voice. I have a song where I can only hear Nick Cave but obviously that’s going to be a very hard collaboration to nail. I did try, and I got a very polite response, but he was really busy with Grinderman at the time. Still, I haven’t given up on working with him one day.”

Cave, if he does change his mind in the future, may find the experience an enlightening one, as Hollon details his working methods on Zig Zaj. “For this record I would just give the vocalist a theme and would describe... like with Alex’s track I wanted him to picture himself, around the turn of the last century, in a dark theatre where he’d just appeared as a magician, pulling a rabbit out of a hat – that kind of situation [yes, that one]. The lyrics are all his and I came up with an aesthetic to guide him. I did that with everyone to try and help them get to a certain space. I think that helps. They’ve got the music, which can inspire them, and then they’ve got this theme which can give them more focus. Their personality can allow for any interpretation or expression, but it does seem like a good way to work.”

Hollon has been on the scene since the late nineties, DJing and remixing hip-hop and electronica. It was his 2000 collaborative album with Idaho MC and Anticon Records founder Doseone (who has similarly gone on to front myriad recording projects), Circles, which was brought to the attention of UK radio listeners by a session under the watch of the great John Peel. Peel’s comments at the time – branding the duo ‘a modern day Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band’ – have followed Hollon around since. Does it seem like an unfair burden? Hollon doesn’t seem to think so, although he does put it in context: “John talked to Adam and I at the Maida Vale (BBC) studios. Part of that was about the record and how big a fan he was and that we were, to him, a modern day Captain Beefheart – well I was more like the Magic Band. Adam [Drucker, aka Doseone] is definitely Captain Beefheart. If you listen to that record, there was poetry, very short tracks, and yes, we were inspired by Beefheart quite a lot, the freeform and thought that he was exceptional at. And yes, flattered. But it was just one remark about one specific record. I don’t think it applies to my career as a whole.”

But then, how to define a career that has taken in a huge variety of musical styles, from the early hip-hop, through to straight up guitar rock and, of late, an unfurling homage to the synthesizer. So Bryan Hollon, how would you describe the music of Boom Bip? “I don’t know. I play what I’m being influenced by, and I’m influenced by a massive amount of different music and genres. I just have a very broad range of likes, interests and tastes and that comes across the individual tracks on the album. I never felt comfortable using different monikers for different music; that just hasn’t felt necessary. So I’ve always stuck with the Boom Bip name and when I work on a record the process can take about two years, depending on the mood or what I’m listening to; I could be listening to krautrock, or a lot of minimal electronica and get inspired to start playing around. That’s how I create music; I don’t really focus on trying to fit myself into a hole.”

Being tough to pin down can, Hollon admits, have its drawbacks; the lack of a designated pigeonhole making it much more difficult for music fans drawn to specific genres to stumble upon him. For his own profile, he admits this is “a terrible thing,” but not something he’s unduly worried about, a sacrifice worth making in order to maintain his own personal sanity. “It’s really hard for me to just stick to one thing... a lot of people will just look at their five or six instruments and just write several different songs based on that palette. That does not appeal to me at all. I like to let the tones inspire me, they can come from all over the place and I like to go with the flow.”

Indeed, Hollon seems to be using his vast musical output as a means of documenting his life, associating personal memories with the music in each track. He explains this process with an example: “There’s a song on [Zig Zaj] called Pele. It’s my favourite and it came about because I fancied playing around with the idea of doing a surf tune. At the time, Warpaint and I were sharing the same studio space, jamming around a lot. I used one of their guitar pedals on the lead guitar channel to make it sound ‘surfy’. I can go back and listen to these songs and hear different pieces of my life and what I was doing and listening to at the time. Somebody who just comes to the record may not hear all these things and think it’s just scatterbrained with no direction. For me it’s more like a diary entry which brings me back to whatever time of my life the tracks come about.”

With Stainless Style, the delightfully facetious ‘biographical’ album dedicated to the life and times of John DeLorean – developer of the time-travelling sports car in the Back to the Future films – the closest he has come to flirting with mainstream recognition, are there any prospects of a reunion? “Yeah, we’ve recorded a few demos, it’s a much different record. I really doubt that we will continue the Neon Neon name however. We’ve settled on the idea of a new format and been inspired by a completely new theme. I’m not going to say right now what that is, I want to keep it a surprise. But it is another in the biographical genre.”

In the meantime, Hollon admits that he would like it if people could listen to his music, new album, previous releases and “hopefully hear that it’s all coming from one person.” If not, he can always take solace in the encouragement of Mr Peel. “John did say to me one day ‘What do you classify your music as? I’ve never been able to put my finger on it. I love it, but... putting you into a genre is very difficult.’ I said ‘I don’t know, I don’t think that’s my job,’ and he said, ‘Well, it’s a great place to be.’ It’s a nice thing to have, the John Peel endorsement not to worry about fitting in to any single classification.”

Zig Zaj is released via Lex Records on 26 Sep