INTERVIEW

WIRES IN THE BLOOD: From the Deep South of America, Suicideyear is breathing human emotion into a new mix of trap music and tender synthesisers. David Zammitt meets James Prudhomme

suicideyear

“Oh, really? That’s cool!” It’s always nice to be the bearer of good news, and I’ve just revealed to James Prudhomme that his first LP for Daniel Lopatin’s Software Recordings has been released in the UK that very day, 24 hours earlier than its scheduled US denouement. It’s testament to his modesty and his sheer indifference towards success that he’s unaware, but his excitement is obvious. “Man, that feels good,” says Prudhomme, who lives in Baton Rouge, the capital city of Louisiana, and records under the alias Suicideyear. “It’s been long-awaited, to get ‘Remembrance’ out there. I’ve been sitting on it for a minute now.” While the 19-year-old’s sense of time seems a little different to my late-20s self, I can still empathise. “I started on it during May or June of 2013 and signed to Software back in February of 2014, or so, and I had the album pretty much done by then. So it’s very rewarding to have it out there now.” He takes a deep breath. “It’s a cathartic release.”

As we chat, he gradually reveals just how much of an understatement that sentence is. From Prudhomme’s laidback, cheery demeanour, you would never know, but, after some prodding, he begins to explain. “Considering the time that I started working on ‘Remembrance’…” He stops to collect his thoughts before eventually, reluctantly, carrying on. “Well, I had just gone through a relationship.” Given his youth, my mind starts to automatically – and, as it turns out, very much presumptively – fill in the blanks, conceitedly deducing that the tale he is about to tell me will more than likely hinge on mere teenage melodrama. But then he drops the clanger. “And I had also gotten home from a vacation and found out, like, that my house had burnt down.” It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it admission as he tries to move on to the next topic, but I can’t really leave it at that. As I press him, he laughs awkwardly, almost embarrassed by the narrative that has played out over the last year. “Yeah, I’m like Dev Hynes. It’s crazy.”

Amazingly, Prudhomme has come to focus in on the silver lining of what is a decidedly foreboding cumulonimbus in the relatively short space of time since what he euphemistically refers to as, “the incident”. Perhaps his attitude is born of a youthful resilience, or maybe he’s simply wise beyond his years. Either way, his worldview is remarkably well-balanced. “It kind of propelled me into having to do a lot of shit that I wasn’t ready to do,” he says. “I wasn’t able to finish school because of it.” Again, he is keen to move on until I probe further. I feel bad, but it’s quite the story. As it turns out, he couldn’t finish school because he didn’t have enough hours in the day to go to classes and earn the money required to get by. A stint in pizza chain Little Caesars followed – of which he detested every minute, but blithely accepted as a necessary evil – and before he knew it he was signed to Software. Impressively, there doesn’t appear to be a shred of bitterness. But he says it best himself. “I was paying tribute to a lot of terms of acceptance that come with life and shit, you know?”

In doing so, he crafted a collection of sumptuous, emotive electronica of astounding maturity. ‘Remembrance’ places equal importance in grooves and poignancy, recalling Skam-era Boards of Canada and Richard D James’s early, more tender moments. Influenced by the Trap music of the American south, the 8-track mini album sees Prudhomme yank the syncopated 808 beats from the hip hop he obsesses over and marry them to gorgeous, heartaching synthesised melodies. It’s clear that every single element of its minimalism is thought out as it glistens and soars with an ease and confidence that belies his years. All in all, pretty decent for a project that was originally conceived as a T-shirt business. “It was going to be a clothing thing, yeah. I was going to do it in collections with people.” And then he drops clanger number two. “But, coincidentally, my house before the one that burnt down partially burnt down. It was a part of the house that wasn’t completely connected but I literally had all my t-shirt making supplies in there. So when that burnt down I just concentrated on music. That was the main focus.”

