From restaurant chatter to crunching leaves, field recordings add a widescreen quality to Bayonne’s off-kilter productions. It’s all about the subtle details he tells us
Roger Sellers isn’t especially loquacious. The Texan who makes a beatific noise as Bayonne is thoughtful, measured and not given to rambling. Get him on a subject close to his heart though, and he opens up.
“I love subtle details. It’s all about those little details and happy accidents. Throwing something in, in an intuitive way like, ‘This doesn’t work, but what if I grab that and put it way down in the back?’ It makes the song much more interesting, more dense.”
We’re a long way from the baking heat of Roger’s hometown of Austin today. It’s a chilly autumnal morning in Tottenham, north London and I’m here to learn more about his astonishing new album. ‘Primitives’ is released through City Slang, home to electronic mavericks such as Caribou and Gold Panda. It’s a unique meld, equal parts minimal electronic composition, heartstring-tugging pop and whimsical field recordings. While the music of Bayonne tips a wink at artists such as Steve Reich, Animal Collective and The Books, it sounds all his own.
Roger is in London for a live show, part of a string of European dates. He arrived from the continent last night, revived by a homemade fruit smoothie prepared by Simon from his label. Sat on the sofa opposite, with his scarf draped loosely about his shoulders and wearing a moustache, there’s a raffish air about him, dispelled somewhat by his slightly reticent nature.
When talk turns to the little samples that crop up throughout ‘Primitives’, he becomes more animated, and reaches into his bag to show us his field recording device.
“I do a lot of field recordings. On this record you can hear leaves, water, or maybe a restaurant or something just in the background. I love getting field recordings. I always have a recorder with me. It’s a Tascam DR-44WL. I also record sounds with a phone sometimes, there’s a quality to that I like too.”
It’s these disarming audio snippets that help give Bayonne’s music its intensely cinematic quality. Deeply musical, stitched together by interlacing, overlapping loops of guitar, bells, electronics and piano, Roger’s voice (like Beach Boy Brian Wilson by way of Animal Collective’s Panda Bear) weaves in and out, transforming these pieces into fleshed out, emotive songs.
‘Appeals’ shimmers with cascading piano and tumbling drums, while ‘Marim’ is all rotating marimba loops and atmospheric guitar. It’s a curious and arresting mixture, a product of Roger’s unusual set of influences.
Born and raised in Houston, a childhood fascination with Eric Clapton and Phil Collins (“there’s still some gems he has as a songwriter”) led him to try his hand at drumming on paint pots, before learning the guitar, piano and drums properly.
Roger studied music theory in Austin, his home for the past six years. While there, he fell in love with the musical output of minimal classical/electronic composers Terry Riley and most of all, Steve Reich, all the while soaking up influences from leftfield indie bands.
“There was a time when I was listening to a lot of Steve Reich. I became very obsessed with the idea of layering, building in repetition. I guess I was listening to more indie too, strange Animal Collective rock, or The Books. It just kind of naturally came together.”
That Roger studied music theory, and then jacked in the course, is revealing. While his material is clearly full of technical expertise and musical flourishes, it’s the emotional core, and beauty, of ‘Primitives’ that shines through. There came a point where music study was becoming too academic for Roger and spoiling the emotional factor that he prizes above all else.
“It became a little too much of a chore for me. The last thing I wanted to do when I got home from school was make music. After a certain point, it became not fun anymore.”
‘Lates’ is the stunning centerpiece of ‘Primitives’. It is little more than a circular piano loop, a tender sliver of synth, and Bayonne’s voice, before a cavalcade of drum clatter enters the picture. Yet its directness could melt the steeliest heart. While the compositional music that has influenced him tends more to experimentation or the avant-garde rather than evoking emotion in the listener, his own music strikes to the core. Eliciting sentiment is Bayonne’s end game.
“A very emotional response,” he agrees. “That’s the number one thing.”
Though Roger is glad he studied theory, gleaning a lot without necessarily needing to finish the course, he believes that some of the best music can be made without any training at all.
“I don’t think it really matters. A lot of my friends who didn’t study make really good music. I feel it definitely helps me. I don’t regret doing any of it. But I think there are plenty of people who can make music without training. I taught myself when I was a kid. I didn’t really do it the classical method or anything.”
Bayonne isn’t the first musical incarnation of Roger Sellers on wax. His first three albums ‘Roger Sellers’, ‘Moments’ and ‘8 Songs’ were released under his own name, but had more of a lilting folk rock leaning, rather than the electronic side he’d later develop.
“They’re a little more on the acoustic side, a little more songwritery, but they have a lot of the same elements. I feel like it all comes from the same place. With ‘Primitives’ it’s not like I felt I needed to make a different sound, it just happened that way.”
Roger has found that as his music has become more electronic the reception to it has become warmer. In Houston there was little in the way of electronic music culture, but in the indie rock heartland, base of SXSW and state capital Austin (home, lest we forget to ‘Stranger Things’ soundtrack composers S U R V I V E), electronic music is appreciated.
“When I moved to Austin, it seemed like a good time to do it as there wasn’t much of it happening. But there was a need for it, five or six years ago. It’s definitely growing. I think everywhere it’s growing. It’s becoming a lot more acceptable to make electronic music now.”
When he plays live, Roger mostly goes it alone, using a mixture of live instruments and electronic devices that help him realise the loop-based nature of ‘Primitives’. He treats his loop station, the Boss RC-50, as his go-to bit of kit, preferring its tactile nature to software and a laptop.
“It all goes into a mixer and then the mixer goes into a looper, so I can pretty much loop anything I want at any point. Then the looper is also a sampler, so I have pre-recorded loops that I can build on. I like it the rigged up way I do it, it feels organic. Each piece feels like a different instrument.”
Making a name for himself on the global stage, with the might of indie giant City Slang behind him, it feels as if Bayonne is going to strike it big. He’s had his music featured in the EA’s ‘FIFA 17’ video game – a very modern, and important form of exposure – and has been touring hard in the US as well as Europe. He’s eager to build on this, and wants to get writing new material straight away.
“I have pretty much December and January clean to start recording again. I have ideas, half-written songs that I feel would be good to start the next record with. I need to, I’ve been touring so much I need to take a break and put up something hopefully by the end of next year. I need to start getting it together.”
Despite this drive, he’s become a lot more fastidious in the process of recording, and would rather get the tune sounding good before moving onto the next one.
“I’m a little more meticulous now, I take my time more than I used to. Which is good. I feel more confident now.”
One aspect of his music that won’t change, though, is its appeal to the emotions.
“That’s the only thing I’m trying to convey, giving people a feeling of some sort.”
‘Primitives’ is out on City Slang