The Gaslamp Killer’s latest album started when he was supine, full of stitches and freshly missing his spleen. This was three years ago, when the Gustavo Dudamel of beat music suffered a near-fatal motor scooter accident in Mount Washington.
I visited him then, and it was tough to watch. The musician born William Bensussen has more natural energy than Motörhead on methamphetamines. If you’ve ever watched him DJ at Low End Theory, his corkscrew curtain of hair shaking, unleashing raw voltage and undulating waves of bass, you understand that conventional weapons and motorized vehicles can’t kill him. In spite of his savage wounds, he continued to create as part compulsion, part catharsis.
“It started with me high as fuck on the pain medication, meditating with fucking crystals,” GLK says, referring to “Haleva” and “Shred You to Bits,” the first two tracks he created for Instrumentalepathy, released last week on his new imprint, Cuss Records.
“I had just gotten [my cat] Charlie. All these beautiful things were happening and my clarity was filling up. It was an incredible moment.”
Shortly after getting well enough to leave the house, GLK visited a Chinese healer who took his hands, gauged his well-being and refused to believe that he’d recently incurred such traumas. He had to display his centipedelike scar to prove it.
“She told me, ‘You’re on fire right now, and I’m not blowing hot air. I’d tell you if you were weak because I would want to help,’” GLK says at his Mount Washington house, surrounded by crystal skulls, hand-carved tribal masks and a drum kit idling in the corner. He’s wearing a tank top and shorts, a kinetic blur of motion, blue eyes somehow both ferocious and serene.
“She said, ‘In my practice, the spleen is the center of your chi, but by 30 years old, you’ve built up one of the strongest flames I’ve ever felt and you’ll be fine no matter what.’”
The mostly instrumental album chronicles GLK’s recovery from that near-death experience. The first song, “Pathetic Dreams,” starts with whistles and hums (the first time his voice has appeared on record), and the shaking of his morphine pills. Oscillators create a screeching synth that melts into the voice of his mother saying “I love you” — the first thing he heard when he woke up from his surgery.
If GLK’s debut, Breakthrough, was a visceral detour through the maniacal visions of a dark psychedelic mind, his sophomore album seeks a more gentle and gorgeous route. These are the meditative tones of music as recovery, as a way of alchemizing painful afflictions into pristine sacraments.
“I realized that I wanted to make uplifting music,” GLK says. “I played dark music, and there’s always going to be a level of depth and emotion in the music, but it doesn’t need to be the same evil-sounding thriller music all the time.”
He has evolved from DJ-as-human-dynamite into a dynamic composer, enlisting a regular troupe of players that includes Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, The Heliocentrics, Gonjasufi, guitarist Amir Yaghmai and Daedelus. They’ve forged a Northwest Passage between bone-crushing bass music and soothing, psychedelic classical.
“The accident was one of the most important things that ever happened to me,” GLK says. “It wasn’t a curse; it was a blessing and a gift from God and the universe. I feel truly honored I was able to come out alive and make this record. It’s like this is why I survived. Maybe I’ll die next month, but the record came out. I needed one more shot.”
An L.A. native, Jeff Weiss edits Passion of the Weiss and hosts the Shots Fired podcast. Find him online at passionweiss.com.