L.A. ZOOO, the new album from L.A.-based producer Bei Ru (out today via Fat Beats), doesn’t fit into anyone particular genre. It’s an ode to some of his favorite artists, genres and styles of music fused with his experiences growing up and living in Los Angeles. It’s a reflection of the great Los Angeles melting pot — but in this version of Los Angeles, people and animals co-exist. Zebras roam the streets side by side with humans. It’s a world where genre, race, religion and even species no longer matter.
Bei Ru was born Baruir Panossian in West Los Angeles. The son of Armenian parents, who immigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon to attend UCLA, he grew up in Reseda and Tarzana with an older sister and younger brother. “My parents came from a small village called Anjar,” he explains. “It was a tiny village, like two-by-two miles. Everyone knows each other. So it must have been kinda crazy to them to come here and experience L.A.”
While Panossian has visited Anjar, L.A. has been the only life he’s ever really truly known. His upbringing was what you’d expect for an American kid: basketball, video games, sleepovers, music. But in other ways, it was more traditionally Armenian. Panossian’s parents spoke Armenian in the house, and expected their children to do the same. The family ate traditional Armenian and Arabic food and listened to old Armenian and Arabic records around the house. These records, combined with Panossian’s adulation for jazz, psychedelic rock, Dr. Dre, Madlib and J. Dilla, would serve as the foundation for the birth of Bei Ru.
At first, like most kids, Panossian didn’t particularly care for his parents' music. “People my age weren’t into the music. I wasn’t into the music,” he reflects. “I thought it was kinda corny.” But as time went on, Panossian started to realize how special it was to have these records that few in America were familiar with. Plus, most of his parents' Armenian and Arabic records — and the ones he's since collected himself — haven’t been digitally remastered, so once they’re gone, they’re gone.
“I kinda felt like an archaeologist in the sense [of] looking for these things that were fleeting,” Panossian muses. “When I first inherited some of my parents records, I eventually got really obsessive-compulsive about it, because there were these cool Armenian records that no one I knew heard about.”
The archaeological record digs became a regular thing for Panossian. Whenever he was in a different country, he wanted to check out their record stores and see what different gems and artifacts he could find. “It was like this secret thing between me and music that I would kind of filter through my own experience and take little bits and pieces of and use in my music.”
Some of Panossian’s earliest Armenian musical influences include artists such as Aram Khachaturian, a classical composer known for his ballets, composer and pianist Konstantin Orbelyan, and pop/folk singer Harout Pamboukjian.
As Panossian’s passion for music grew, he began to consider a career as an artist. While his parents were supportive, they told him that if he wanted to pursue music, he would have to get a college degree first. He received a degree in psychology from Cal State Northridge, and after a slew of random odd jobs, began to realize that if he didn't fully commit to making music, his dream of being an artist would never be realized.
“I just decided that if I wanna do this, I have to do this 100 percent,” he explains. “And all these other odd jobs, as much as they were helping me financially, and as scary as it was, I felt like if I don’t dive in now, it’s never gonna happen.”
On a tour of the Middle East last year, Panossian found a bunch of electronic/synth-driven Arabic records. “It kinda snowballed into my revisiting all the electronic/Moog records from the '60s-'70s that I'd found over the years,” he says. “And bits and pieces of that made their onto the album, and the spirit of that era combined with contemporary L.A. life kinda became the driving force behind it all.” These records would plant the seeds that would eventually blossom into L.A. ZOOO.
The various music styles, food, culture and people Bei Ru grew up with are all encompassed and fused together on this record. “That’s always something I struggle with,” he says when asked what genre his music fits into. “I pull from so many genres and there’s so many influences in what I do. I’ve always tried to make my music universal. So no matter what you’re into, you’ll enjoy it.
“I hope it translates the way I want it to translate,” Bei Ru adds. “Which is like this psychedelic, positive escape … a fun, short trip that takes you away for the brief period you’re listening to the music. If people can get that from it and it kinda takes them away, even if it’s for a brief period of time, then I feel like the job is done.”