Randal Bravery on his spaced-out beatmaking
The Milwaukee-based producer plays this Thursday at The Wisco.
Brandon Washington has quietly grown into one of the more formidable electronic musicians in the state over the past few years. The Kenosha native and current Milwaukee resident now performs under the name Randal Bravery, and before that put out music as Con Solo, including 2014’s excellent, sic-fi-tinged instrumental album The Crimson Future: Part One on the Madison-based Catch Wreck label. He also plays live with Milwaukee rapper Milo and collaborates with Milo on the Ruby Yacht label.
Most of Washington’s focus lately has been on solo work that incorporates elements of hip hop, spacious ambient music, and prog. In December he put out two releases: Ganymede Bartender, a continuous 18-minute piece that flows through warbling, bubbling synth textures and punchy yet soothing percussion samples, and Beat Exercises: Q4, culled from a bunch of beat-oriented tracks Washington quickly made over the course of a few weeks. On Thursday, January 14 at The Wisco, he’ll be pulling double duty, playing a solo set as Randal Bravery and playing synth and singing lead in prog-rock band Ion. Washington talked with me last week while in Madison to play a couple of shows with Milo.
Tone Madison: Some aspects of this new tape remind me of The Crimson Future, but it sounds like you wanted to take it in a looser direction.
Brandon Washington: Yeah, I mean, I feel like I learned a lot from being on tour with Rory and stuff, so I was just trying to convert all this new energy in a new vibe—just make a hybrid of the old and the new. I'm trying to get away from making lots of breakbeat stuff, and more into a chiller, trip-hop vibe. And now I'm trying to fuse all that together.
Tone Madison: Right—there's a bit more convergence here between the ambient tendencies and having it be more grounded in the percussion.
Brandon Washington: I'm also trying to add more ambience and more noise and just like weird shit, you know?
Tone Madison: This release is one continuous track, more or less. Did you set out to do it that way, or did it just kind of take that form as you worked on it?
Brandon Washington: That was the plan the whole time, and then I had cut it up into pieces, but then I realized I didn't want anyone to just take my beats to rap on without my permission, because it was a concept project. So I just had it as one long play.
Tone Madison: Was there anything else specific that you were trying to do differently here?
Brandon Washington: I started working more with using my voice as an instrument, so that was a big step. Now I'm trying to incorporate that more into what I play in my solo set. I was just trying to push myself, I guess.
Tone Madison: When you use the vocals live, are you sort of running that into a sampler or something?
Brandon Washington: Yeah, I have the sampler, and I run the microphone into the sampler, so I use that as an effects processor and I trigger samples at the same time. Are you gonna make it to the show at The Wisco? If you can make it, you'll see it there.
Tone Madison: I haven't seen you since you played at The Sett about a year ago, and you were still going as Con Solo then.
Brandon Washington: That was probably the last time I played out here.
Tone Madison: How has your live set changed since then, other than the vocals?
Brandon Washington: Well, then I had a computer and a pad controller, and I was doing more chopping of loops with the pads, and now I have it all condensed to a sampler and a microphone. It's more of a continuous vibe. It lets me be more in the moment. It lets me improvise a lot more. I feel like it's a lot better. I feel like it makes more sense. What I'm trying to do is incorporate the old gear from the old set into what I do now. That's the next step, after I come back from this tour with Milo next month.
Tone Madison: Did the improvisation element also feed into the new tape?
Brandon Washington: Not so much. That was more of a planned-out concept. I dropped two tapes, Ganymede Bartender and Q4, and with Q4, I was making hella beats, just trying to test myself, and in a three-week period I was making like three beats a day. So I took all the best ones and put them on tape. So that was improv-ish.
Tone Madison: When you first started making music, were you mostly interested in ambient stuff or hip-hop or what?
Brandon Washington: Honestly, when I started making music, I wanted to make videogame music. And then from there I wanted to make breakbeat and jungle, because I love it. Ambience has always been a main component of the music I write. Over time I just got way more into hip hop. That really started when I started hanging out with more rappers, in the past five years.
Tone Madison: You mentioned that playing with Milo has helped you improve. How so?
Brandon Washington: You just gotta be super on-it at all times.
Tone Madison: Just because you're playing live?
Brandon Washington: Yeah, you just gonna be on it and really push the maximum. And always trying to make something new, trying to really create. So I'm super appreciative of that.
Tone Madison: What else is coming up for you this year?
Brandon Washington: Well, a couple weeks ago I finished making a split EP with Safari Al, another guy in Ruby Yacht, and we're just kind of sitting on that. I think we're going to put it out through Ruby Yacht but we gotta really do the proper planning. And then next month I'm going on tour with Milo and we're going to be on tour for a month, and then I come back and I'll just play some more shows. Once we get back from tour I'm going to end up writing more music.
I wanted to release an EP in mid-February but I'm going to be on the road so I can't, so I think I'm going to try to drop something this summer. I produced an EP for this Milwaukee rapper called Queen Tut. I think that's gonna be sick. I don't know when she's going to release it or what she's gonna call it, but I know the beats are tight, and she's a good rapper, so chances are it's gonna be pretty OK. I don't really collab too much with people. I generally stick to my own shit. I like playing with my homies, but outside of the homies not really anybody.