This article originally appeared on Drowned in Sound
If you want Texan producer Roger Sellers to spin some tunes at a wedding, prepare to be disappointed. “I don’t have a clue how to DJ!” he laughs. He might not be giving Steve Aoki or even Calvin Harris a run for their money then, but the case of mistaken identity has lead Sellers to adopt his more recognisable moniker of Bayonne. A few people had thought that Sellers was playing as a DJ at certain events, as at the time he was juggling two projects under his own name. “There were publications that would say ‘DJ Roger Sellers is playing a late night show’ and that’s not true!” And Sellers is most definitely not a DJ (although, as he clarifies, “I don’t have anything against DJs.”) So he decided it was time to make things a bit clearer for the promoters, choosing the name Bayonne for performing his electronic sets. The name change didn’t just give some extra clarity though; it also helped Sellers to move down his current path, which has eventually led to the imminent release of his debut album, Primitives. “It was a way to start fresh and come out of the gates again. It felt good to me, like a clean slate.”
The name isn’t, however, a reference to the town where Game Of Thrones author George R.R. Martin was born, or to the city in the southwest of France. Instead, the inspiration came from much closer to home in Texas. “It was the street that I grew up on. My parents still live there,” he explains. As well as being mostly produced at Sellers’ own home in Austin, some of Primitives was recorded in his parent’s home, a fitting tribute to the couple who helped to ignite his passion for music (they bought him a drum set when he was six and encouraged him him study classical piano as a child). “Whenever you hear a piano and a lot of the vocal tracks, they were done in that house,” he says. Perhaps unsurprisingly given his upbringing, Sellers hasn’t always been an electronic producer, and for some time also performed as a folk musician. “I was doing it for years,” he says. “I loved doing folk music and I still do. It was weird kind of melodic folk music too, not traditional stuff. It was more along the lines of Sufjan Stevens or Iron & Wine.” Even now that Primitives is about to be released, Sellers doesn’t rule out the possibility that he’ll return to the genre: “I still love it and I’ll probably still make it.”
In addition, Sellers studied music theory at university, which also helped him develop his musical skills. “I don’t regret it at all, because I learned a lot and whether I like it or not, it’s there and I definitely use it,” he says. There is, though, an undeniable twinge of apathy towards the rigour and rules of studying theory in Sellers’ tone. “It became a chore,” he explains. “I didn’t feel like I was learning too much at that point and it just got ridiculous.” He sums his feelings towards it neatly: “It’s just not for me.”
Sellers’ feelings towards studying so rigorously is understandable. He comes across as a pretty spontaneous person, using his feelings and emotions to drive his creative output, something that’s rubbed off on him from other areas. “Most of the time the music I love is deeply emotional. Same thing with film and art in general, so the way that I write it comes out that way.” Being so deeply driven by the moment means that Sellers didn’t even initially consider putting his songs on to a record, instead using his live sets to put out his material and develop his increasingly intricate sound. “I was playing a lot of the songs for a long time before I even put the record out,” he says. “I actually never thought I’d actually make these songs into a record. So when I was making these loops I was kind of sitting down and experimenting. I would develop them throughout the years by performing them live.” So why did he decide to release Primitives now? “I have no idea!” he laughs. “I didn’t think they’d ever work on a record, I thought that’d be way too hard of a process to do.” Perhaps, though, he just felt like he needed to document his achievements across the years. “I think I just got to the point where I felt like I needed to put something out and I went for it.”
Primitives has been compared to the likes of Caribou and Gold Panda, and yes, it’s a thoroughly danceable electronic record that’s vaguely reminiscent of both. But Bayonne stands out from his more well-known contemporaries for a number of reasons. The record is built on twinkling synth loops and even some folktronica elements on the likes of ‘Waves’ and ‘Steps’, but its most distinctive aspect is probably the heavy drum sounds that consistently punctuate the record. The aptly-titled ‘Intro’ brings in the pounding beats early on, and that strong rhythmic element never ceases throughout. “I’ve always been into percussive stuff, whether it’s big drums or even when I was making more folky music. When I was younger, it would be very percussive even if there wasn’t any percussion,” Sellers explains. Unsurprisingly, that “came mostly from the performance aspect of it,” but also partially came from a much more unlikely source: Phil Collins. Love him or loathe him, Genesis’ former drummer and frontman has steadily become a figure of derision over the years, and the man himself was even “happy to be written out of the script entirely” when he originally quit music in 2011. But for a young Sellers, he was a hero, leading him to try and emulate Collins’ drumming style. “He was such a big influence as a kid. The way I play the drums is influenced by the way he did.” That statement isn’t just true of the way Sellers pounds the drums either. “I don’t know if this is true or not, but I’ve heard that he plays left handed and I play left-handed too, even though I’m right handed.” If you’re wondering, it is indeed true: Phil Collins plays left-handed.
