The LA/Wisconsin based producer-composer Riley Lake ventures out on his own after cutting his teeth in the LA beat scene and working with Milo and other Hellfyre affiliates; now he releases his Spaces EP via The Astral Plane on 3/31. I chatted with Will aka Chill aka Riley Lake while he was at work at his Wisconsin cheese shop day job. Enjoy his fresh, danceable soundscape of a track while you read on.
Alright, well let’s start broad. Classifying your own music is tough; do you call it anything specific?
I mean it depends on what I’m making. So, in a sense, no. There’s no term that neatly encapsulates the totality of my creative output that deals with sound. Sometimes, I just improvise tracks that never get recorded. Other times, I make ambient sound washes.
Do you try to limit yourself to any specific aesthetic or reoccurring elements?
Sometimes I make trax specifically meant to be played out in the club.
Yeah, I personally hear that aspect, kind of the new age bangers type thing.
Your gonna hear that way more in my upcoming releases. Kinda finishing up your first question, sometimes I’m not even making trax at all; I’m, like, building my studio space or dinking around with software/hardware design. I would call those efforts part of my musical output, but it’s not recorded material in the traditional sense.
Just ideas that come out of working with your production tools/gear?
More just like working on tools for the compositional process instead of chasing the end of that process. So the ideas that come out almost matter less than designing the systems which produce them.
So – the process that creates the process in a sense? What types of tools are you currently working on?
Nailed it. I think we’re too caught up in the idea of a stereo recording as the “end all be all” artistic commodity which represents a musical process (thank my homie/guru Jason Nanna of Bread Mothers for planting that idea in my brain).
For example, I soldered together a DIY analog synth kit, built a little case for it, and then ran it through an autotune/harmonizer… and fuck if it isn’t this strange fountain of beautiful, one of a kind lo-fi pads.
And, as much as I love the sounds it makes, I haven’t recorded it at all because nothing can really match the satisfaction of this strange contraption actually making music sounds. Just the fact that it fucking works.
I think the word commodity explains a lot in that sentiment. I feel like this idea is connected to the same sentiment that might have led to things like improv jazz, just trying to create new things and things that can’t be recreated.
Do you think electronic music is the de facto field for “new” types of musical exploration in this sense?
I’ve got my sights set on some interactive sound installations, to get a sense of how I want to break that paradigm.
But getting to that question, without a doubt, yeah. You can do damn near anything with a laptop these days. If you have a supercomputer with essentially limitless I/O possibilities, why wouldn’t you use it?
Nice. So, are you more interested in creating something living than an audio file? However, you do put out a decent amount of audio.
Yah, don’t get me wrong, I love making trax. Just the other night I finished my EP that I’ve been up til 5 am working on every night for like a month and a half. The stereo audio recording still is an amazing medium.
That’s exciting – any release plans?
I’m actually working on getting that sorted right now. I’m gonna find a label for it because I’m a remarkably terrible music businessman and publicist, and I want this one to really be presented to people in a way that does as much as possible to tie the work into a larger scale framework. This is my first proper solo release so I want to use it as an opportunity to build a foundation for the body of work that is to follow it.
I tend to blatantly ignore common sense when it comes to establishing myself as a compelling public figure and source of artistic output and I’m trying to not do that this time around.
For better or worse, that’s kind of important, playing the game… I like to try to think of that as all part of the presentation of the artistic vision, but that doesn’t always make that side of things as much fun.
I’m definitely embracing that more now. Just in general, I want to present myself in a more thoughtful, compelling manner – aka I wanna wear cooler clothes.
Get a chain?
Make a chain. Like, literally, that kinda sums it up.
I feel that.
I mean, it’s tunnel vision to not realize that how content is branded and presented matters just as much as the content. That’s ignoring the entire artistic trajectory of the last 120 years
Exactly, and I think that comes back to the other point, you are making a commodity in some form so why not just make the commodification on your terms.
More important even is how that content and presentation fits into the general cultural context both at present, historically, and in a predictive manner too.
In a meaningful way, like a commentary, or as a representation of?
I mean, just literally how a release is situated next to other bodies of work. So much of the meaning making process of perceiving music, especially electronic music, depends on what we associate given sounds or compositional styles with. Even mix techniques can determine how we perceive a piece based on the general sound of the track
That’s why I love the British dance music continuum so fucking much and electronic music rooted in regional cultures in general. It’s like this ridiculously complex network of sonic diasporas that is so satisfying to try and sus out. Same with hip hop and r&b in America
Any artist for reference on that? And along those lines where do you feel you would stand up in this context, or is that the part for the label to figure out? You obviously have already become associated with Hellfyre and that scene do you think that is a new American wave?
I think that hyperdub, which is a UK label run by bossman kode9, who does a spectacular job of choosing releases that are rooted in a particular sound/culture, but draw from others very gracefully.
You mentioned specific production techniques being enough to be the focal point of a genre; do you have production techniques you gravitate to because of that influence?
So basically I am a complete outsider. I grew up in the fucking woods in central Wisconsin u know what it’s like; I can’t front and claim some sort of authentic heritage. The LA beat scene probably gave me my sturdiest footing, but like, when It comes down to it I’m basically melting together a pastiche of sounds from the Midwest, East Coast, and UK into a 20 minute composition that is formally more similar to classical music than anything else. But like, the actual sonic language is a ménage of different signifiers from various styles of sound system music.
Essentially I just wrote a 20 minute composition for sound system.
So let’s expand on that – you’re classically trained in the violin if I remember, right?
Yah, I can stunt with four strings and a bow.
Does that naturally influence your composition style?
Right now, I’ve found that the most lasting influence is a propensity for non-cyclical composition. I have a really, really, really hard time letting the same four bars play twice in a row.
Like you said before, you make short tracks that can be played in a club, how do you decide whether a piece will be a banger or a non-cyclical/highly-composed piece?
Hopefully, this EP is both. I tried to make instrumental music where compositional development fills the abstract void left by the absence of a vocalist, or lyrics, more precisely. Cuz I do a lot of textural singing.
You are converging on a lot of interesting territory, this concept, and it seems to be a trend, blurs the lines between “producer” or “composer” do you think something like this, being hard to define will be tough to interpret? Or is that where the cultural context comes in?
I mean it just makes for music that is inherently kinda hard to place. It’s disconcerting to hear a track that pummels you with drums yet the pattern only kinda dances around a locked groove.
But at the same time: None of the high concept shit is really crucial to the listening experience because at the end of the day i made four songs to express how i felt in the fall of 2014 about my existence and most most importantly to make the listener feel a type of way and get lost in themselves as they shake their ass.
The Spaces EP debuted on March 31 and is available for you right now on Riley’s bandcamp page. Head over there now to check it and keep up with Riley on his social media pages for updates on future projects and shows.