An Interview with LA Timpa

By Sanae Oujjit & Ken Wenrui Zhao
Photo by Kathryn Tompkins

Refining sound until there is nothing left—LA Timpa does not conform to anything really, except to their own erratic world which is perpetually reconfigured by whatever proceeds their path. We invited ourselves into this world and followed LA Timpa’s approach to constructing sounds and narratives, and practicing presence.

This interview is published in Issue 10 of our publication ‘Sprout‘ – exploring the theme ‘Breed, Bread, Breath’. To be released in June, 2022. LA Timpa plays in the s105, alongside JANEY, on Friday the 24th of June. This event is free for Subbacultcha members. Find more info here.

Ken and Sanae: Hi, it’s so nice to meet you.

LA Timpa: Likewise!

S: I think we should just dive into it. Your sound is quite ungraspable, I can’t seem to categorize it within any genre as if your music is immanent to its own world. Where do you get all these different components—sounds, samples, snippets—from?

L: I never had the opportunity nor gear to go through a creative process that had access to all these resources. So I use what I got, like a cassette player, or my phone, or a camera. When I have the opportunity to be in a studio I record with whatever is in there. Back in the days when I would have this opportunity, instead of pressuring myself to finish a song, I worked with what was around me. I mostly use real sounds—I go on walks a lot, so I capture real sounds and work with them until it becomes something else. Or, I jump into the unknown until things sound like an instrument. Sometimes when I listen back to the recordings I have to decipher what just happened, what I just created. A lot gets built from nothing.

S: Would you say your work is more to be viewed in its entirety, like a journey, instead of different moments combined?

L: I find it a lot more adjacent to painting. I am not a visual artist, but from studying people who are, I often notice that it starts with following a line without sticking to a predetermined concept. It is similar to creating music, I am following sounds until it gets to a place that makes sense to me.

S: If you say painting do you mean layering?

L: Yes, a lot of recording and processing and channels going up in the hundreds. It is often a process of refining and finding the sound. Sometimes it turns into nothing and sometimes it works. Sometimes I layer the same sound with different notation.

K: You mentioned using cassette players and recordings of the real world. When I listen to you, I sense nostalgia. How do you work with nostalgic elements within your music?

L: I feel like I am more of a sentimental person than a nostalgic one. The only way I relate nostalgia to my work is within my approach; the way things materialize feel kind of child-like. I use my voice instrumentally for example. Generally in life I rarely sink into nostalgia—except for Sundays, when you feel a collective consensus to chill for a day. But with my music I actually am leaning more to the present; what is happening at the moment, in my life, or just the state of things.

S: You mentioned walking a lot earlier, and taking in what’s around you and constructing sounds with that. Walking has been a very important aspect of my life as well, a way to clear my head and just be. It’s a practice of presence.

L: Walking is actually a huge part of where I’m at musically right now. In the last six months I was outside of Toronto mostly isolated and I would go on these walks by myself. The direction of the wind or the heat of the sun; the conversations with nature, the energy I get from being within it impacts my inspiration a lot. There are so many sounds that come from everywhere, like a construction site or a car driving by. There is something ominous about the way our ear interacts with life—how the sounds seep in when you don’t know for sure where it comes from. There is a knowledge in recognizing sounds and I like to implement that knowledge into my music. Approaching my world as things come in and out and just follow that ever-going development of my practice. There is a lot of education in this process.

K: I have an impression that some of the lyrics in your music are inaudible. All these hummings and interjections. Maybe the word lyric is not sufficient to describe it. How do the vocals come along in your music, are they mostly improvised or are they meant to be understood?