Although he has slotted into a lineage more recently occupied by Balam Acab, Holy Other, and which traces its roots back to early Warp and Rephlex, Prudhomme initially leaned towards guitar-driven punk. “Growing up I didn’t have too much access to instruments and shit,” he says, yet despite that, it’s clear that he was a self-starter from an early age. “I just… like, my Uncle literally gave me a knock-off $30 guitar one day and I listened to enough Weezer to teach myself guitar. Eventually I got an electric guitar for my birthday and found a friend who had drums.” But it was then that he encountered his biggest hurdle, and one which led him to fundamentally change his approach to making music. “He [his drummer friend] was a very conservative person and, like, didn’t like the music I played. I just couldn’t find anyone who liked my music. I lived in a prudent town in the woods. That’s what helped propel me towards doing the Suicideyear thing as a solo project.” That said, it’s still too early to rule out that rock album. “All I still listen to is Nirvana, old My Bloody Valentine. I really want go back to making music like that eventually.”

Given that Suicideyear existed as a brand in Prudhomme’s teenage mind before it morphed into anything more grandiose, I ask where the term originated. It’s obvious he’s been asked this one before, and he takes another breath before commencing. “Alright,” he says with more than a touch of ennui. “I made it up when I was 15 and it was pretty much a spur of the moment. Anything I title is spur of the moment. It reflects how I was feeling at that point in time rather than overall. I don’t know… I like the name but I don’t know if I’d necessarily agree with it at this point if I had a choice.” It’s a sign of his age that a decision he made less than four years ago can seem juvenile already. “The name actually came from Tom Krell from How To Dress Well – when he did the series on Love Remains, one of them was ‘Suicide Dream.’” One thing is for certain, his choice of moniker isn’t as macabre as the music press might like to think, nor should his music be tossed into the lazily-termed ‘sadwave’ pigeonhole. “When it comes to the whole sadwave thing, I dunno,” Prudhomme ponders. “In 2012 I named a few songs ‘Sad’ and I never thought anything would come from it.” He makes sure to take his time as he answers. “I don’t want people to ever tell me they feel sad listening to my music. If anything I want people to feel like they can relate or something, but I don’t want them to dwell on their sadness.”

Regardless of how they react when they do, it’s clear that people are listening. He had built up an impressive online following before he turned 18, and yet it still genuinely surprises him that he’s had interest from the other side of the Atlantic. “I’m shocked sometimes. I didn’t start too long ago. A lot of people get connected to it. I’ve met people who came from two States across just to see my show! That’s really crazy to me. It’s intense. I feel that’s helped, the fact that people can empathise so much with it.”

That’s not to say his popularity has been without pitfalls. Having read a previous interview where he tentatively hinted at a collaboration with Lil’ Wayne, I ask him if we’ll ever hear the fruits of their collective labour. Before I get a chance to finish my question, however, I’m drowned out by Prudhomme’s half-embarrassed, half-amused faux-protests. “Aw, Dude, no! I was so young. Someone was punking me out of so much music under some fake Lil Wayne email. It was horrible. It was a fake Karen Civil [influential hip hop blogger turned media mogul] email. We had follow-ups and talked a bunch.” His frustration is evident as he reflects on the cost of his inexperience. “It was ridiculous. They got a bunch of my music before it was released. I was bummed about it. But yeah, I was very susceptible.” While he never found out who it was, his dream of working with hip hop heavyweights remains undimmed. “I know Drake seems a lot more open about collabing with all types of people.”

Phony Lil Waynes aside, the future is blindingly bright for the young man from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, yet he’s staying composed, filtering the hype through his level-headed lens. “Success?” he asks, “I don’t really care. Success, to me, would be to see that people still react in a way that shows they honestly enjoy this. Success is when I’m not taken at face value. It’s something I think of a lot. Anyone who doesn’t take me at face value, and just treats it as a Soundcloud page or whatever; that’s success for me.” And maybe a luxury new pad for his mum and dad.

dot

« Previous Interview
Next Interview »