Q&A: Boom Bip

Boom Bip: Zig ZajBoom Bip: Zig Zaj (Lex, 9/27/11)

Boom Bip: “All Hands”

[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Boom_Bip_All_Hands.mp3|titles=Boom Bip: “All Hands”]

Ever since his loop-based beginnings, Bryan Charles Hollan — known better as experimental hip-hop artist Boom Bip — has been on the search for his optimal live-band incarnation. He seems to have found it.

In 2002, Seed to Sun demonstrated Hollan’s ability to make compelling organic and instrumental hip hop. On his recordings since that time, nearly everything has been performed by hand, and the results have been admirable — but nothing has clicked quite like his newest effort, Zig Zaj.

Now Hollan is armed with a permanent live band, consisting of Josh Klinghoffer (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Eric Gardner (Gnarls Barkley, Charlotte Gainsbourg), and Josiah Steinbrick. Their chemistry is immediately evident on Zig Zaj, which also sports standout guest spots from Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand (for one very Depeche Mode track), Money Mark, Luke Steele (Empire of the Sun), Cate Le Bon, and Mikey Noyce (Bon Iver).

Partly because of the guests, the new material takes a poppier and more rock-driven direction. But there’s still plenty of the old Bip underneath, as synths and electronics commingle with the bass grooves and delicate acoustic riffs. ALARM caught up with Hollan to find out more about the evolution of his band and what projects he has in the works.

Tell us about the evolution of the live band. How has that affected or led to what we’re hearing on Zig Zaj?

The evolution of the live band has been like creating a new breed of dog. I’ve constantly been trying to fine-tune it to something enjoyable for me. This time, though, I got it right. The current live band is fantastic. With Zig Zaj, I certainly had the live show in mind when constructing the tracks. As a result, intensity became part of the equation, and you can hear that in the tone of the songs.

Coming out of the collaboration with Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals (as Neon Neon), what made you decide to scale back the dance elements for the new album?

The Boom Bip albums have always been more about the moment and trying to not have any limitations or concern for genre. I just let whatever comes out come out. I don’t really think, “What genre does this fit into and what bin will this sit in at the record store?” Although it has become a game for me to see where it is placed. I’ve seen my album in everything from rap to avant-garde.

On Zig Zaj, did you tailor specific tracks to the artists that you were collaborating with? Or did you work with the artists to create a sound together?

Most of the time, I come up with the track, and midway through the writing process, I start hearing vocal melodies. I know at that point whether it should be male or female and the general tone of the vocals. I then dip into my pool of acquaintances and friends and see who best fits what I am hearing in my head and reach out. With Neon Neon, it was quite different. Gruff and I started from the ground up, and the tracks were catered to Gruff’s style and voice.

Your music is almost entirely devoid of loops or samples. Do you feel that electronic and hip-hop musicians use samples as a crutch?

Not at all. I love hearing samples used in interesting ways. A lot of music benefits from a sample or the repetition of loops. My music used to be mainly loop-based out of the inability to write an actual song, but I have recently challenged myself to work with song structure and changes. I’m somewhere between a loop-based hip-hop producer and a pop-based songwriter.

Now nearly a decade after the release of your first full-length album, are you able to reflect on your musical progression?

I am definitely aware of some progression. When listening to the older stuff, I just hear what I could and should have done differently. With this new album, I actually did a lot of things that I wish I would have done in the past, mainly on the production end. As a musician or artist, you should never stop progressing. Some artists get worse over time, and their best work was made when they first started out. I don’t feel that is the case with me. I can always and will always do better the next time around.

What would be your dream collaborative project, and why?

I get this question all of the time, and I really don’t have an answer for you. I honestly don’t think I have a dream collaboration, but if Nick Cave called, I wouldn’t hang up on him.

What projects do you have coming up next, and with whom will you be working in the future?

I’m working with the visual artist Charlie White on a project involving preteen girls. We do a series of long interviews with the girls, and I construct music based upon their personality. It’s going to be more of a installation in a gallery with a series of photos and media rather than a typical album. Gruff and I plan on finishing up some demos this fall for the next NN. Those two projects plus the live dates have my head spinning already.

Leave a Comment