L: They are meant to be heard. My first musical introduction was actually writing lyrics. Even before I started writing, I was a huge fan of rap, so I’ve always paid attention to lyrics. When I started this project, they were often improvised, and recorded on the spot. But I would say that every song has actual official lyrics. My first album Equal Amounts Afraid is more lyrical. Modern Antics In a Deserted Place is also lyrical but more in an instrumental way. I view the voice as an instrument essentially. The vocals are quite dry with most of the songs; it’s rubbing against the instrumentation. The first songs that come to mind are Promisea, or Deaf in Three Corners, where the vocals are very raw, rarely affected. Usually the voice is the last addition in my process of making music, I can never plan a vocal line as you can never plan a melody. A lot of my process is making instrumentals rather than songs. There is a moment when vocals just happen, and in the same night the lyrics are written and recorded. I never leave anything for the next day, especially with lyrics and vocals. That’s why I feel like I’m improvising, because it has been done in this regimented way. I’ve always been intrigued about that human aspect of voice just coming straight out of you.

‘Growing up, we would build this world together.’

S: In some of your productions, like Best Friend, you play with a sample so much that it turns into an uncanny melody that is quite piercing. Could you tell me something about your approach to the melodies you construct? Do you deliberately create sensations like the one I described earlier?

L: Not deliberately, I think it’s the product of that period. The sound feels adjacent to an alarm. I remembered someone once asking if it was an alarm. It’s not. I don’t exactly remember how that melody was created, it’s just the process of turning nothing into something. To me it sounds like a string or classical instrument. I didn’t try to make a sinister sound, with that song specifically I remember coming to a realization that we are really making something out of nothing. It could’ve been voices or chatters and now this sound exists. It was definitely not intentional. But I do remember the moment of how this sound came about.

S: To turn the tide to the theme of this edition—breed, breath, bread—what drove you to breed music?

L: I gained interest in making music the last two years of high school. I remember a very important genre to me was Dub music. I remembered it was the best thing ever and I still stand by that. My brother was making Indie music. He started producing these weird rap beats, and told me I should rap, which I was obviously apprehensive about. Growing up, we would build this world together. Within this world, there were artists, musicians, and businessmen. There would be this band playing an entire show, which was us two making up songs and improvising together—I would be singing or rapping. My brother eventually convinced me to start rapping. I got a notepad and would start writing lyrics, which was the transition to me producing my own music—the LA Timpa project, after making many albums with my brother in our basement. That was a really formative time for me. We did this for like four or five sessions in our basement in suburban Toronto. I think that training set me up to be persistent in sound or pushing sound especially.

K: What do you think about your music being circulated and listened to by many others? Your music has helped me a lot during some of my darkest moments, especially during Covid. As a creator, how do you feel about people’s reaction towards your music?

L: Grateful. In a way, that’s one of the reasons why I started making music, to connect musically, I think to have an output that can possibly affect someone in the way I was affected by certain artists and sounds. I do not take for granted that people listen to my work. It gives me a good feeling to hear you listen to it during the pandemic. Knowing that there is some kind of affinity towards it—this is a connection, and I think that’s beautiful. Coming from a small production, that’s beautiful to me. Since I started making music, the growth of the audience has been quite organic, it’s cool that my music is being shared and heard.

S: When you materialize something inside of you through music, it can be almost a divine experience. Could you describe a moment of divinity relating to your artistic practice? A magical moment when the music you created said more than words could.

L: I feel that all the time. The moment when I was writing lyrics and making music with my brother was magic. There wasn’t a lot of thinking involved. Removing all expectations of the need to make a song or an album enhances that feeling of ‘magic’. Approaching music more in a way as an exercise. It’s closely tied to my other interests, like yoga, walking, stretching exercises, and prayers. I feel thankful I have gotten to a place with music, where I am constantly producing it, constantly ready to produce. I still have this weird impulse that comes from the early days of me and my brother writing lyrics and making albums in the basement. Before we even get to the point of an album being released, there were different versions of it. Those songs that didn’t come out do not necessarily have the same validity within this conversation of ‘magic moments’. Sometimes I go on a walk, and have a guitar randomly picked up from my friend’s place and just start recording it. Having things that create variables allow for the magic moments to happen. I have always been into the idea of a really good musician, training my ears to a point of hearing certain frequencies. Having the materials, and the right environments in hand allow for this magic to happen.

S: So when do you know when something is done? When a piece has nothing left to say, how do you decide that?

