For musicians, one of the greatest wonders of the 21st century is the ease with which records can now be made almost anywhere. Producer Bryan Hollon?better known as Boom Bip?has seen enough of this big world to make smart location choices. He began his career in Cincinnati, Ohio, and currently resides in Malibu, California. He's performed at venues and festivals around the globe: Glastonbury, Primavera, Coachella, Sydney Opera House, Walt Disney Concert Hall. So why in heaven's name did he elect to cut his new album, Zig Zaj, in a "big, dirty, all-wooden room with bad acoustics," deep in the heart of Echo Park?
There were a couple of reasons. Despite his affinity for high-end, expensive-sounding production, Boom Bip isn't fond of fancy studios. More importantly, the finished record needed to sound loose and live. "I wanted to get away from all that computer fussiness and focus on the emotion in the moment." The easiest way to achieve that was by hosting impromptu sessions whenever the mood seemed right. "This was a place we could go into at three or four in the morning, after the bars closed, and just hit the record button." In addition to the nucleus of the Boom Bip live band?Josh Klinghoffer (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Eric Gardner, and Josiah Steinbrick?the participants frequently included members of LA post-punk combo Warpaint (with whom he shared the space). Other times, Hollon would simply jam with himself, laying down drums in one take, then adding a melodic line on the next pass, until he had a rough track with the elements he wanted.
After some judicious edits, the outcome is an album that breaks new sonic ground while simultaneously underscoring the strengths Boom Bip fans already appreciate, particularly his ear for distinctive timbres and off-kilter rhythms. On "Tum Tum," polychromatic percussion volleys back-and-forth atop a bed of slow-moving keyboard textures. With its menacing bass line, the clattering "Pele" makes a perfect complement to early Public Image Ltd on a mix tape or playlist. Permeated with invigorating fuzz and distorted vocals by Money Mark, "Manabozh" sounds like the theme music for a futuristic blood sport, a disquieting yet muscular mélange of triumph and tragedy. In addition to the aforementioned guests, other contributors to Zig Zaj include Luke Steele (Empire of the Sun, Sleepy Jackson), singer-songwriter Cate Le Bon, and Mikey Noyce (Bon Iver, Gayngs). Boom Bip was especially happy when Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand signed on for the brooding "Goodbye Lovers and Friends." "I had that track and I couldn't imagine anybody else's voice on it but his," he admits. "When he delivered the vocals, it was nearly exactly what I had imagined, which rarely?if ever?happens with my music."
True to form, Boom Bip originally thought he was working towards a full-on, heavy-hitting rock record during the two-plus years he spent making Zig Zaj. "I kept thinking 'I'm reinventing myself. If I do have any fans, I'm leaving them all behind with this one.'" Not so fast, mister. Zig Zaj is definitely a progression forward, but for anyone who has followed Boom Bip thus far?his innovative instrumental hip-hop tracks, the collaborations with Dose One and Gruff Rhys (as Neon Neon), the remixes for acts like Oasis, Jamie Liddell, Mogwai, M83, Boards of Canada and Four Tet?it won't come as a shock to the system. And the artist is okay with that. "It feels new to me, but it will probably sound like Boom Bip to everyone else."
Even the album title might ring a bit familiar, since it bears the double consonants that have become one of Boom Bip's trademarks. The idea for that peculiar name actually took shape outside of his grungy rehearsal and recording space in Echo Park. Boom Bip is also a member of Hollywood's world famous Magic Castle, and he spent an inordinate amount of time in the club's extensive library, gleaning inspiration for Zig Zaj. Not only did his research prompt the album's title (a nod to the magician Zan Zig, who first pulled a rabbit out of a hat), but old-school posters and artwork colored the vibe of cuts like "Pele" and "Goodbye Lovers and Friends," while allusions to tricks worked their way into lyrics and song titles ("The Mascot and the Moth" refers to a vanishing illusion originally performed in 1905). "So there's a little bit of a theme going on," he concedes. "But we're talking about tasteful, turn of the century magic, not '70s, polyester bellbottoms magic."