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Ambient Music Star B. Hayes Discusses His Kaleidoscopic New Album And Shares His Favorite LA Food & Drink Spots

Los Angeles, with its perfect weather and endless options for entertainment, isn’t the first city or space that comes to mind when you think about ambient music. The genre, pioneered by Brian Eno in the mid-70s, is known for songs of longer length that don’t so much grab your attention as they do lay out a thick and tranquil vibe. When Eno first dropped Ambient 1: Music For Airports, it was designed as a sound installation to ease the anxiety of being in a bustling airport. LA, save for being trapped in traffic, doesn’t really have that problem thanks to its big blue sky and sprawled-out infrastructure… but for musician B. Hayes, the city and its surroundings were a key source of inspiration for his latest release 1-9, a kaleidoscopic ambient album that manages to grab your ears while still providing the chill-out touchstones of the genre.

“I think the thing about Los Angeles that’s different from a lot of cities that I’ve spent time in is that I always feel like there’s drama in the air,” the artist notes. “If you go to a party, or you’re walking around, I feel like I’m always either running into somebody, I’m watching somebody, I’m watching pretty emotional, deep interactions going on, rather than what I find in other cities. I think having super intense and almost over-the-top dramatic moments within music here. I just feel like a lot of people are just going through some shit.”

That sense of emotional conflict is present throughout 1-9, which ditches the long song lengths commonly found in ambient music for short and quick musical studies that shift and evolve and never get so boring that it gets relegated to background music. That’s all by design, according to B. Hayes.

“I think a lot of other ambient albums or songs that I listen to, they’re always 10 minutes long, or eight or nine minutes long,” B. Hayes says. “And I thought, I don’t know… I don’t think I would consider myself just a strict ambient artist. I love ambient music, I like playing the piano, and I need that outlet. But I also love dance music and electronic stuff. I wouldn’t dive fully into the full ambient world. I want to at least have the songs be able to live in a couple different communities, rather than just deep-cut ambient stuff.”

That sense of musical adventurousness is evident across 1-9, which, while mostly meditative, still has its fair share of musical passages that can be downright chill-inducing. You can zone out while listening but its best moments will have you trying to press your ears deeper into your headphones. 1-9 was made mostly on Hayes’ mother’s old out-of-tune Steinway piano, before being dropped into Ableton, looped, stretched out, and transformed into otherworldly soundscapes. As chill as it is, Hayes is also experimenting with bringing these songs to a live space, furthering transforming them into something new.

“For live it’s evolving,” he explains. “I’ve only played live probably five times with the ambient stuff. And so, that’s slowly growing. Mike Milosh, aka Rhye, who runs Secular Sabbath [B. Hayes’ label], gave me a Korg synth, this really sick Prologue, and it sounds really cool. So, I think a lot of the new stuff will come from that, and that’ll be integrated within the production and the live stuff.”

You can get a little taste of the B. Hayes live experience this weekend at Toro y Moi’s Big Sur Festival at Fernwood Resort. The festival, put together by Folk Yeah!, promises two days of music and tranquil camping in California’s beautiful Big Sur — which is probably the perfect setting to zone out (or in!) on B. Hayes’ music. Hayes is set to hit the stage on Saturday, September 24th at around 11:30 AM (following some early morning breathwork workshops for festival goers).

Ahead of his set, we talked with B. Hayes about 1-9 and his favorite LA hot spots.

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I wanted to talk a little bit about the title, and what you were going for with 1-9. I mean, obviously it’s nine songs, and the first song is called “First” and the last song is called “Nine.” But the other songs have more conventional names. How you were approaching this particular project and this particular collection of songs?

I think it was just a period of time in my life where I was really figuring stuff out, going through a couple of personal things, and I wanted to just write music that would help me get through it. Originally, it was just a record for myself, and I didn’t really come up with a fitting enough title. And originally, they were just going to be titled One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine. And as some of the songs got closer to being done or finished, they made names for themselves, and they reminded me of moments in my life that I was going through.

