Producer Topher LaFata is seated at his computer, pecking away at a digital drum kit as he conducts a phone interview from his Bay Area home studio when a voice in the background rather emphatically tells him to shut up. Whoever it is has no plans to sit idly by while LaFata claims that he lives a life of "ballin' nonstop."
"Maybe not, but I'm still doing plenty of just living," says LaFata, who records under the name Gold Chains. "It's all good."
Seems it's been good for the 30-year-old LaFata ever since he premiered Gold Chains, a name that dates back to lunchroom freestylin' at the age of 15. Just back from a successful stretch of European performances, LaFata has only two days to rest up for an extended American tour to promote Young Miss America, his debut full-length after a series of EPs circulating since 2001.
Perhaps that's why he seems slippery, cutting short many of his answers. He's particularly evasive in response to a comment equating electronically collated music with open-source software.
"Dude, I think you give me [too much] credit for being a philosopher," LaFata says. "I talk bass lines and kick-drums and studio shit when I talk about music, and that's about it. I don't get into social implications of music -- never to the degree you're talking about. I'd feel like a computer. It's just more, 'That bumps, dude; that will sound sick on a club system.'"
An odd claim, since LaFata, who began his hustlin' life as a self-taught computer programmer from Reading, Pa., still programs his own laptop audio software (though he prefers recording in his full-outboard-gear home studio). Odder still, LaFata disavows any connection with deconstructionism. Press materials for Young Miss America refer to its cover as a "disjointed collage" of so-called beautiful body parts clutching at disposable capitalist culture while hinting at serious conceptual significance. But LaFata remains coy about his inspiration.
"Artistically, it all sort of came together with a lot of subjects [that my] songs were dealing with," LaFata says. "This consumer-culture materialism kind of revealed itself. The original intent was just music to jam to. To me, Young Miss America is already eight months old; some material is three years old. My new material is much more with the club in mind. Stuff on Young Miss America you can't mix because it's super-dense, composed punk, '60s mod-style psyche rock, house, techno-commercial hip-hop. Young Miss America is more a listening record -- Dark Side of the Moon-type shit."
Pink Floyd it's not. But no matter. Young Miss America is fat slabs of rubbery fizz, garage rock, dancehall, U.K. garage, Gary Glitter stomp, Farfisa funk, hard house and hip-hop-type shit. All of it is filtered through a perspective once shaped by skateboard culture and hardcore, but now informed by everything from minimalist Swedish tech-house to New York jeep beats.
Following an EP of what LaFata calls "digital club destruction-type shit," Young Miss America reflects the commercial-grade gloss of radio-ready hip-hop and the broader sonic palette of many producers -- from Aphex Twin to Gold Chains label mate Kid 606 to LaFata's production partner, Kit Clayton -- who explore rhythmic shards in various states of duress. The accompanying gravelly voiced rhyming rants use as their springboard (what else?) clubs, bitches and money. But at the heart of Gold Chains' observations on an economically fueled culture is the idea of getting your money's worth, something LaFata promises out of any Gold Chains performance.
"When I listen to pop to hip-hop to electronic stuff, and I respect it, it's because I recognize how hard-hitting it is, no matter how clean or super-ghetto the production," LaFata says. "It doesn't need to be 'aggressive,' but it's got to have real passion. I feel that comes across in the Gold Chains live show. We have two laptops, three backup singers, guitar and keyboards. And people will walk away saying, 'I saw Gold Chains, and they just killed it. It was power, soul, funk, punk, crazy shit.' We come legit."