When we last met Bryan Hollon, AKA BOOM BIP, we left him at a crossroads. His debut solo album, Seed To Sun (Lex/Warp)catapulted him from Cincinnati’s hip hop underground to the lofty realms of the international indie cognoscenti, which along the way includes the famous quote from the late John Peel, heralding Boom Bip as a “modern day Captain Beefheart” after his first Peel Session.
A significant signpost in an emerging genre combining the palette of the laptop producer with hip-hop and rock, Boom Bip went one further and turned Seed To Sun into a four piece live band, performing at Glastonbury, Dedbeat Festival in Rome, London's Ether Festival, and the Pompidou Centre in Paris, just to name a few. Boom Bip was also invited back to record a second Peel Session, having clearly impressed John Peel when Boom Bip & Doseone came in for their first Peel Session in 2001.
The release of Seed to Sun also put Boom Bip on the lips of his contemporaries and led to a string of extraordinary remixes by artists including Boards of Canada, Mogwai and Four Tet. These were collected on the 2004 Corymb compilation to sizeable acclaim. Boom Bip supported the Super Furry Animals on their 2003 US tour, which led to a remix on their Phantom Phorce album, while Boom Bip's signature tune "Roads Must Roll" can currently being heard over the opening scenes of a new concert documentary, Fade To Black, which captures Jay-Z's 'farewell show' at New York's Madison Square Garden in 2003. Yeah.
Meanwhile, Boom Bip upped stakes and moved to Silverlake in LA to start work on Blue Eyed in the Red Room. Cue rolling hills, flowers in bloom, views of Silverlake, beautiful sunsets every night and hummingbirds outside his studio window: "This album was started on a clean slate, in a new place, with new inspiration," BB says. "You can hear that in the songs, the fear, excitement, loneliness and comfort that I've felt for the past year. With Seed To Sun I was in rut. I was stuck, and a lot of dreaming and sadness were expressed in that album. It was like a caged bird singing!"
But at the same time, the new album returns Boom Bip to his beginnings as a musician. He played everything himself on the new album - which is not to say he has moved away from the ultra-finesse of his unique production style - the textures, sonic details and intricacies, tones, melodies and hypnotic reveries are all still to be found in ever more evocative shapes and emotional colors. It just means the crate-digging has ceased for the moment.
"I wanted the listener to get a sense of what is going on inside my head and my environment as much as possible," he explains. "Samples are a detour from that connection. Samples express what you like, but it's someone else's idea and product. To really connect with the listener it was essential that I play everything. While making the record I had the live show in mind the entire time. The new songs are 98% live instrumentation and have energy, structure, chord changes and dynamics. Not loop-based or beat-based like tracks in the past."
Although drums were Boom Bip's first instrument, it was the guitar that turned him into a songwriter. "Even though I've tinkered with guitar and used it in songs over the years, I never fully committed to it like I did with this record," he admits. "In times of beauty and peace I can lay down delicate acoustic parts and in times of excitement or anger I can thrash an electric."
Released on Lex last year, Blue Eyed In The Red Room features two special guest vocalists, Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys and acclaimed New York singer/songwriter, Nina Nastasia. With a forthcoming solo album, a Super Furry Animals Back To Mine compilation and new album in the works, Gruff was spread thin, but made time to write the lyrics and sing "Do's and Don'ts," recording the vocals at Dangermouse's California studio one afternoon. An MTV camera crew were chilling at the DM crib that day, so they filmed the session.
"We became really good friends at that time," BB recalls of his time on the road with Super Furry Animals. "Gruff crashed on my couch for a few days. He drew inspiration from some of the books I had lying around, in particular Bahai Faith by Jessyca Russell Gaver." Needless to say, Gruff's portentous lyrics perfectly complemented the spooky, cosmic feel of the track with the layered vocals, finger clicks, tablas, backwards guitars and mesmeric bass that spiral out into a proper LA-style, wig-out.
The Nina Nastasia track, "The Matter (Of Our Discussion)", developed from Boom Bip's pure fandom. "She had me from the first song," BB says of first hearing her breakthrough album, The Blackened Air. "I was shocked at how moving her voice and lyrics were."
Nina wrote a simple song based around guitar and her devastatingly intimate vocal. Mashing and processing the sounds of autoharps, guitars, drums and strings, BB created a haunting drone ballad. "Nina's voice demands every bit of the attention of the song," he says. "The subject matter and lyrics of this track mean so much to me. I can identify with every word. We both are in deep relationships and battle with our thoughts on our partners. I love it, it's the perfect way to close the record with thoughts that Nina and I both share."