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Beatnik talks to Baths, who does things his own way
Words Sven Carlsson / Images press
Californian composer Baths stunned the independent music scene when he released Cerulean on anticon. earlier this year. While at the CMJ festival in New York, Beatnik caught up with the producer, born Will Weisenfeld, to talk about doing things his own way, being completely exposed through the music, and his next project.
Exceptionally talented people tend to be uncompromising, but rare is the artist whose creative obstinacy isn’t construed as mere arrogance.
When Will Weisenfeld assumed his moniker as Baths and spilled his personal tribulations into what would become his critically acclaimed album Cerulean, he was very clear in his intention to make his own album, free of input from anyone else.
“I like it to just be… my head, on the record. Like, entirely my own thing,” Will says as we escape the scores of music lovers that have gathered outside the Cake Shop on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. “It’s selfish, but it’s just the way I’ve always operated and the way I’ve always worked.”
The Los Angeles native is upfront; fully aware of how people could choose to interpret his creative approach. But Will possesses enough charisma for his frankness to reveal his sincerity, a characteristic that must have been crucial to the band members he directed when performing under his former alter ego Post-Foetus.
“[For Post-Foetus,] I had to dictate all of the parts, write all of the parts for people in the band. It was all my music, but there were like six people in the band. That’s what’s sort of frustrating about it because that’s the way I do things and the way I want things to happen, but it also makes it slightly more awkward and weird because it’s not a creative partnership, it’s more like having session musicians,” says Will before accepting the likening of his bandmates to pieces of hardware.
“That’s a horrible way of looking at it, but yes, essentially. They were close friends of mine and understood enough what I wanted and how the ideas were coming together that they were comfortable with that.
“The thing is: I don’t like having other heads making decisions. It makes me uncomfortable having other people making any decisions about my music ever, [whether it be] about lengthening, shortening or whatever.
“There was a little bit of that on Cerulean by the time that it was done. Some people were making suggestions on what to do. I feel like when that happens, it’s not my music any more. Even one decision. For the next album, I’m not going to show anybody. I’m just going to finish the album, hand it in, and that’ll be it.”
Do you feel you burn any bridges by employing that approach?
“No. People get it, for the most part. I went into the project saying that’s how I do things. Sean at Anticon, in particular… I think he hates it, but he’s learning how to deal with it. I mean, we have a contract [laughs].”
As a result of Will’s disposition, there won’t be many remixes (which, at this point, have become a “ploy to make money”) or collaborations (which are out of his “comfort zone”). His egocentric compositions — which, as the listener can tell, came to fruition in his bedroom studio during two intense months — render him completely exposed in his music, which is a lot more barefaced than it is rose-tinted.
Do you ever feel too exposed?
“No, never. I’ve had to come out, publicly, and the fact that I had to do that at all opened me up to the fact that I don’t really have any private stuff like that any more. I came out in tenth grade, really late, and I had to deal with all these social repercussions of it. I came out early enough that it adapted into my life, and late enough that not many people cared.
“It was like a total liberation. I’d been writing about women, about stuff that I didn’t actually care about, and then it was like I started becoming more comfortable with who I was and all my writing started making more sense after that. It became easier to write, and I did it a lot more often. It was one of the best things that happened.”
Those with an affection for accessible but thoroughly crafted pop tunes have enjoyed Cerulean. The album, which Will estimates as the 13th he’s recorded, is his first under the Baths moniker and his anticon. debut after the reputed California label scooped him up last year.
Like all good pop music, the influences range widely, and several tracks have a pleasant hip-hop tinge, a tradition that runs deep at at the label, which is more selective with its releases than it is prolific. ‘Rafting Starlit Everglades’ runs like a cinematic beat tape—deliberately, it would seem.
Will sampled far and wide to add texture to Cerulean, but there’s a distinction to be made between him and someone indiscriminately chopping up old records for their own creations: Will is adamant that he won’t use melodic samples. That technique is clearly one he is eager to distance himself from, he explains — just as frankly as you’d expect.
“It’s not melodic sampling and not from anything that would get me in trouble. All the music on the album is as close to 100% my music as possible. I wouldn’t sample melodic material; guitars from somewhere, or whatever. I’m very averse to that.”
With Will signed to anticon. as Baths, most listeners will have got what they wanted. Not only is his creative pickiness tolerated and encouraged, but the praise that his debut generated will not have him confined to its light and digestible sound.
Having dabbled—successfully, you might add—in the field of hip-hop and pop-influenced electronica, Will now has the freedom to embark in a new direction for his next album.
“It was just the nature of being only one person performing music that’s filling up an entire room of hundreds of people [that inspired Cerulean]. I think that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever done, it’s like you can super charge a crowd doing stuff with a laptop and a controller. But, going into it, I didn’t want to be a DJ because, for the most part, I can’t stand DJ’s. But I wanted to do it with all my own music.
“I already know what I’m doing for my next album, and it’s almost the antithesis of what Cerulean was. It’s very dark and heavy, and there’s a lot of themes and stuff that I’m going over. I don’t get to sit down and record until April or May, but I’m doing a lot of recordings and sketches. Come May, I’m going to sit down and record it.
“That’s the whole point. That’s the last thing I want is to be bored making music, because I actually have this in my head as my entire life. I want to be recording and releasing music as my career. I don’t want to do anything else. Because that’s all I do, I need to do it very intensely. And for each project, I want to make it a challenge.”
Baths on the video to ‘Lovely Bloodflow’
“[Alex Takacs and Joe Nankin] directed it together, but the initial meetings happened with me and Alex. When we had our first meeting, we just met up, had coffee or whatever, and ended up spending five hours geeking without getting anything done. We talked about Eko Ishioka , a Japanese costume designer, and began obsessing about her and Japanese animation, and it turns out that our visual aesthetic is so in line with each other that it’s scary.
“Before I started making videos, I just wanted them to be the same way as my music. I wanted so much control, but when I met with Alex it was a revelation because he’s just… me. I could hand something over to him, and I’m sure it would turn out perfect. There were little things [in the video] that I wanted to address, so I was part of the process in that way. But the whole vision of it was his; so perfectly in line with what I wanted.
“That shoot was four days in Santa Cruz. A crew of 14 people. I was basically a PA; running to get sandwiches so they could just get all the shots.
“[Alex] just knows what he’s doing. He’s 20 years old and he made, to me, one of the best videos ever.”
Album: Cerulean (out now — buy here)
Single: ‘Lovely Bloodflow’ (video above)