Scott Herren: A hip-hop homage to Catalonia

Scott Herren of Savath & Savalas tells Phil Meadley about the pilgrimage to Spain that lies behind his latest album
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The Independent Culture

The story of Savath & Savalas's album Apropa't is of an American producer seeking cultural identity and travelling to his father's homeland to find it. It's also a slightly skewed love story between Scott Herren and the Catalan singer-songwriter Eva Puyuelo Muns.

Herren, a native of Atlanta, says his first love was hip hop, which inspired his alternative hip-hop project, Prefuse 73. "From an early age, it opened my ears up to many different sounds. Eventually I had to break away from my friends because my influences were growing and they couldn't under- stand where I was coming from."

Still only 27, Herren now has his own label, Eastern Developments, which is run as a collective from Atlanta, LA, and Barcelona. His last Prefuse 73 album, One Word Extinguisher, jetted the young producer into the alt.hip-hop major league, so one wonders why he packed his bags and moved to Spain? "The real catalyst was a trip to Istanbul right after 9/11. When I got there the people treated me so well and I felt connected, so I packed all my stuff, and moved to Barcelona."

Herren is at pains to state that Savath & Savalas - and in particular this second album - is completely separate from Prefuse 73. "First up, it's probably the most personal album I've ever done. Originally, Savath & Savalas was just a project to play instruments live, because electronic aspects bore me sometimes. But this new album is almost a straight-up Catalan/Castellano vocal-based work and it's all about being [in Barcelona] and absorbing this culture and ambience."

Herren met Eva Puyuelo Muns when he arrived in Barcelona and was looking for somewhere to live. She had a house, so they became room-mates and developed a close friendship. "Both of us had never sung before but we just thought: 'Let's sing and write songs together.' We both love Spanish folk music and Brazilian psychedelia, so we decided to make our own cultural endeavour." Last summer Herren decided to move out of Eva's house and find a place of his own. Herren admits to a brief fling before they became room-mates, and hints that their relationship has, at times, been tempestuous. "We were an item for a brief intermission, but it didn't feel right," he admits. "The songs on the album speak about aspects of love that don't go right."

Herren admits to being an analogue hardware fanatic and also favours live instrumentation to computer trickery. His favourite piece of analogue equipment - the Akai MPC sampler - is the favoured tool for many producers of hip hop. Herren's obsession with analogue hardware may also go some way to explaining why he asked Tortoise's John McEntire to mix the tracks on Apropa't at Tortoise's Soma studio in Chicago. "He's a genius of his craft in the analogue realms," he eulogises. "He's a really underrated producer and the only time I've said: 'Do your thing' has been with him." Herren's Prefuse 73 live band included the Tortoise drummer Johnny Herndon who recorded some drum parts for Apropa't.

For someone with such a pronounced work ethic, it is perhaps surprising that he seems content to adapt his frenetic pace to the sleepy Mediterranean ethos of two-hour lunch breaks and siestas. He isn't. "The pace is so slow," he raves, "you have to wait for everything. If my scooter goes wrong, I have to wait weeks for it to get fixed. If the computer goes down, I'm screwed.

"But," he adds, "on the positive side the people are beautiful and passionate. On a male-to-male level, part of the human ego seems to be broken down, which I never felt in America or the UK. It's easier to be more sensitive. Spain helps to keep me grounded, and the people give me better advice than I've ever had."

'Apropa't' is out now on Warp