Fresh from his performance the other night at the legendary Low End Theory, we had a chance to catch up with the producer/emcee-extraordinaire Vritra to discuss his new album Yellowing available today from NRK. Born Hal Williams, previously known as Pyramid Vritra, noted for his continuing work with Matt Martians (also of The Internet) with The Jet Age of Tomorrow releasing work through their Odd Future affiliates, and his previous Stones Throw releases with the album Indra and the Palace EP; Williams has shed the Pyramid predicate from his moniker and continues to redefine & reinvent his sound that remains in a constant state of evolution & revolutionary developments. Moving all stylistic elements into the ineffable arenas of the underground, Vritra marches & moves to his own sublime beats that were a highlight of the previous OF-era of production, prosody & rhythm that only grow to new infinite atmospheres over time.
From the opening keys & percussion of Yellowing we are return to the Vritra party with “Fleeting Youth & Soundwave” that serves as a time marker that indicates the audio aesthetics from Hal’s youth that becomes of age into the newest batch of soundwaves. The post-trap, chopped & screwed sorts of varieties twist style components of jazz, rhythm & blues into braids of being & bountiful beats. This is heard on “Gumbi” which is anything but a typical Art Clokey claymation production where the progressions takes hosts of unexpected twists and turns down trippy corridors, or traversing deeper into subterranean levels on the ultra-chilled out “TWLV WKS”, where expanses of time that extend beyond a dozen weeks take jazzy turns on the adventurous brassy-key confection of “Plastic” (guaranteed to be BPA-free). Our previously debuted single “PSA” finds Hal providing advice from “wash your clothes, watch your role” & other life affirming anecdotes that mix the ennui with elements of the exciting. “Question & Demand” ponders laws of supplies & demand and deeper reiterations of “is you gonna roll or get rolled up” met with arcade arcade beeps, bloops, & burner phone rings made from a paranoid design that flips the switch & arrangement on a dime. The sentiment & mood keeps the action mobbing in motion on “Gypsy” that gradually rises in tempo, while “Renee” takes a sentimental & pensive turn before bringing riding high on the hedonistic “RGDM”, shifting gears to the smooth as slick jazz of “Wings”, that later sees our hero riding off into the digital lo-fi sunset of the titular-ish track “Yellow”. Vritra’s Hal Williams took the time to talk to us before his Low End Theory release show to talk about everything from the current state of domestic socio-cultural-political affairs, favorite Odd Future memories, insights on what’s next for The Jet Age of Tomorrow, news of a new album in November, and so much more—featured after the jump.
Even way back when with your Pyramid Vritra work I was always struck about how unorthodox & unconventional both the arrangements & deliveries were, and here on Yellowing we are treated to production methods that are outside of norm or usual heard on “Fleeting Youth & Soundwave”, “PSA”, “Gypsy”, and all throughout the album at nearly every turn. How do you describe how you organize your own compositions, and what sorts of methodologies guide you?
I think that comes from the initial spirit of when I started producing and how we used to feed off of each other in Jet Age and NRK. Nothing starts planned. Anytime I make something—rather writing, producing or arranging—I let each part/step speak until it influences the next. Sometimes it works and if not I’ll scrap it and start over. Anything that I don’t vibe from within like the first 10 or 15 minutes I scrap. Which doesn’t always help because I don’t always save. When I started producing all I had was the demo version of Fruity Loops on my moms desktop and I either had to finish the whole beat and export, or export the parts one by one and arrange them later. If something crashed or I closed the program that was it. You couldn’t save, some of the songs from Jet Age’s Voyager were made this way.
What’s good with everyone else from the Jet Age of Tomorrow?
It’s just me and Matt. I don’t see him as much admittedly because we’re both doing our own things and I get anti social as fuck at times but We’re good. We’ve been exchanging beats. Possibly for the next Jet Age project.
Some of your favorite memories from the Odd Future days?
My first visit out to LA Matt, Syd, Left Brain, or friend Taylor from Atlanta and I did salvia out of this cheap bong we got at Venice and filled it with vodka instead of water. Vince [Staples] was with us too but he doesn’t smoke. Anyway. Syd thought she was a tree, I couldn’t move, Matt couldn’t stop laughing and Left Brain was taking his clothes off. Shit was weird. Niggas was too wavy.
