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Crystals and Google docs: Lazerbeak finds his Zen with 'Luther'

Lazerbeak

Lazerbeak Graham Gardner

Lazerbeak is a hugger. The towering artist and producer will hug you hello and he will hug you goodbye. In between he’ll be the friendliest person you’ve ever met.

Hard to imagine, then, that just a few years ago the jubilant 36-year-old hit rock bottom. In October 2015, after he and his fellow Doomtree collective members pulled off their annual music festival at CHS field, the stress and anxiety accumulated during the six-month planning process, coupled with little sleep and caring for three children under the age of two, avalanched.

“I couldn’t focus, I was super depressed, I couldn’t take care of my kids,” Lazerbeak says. He went to his doctor and confessed that he felt like a shell of himself, which led to a prescription for low-dose anti-anxiety medication. He then read 10% Happier by Dan Harris and began exploring meditation and mindfulness practices through the Headspace app. “That was the start of this reboot,” he says, comparing his zeal for meditation to that of a born-again Christian. “I got high on meditation. I was like, ‘I can do anything!’”

It would appear so. The CEO and general manager of Doomtree Records has enough energy to rocket right out of his rolling desk chair as he discusses his new album, Luther, a collection of chill, atmospheric instrumentals.

The album title comes, in part, from Lazerbeak’s musical idol, Luther Vandross. “Music can be like church for a lot of people. When I’m going through tough times or when I’m stressed, I’ve always leaned on his music,” Lazerbeak says. Luther is also the name of one of Lazerbeak’s twin sons. There are photographs of both the artist and the offspring in Lazerbeak’s Thorp Building office, which is a barrage of cardboard boxes, cords, and drives. “I almost purposely keep it kind of shitty in here because I didn’t necessarily want it to be the place where we were all hanging out, ’cause it means a lot to me to have silence,” he says between sips of water from a Mason jar. He spends the bulk of his waking hours here, so he made the space more soothing with a crystal collection, a burning scented candle, a light therapy box, and a trio of Post-Its that remind him to Be clear. Be aware. Be present.

Known “for everything, all at once,” Lazerbeak liked the idea of creating stripped-down, pulsing vibes with slow builds for his third solo album. He sourced sounds from Splice.com, altered the pitch and tempo, and layered them together with an Akai MPC2000, like a sonic collage. Though any given song has upward of 20 sounds—shakers, kick drums, xylophone, piano—the album sounds minimalist and unified. “A lot of that is living in quieter spaces and being more aware of silence and clearing the clutter out. This is what I feel like a lot now: more calm,” he says.

Lazerbeak didn’t think he’d release another solo album after 2012’s Lava Bangers, but in fall 2017, he started putting instrumental tracks together as a “fun exercise.” Slowly, he realized there might be something there. In a world increasingly overrun with too much noise—political, professional, personal, and otherwise—making Luther was a respite.

Lazerbeak knew the stylistic pivot was risky, but it was hardly his first. As a high schooler, the man then known as Aaron Mader started out in Plastic Constellations, an indie-rock band that released four albums, two of them on Frenchkiss Records, before going on indefinite hiatus in 2008. Though he was a longtime admirer of hip-hop, Lazerbeak couldn’t rap or breakdance. He was afraid of getting in trouble for graffiti. DJing seemed too hard. “Production became the thing where I felt like I could contribute to this culture,” he says.

By 2010, when Lazerbeak released his first solo record, Legend Recognize Legend, he was so well-known as a rap producer that few anticipated a collection of indie-pop tracks. “That threw a lot of people off,” he says. “They were expecting a rap album. Then I did put out a rap album. Now I’m doing this weird meditation album. I get that I’m not the most marketable guy.”

Luther ’s mellow vibe is impressive given what Lazerbeak juggles on a daily basis: emails, conference calls, tour schedules, release schedules, a new podcast, and strategy and operations for a slew of other artists. “Ninety percent of my day-to-day is not making music at all,” he says. “My life is Google docs.”

And crystals. He’s so enamored with them he earned the nickname “Crystal Daddy.” He always has rocks on him, like the polished red stone he keeps in his pocket. It serves as a reminder to check in with people or say, “I love you.” Crystals have become a hobby for Lazerbeak and his wife, who got sober a year and a half ago. “It’s become a thing we both have found replaced some of our bonding over drinking,” he says. “And they look rad as hell, I’m not going to lie.”

The new and improved Lazerbeak feels less pressure when it comes to performing. “Winging it has definitely been the theme of this whole project,” he says. For his upcoming release show on March 8 at the Parkway, he’s doing a “grown-up” seated event during which he’ll break down the new songs, discuss their meditative origins, and delve into his mental wellness journey. “I feel strongly about pushing that conversation forward, even if it’s to be the dork that’s like, ‘I like crystals! Go see a therapist!’ It might not hurt.”

An Evening with Lazerbeak & Guests
Where: Parkway Theater
When: 8 p.m. Fri. March 8
Tickets: $15/$20; more info here