Exclusive Interview: Alland Byallo
From Los Angeles to Berlin, via San Francisco and his infamous Kontrol parties in the Californian city, Alland Byallo has a long-running and fruitful relationship with house music. Besides his musical achievements, he is also a graphic designer – lending his visual talents to numerous labels and artists over the years, deepening his bond with the music even further than most. With his new album ‘Bones, Flesh’ released just recently we caught up with him for a chat about the new LP, socks and guilty trips to Burger King at Tegel Airport…
Firstly, please introduce yourself and give us a brief insight into your history…
Hi I’m Alland. I’m a bit over 5’10”, I weigh 187 pounds, and I wear glasses. I like fun socks. I grew up in Los Angeles, moved to San Francisco in 2003, and finally moved to Berlin exactly seven years later. I like long walks down the beach, girls with dimples, and puppies. I detest okra, raisins and the arrogant. I’ve had a million different jobs since I was 15, including brief stints in both the pizza and porn industries, though sadly not the pizza-porn industry. Also no, I wasn’t a porn actor, but you know… the night’s young. Let’s see where this goes.
Socks! Great, we’re just starting to get into socks. Tell us about some of your favourite pairs?
Hmm I generally like large stripes or polka dots. The first ones I throw on after laundry’s done are these red and navy striped deals. Before it was blue with orange polka dots but I had to retire those. It was a sad day. I wept.
How do you keep your socks in order and avoid ending up with odd pairs?
Order? Heard of it! Rumours, mostly. I have at least 12 great socks that are missing their partner. It’s Lonely Town on that shelf. But we get by… somehow.
Any recommendations for a good store (online or in your hometown) to pick up socks from?
Nice Laundry, Happy Socks… even H&M has fun ones. I guess socks are quite the thing now so it’s getting easier. My friend Fernando in LA is the sock master. He’s even able to pull off Hello Kitty socks. I’ve seen it. He’s like level 7, I’m only a level 4, I think.
Who were your main inspirations when you were getting into the music? Any local heroes you care to mention?
DJ Shadow, Boards of Canada, Autechre, Coldcut, Bogdan Raczynski, Roni Size, Jeff Mills, Doc Martin, Mark Farina, Johnny Fiasco and David Alvarado. Tony Watson was and always will be a ‘local hero’ for me.
And what was so special about Tony Watson?
Tony is a DJ’s DJ. He just knows his shit like few others do. I’ve heard him hammer dub techno sets as sublime as his more usual disco and deep house sets. I went to his party ‘More’ every Friday for years when I was just starting to DJ. Every Friday night I’d come for the first record and stay until the last. It’s fair to say I learned most of what I know about proper house music from that guy and those rum-soaked Friday nights.
When did making/playing music become a viable career choice for you?
I went full time around 2006, I think. Hard to say. I’d been in and out of doing it for a living for a while.
Was there anything in particular that led to make the decision to do it full-time?
I suppose I just had a few records do really well, bookings were solid, my party was taking off. Just got to a point where wasn’t time for much else. Justin Martin and Worthy both inspired me to take the leap. One night I was in a shit mood over something or other, and I quit completely. Luckily Justin insisted I ‘quit quitting’. One hell of a dude, that dude. Anyway it was one of those ‘you get back what you put in’ things, so I just went for it. I was also lucky in that at the time, my friend Jason let me live at his house rent-free for a while in exchange for some work. So I had the opportunity to stay up at odd hours making music non-stop, and I could be in touch with cats in Europe in the late hours, and American cats during the day. I didn’t sleep much but it was a very exciting time for me.
How did you take the necessary steps to ensure it was a relatively safe choice for you… or does it still feel unpredictable/risky?
There’s nothing safe about being self-employed. It’s not for the faint of heart. You have to work harder than you would as a 9-5er, but it’s so much more rewarding. I mean you’re doing it; creating your own reality. It’s downright magical. It turned me into a full-fledged work-a-holic. I mean, at some point it really hits you: if I’m not doing something right now, I’m not doing anything right now. Dig? My mum raised me to have a strong work ethic, to handle business and be independent, persistent and reliable. After my teenage and early twenties rebellious, bullshit attitude faded away, it made way for a seriously productive sort of fella.
