the AU interview: El-P (Brooklyn)

In the middle of his preparations to visit us down under as part of the Laneway Festival, El-P phoned Larry Heath to discuss everything from the process of making his latest album, to what he thought was the best record of 2012.

So you’re about to return to Australia for the first time since 2009. It’s been a while between drinks — what’s taken so long to get you back here?

I had to make a couple of albums! And earn my relevancy… but that’s it. Just working. This year, I actually got the chance to release some new stuff, so that’s what’s bringing me out.

If you ever need a place to record, there’s plenty of good places down here that would be very willing to have you!

That would be awesome. Except I think that based on our schedule, we’re barely going to have time to sleep.

I don’t doubt it. Have you ever had time to sleep in Australia, or has it always been a manic experience?

Nope. It can be very hectic. This time, we’re doing a show and flying every day. So on one hand, I’m really looking forward to it, but on the other, I’m in fear for my life.

I’ve noticed there’s some festivals around the world that have started doing gigs on aeroplanes, in between shows — so I guess you can be thankful that they’re not doing it on this one!

My hatred for flying completely takes me out of the running for any show on a plane. It cannot happen. Unless you want to see me have a nervous breakdown.

There’s probably a concept record in that.

Well, that’s kind of what my records are, anyway!

On that note, let’s talk about your latest record! It’s been a while since it came out, but you’re still on the touring circuit for it. You mentioned that there was quite a lengthy process behind it, so can you tell us a bit about that?

It happened the way most of my work happened. I just need to take those steps towards what I want to do, what I want to say, and how I want it to sound. Then I carve out time where I can really start to concentrate on it, and it eventually comes together. I take more time to craft my records than some other artists, I think, but it’s always been a labour of love. I want them to always be the best thing I can do at that time. They’ve always been very important to me, so I’ve never felt comfortable rushing them.

In the past, I’ve had more responsibilities that took time away from them, but that’s thinned over the last few years. I think that’s allowed me to be more productive than I’ve been before — I did two records this year! So it’s been nice to just focus on being a musician.

And work with some others, too. On Cancer 4 Cure you worked with Killer Mike, Danny Brown, and Paul Banks — so how do these collaborations come about?

I have a lot of talented friends! When I’m making records, I don’t set out thinking about certain people to include. I’m a slave to whatever the result of the song needs to be, and sometimes you can hit a point in an album where it just feels right to have another voice. Anybody else who is on the record is on there because it worked for me, conceptually. I’m inspired by the people on my record, and surrounding yourself with creative people is a great thing for collaboration — as long as you don’t do it for the sake of it. I need it to be my record. But it came about very organically, very much about what those songs needed.

Yeah. And when it comes to a festival like Laneway, you’ve got an opportunity to be touring around with a lot of other artists. Is there anyone on that line-up that you’re interested to meet, or see, or one day work with?

Everybody keeps asking me that, and I’m really embarrassed because I’ve been touring so much that I don’t even know who’s on the fucking thing! And I hate to say that because it makes me sound like an asshole, but I haven’t had a moment to myself in the past 6 months. But I love being able to hang out with all the different artists — it’s what makes these things special. I mean, it’s one thing to go on the road and play shows and do your own thing, but it’s rare to get the chance to travel with so many people under these circumstances. So I’m really excited, because I love watching people play, and love learning from them.

Lately I’ve been ending interviews by asking people what their favourite albums of the year are, but it sounds like you haven’t had a chance to listen to any!

Oh I’m always listening. Obviously I live Killer Mike’s record, but I was very moved by The Gaslamp Killer’s record. He’s a friend of mine, but I was so blown away by what he came up with, so that was one of my favourites of the year. It was brilliant.

Fair call! Well, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. We’re really excited to see you down here next year, and have a great Christmas and New Year!

Cool, man — you too!


El-P will be playing at the Laneway Festival!
Dates and tickets here:

You can also see him at one of two sideshows!
Wednesday, February 6 – The Corner, Melbourne
Thursday, February 7 – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Tickets also on sale now!


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