For Kone, Yellowstone National Park transformed from a vacation destination into a declaration of intent. Somewhere amid the volcanic pressure and glacial chill, wild elk and waterfalls, fuming geysers and herbal smoke, the veteran beat-scene producer’s second album started to cohere.
“You turn the corner and it goes from lush and green to cold, windy, rock cliffs. You turn again and it’s lava. It’s the trippiest place ever,” Kone says of his 2014 odyssey through America’s oldest and most schizophrenically gorgeous national park.
“We were listening to random songs that I’d burned to a CD and they sounded like a complete album,” says the producer born Matthew Koerner. Wearing a navy V-neck T-shirt, gray pants and white Polo canvas shoes, with thick wavy hair and goatee, he looks vaguely like the youngest Dillon brother. “It all tied in together at the right place and right time.”
Hence, this month’s Yellowstone, a title also inspired by old acid-rock albums named after a scenic locale.
Released on Kone’s own New Los Angeles imprint, it’s easy to imagine why the album felt most right where the buffalo roam. It’s expansive and hallucinogenic, conjuring images of unbroken road and transportive beauty. Psychedelic guitars and scabrous drums offer a grounding air of menace.
Outside of the beat scene, Kone qualifies as one of L.A.’s better-kept secrets. To those in the know, the Low End Theory regular is a celebrated DJ guaranteed to detonate parties, a record collector with few peers, and co-founder of a label that released one of last year’s finest rap albums, The Koreatown Oddity’s 200 Tree Rings. His garage-rock duo Gangs (with girlfriend and label partner Maria Paredes) has earned airplay on KCRW and BBC Radio.
But the ex–UC Santa Cruz philosophy student’s solo albums are where he’s begun to carve his own petroglyphs, rivaling only The Gaslamp Killer in his ability to suture psych-rock to red-eyed, rugged beats.
“The trend in the music world has been future- and space-based for so long that I’m just not interested in any of that,” Kone says in his East Hollywood apartment, surrounded by books, records and paintings with an electric Kool-Aid color palette. “It’s not about the analog-versus-digital thing or even being nostalgic for the past. I just wanted to make something organic that can live in the present.”
For Yellowstone, he blended Ableton software with live drums. The idea was to create a beat scene equivalent to Neil Young’s Zuma — a collection of songs that captures what a specific place feels like and represents in the popular imagination.
“I tried to make imaginary music, the stuff you hear in your head,” Kone says.
If you listen closely, you can hear the fusion of breaks and rare groove, Southern hip-hop and boom-bap, LSD freakouts and refurbished trip-hop. There are samples, but it feels more modern than its Mo’ Wax antecedents. It’s an album that could only come from a masterful DJ — the most fully realized statement from the Valley-raised surfer. If Yellowstone’s buffalo needed a soundtrack, they would probably bump this.
“I’m not trying to change the game but just contribute to it,” Kone says. “I don’t mind that I’m not the big guy that gets all the gigs, because sometimes that accelerates the half-life. Some of my favorite artists did their thing but didn’t get all the fame for it. Yet they influenced the generation [after] them and in some ways they’re more relevant than the flash-in-the-pan artists.”
Of Yellowstone’s possible legacy, he adds, “Hopefully, someday, some kid might find this at a thrift store and take it home because he thought the cover was cool, and maybe get inspired himself.”
An L.A. native, L.A. Weekly columnist Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com, follow him on Twitter and also check out his archives.