Photo by Josselin Basaldu

Sacramento super-producer Lee Bannon takes us through a day at the office

It was a dreary day to spend in Rocklin, the rain accentuating the isolation of the terrain, but such weather is great for the hermetic producer types. The assignment was to learn the work regimen of Sacramento hip-hop producer extraordinaire Lee Bannon. The assessment is, dude has it made.

Bannon made the Submerge 2010 year-end list with Hot N’ Ready, his collaborative EP with local rhymesayer on the rise Chuuwee. It was a productive year that included the Never a Dull Moment EP with Willie the Kid, as well as lending production to C-Plus, Reks, Consequence and Inspectah Deck. His sound in the past year has drawn comparisons to the loop-heavy chop style of Madlib; given the material he’s piling up for 2011, he might join Madlib in the “Most Prolific” category as well.

As we discussed numerous influences, from film, video games and musical contemporaries to his drawings and Twitter account, the cluttered mess of Bannon’s “office” began to feel less like a rec room and more like an unorganized library of stimulants assembled to fuel that creative zone every producer requires. “Somehow they all factor into the music in the end,” he said.

My first inquiry was simple:

Take me through a typical day in the office.
I get up at 1 and listen to music. When I put on my iTunes, it’s more for influence, looking to be inspired by some of the bigger dudes to go and create. While I’m doing that I’ll either play video games or watch a movie. It looks super chilled, but at the end of the day I have to sell a beat. This has been my day job for the last four years. It’s like a normal job for me. There are still stresses of paying rent. It’s just that my smoke break is playing Gran Turismo between work.

I see you have a lot of DVDs. Do you get inspiration from films as well?
I watch a lot of anime, a lot of avant-garde stuff. I’ll get on Netflix and watch a documentary about Milton Glaser or Spike Jonze or Michel Gondry. All that stuff fuels what it takes for me to be an individual and stand out amongst a lot of people who are exposed strictly to generic TV.

I want to make a song that feels like this video with Christopher Walken [Spike Jonze’s video for Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice”]. I want to make it that powerful or make a song that is a video Jonze someday wants to shoot.

Would you say you prescribe to a specific school of thought in your production methods?
Building a beat is kind of like those people who pick up a piece of driftwood and carve an object out of it. Whether it’s vinyl fresh from the store or I’ve had for ages, it’s a challenge each time. Lately I’ve been chopping loops and taking more of a purist perspective; not really trying to do original compositions.

When I first started creating like this, I listened to a lot of Madlib and 9th Wonder. Pete Rock’s chops were always on a level I felt was too intricate to pursue. As I progressed I learned some of his moves, but his style can be too intricate. Lately I’m trying to do stuff with more of a swing to it and not have locked in drums. You could say it’s more organic. I’m mostly looking for more of a feeling.

I prefer to make a thicker, richer sound. There are Snickers bars, but I’m looking to make Godiva chocolate.

Your upcoming beat collection Circus Cuts Deluxe Big Toy Box (part 2) is a fairly hefty amount of music to put out at once. What’s the concept behind the “deluxe” release?
There’s going to be a special edition done with The Official. It will come with a hat and the CD with some bonus tracks. But even without that I look at it as a big package, because you’re getting 48 songs. That’s where the deluxe comes from. The title Circus Cuts is basically summarizing the past year and a half. I feel like each beat is connected with a moment in my life. One beat might have come from breaking up with a girl and spread moments like that out across the year. It feels like a circus.

Most of these beats, I just want to get in, create a feeling and get out. If I let it ride, it’s because I can tolerate hearing it longer, but it’s a delicate process to cram 48 songs into a CD.

I think it gives off a very California vibe; you can surf to it, you can skate to it, you can do all the elements of things we do out here. Some of the songs incorporate Spanish samples. You can be out on your cruiser to this. I haven’t really heard anybody do it like this, except maybe Spice-1 back in the day had some beats like this.

I noticed a stylistic difference in the song “Yoga” from your past production. Why did you choose it as the single?
My next project is going to be more electro like a Justice record. This single is a preview to that. I feel like “Yoga” almost has a Fatboy Slim feel to it, which hearing his You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby was a big influence on me. It was an instrumental album, but the way he went about it, he was able to make it a Top 40 hit. The way I produced “Yoga” I wanted to make it almost impossible for people to rap over it and let it exist how it is.

I’m working on an electronic group called Fatkid with Eric Dobson of This One’s for Cody and our album’s called Love Handles. This sound is so much bigger. Sometimes with hip-hop you just can’t accomplish sound at this magnitude. Eric knows the scene a lot better. He’s been performing in that style for a while. Our first actual electro-solo was a month ago at Risqué, but we killed it. We’ve got a show coming up at Avalon and a bunch of shows lined up in Los Angeles. [The label] On the Fruit is lining up shows for us in Paris and Germany, so now we’ve just got to decide if we’re going to wear masks or not.

Keep the identities anonymous like the Daft Punk robots?
We’re thinking about it. I don’t want people to confuse this with my hip-hop identity. It’s that element of taking the face away to give the performance more of an edge.

A) PlayStation 3

He currently keeps Gran Turismo 3 in heavy rotation. “If I can’t get inspired, the music will sound repetitive. At the end of the day, based off my track record, I’ll still have clientele, but if I’m not inspired it wouldn’t be the music I like, which is why I like to put myself in a zone before I even go into the process of creating.”

B) Black Berry 9800

“My phone is basically my office. I get calls starting around 2… 2:30 and that continues for pretty much the whole day; just keeps the machine running. I Twitter too. Just reading different tweets, being on it, seeing people’s reactions to dumb questions can fuel things. It’s these little things that entertain me that somehow factor into making music.”

C) Field Notes booklet

Pocketsize so he can keep it on him at all times, the booklet contains rough sketch designs for a line of Lee Bannon hats, esoteric reminders only he can comprehend and lewd doodles done to pass time.

D) Turntable used for sampling records

“With music I think you can time travel. The way the Black Keys made an album that sounded like it was straight out of 1973, or how the White Stripes can achieve this [Led] Zeppelin feeling. It’s just like how The Rolling Stones did Muddy Waters songs. I’m basically another generation of taking something that’s been done and adding to it.”

E) Little red book of Mao Tse-tung quotes

Bannon’s Favorite Quote: “We should support whatever the enemy opposes and oppose whatever the enemy supports.”

Lee Bannon’s Circus Cuts Deluxe Big Toy Box (part 2) will be coming out on Fat Beats/Epting. Available on iTunes and everywhere digitally Jan. 18. Physical release the following week which will be available at FYE, Dimple and other select local record shops around Sacramento.

    Blake Gillespie

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