A lot has been made of Sellers’ fascination with another musical legend, Eric Clapton, as well. When he was two, Sellers would watch Eric Clapton Unplugged over and over, and even tried to imitate what he saw on the video. Unlike Collins though, it’s incredibly difficult to draw a line between Clapton and Bayonne; there’s not really anything on Primitives to suggest that Sellers has been influenced by Clapton’s works in any way. The strange connection has become increasingly puzzling, even to Sellers himself. “It seems confusing to people! A lot of people have read my bio and they’re like: ‘Bayonne, getting inspiration from Clapton’ and I’m like: ‘This is not right!’” he laughs. So it’s time to set the record straight. What are the real influences behind Bayonne’s sound? “I’ve always been into good indie music and a lot of avant-garde types, like Animal Collective,” Sellers says.
There’s a trio of composers who’ve been particularly influential on the core sound of Primitives though: “Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Terry Reilly.” It might be surprising to hear that the godfathers of minimalism have had such an impact on the album, especially considering that the record is sonically very maximalist. Every nook and cranny of Primitives is jam-packed with sound. But it’s in the intricate construction of the album where the minimalists’ influences shine through. Though it might not be immediately obvious, the LP is also filled with complexities, with each sound threaded together into a detailed tapestry. “It’s in the percussiveness, the staccato note by note approach,” Sellers explains. “On ‘Marim’, that’s pretty much directly influenced by Steve Reich and his mallet music. It’s very rapid notes. It’s like pointillism in a painting. If you look up close you’ll see notes and then if you zoom out you’ll see a bigger picture.”
Each of the tracks on Primitives can trace its roots back to this meticulous, minimalist approach, particularly when it comes to the melodies. “It’s based now almost completely on loops and each of those loops might have a tiny note element to them. It all starts with one loop and then you build from there,” Sellers explains. He’s managed to master this method to the extent where every track flows into each other incredibly smoothly, but each song also stands on its own two feet; it’d be impossible to mix up the lounge piano driven ‘Lates’ with the more tropical vibes of ‘Omar’. Constructing the songs in such a scrupulous way is probably where Sellers’ background in music theory becomes particularly handy. Still, it’s difficult to imagine how long it must have taken for Sellers to achieve this, but for him it’s not hard work. “I usually just mess around! I have tonnes of loops, I have a loop library!” he laughs. It all goes back to that emotional aspect, with Sellers just going with the flow to see what sounds good. “It’s fairly intuitive. I just go with ones that I feel that I could put a melody over. Something that I feel I could easily layer a lot.”
The same goes for many of the lyrics. “A lot of them are lyrically based on how I’m feeling about whatever is going on at that time. The way I write lyrics is very personal,” says Sellers. A few tracks are based on his personal experiences; ‘Spectrolite’, for instance, revolves around a time when his now ex-girlfriend brought him home a stone from Australia while they were going through some difficulties. However, Bayonne’s words are often incredibly oblique, adding more to the overall mood than giving the song any particular meaning. “I try to make it to where it’s even hard for me to see what I’m talking about!” Sellers laughs. Much like creating his loops, many of the words on the album are born from playful experimentation. “I think most of it is just discovering something and messing around. A lot of the time with lyrics, I tend to do stream of consciousness and I’ll find a lyrical hook and work around it. I don’t ever strive to write anything, usually.”
Despite never going out of his way to write, Sellers’ output as Bayonne is still becoming pretty prolific. The deluxe version of Primitives contains three bonus tracks – including the recent single ‘Living Room’ – and despite the album not even being out yet, Sellers is still itching to do more. “I’m going to get into the studio to record a new record soon,” he says. “There’s definitely a lot of stuff that I’ve been working on recently that I probably want to have on the record. There’s a couple of songs that I feel might even be done.” Primitives is therefore only the tip of the iceberg for a musician constantly searching for new sounds and ideas. Don’t be surprised if he throws a bit of a curveball on his next album though; Sellers certainly isn’t one to rest on his laurels, and his extraordinary desire to be creative makes keeping an eye out for new Bayonne tracks a must. As he says himself though, “we’ll see what happens!”