I didn’t really take any safe steps. Didn’t save a bunch of money. I just went for it. Over the years I’ve become better with administrative tasks, proper planning, saving money, so forth. Okay, maybe not the saving money part. But I’m spending it in a wiser fashion. But yeah, it’s been a long struggle. I don’t naturally think that way. I was generally chaotic and spontaneous, left things to “just work out” because they usually did. I’m a bit older and wiser now. Slow and steady now, with proper planning, serious consideration of the failure of any endeavour as much as its success, and a focus on quality not quantity. You also learn a lot by getting burnt by bad clients, employers, labels, promoters, whatever. All the schooling in the world won’t teach you how that feels and how to get out of it on top.
I know it’s not the stuff of sexy time rock & roll and whatnot, but I have a wonderful job now, working as a graphic designer in the world of techno and house music (quite luckily), so I’m afforded the luxury of not having to stress about rent and paying off my debts, which in turn allows me to be more creative, and less worried about making crowd-pleaser records for gigs. Seven years ago or so, this stifled my creativity and output, but now it’s only helping. In the end, it’s back to ‘to each their own’. I’ve lived a million and one lives already, but I think I found that perfect fit, that balance, now.
When did you decide to get an album project rolling? Was there anything in particular that inspired the move?
This is my second album. I decided to get this one rolling when I finally had something interesting to say musically. I was really happy with the music I was making and the methods I used to make it, so I thought it was time to make a musical statement, I was finally ready for a new milestone.
How would you say you’ve progressed as a musician since the first album?
I have become more open minded, more focused on making unique music that makes me happy, comes from a real place within me. Naturally I’ve become more skilled with the tools I use, I’ve learned loads about engineering and mixing, which has allowed me to shift the sounds in my mind into reality with greater ease. I’m still not amazing with that side. It’s just not my forte, but I’m always learning how to do it properly, and how to break the rules properly.
Truth be told, in a way I’ve actually moved a bit backwards in terms of taste and how adventurous I am. I’ve lost interest in the easy, shallow clubby sounds and find myself much more inspired by the experimental energy and art that got me into electronic music to begin with. That’s not to say I don’t adore good, tracky, banger techno or a beautiful proper deep house cut (not that knee-deep, samey nonsense they call deep house these days). The essence will always be the essence and I live and breathe it. I just mean I’m bored to tears when I hear these ‘Joe Shmoe Faceless Safe Tech House Track #22345’ cuts and I need something more. I feel the adventure again, and I’m making it harder for myself to please myself. Quality control on full blast.
Did you work around or theme… if not, is there anything that connects all the tracks together?
New instruments, new techniques, finding my truest sound as best I could. Making it as ‘me’ as possible.
How would you define what making it as ‘me’ as you could? What is it about the album that really represents Alland Byallo?
I went inside, dug around, took bits and pieces of my tastes, musical history, memories, my affinities, and made this lovely little Frankenstein’s monster of an album. House and techno are my life, so that’s obviously the strong red line here. I tried to bring together all the genres that influenced me over the years, brought in my musical education to make something more rich and profound. I took risks. A lot of this music has far too much going on in it for dance floor play. I suppose I just let myself play, without considering any walls or limits. But this is just the start.
Did you feel wary about making an electronic music album, as so many of them receive criticism for their lack of imagination…
If I cared what everybody did or said I’d be doing something else entirely.
The house/techno sound can often be limiting with regard to long-player format. How did you combat this?
Some might say that it’s limiting anyway – I mean, did you seek to ‘push the envelope’ at all with the album?
Hmmm… just with my music, I suppose. I’m not 100% certain I understand the question, but in the end the format is the format. I have been dying to do a double vinyl LP. I appreciate all of the cool stuff you see out there with people really taking the LP format to the next level. I think Jack White’s ‘Lazaretto’ is especially cool. It’s really inspirational and definitely fun to think about these things. I’m not so concerned with furthering the utility of vinyl, the gimmicks. Obviously as a freak and a creative I’m thrilled seeing others do it, it gets an enthusiastic, “WOW that’s fucking cool!” out of me, but I kind of just like a nice, heavy black record wrapped up nicely in well-designed packaging. We can pick this question up with my next album. There will be a LOT more to discuss, I promise.
Did you encounter any problems along the way with the project?
There were no free cheeseburgers.
Bummer, did you not get any free food at all?!
You know what they say about a free lunch.
