An Interview With Anenon

Will Schube speaks to the L.A.-based producer about how he translate emotions into his instrumentals, getting his start playing the sax out of an attempt to make his electronic music more...
By    January 17, 2024

Image via Valerie Chaika

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Will Schube still can’t believe Larry David got Salman Rushdie to say ‘fatwa sex’ on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Anenon began his career examining the intersections of modern classical, jazz, and electronic music. The Los Angeles resident, born Brian Allen Simon, was initially close to the beat scene, as his first two major records were released on L.A. staple Friend of Friends, then the home for artists like Shlohmo and Groundislava. But unlike those musicians—or even Low End Theory mainstays like Flying Lotus—Simon took an almost Reichian approach to his compositions. His suites build tension through repetition and layering instead of beat drops and speaker-rattling bass.

On his first full-length release with FoF, 2016’s Petrol, Simon imagined Los Angeles from his own car window, noticing the thousands of automobiles he’d pass each day, isolated in mass commute. ‘What does that sound like?’ Petrol asks. In 2018, he shared Tongue, which stripped some of the electronic and jazz flourishes in favor of a more chamber-focused record, inspired by a retreat in Italy where he recorded the album. On Anenon’s latest release, Moons Melt Milk Light, Anenon decided to entirely remove the computer from his arsenal, instead building the record around piano, saxophone, and field recordings captured on long walks through the city.

His first release for Tonal Union is entirely instrumental like all Anenon albums. But Simon has a unique way of conveying emotions without uttering a syllable. There’s a dramatic tension to the way he holds onto ideas then discards them, like on the opener “Untitled Skies” where saxophone notes buzz like bees swarming out of a dislodged hive. The recording is so intimate—Simon tracked it at his kitchen table, entirely improvised—you can hear his fingers clicking the keys as tones emerge from his horn at a stunning pace. Slowly, then all at once, a gorgeous minor key melody completely shifts the spirit of the song.

On “Champeix,” captured rain sounds give way to a patient piano melody before a moody horn dissolves the song’s structure. Simon pits dueling solos against each other, searching for chaotic beauty. At one moment, he sounds like Grouper. In the next, he sounds like Sonny Rollins. It’s an enchanting contradiction that sits at the heart of Moons Melt Milk Light. On it, Brian Allen Simon consistently interrogates perfection, highlighting any tensions or inconsistencies he can find. He delights in these flaws. It’s what makes art like this impossible to duplicate. These are blemishes that a computer can’t replicate. They are flawless.

When you put out new albums is there any sort of prevailing feeling?

Anenon: I think I have some kind of cognitive dissonance.

Have you always had that connection to your records when they come out?

Anenon: Not in a negative way at all. I used to be more excited than I’m now, which is actually maybe healthier in a way. I feel good. It’s kind of anticlimactic a little bit when it’s been finished for a while and there are just all these other things happening around the record.

How long was this record done before you were able to release it?

Anenon: I wrapped it up in March or April. It hasn’t been too long.

In between April and release day were you working on other music? What were you up to?

Anenon: Not really. I haven’t been working on another record or anything, but I play almost every day. I play piano and sax most days, I just need that. I’m starting to think about new material a little bit, but it’s not a huge priority for me at the moment.

When did you begin writing this new record?

Anenon: I started about a year ago, pretty much, in October or November of 2022.

I love the title. It rolls off the tongue but it’s also a tongue twister at the same time.

Anenon: Yeah, I tend to go for alliteration. All the old records and track titles were all one word. I had this period of trying to have these really simple but evocative titles. This time I wanted to go the opposite route and have longer track names and a more dramatic album name to switch it up, which reflects it being an unplugged record for the most part.

Did the album take on that sound intentionally?

Anenon: It was pretty clear in my head that I wanted to do it as a response to being on the f*cking computer all the time during Covid and staring at Ableton and not feeling that that was a dynamic enough environment for me to create in. Speaking to other musician friends who had a similar sort of thing, I realized a lot of us wanted to get away from artifice a bit and to just present things as they are—imperfect or not.

