What Moves: LA Priest Interviewed
LA Priest is a wandering soul. New album ‘GENE’ - named after his hand-built drum machine – is a mesh of sonic rabbit holes and aural portals, a noodle-fest of trans-dimensional pop that presents a vivid depiction of a spirit in motion.
Constructed across sites in California and London, the maker of ‘GENE’ picks up the phone to Clash from his semi-temporary home in North Wales. This nomadic adventurer is ready to put down some haphazard roots, and he’s even bought himself a shed, which now doubles as a kind of creative hub for his audio-visual dalliances.
“It’s a real proper man-shed, this,” says the songwriter, real name Sam Eastgate. “It’s got birds nesting in it, just all sorts.”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to it in the future, because I always move around,” he muses. “I kind of feel that I need to put the whole thing on the back of a lorry next time. It’s pretty crazy. When I take it apart it’s just going to fall to pieces! It’s got all things bolted and stuck everywhere. The floor I just made out of crates and palettes and things… it’s not going to be easy to transport it.”
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An ad hoc base for an ad hoc spirit, the shed is a neat visual metaphor for ‘GENE’ itself – hand-built, deeply organic, wonderfully odd, and kinda cool, it’s an engaging, constantly inventive return from a songwriter who has more than earned such plaudits in a decade-long career. His first album in five years, ‘GENE’ was sparked into life by a series of video commissions, which took LA Priest to California.
“The main bulk of the record was done in a log cabin,” he sayd. “You could call it that, but it was a bit more of an old, decrepit log mansion, with heating only in half of the house. So yeah, in the winter, in that thing… it was really hairy! And I think that’s why it was inspiring, in a way. It was a bit of a challenge.”
Pushing against limitations, ‘GENE’ began life as a singular ambition – to shake things up once more. “I wanted it to be a challenging album,” he says. “I wanted it to be ambitious. So a lot of the complexity of the album, and its unorthodox sounds, come from that vision.”
“But that ground me to a halt in the end, because I just needed the other side of what I do... which I guess is very accessible and melodic. I didn’t know how to fit those two things together. And in the end that was still a challenge… right at the end of the process, trying to piece the album together from all of these different sounds. And you can sort of see what I ended up doing, which was taking that spectrum, and placing one thing next to another.”
LA Priest’s cut-n-paste sonic adventurism reaches its apex on lead single ‘What Moves’, this delightful ear-worm that is beloved by 6Music. It’s an odd daytime listen, for sure, and it’s gained more than a million streams on Spotify alone – heady figures for something so contagious, yet also so utterly weird.
“‘What Moves’ was this melody that I had, and it’s probably the only time I’ve ever just looped something over and over and over and actually gotten away with it,” he explains. “The only way I could fix it, so it wasn’t too crazily repetitive, was to have these chords that are always changing, and coming back. I just went with it. I didn’t try and be too ambitious or experimental or shocking. It’s a nice four minute pop song, I suppose.”
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The new album is also marked by Sam’s return to the guitar – his first band Late Of The Pier were, in essence, a guitar group, but he’s shied away from the instrument since then. “I went off the guitar for a long time,” he says. “It was my lead instrument back in Late Of The Pier, and I think the pressure for it to be my job to do that made me think I should get away from that.”
Those expecting a prog odyssey or a Clapton-esque white blues workout will be disappointed, though; LA Priest uses the guitar as a noise-maker, daubing the record in off piste six strong burbs and gurgles.
“I’m not very good at widdling,” he laughs. “I was always the kid at school… I remember trying to play stuff, and everybody was playing so fast, and I’d be like: aw I can’t move my fingers like that! I still don’t have any of those skills. But if I hit the guitar I can make a funny sound. Almost like a caveman approach to the guitar.”
Futurist primitivism in an odd-pop context, ‘GENE’ is a project haloed by technology. After all, the title itself refers to a drum machine that Sam built himself, designed to have that wonky flavour that ordinarily only flawed human players can offer.
“It started off because I had to just keep repairing keyboards,” he says. “This is back with Late Of The Pier – we had these keyboards that just sounded great, but they would stop working every other show. Usually it was something that you’d just hit something or poke something with a screwdriver and it would come back to life, but then occasionally you’d need to open it up and try to work it out, and work out which bit was disconnected.”
“In 2016 I started building the drum machine because I really felt like I could do it, make something usable. And there was nothing out there was could do what I wanted it to do. Nothing out there that could change the timing of age beat. If you see what I mean! Each step of the rhythm I wanted to do all these slight changes in the timing so you could make an organic rhythm, and make it feel more human in a way.”
“For a long time it was just wires,” he recalls. “The last thing on the record is the first thing that I did with the bundle of wires that became the drum machine. So it was being formed with the idea of the record at the same time, really. It is the record, it’s a weird thing. The drum machine is in front of me here, actually, and it’s weird to think about how inter-connected they are. I’ve given it it’s own life as well. It’s got these little slots, so I’ve made all these different sound cards, and in the future I can keep making new things for it. And I think that’s important, so it can live on past the record.”
Working through lockdown by the Welsh coast, Sam is concentrating on visual projects, all directed from the comfort of his shed. He seems someone who naturally enjoys being remote, able to work to his own timescales. Finishing, we chat about the lack of live shows during quarantine, and he jokingly ponders a different approach.
“I think live, especially big live events, are one of the last things that will come back. Understandably. It’s a guaranteed way of getting people to bunch together in large numbers,” he sighs. “I don’t know when people will be happy about that. I suppose I could play a beach – they seem to be full of them now. Just rock up on the top of the cliff and play to people on a beach!”
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'GENE' is out now - Clash review HERE.
Words: Robin Murray
Photo Credit: Isaac Eastgate
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