Which fast food outlet does the best cheeseburgers, in your opinion?
If we’re talking fast food chains, I guess I’d have to say In-N-Out Burger in the States. I have a soft spot for Burger King, though. It’s total shit, I know. But every time I’m traveling out of Tegel I give myself an extra half-hour to sit and chill over an awful, big ass cheeseburger, fries and bucket of Coke at Burger King. There’s a few Berlin DJs I’ve had laughs about this with. It’s an odd, guilty ritual that many of us have.
How about fries? Who the best at those?
I know they’re made of all the worst things in the universe, the company abhorrent in general, but you just can’t beat McDonald’s fries. I like steak fries though, and another fast food chain that’s got that on lock is Fatburger, but you don’t see them all that much anymore. I hardly ever eat at these kinds of places, but sometimes you just have to indulge. Some odd mix of nostalgia and masochism, I guess.
Going back to the album, which tracks really epitomise what the album is all about?
I think they all add their flavour to the package. That’s why I made an album, so one track wouldn’t have to epitomise anything at all. It’s sort of a complete thought, all together.
Are there any tracks that have a deep, personal attachment to you? If so, can you tell us a bit about those?
I guess ‘Looking Long’, ‘Bottom Feeder’, ‘Singularity’ and ‘Wardrum’. The latter because I got to work with my friend Dave Aju. That’s always a good time. The others were just either emotionally charged or fuelled by creative production techniques outside of my comfort zone.
Tell us a bit about working outside of your comfort zone, how did you push yourself in respect of that?
I just bought and fired up new and different instruments, used them in a much more live fashion than I usually do, recorded mistakes and made them work, experimented with different sampling and resampling techniques, recorded sounds around the house, things like that. Some of the percussion sounds on this record are actually me banging away on my desk or shaking my house keys, tapping a fork on a plate. Things like that. I tried to ditch my standards of arrangement as well. That’s a tough one to shake for many dance music producers, oddly enough. It’s one of the big struggles for me today. Also I’m going through an “I hate all of my bass lines” phase. Experimentation really resolves all of this. You just keep messing around and all of the sudden you’re at something new and wonderful. That was the best part of making this album, and since I made it, that’s become sort of my musical modus operandi in general.
Do you listen to other artist’s albums and, if so, which have you really enjoyed recently?
Yes, of course. I’m nothing short of blown away by Afrikan Sciences ‘Circuitous’. Just an incredible work of art. I really loved Dave Aju’s ‘Black Frames’, still have Shabazz Palaces ‘Black Up’ on repeat often (wasn’t so into their new one), ‘NehruvianDOOM’ is getting a lot of play. I’ve had Matthias Reiling’s ‘Doppelgänger’, Morphosis’ ‘What Have We Learned’, and the self-titled Royal Dust LP all in regular rotation again. Just got Levon’s and the Zenker Brothers’ albums. Haven’t really bit into those yet but what I have heard is just incredible. I have a lot of respect for those dudes. They inspire me in many ways.
Have you had much experience of London? What do you like about the city? Any dislikes?
Unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to spend that much time in London. I first played there in 2008 at T-Bar. That was my first EU tour and I was literally in the city for less than 24 hours before heading off to play at Panorama Bar. The place was slammed and the crowd was super fun. London’s not short on fun party people, that’s for damn sure. I’ve only been back a couple of times since, and I can never seem to get too much a feel for the city. I had a blast hanging out with my friend Gabbi and the Release Sustain crew last time, got to play on NTS and we hit some pubs and walked around a bit. It’s a lovely looking city, but I can’t really make much sense of it at this point. Just haven’t seen or experienced all that much of it. Really hope to spend more time in the UK this year in general. I’m heading back to Leeds soon, so hopefully I can make a stop in London that weekend as well.
Which London artists are you particularly fond of?
Forgive me if they aren’t all living in London at the moment, but here’s a nice little list to my best knowledge: Actress, Herbert, Four Tet, Mosca, Moiré, Mr. G, Ethyl & Flori, WBEEZA, Funkineven, Floating Points, Boddika, Joy O, Giles and Secretsundaze in general… I’m sure there’s plenty more but those are the ones that first come to mind.
Finish the sentence, ‘without house music I would…’
…still have my torrid, steamy, filthy little love affair with techno.
Bones, Flesh is out now, pick it up here.