How did these earlier experiences, adventures, crazy collaborations and remixes that you have crafted, and more contribute to your own sense of aesthetics and pushes toward making very original creative sound-works (as heard on YELLOWING, and every previous release/track/remix/collabos)?
Most of my experiences have just taught me that it’s okay to experiment and that everything doesn’t have to be easily put into a box. Make whatever you want and enjoy it. If it’s good. It’ll work. That’s been the one constant in my career. If I wanna get off beat I will. If I wanna make a ballad I will.
It was great to hear about the positive vibes that surrounded the march that The Game & Snoop Dogg lead recently in LA. With Los Angeles known for their own rampant racial issues surrounding the behavior of the LAPD (with or without Daryl Gates), what has the conversation and mood been like in these recent days & weeks?
Yeah I turned on the news and saw that at work. Glad they got out there, I don’t even understand the world we’re living in now. It’s damn near genocide. Some kind of change is needed. There’s no reason that when I leave my house and see a cop I should frightened for my life. We’re in the middle of a race war that is in the middle of a worldwide war on terrorism that is fueled by a country that refuses and has constantly refused to stay out of certain affairs. In no way do I support anything ISIS does but it’s not like the United States isn’t the big bad wolf of the world. We constantly tax other places in the name of liberty and religious freedom but all we bring is McDonald’s, chain restaurants and disrespect cultural standards and differences. But that isn’t what this question is about. We all have to live together and unite under the one race that matters. Human. But at times I wonder if we can when people see black lives matter and feel like we’re just talking about blacks or feel that it’s excluding certain races. Or when police are specifically asked to target people of color. On top of the already out of control Mexican versus black relations in LA. It all needs to stop. Too much death.
What sorts of questions, responses, and answers to these authoritative abuses have you been reflecting on, and how have you noticed these events affecting you both creatively & personally?
It’s at the point where I can’t even ignore it. I used to be like turn that shit off its too depressing but that’s literally all there is. Death, of people that look like me. Most times completely unwarranted. It’s either that or political abuse of my hispanic and Islamic brothers and sisters. This isn’t America. It hasn’t been for a very long time. It’s impacted my writing, image and thinking patterns. We’re too far along to even have these problems. I guess my only question is why. Why are we being pit against each other? Why are people blatantly being slain?—Including the recent police shooting in Dallas. Why are we blaming a single race for unemployment and rape, etc, when it’s been consistently proven untrue? Why do we live in a country where you can run for president and gain support by lying and making up facts? Why are we still bound by a government system that has consistently failed to represent the thoughts of the people it represents? Why is there no nutritional food in the lower income areas? Why are we still reliant on a monetary system that does nothing but exploit and support its own debt? It’s too much.
Like those deep & subterranean soundscapes that ever-mercurial, how have you found your environments and moods impacting your art?
With moving from Atlanta, moving around LA and moving back to Atlanta and seeing the social situations and feeling the vibes of all these places, my craft has defiantly been impacted. LA has a sound, Long Beach has a sound, Atlanta has a sound, and touring in Asia has exposed me to a lot of other sounds as well. Long Beach contributed a more aggressive tone to my music, Atlanta has always been a big influence on the bass side of my production, the beat scene in LA has kept me on my toes with my drum sequencing and my experiences working with people like Caleb Stone, Ommas Keith, Knx and Mndsgn have expanded my musical influences. And I’ve pulled a lot form the drum/bass and dance scenes internationally. I just want to continue to explore more, soak in more culture and transpose it into something new.
Like the closing track and the album name, how did the hue of yellow become something of a motif throughout this entire cycle?
This whole album represents the changes that I’ve been going through and growing up. I’ve Yellowed my music and writing have Yellowed. My situations have Yellowed. When I started working on this project, that was the one thing I wanted to be apparent throughout the album.
Care to share any thoughts on future projects you have been cooking up lately, and any closing messages you would like to relay?
I just finished the follow up to Yellowing. Releasing in November. Not sure about the name yet. New Jet Age in the works, although not main priority at this moment—seeing that Matt and I are both working on separate projects as well. Always new music from NRK coming. Much respect to all the married couples and fathers out there holding it down.
Vritra’s Yellowing is available today from NRK.