Outside of the field recordings is it all acoustic?

Anenon: Everything.

Did you record it by yourself?

Anenon: I recorded it in my living room on my dining table. I bought a piano two and a half years ago and the piano is in my living room and there’s no way to get it anywhere else in the house, so I had to work around the piano. I just sat up on my dining table and had f*cking cables everywhere. I recorded everything, though, no recording engineer or anything.

Was there a balance between improvisation and composed ideas?

Anenon: The entire thing was improvised. Nothing was planned.

Was it recorded track by track, or did you record the entire thing and then splice it up?

Anenon: I didn’t splice anything. I would just play for 20, 30 minutes and then go back through and parse through the recordings and find things that were interesting and then build from there. I sat down and recorded something and if I felt good about it, I immediately layered it with other ideas or kept it standalone. If I recorded something and I didn’t like it, I just got rid of it and then tried again later.

How long did the process take?

Anenon: I had three two to three week periods of doing this late last year, and then from February through the end of March or early April I finished it.

Was it a pretty intensive recording process or was it more casual?

Anenon: I did my best to lock myself away from friends and other activities and things like that. It was pretty soul searching and intensive to make the work. The biggest challenge for me with this record was just getting into a headspace where I could really be in the notes, be in the sound, be in the music. I had to get away from the f*cking internet and distractions and all of these things. Once I was able to do that, the music came very easily.

Do you know why it was a struggle this time around?

Anenon: There are many reasons. Just getting older and the complexities of life revealing themselves in much clearer ways, for one. I’m also not as naive of an artist as I was in the past—for better or worse. With this post pandemic internet brain thing, it’s become easier to get distracted from myself. It also helped me make the record, though, it was a challenge to see if I could get away from all this shit.

The naivete as a younger artist, was that regarding success or the ability to make a living?

Anenon: All of these things. I look back at earlier periods and I think it’s good that I really believe that anything was possible. It’s not that I don’t believe that now, but I just care less about the reception of the music and whether it’s commercially successful or whatever. Before, I definitely was a bit more concerned about that. Obviously, I want to share the music and I want people to like it, but if they don’t, it’s not going to change anything for me now.

How do you translate emotions to instrumental music?

Anenon: Since we’re dealing with abstract instrumental music, I don’t think there’s ever a direct translation of any of this stuff. But there are feelings. When words stop, music is a way to express one’s interiority. It’s not objective. Everyone hears it and feels it in their own subjective ways, but they feel something if they’re actually listening. My goal is to have it feel personal, but also current and universal at the same time.

This is your first solo Anenon LP in five years. Was there something intentional in this hiatus of sorts?

Anenon: Tongue marked the end of a 10 year recording period for me where, looking back at that era, it didn’t feel like I was that prolific, but it was a lot of music. I still think most of it is quite good. There were also life events, the end of a big relationship, and it became a period of looking back a little more and seeing the foundation that was there and not wanting to just go on autopilot and just make something. That was expected of me.

I also had other shit going on in my life that was taking up time. With Moon’s Melt Milk Light, something was percolating a bit the year prior to recording and I was starting to get more in the “recording a solo record” mindset. Adam [Heron], who runs the label Tonal Union, reached out to me out of the blue one day and last summer and just started a conversation. It was just fortuitous timing. It accelerated me to get back into the studio mindset a bit.

Was there anything with this record that you wanted to do that you had never done on a record before?

Anenon: I’m not a trained classical player or a jazz guy. I’m just a self-taught musician with sax and piano, and I started playing the sax just to make my electronic music more interesting, just to have this voice and texture. It felt more human than recording everything in the box. Over time I kept playing and playing. I realized that I could actually play this thing and make it interesting without the electronics. It’s not like I want to abandon electronics or anything like that. I love that music too, and I’ll probably keep making it in combination with the acoustic stuff. It was just this period of time in 2022 thinking that it would be kind of crazy if I just made a chamber record or something in my house, and I played all the parts.

