To anyone not already familiar, meet Halo Refuser – the solo electronic production incarnation of mastermind Asher Fulero, which is only one of his many many different projects. Perhaps most well known as the keyboard player in Emancipator Ensemble, Fulero also performs with his own incredible funk / jazz jam band, Asher Fulero Band, plays drums with Rena Jones’s when she performs live sets, produces electronic music in collaboration with Julian Fritz as Darkwhyte, and appears occasionally with several other well-known acts including LYNX & The Servants of Song, Everyone Orchestra, Yonder Mountain String Band and the list continues. You may or may not have heard of some of these acts (all of which are definitely worth checking out), but regardless the point is that the man is simply a relentless jack of all trades. The diversity in his musical talents is astonishing, and it seems that he is always on the hunt to put them to use wherever, whenever, and however possible.
Fulero’s latest offering comes in the form of Halo Refuser’s 6th album, Celestial Mechanics. This album finds him drawing on chill out downtempo vibes, telling a aural story with a wide array of live instrumentation as the narrator.
The opening track “Incantation”stands out as distinct from the most of the album, acting almost like a prologue. Fulero makes first contact with his listeners by setting the mood and welcoming them in without giving away too much. Where most of the other tracks have distinct riffs and melodies, this song is more on the ambient side. Its seems to focus more on creating an atmosphere, playing more with the heart than the mind.
With “Sliding Scale” it seems like elements from his jam band project may have filtered into this one. Much like in a live improv situation, the bass keeps the track grounded while a variety of sounds filter in and out, drawing the listener’s attention inward… In this case, a dubby bass line accented by beautiful slide guitar licks and impressive harmonics, occasionally interrupted by hypnotic synth arpeggios.
The album ends the same way it starts – with purpose. If “Incantation” welcomed the listener into Fulero’s world, “Earthrise” brings a sense of closure, as though to bid the listener farewell. Also on the atmospheric side of the spectrum, the final track brings a grounding vibe of gratitude. Perhaps thanking the listener for taking the time to listen to the album, a sonic “Thanks and come back soon!”
Intrigued by the album, we wanted to gain a bit more insight on how this all came together, so we reached out and asked Fulero a few questions:
[LIS] What is your creative process like? How does your music go from concepts in your head to songs on an album?
[Asher Fulero] Honestly the answer to that could be a book. Maybe a summary would be to say that for HALO REFUSER tracks, the process generally has 3 main phases: Phase 1 I call ‘throwing paint on the canvas’, where ideas flow and are not bound by any frame or preconceived setting/perspective. You don’t second guess or judge, you just throw some paint as you feel it and then move on to a new canvas and start over.
Phase 2 is what I call ‘finger painting’, where you’re using big strokes to take your paint-throwing ideas and shift them towards whatever conceptual path is revealed by the individual piece.
Phase 3 is ‘frosting’, or ‘finishing’, and this can literally take years. During this process, the conceptual path discovered in Phase 2 can shift completely, or remix mangling can also completely change a piece’s character down the line. Synchronicity between pieces (and between the music and my life) reveals itself as the process moves forward, so I generally go into it without any intended direction other than to make something that I like in the moment, and then the rest of the process is about fixing things that aren’t right or improving things that are weak.
Did you do all the instrumentation yourself? If not, who did you bring on to help and why?
The majority of the album is just me playing, programming, editing, and arranging… But I did indeed bring in a bunch of crucial players to help flesh out the sound. My close friend (and bassist for Lynx & The Servants Of Song) Nickles D’Onofrio played guitar and bass parts on several songs. The bassist from my Asher Fulero Band project, Brett McConnell, added gorgeous lap steel layers to several songs as well. My long time friend and life magician Johnny Dwork added layers from his extensive world percussion collection as last-minute frosting on a whole bunch of the songs, and Emancipator himself Doug Appling appeared on guitar for a track as well as contributing several key editing concepts on a few songs (in addition to doing final mix adjustments to the entire album). Also one of the guitarists from my Asher Fulero Band project, Darvey Santner, appears on electric guitar for a song, while my old youth group bestie Tom Gammons helped with some weird sons effect layers on “Lunar Prairie,” which also features talented producer GUDA (a.k.a. Jack Yaguda, with whom I share a birthday) on saxophone.
Is there an overarching theme to the album?
Not conceptually for the content, but definitely for the sound. This album represents an intentional shift towards the chillout side of things, as in the last three years I’ve developed a much deeper love for ambient music and reconnected with my love of downtempo. I’ve always had a downtempo or trip hop track on each of my releases, but over the last couple years my interest in the more ‘pretty’ side of electronic music has really grown, in no small part due to my relationship with the Emancipator project but also there has been a flood of great downtempo/chillout music in the past 3-5 years. I love that sound and it inherently worked its way into my musical output.
Any particular inspirations for the album or specific tracks? Any interesting stories on how some of the songs came about?
There are so many little creative stories to tell for the production nerds reading this, I wouldn’t even know where to start. About half the music on Celestial Mechanics began life around the same time my last album, Into Your Layers was released. That content went through many iterations and variations before ending up as they appear. In fact, half the songs were written originally with lyrics and vocals. I toyed with the idea of two EP’s, one all vocal songs and the other instrumental. But in the end, I decided that the vocal tunes worked really well instrumentally and the whole album had a flow that sounded really nice without. Once I landed on the final track order I knew I had it.