And I think “First” and “Nine” were just the foundation of the whole record. So, they’re the conductor and the caboose, I guess.

What were some of the inspirations, musically, and conceptually?

Yeah, I think one of my favorite ambient artists is this guy, Huerco S., he’s a good friend of mine, Brian Leeds. He’s put out one of my favorite albums ever, called For Those Who Have, and also For Those Who Haven’t. That’s just something that I go back and listen to in stressful situations, and times of grief or anxiety. And I think these songs helped me go through and get to the end of those kinds of feelings. So, thinking about something that would be able to console me and give me solace was a big part of making the songs, because I was in a weird spot, mentally, when I was doing it.

READ ON FOR B. HAYES’ GUIDE TO LA:

What’s your ideal environment for people to listen to 1-9?

A walk through Beachwood

Definitely solo, on a walk. I think that’s how I knew some of the songs were finished. I live in Beachwood area, in Hollywood, and I’m at the bottom of a big mountain, and a lot of the songs I’d finish at my house and then I’d just go walk and be in nature for a moment, and then I’d figure out, “Oh, these songs are actually done.”

So, I think if you’re listening with headphones, just going for a walk, figuring stuff out, tuning up, just getting a little sweat on, and just having a nice rehab moment. I think that’s my favorite time to listen to it.

Where’s your favorite place in LA to catch a show?

The Lodge Room

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That’s a good question. I really like Lodge Room in Highland Park, it has a really great down system. Pretty hot take, I love Gold-Diggers on Santa Monica. It has a bad rap now cause they have pretty weird parties, but I saw one of my favorite artists, Alex G, there in a small showcase. I’ve seen a bunch of really good shows.

A lot of bad parties happen there, but it’s also pretty cool. It’s really intimate, small. Super dingy. Gross. It’s awesome.

Los Angeles obviously has a huge driving culture. What’s, in your opinion, the ideal driving route for someone who throws on 1-9?

Sunset BLVD.

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Driving from Beachwood Canyon on Sunset all the way to PCH. Just Sunset the whole way. Going west. Not going east. Going west towards the ocean.

What’s your favorite LA hidden gem? Something that isn’t on tourist’s lists, will never be on tourist’s list. Just a place that everybody in LA loves?

Reel Inn

Yeah, I mean, LA in the past five years, I left from 17 to 22 or 23. And even during that time, it was gentrified a little bit. But from 23 to 26, now, it’s drastically, drastically changed. A lot of the areas and environments have been extremely gentrified, and if not gentrified, overrun with homeless population. It’s in a pretty weird spot. I still love it, but my hometown, or my neighborhood that I grew up in, in the Palisades, basically a giant mall just was thrown in the middle of it. There used to be this bookstore called Village Books, and my favorite diner, called Mort’s Deli. Those are all gone. But my OG spot that I grew up going every Sunday, it’s kind of touristy now. Like I said, everything’s pretty messed up.

But the Reel Inn on PCH and Topanga, is my classic family vibe.

Where is the best place in LA to grab a slice of pizza?

Delicious Pizza

Probably Delicious Pizza on Sunset. It’s J Dilla’s old pizza store. It’s pretty hole in the wall, two pepperoni slices and a Coke vibe. It’s just on Sunset. There are not a lot of people there, but they always play really, really loud music, and the sound system’s really good. It’s just vibe.

What’s the best LA Mexican food spot?

Guisados

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I’m not a big burritos person, but Guisados in Echo Park for tacos.

You’re not a big burrito person, you grew up in LA?

I know. I just always get tacos instead. But, yeah, I can always kill a breakfast burrito from Palisades Garden Cafe. If it had to be burrito, that one.

If you want to go to a real divey hole in the wall with a cool vibe, where is that at right now?

Jones

If you want to catch me getting a drink on the weekend, I’m at Jones in Hollywood, for sure. Or if you want to go full dive, my second favorite is Rainbow on sunset.

And if we want to go super fancy, super impressive, almost ridiculous?

Toscana

Almost ridiculous? I would say Toscana in Brentwood.

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