Neon Brown’s new project, L’appel du Vide, is a deep, sonically rich listen with a scope that goes well beyond its already-dope contents. More than just a beautifully produced collection of instrumentals, the album (whose title translates to “The Call of the Void”) plays out like a Greek tragedy that centers on what happened to America on that fateful November day in 2016.
With the 45th president’s shadow looming over the U.S., Brown began to contemplate some of his darkest thoughts and feelings. “You know when you’re waiting for the train and you see it entering the station and get that thought of jumping in front of it?” he asked. “That’s what ‘L’appel du Vide’ is. The call of the void.” The thing is, while there’s a serious tonality to the affair, the project itself is not without its bright moments. Take the stunning standout track, “Love Is Not Lost,” for example.
Built around earworm-y samples and clever nods to hip-hop legends, the instrumental takes on a life of its own without saying so much as a word. The same goes for other highlights like the beautiful “Pushin’ On” and the insidious “Candy.”
The release of L’appel du Vide coincides with Brown’s other brand-new project, a limited-edition 7-inch record featuring collaborations with Vursatyl (of Lifesavas) and DJ Red C as well as Trailer Limon. The 20 track project is available now through all digital streaming services, and can be redeemed for free download via Bandcamp by purchasing the 7-inch. (Link here)
Read the full interview down below by Matt Diamond.
You’ve been producing, composing and arranging music for a while now. Please share with us your musical background and how you transitioned into becoming a producer.
I’ve been involved in the arts nearly my entire life. My mom is an artist (painter, ceramicist) my dad is a writer. So, even before I could pick up a pencil or instrument I was watching my parents create. I went to an art high school for 2-D art. I started playing guitar and bass at 10 or 11 years old. I’ve always been into music. All kinds of music. I’ve been collecting records since I was 13. I began making beats in high school with the help of my mentors Zak Harper and Jacob Perry. After high school, I began compiling instruments and beat machines of my own.
You’ve been busy as of late, both with the release of your new 7-inch, as well as your instrumental project, L’appel du Vide, which dropped simultaneously. Considering how the title of the latter refers to the urge and intrigue to destroy oneself—a concept that as you say represents modern America, structured in a way that plays out like a Greek tragedy—how did you go about contriving this into a political allegory by relying solely on music without any lyrics?
I was going to animate the entirety of the album, however, I took on some projects and could not do so. Because of this, the storyline is open to interpretation but the music portrays an emotional dialogue. The music follows an emotional path that relates a certain feeling to the listener pertaining to the timeline of the story. As well, it’s not entirely music. There are audio snippets from prior political and socioeconomic conflicts that haunt our past settled within the album. Some representing what has taken place in our history, some manipulated to represent scenarios that have not taken place in our history but add to the story.
And do you feel that the American presidential administration’s handling of the current global pandemic further highlights America’s urge and intrigue to destroy itself? Please explain.
I believe the American presidential administration is doing a terrible job with the handling of COVID-19. We are yet to see the detrimental damage that will take place in this country. It is just the beginning. Trump has proven to be incapable of handling our current situation. He represents L’appel de Vide to a tee.
Pivoting to your recent 7-inch, we find you collaborating with Vursatyl (of Lifesaves) on the A-Side, “Maintain” which was released with an animated visual that you also created. Taking the powerful lyrical content of the track into consideration—which portray’s America as a suppressing machine built on racist ideals—was it challenging for you to decide how you would animate the video to convey the track’s message?
It’s always challenging to create animation and music videos. I struggle with it. The concept of “Maintain” was simple because Vursatyl paints such a clear picture. On my end, I wanted to showcase the lies portrayed by the media and film industry of black Americans, as well as honor those who have molded our nation and communities. But yes, it was difficult [laughs].
Speaking of visuals, you’ve composed music for the likes of Netflix, Apple and HBO, to name a few. How did you first get involved with sync licensing? And do you find it challenging to shift focus from your composition work for sync placements to your production work with artists, or does one hand seem to wash the other?
I’ve wanted to compose for film and TV since I was a kid. I started off doing small projects for friends, and friends of friends. I am still in the baby steps of composing. My goal is to compose larger films. Even when I reach that goal it never ends. Music is always evolving and there’s no limit to what you can learn in any art or discipline.
Shifting focus to your recent concept record, The Donner Party, which you co-produced alongside Deca, it’s fair to draw another parallel. Deca has stated that the lyrics and longer vocal samples are inspired by the idea that “humanity is blindly forging ahead with no real regard for the consequences of our actions.” Do you think that humanity will get its act together, or are we simply too flawed like a tragic hero in a Greek tragedy?
This is a hard one. I’m not quite sure. I play with this idea all the time. Are we built like this? Does society mold us to act this way? Is everything pre-determined? Who knows. What I hope for is that from this pandemic humans realize our interconnectedness, especially between nature and human beings. Hopefully, this situation gives us some clarity on the subject.
Your discography boasts production credits for the likes of Homeboy Sandman, Zion I, Donwill of Tanya Morgan, Truck North of the Legendary Roots Crew, and many more. Of the artists that you’ve yet to have worked with, what would be your dream collaboration, and what would be the theme, if that decision was left entirely up to you?
I would love to work with De La Soul. They’re my favorite rap group. They are the best rap group hands down. The theme would be De La related. I’d also like to work with MF Doom. Doom is the greatest to ever do it. Prove me wrong. He’s been part of 4 or 4.5 decades of hip hop and has always remained relevant and better than any newcomer. Unbelievable.
There’s so much music I’d like to create. I want to do more non-rap related projects as well. Psych rock albums, orchestral, boogie/funk, etc. Lots of folks to work with within all of those genres.
Tell us about your production setup. What outboard gear and software are the most important part of your creative process?
My set up is garbage [laughs]. It’s not the gear, it’s the man behind the ear. I still have the same preamp I’ve had since audio engineering school, which was 14 years ago! It’s a Mobile Pre Academic [laughs]. Hasn’t failed me yet, knock on wood.
As for instruments and machines, I love my Wurlitzer Funmaker organ. I make the majority of my drums on the Maschine. The Korg Minilogue is pretty cool as well. But like I said, it’s all about the person making the music. Give me a four-track, a bass, a Boss Doctor Rhythm drum machine and I’ll make some heat.
What advice would you have for other producers in your genre looking to take their passion and turn it into their means of living?
Right now it’s tricky because of our current situation. I would say take the plunge and stop working the shitty job. Suffer a bit and get to hustling, which right now may be the perfect time since everyone is in the same boat. Never a better time to be creative. Besides that, connections, connections, connections. So many people will cross your path in your lifetime, one or two of them will change your life. Keep connecting with folks and pushing forward.
Please tell people where they can get your new 7-inch, and let us know what’s next for Neon Brown?
You can purchase my new 7″ record (Featuring Vursatyl and Trailer Limon) and the L’appel du Vide instrumental project here.
As far as projects go, I have some things in the works. I don’t want to give anything away but I am very excited about the future. As of now, there are four in the works. I’m trying to release a steady stream of music these days. I took a hiatus after the Mister Freedom project which was good, but I’m back baby!