Ayahuasca Psychedelia: Al Lover Interviewed

Before he plays the Liverpool Psych Fest this weekend, the genre-melding producer tells us about his new album Sacred Drugs, the influence of San Francisco and why getting lost in his music is his ultimate goal for listeners

It’s not often in today’s world that you come across an artist who has found a unique form of self-expression, seemingly operating on his or her own trajectory. But over the last three years, through EPs and records of original material, alongside reworks and edits of artists from a plethora of musical spheres, San Francisco producer Al Lover has done just that. Similar in vein to the likes of Sun Araw, Gaslamp Killer, Gonjasufi, J Dilla and Edan, Lover has carved himself a unique take on a range of musical genres all passed through his reverberating production technique of sampling, looping and editing.

He’s now got a new album set for release, Sacred Drugs, due out on Psych Army and Crash Symbols. The record introduces itself in a shimmer of echoing choral washes that seem to call from a distant realm, before a tribal beat lands amidst cyclical percussion, all over laid with a reverberating dub bass. There are hints of early era Floyd, alongside the aforementioned Dilla and Edan, with Goat, the subject of a previous Lover remix, too, thrown into his production cocktail and shaken into oblivion.

As organs wallow in an indelible groove and percussion permeates around psychedelic guitar solos it can jump in the blink of an eye from his hometown of San Francisco’s psyched-out garage jams to all-out shamanic tribal dance and ayahuasca shaman ritual. It’s a rewarding listen that reveals more to you on each and every listen, with a depth that suggests an almost mathematical approach to its production.

We caught up with Al as he embarked on the European leg of his tour, taking in a stop at the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia this weekend and London’s Birthdays next week, to talk all things Sacred Drugs.

You’ve just started your Sacred Drugs Euro tour. How’s it all been so far? Are you excited to get the record out on the road?

Al Lover: Yeah, it’s been really well-received so far. It feels good to have new material and a new set to play for folks. I get bored of the same old set list over and over again. I can do a lot of cool stuff off the cuff with this new material.

How’s the format of the new show? You’ve got such a depth of back catalogue to choose from now. Can people expect to hear a real range?

AL: The new set is all stuff from the new record. So for the most part it’ll be a new experience for folks. I’ve fine-tuned it so it flows through similar to a DJ set, so it’s not your average one song, stop, everyone clap – or boo [laughs] – then on to the next song. I want it to be more of a fluid listening experience.

You are a beatmaker, but your music sounds very much like an analogue-recorded band. Where does your background in music lie?

AL: Well, I used to rap, that’s how I got into producing. I’ve just recently learned more music theory. This is only the second project where I’ve tried my hands at live instrumentation. In the past it was all samples. As time goes on I’d like to completely cut out the samples and have something going on similar to Adrian Younge or Mr. Chop.

How does Sacred Drugs compare to your previous work? It seems a shade more patient.

AL: I think it’s the first one I really gave a lot of energy and focus to. I like working fast, and this one came together fairly quickly, but the concept was stronger in my opinion. Plus having the live stuff from Harvey Leisure plus the amazing Kraut band Nest Egg, and myself added to it really make it a special project.

Was there a difference in approach to writing the record then?

AL: I wanted to make something to zone out to, something that could possibly induce a trance-like state. The drones and repetition of ritual tribal music really heavily influence the record, and the genres that keep those ideas going, such as Kraut, neo psych, beats and rave culture.

How would you sum up what you are trying to achieve with the record?

AL: I just want to make something that people can get lost in and possibly have a transformative experience. That feeling, when music gets you there, is very transcendent and spiritual to me, and very rewarding.

Dub, psych, funk, garage rock. Your work seems to effortlessly encapsulate all of these and more. What do you listen to on your stereo when you’re not making music?

AL: I love all that stuff! More recently I’ve been rocking a lot of post punk, dub and synth punk stuff. Also a lot of country rock, sleazy 70s rock, shit my dad was into, and what I like to call "afternoon delight" funk/soul. Like Clarence Reid and Willie Mitchell-produced kinda stuff. It’s all about the groove!

Do you think where you’re from has any influence on your sound? There seems to be a lot of sun-fried gold that comes from San Francisco.

AL: Oh yeah, SF music has been a big influence ever since I was younger and started experimenting with drugs. The beats, the hippies, SF punk, the rave scene and then the more present garage stuff has all been a big influence on my music. I love that town.

You’ve reworked some great bands. Who is on your list that you haven’t managed to get to yet?

AL: I’d love to do something for Spectrum, a lot of the bands coming out on Trouble In Mind records would be awesome to flip. That band Disappears is amazing. The new High Wolf is great too, that would be fun to remix.

A Sun Araw x Al Lover EP could be pretty interesting.

AL: [laughs] Someone just mentioned something to that effect to me like two days ago. That would be sick. I love what that dude is doing! I’ve never met him but have played a couple festivals with him and his stuff is always pretty far out and interesting.

And has there ever been any discussion of live collaborations of your reworks? I’m thinking a live show with Goat could work well…

AL: Man, that would be sick! Though I don’t know if I could keep up with Goat, they are some incredibly talented live musicians [laughs].

Have you ever thought about working with a live band as Al Lover?

AL: Yeah, I had a couple guys I was playing with a while back but I don’t think I was ready for it. It’s the route I wanna take eventually for sure. I think the next record is gonna be leaning more toward that Idea.

You’re one of only a handful of people that truly manage to remain operating on your own plane. In world of copycats and repetition, how hard is it to stay unique and operating like that?

AL: Well, I will say that I copy and borrow, and sample, as much as the next guy. I don’t think there’s anything fresh in this world, everything’s already been done to some degree. But there are new and fresh combinations and that’s been the ticket for me. To try to make something new inspired by a combination of genres or influences is fun and rewarding. Plus, I don’t really listen to many other producers these days. Partially on purpose, I don’t want to be too heavily influenced by them. Though I think what’s happening in the beat scene right now is really sick.

Music seems as vibrant and exciting as ever with records like Sacred Drugs. What’s your take on the scene and industry at the moment?

AL: Well, I’m really lucky to have some folks behind me that believe in what I do so I’m very blessed in that sense. I feel like it’s a weird time for sure with a lot of oversaturation, and a lot of hype. There’s a lot of opportunity if you work hard and you work smart and a lot of interesting stuff going on musically. I think the "business" aspect of music is really whack, but it seems to be a necessary evil. So you gotta just work the system to your advantage I guess, and I hear I have a good lawyer on retainer.

And so finally, what’s next for Al Lover following the release of Sacred Drugs?

AL: I have a record coming out around December on a UK label called Stolen Body Records titled Cave Ritual that I’m pretty stoked about! It’s kind of an experimental record for me in terms of new sounds, textures and stuff but really cool and I’m pumped on it. I really tried to limit myself with it. It’s all samples from one record, and limited drum sounds and synths. It’s kind of a minimalist record for me in that respect. After that I’m gonna start working on a new project with a few musician buds of mine and try to make something totally from scratch with as little sampling as possible. I just wanna keep experimenting with new sounds, different techniques and approaches to making music. I don’t want to be trapped making the same record over and over, that shit would suck.

Sacred Drugs is out on October 1 via Psych Army/Crash Symbols; get hold of it here. Al Lover’s UK tour takes in The Harley in Sheffield tonight, Liverpool Psych Fest tomorrow and Birthdays in London on October 1

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