Are you able to view the album from the perspective of individual tracks or is it one continuous piece in your mind?

Anenon: If it were up to me, there would be no singles. It’s meant to be listened to in one go. I make all of my records like that. I’m constantly moving things around to make sure that the flow and the transitions are incredibly seamless and make sense. There needs to be an arc to the whole thing.

Did you record it in order?

Anenon: No, but the first track was the first song that I recorded, and the last track was the last song that I recorded. If I’m working on a record now, I start to sequence immediately rather than making a bunch of shit and then deciding, oh, this goes here, or that goes there. I record something and then I’m immediately jumping into the Ableton session and seeing what makes sense in terms of track order.

How many of the songs would you say were recorded during the initial improvisation?

Anenon: Technically all of them. It was challenging to make songs that felt refined and strong in the moment. I knew some things were good immediately after I stopped recording. Other ideas took longer, and needed more time for me to listen to them. I knew they were good, but they didn’t necessarily fit into the whole picture yet. Then I would record something else, and eventually go back to see where that original idea fit.

Are you always listening to music? I know some musicians go through spells just because it’s also your profession.

Anenon: Yeah, I take breaks. I listen to music every day. I live in LA so I’m always in the car. When I’m in my house, it’s a mix. Sometimes I like to just be quiet and hear the noises outside for a bit, or I’ll have some ambient music on. Music is on every day, but it’s not 24/7. I also love to take long walks without my headphones or phone.

With Petrol and Tongue–to a lesser extent—there’s one uniting theme that ties through the whole album. Is there something you can point to with this one?

Anenon: This one’s a bit more interior. On Petrol I’m taking in my Los Angeles environment. With Tongue it was recorded in Italy at a residency. I recorded Moons Melt in LA, but I didn’t want it to be an LA record. It’s very personal. It has a very interior sound. It’s not a rejection of conceptual work or anything like that, but I think that can get a little overblown in some artists’ work. For this one, I didn’t want to be too overt in any kind of manner in terms of theme or concept. It was a challenge to myself as a human rather than musician in terms of wanting to expose some interiority.

Do you have intentions or visions for how people receive your work? Or once it’s out of your hands is it out of your control?

Anenon: The latter. Once the first PR push gets sent out, it’s over. It’s done. I have nothing to do with it anymore. I made the thing and I put my stamp on it, and that’s it. That’s really it.

Were there things that you hoped you would take away from the process, or were there things that you did take away from this process that was unique to this album in particular?

Anenon: When I was talking about the recording period that ended with Tongue, with each successive record from 2010 to 2018, I felt as if I was making these giant f*cking leaps in terms of my development as an artist and musician. What happened is that it sort of leveled out a bit after that. With each successive project, they’re not these leaps, but I’m developing a sound in a much more nuanced way, and really forming my voice, really fine tuning and chiseling it. This was a big step in terms of development. I’m at a period where I don’t think there will be these huge leaps every time I make a record, but everything is getting really chiseled now.

I feel quite good about that. It was a challenge and I feel proud of the music. It’s very vulnerable to get away from the computer and artifice a bit. Especially as someone who didn’t grow up playing instruments, I decided to make this f*cking thing and do it all acoustically and try not to trick myself in any way and just let the music be as it is. In that way this album is a success for me.

The idea is that music can still have as powerful of a meaning for you without it having to be this massive statement. Is that fair to say?

Anenon: When I made Petrol or Tongue, it was kind of ego-driven. It was competitive, just seeing what other people out there were doing. Maybe I was paying too much attention to the music world, and I really wanted to prove something to someone. Now, I’ve become more confident in myself as a person, as an artist. There are always doubts of course, but I honored my instinct on this record. I find that kind of model nspiring right now. Everything’s moving so quickly, it feels antithetical to make this massive f*cking statement. That’s just not where my heart is at the moment, so I’m trying to find power in the smaller moments.

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