K: Do you see yourself as a perfectionist?

L: I do. I don’t want to say I care about unnecessary things. For instance, I never felt like I needed to buy gear to make music; I think perfection for me is the process of refinement. Following the inspiration and obsession, and push to a point that I can’t describe. It turns out to be a rumble, or sonic nothing. That’s beautiful to me, because I refined the music within a session so much that it went into nothing and disintegrated. I push the melody that resonates with the way perfectionism is seen. But it’s never this idea of working towards a specific thing. When working on an album, you get to a point that one song actually translates a subject way better than the other one and this can change the whole sound of the album. I love refinement for my ears, my playing and my musicianship, since I didn’t have any formal background in music. I think there is something cool about developing this language that just continues to refine my ears essentially in how I hear music. Discerning immediately what’s good; what should continue and what should not continue. I am open to the possibility that something is not going anywhere. I never just want to make a song for the sake of making a song. A lot of times, it opens up the possibility of making an instrumental. So, there is an openness to this “perfectionism”.

‘I am open to the possibility that something is not going anywhere.’

S: You brought the term nothing back a couple of times in this conversation. What do you mean by getting to this “nothing”, what does nothing means to you?

L: Being inspired within the music that I follow. Being surprised. Starting from somewhere and then wondering how we got here. Arriving at a poignant sound not knowing how we got it. That’s nothing to me—when I can’t connect it to anything.

S: There are no references.

L: That is the perfect word—there is no reference for it, and it just kind of happens. The extreme of that is me refining and sampling a sound so much that it has become a mash of noise, to an extent that it is not usable anymore. Something became nothing because I didn’t settle for a certain sound, pushing it so much it has become exhausted. Sometimes I process sounds until they are “broken”.

K: Do you practice transcendental meditation?

L: No, I wish.

K: The way you talk about this “nothing” makes it sound like you do.

L: I have been getting into yoga wherein I have found a sense of meditation.

S: I feel like the way you approach music is a transcendental experience in itself that I relate to meditating as well. You get into a mood and get lost in the now.

K: Exactly, absorbed and immersed by what you experience.

L: That gives me more reasons why I want to get into transcendental meditation. My music is healing to me. I relate this also to yoga—my music is so closely tied with the healing process, patience, breathing, and the nothingness. When I first started doing yoga I had expectations about what I should be able to do or how I should do it, but it’s not about that. It is actually about the process of going through it and getting to the end or not. That is the same way I view music now. Nothing matters, not to be nihilistic, but you just have to get into it and do what you know. There was a period when I stopped listening to other people’s music because I didn’t want to be influenced by it. That moment was important to immerse myself in my own world, in silence. Paying attention to my thoughts, my history, foundations, and tap into these things instead of listening to what’s contemporary.

S: I have noticed you often make use of intros, interludes and outros—would you say there is a linearity in your last album Modern Antics in A Deserted Place? Does every track follow up on the one before or could you listen to it on shuffle and still get the story?

L: It is definitely meant to be listened to from top to bottom—most of my albums are like that. There is a narrative through which tracks are deliberately positioned, based on certain feelings. So I do prefer people listening to the album linearly. Though, it is not a conceptual album that is tied to a predefined form. Sometimes I can say more with instrumentals than with lyrics, and some tracks replace others that end up saying something closer to what I am trying to communicate. But I like the idea of being able to shuffle an album and still get the potency from the narrative it is trying to tell, that would be cool.

K: Since we are approaching the end of the interview, I want to finish with a final question—what is one of the earliest memories relating to music you have?

S: Let’s end with the beginning.

L: First thing that comes to mind: Ridin’ Spinner by Three 6 Mafia. When I listen back to this song and look at what I like now, it makes a lot of sense. I see a personal lineage to that historical moment when it got aired on BET. Other than that: Church music, every Sunday, or, mid-week prayers with my family at home—praise and worships. That combination: Three 6 Mafia and Church.

LA Timpa plays in the s105, alongside JANEY, on Friday the 24th of June. This event is free for Subbacultcha members. Find more info here.