Luther Burbank was born of a hundred and one nights of tinkering at the Silver Lake home of film composer Sam Jones. Fuelled by the creations of prolific beatmaker Wyatt Keusch and the lyrics of Vikram Devasthali, what began as a simple experiment in rap developed over two years into their full-length debut, With Apologies To...

With Apologies To... explores the idea of space as both a place and a metaphor, beginning with a pair of tributes to intrepid women who braved the unknown: a celebrated groundbreaker who slipped the surly bonds of earth (”Sally Ride”) and an unsung heroine of the civil-rights movement who dared to sit where she was not allowed (”Claudette Colvin”). Over twelve tracks, Luther Burbank pumbs the depths of the human fascination with the final frontier - in all of its terror, beauty, and mayhem.”

 Vikram wrote the text above as official PR copy; now I’d like to offer my rambling commentary on the process of making this album, and my feelings about it.

With Apologies To... is, simply put, nothing short of the culmination of my entire musical life so far. All my different musical selves have managed to find a place in here, living out their frozen lives in a kind of retirement home for cloven personae: the teenager obsessed by Yes, King Crimson and David Bowie, the art school IDM nerd, the terrified and dogmatic noise musician, the shell-shocked and gentle 30-something. They’re all in here, playing Scrabble and muttering into their beards, while wonderful music emerges all around them.

Sam Jones and I began work on this album in late summer 2017, through idle chatter, as we often do. I was trying to tell him about an elusive Samuel R. Delany book, but I couldn’t quite remember the title; I knew it was something overtly homoerotic, something to do with the Roman and/or Hellenistic world, and something to do with metafictions and contingent realities...I couldn’t remember the name, however, so I said it was something like Penus - a slight misspelling on a common word for the male reproductive organ.

The book I was thinking of is, of course, Phallos, but Sam and I found my mis-remembered version so funny that we decided we should finally indulge our proggy sides and make a concept album, using my sketchy misapprehension of Delany as a launchpad. Since neither of us is a terribly confident lyricist, we figured Vikram Devasthali would be the best narrator for whatever story we were trying to tell. He was interested, so I got to work making some skeleton tracks, which I then sent to Vik so he could write to them, before we all reconvened at Sam’s studio.

We recorded early versions of Sally Ride, The Dolphin Overlords and Theranos, not yet titled as such, still with this proggy-sci-fi concept in mind. We conceived a corrupt and despotic intergalactic Roman empire, their tyranny absolute, with the only challenger being a messianic Penus warrior, a sexual gladiator, a homoerotic Hercules. He would fuck his way across this darkened empire, from the outer reaches to the AstroRoman homeworld, liberating the long-repressed citizens through sexual frenzy and illuminating them with his raucous solar-phallic energy.

Still mostly giggling to ourselves at the silliness and transgression of it all, we were surprised to get an offer, via Sam’s management, to produce a track for André 3000, once of Outkast renown. We got together in the studio and, over the course of a heady night, worked out what would become Claudette Colvin. Once we were finished with was had originally been intended as a demo track for Mr. 3000, we thought to ourselves, “...fuck...that?”, making the irresponsible and unreasonable decision to keep it for ourselves and submit nothing. We felt that we were onto something, and perhaps we should see it through ourselves, rather than letting it languish in an established musician’s vault, likely to never see the light of day at all.

It should be noted, to keep any shock at bay, that we all truly love Outkast, and are casting no shade - we simply wanted to follow our own wills with the album, and not let it escape us so easily. All power to Aquemini.

With the addition of Claudette Colvin to the batch of tracks in progress, we started feeling as though our sci-fi erotica concept album might not be following those specific guidelines any longer, and perhaps we should open up the field of subject matter a bit, letting each track be about whatever felt right, instead of trying to steer it all in one specific direction. I made the rest of the beats over the next few weeks, with Vik writing the lyrics on his own before recording the vocals at Sam’s. As things progressed, we invited some of our other friends in to record solos and additional parts on certain tracks. When Dave Paha was in town on tour with his band, we got him into the studio to add synth and vocals to The Void. Similarly, Adam Ratner was charged with playing the brilliantly emotive guitar solo on The Fall, while Ethan Braun and Sam Gendel came in to contribute duelling piano/sax solos for Ralph Waldo Emerson.

By January of 2018, we felt we had finished the album, so we took a break from work to let it sit, collect our thoughts, and decide how to proceed. I went to Germany to visit my family for a couple months, then to Montréal, before returning to Los Angeles, by which point Vikram had decided to rewrite some of the tracks. I’d been listening to the album constantly during the intervening months, so I initially felt some concern at messing with what I already felt was a pretty solid body of work, but the results of Vik’s revisions are beyond reproach, and did indeed transform a “pretty solid” album into a great one.

The most significant revisions were to Sally Ride and Theranos, the first tracks recorded for the project. Sally Ride, originally known as David Jones, became a paean to NASA’s first female astronaut, keeping something of our original “space drama” theme but taking it in a much less fantastical direction. Theranos, originally known as Horus, Lord of the Horizon, became Vikram’s love song for Elizabeth Holmes, the soon-to-be infamous wall-eyed techbro blood lady (though the HBO doc hadn’t been released yet - Vik is always ahead of the curve). Gendel came back into the studio to add sax to this new version of the track, lending it a wonderful Fripp/Belew-like character which pushes it fully above the bar (the transcendent guitar work on King Crimson’s The Sheltering Sky comes to mind, though I doubt that was a conscious reference point for anyone).

The name Luther Burbank was chosen for several ultimately-silly reasons, but chief among them was the fact that it would place us in the enviable position of being enthroned alongside the immortal Jethro Tull on the list of “bands named after 19th-century agricultural theorists”.

By early 2019, we felt that With Apologies To... was finally finished, so we commissioned some artwork from our friend (and my Cargo cohort) Andrew Ohlmann, and sent the tracks off to Sean Price in Oakland, to be mastered. Trevor Blake made a music video for The Helpless Puma with us, and in April we performed our debut show at the CIA in North Hollywood, as part of a series organized by the Synchromy new music group. The CIA had been the site of much art school-era tooth-cutting for Sam and I, so returning there, all those years later, with a project as fantastic as this, was a very special moment for us. I painted myself all in shimmering gold for the occasion.

The album was released to little fanfare, but it will endure forever in my heart as the most completely perfect document of my most cherished musical relationships. This is a document of some of the best moments of my life, experienced with some of my absolute favourite people, and I couldn’t be happier with it.
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