Not long ago, Bryan Hollon traded in his baseball caps for silk ties. This change in wardrobe by the man who makes music under the name Boom Bip is emblematic of an overall change in perspective. Once recognized for his bona fide hip-hop and jazz beats, on his third album, Blue Eyed in the Red Room (Lex, 2005), the Cincinnati native ventures into wide-screen psychedelic territory — meaning that samples and loops are out, and real instruments are in.
“I wouldn't say the approach has changed,” says Hollon, who now lives in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles. “I've always had a combination of live instrumentation and sampling. It just seems, as time goes on, one seems to outweigh the other. I think it's just a sign of maturity. But I don't feel that mature, so maybe not.”
Hollon is no stranger to dramatic growth spurts. He made his debut in 1996 with the Low End Sequence EP (Mush), which won the praise of downtempo tastemakers such as Gilles Peterson and Andrew Jarvis, before hooking up with rapper Doseone for the raw full-length album Circle (Leaf, 2002), which received heavy rotation on John Peel's BBC Radio 1 rock program with the track “Bird Catcher's Return.” In 2001, Hollon signed to Warp Records offshoot Lex for another artistic about-face: Seed to Sun (2002), a collision of hip-hop, electronics and rock that earned him a spot on the Glastonbury Festival in England.
On Blue Eyed in the Red Room, Hollon casts Super Furry Animal Gruff Rhys to supply vocals on “Do's and Don'ts” and indie singer Nina Nastasia for the tabla-infused “The Matter (of Our Discussion),” which features the impervious chorus “I don't believe in the power of love.” It is an all around more navel-gazing collection of songs than anything he's done in the past.
But Hollon insists that he hasn't completely abandoned his hip-hop roots. “It's just that my ear for it isn't there quite like it used to be,” he explains, hastening to add that he's still digging the latest beat-heavy offerings by the likes of Prefuse 73; Nobody; and, yes, even The Neptunes. “I still listen to it, but I don't feel any kind of loyalty to the genre because I've never been a big part of it.”
During the making of Blue Eyed in the Red Room, Hollon instead immersed himself in the works of early Krautrock acts such as Neu and Faust; New York avant-garde players like Glenn Branca and the Talking Heads; and, most telling, the intimate folk-rock of Neil Young. These are the influences that bleed through the disc — if not always in style, then clearly in spirit. “There are sounds I heard on those records that I came across in the studio and was obviously very attracted to,” Hollon says, explaining the album's overall analog feel. “It was almost unconscious.”
He says that much of the music on the album was played on traditional instruments, from the rolling pianos and spiraling chords over the drum 'n' bass glitches of “Girl Toy” to the soft drones that complement the xylophone melodies and Latin rhythms of “Eyelashings.” “There are a lot of atmospheric sounds on there that people won't be able to identify, and a lot of that is actually guitars and feedback with just little tricks and effects,” he explains. Most were accomplished by processing the sounds via basic gadgets like an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi pedal or Line 6 DL4 and Boss DM-2 delay pedals.
Hollon's home studio — built around a Fender Jazz Bass, a 1988 Stratocaster and an RMV five-piece drum kit, with a few high-tech supplements like an Apple Mac G5 and Logic Pro 6 workstation — is rudimentary by design. “I keep it simple,” he says. “I don't want to get too deep into having too many toys and forget about making the music.”
Likewise, he thinks that too many people who get caught up in technology tend to miss out on actual inspiration. “So many people I know are just software whores, and they're just chasing this rabbit,” says Hollon, who does use Native Instruments Absynth, Battery and Kontakt and Ableton Live. “They're all about updating their software to the latest version and kind of forget that you're supposed to really learn one particular piece of software, which can sometimes take up to a year or two before you start utilizing it really well.”
Regardless of how he feels about the technology, Hollon is an electronic musician with a difference. “I'm a fan of melodies,” he says. “I try to focus on a minimal amount of sounds and a maximum of emotion.”