Up all night with Lee Bannon
Local electronic producer Lee Bannon moves beyond hip-hop
It’s kind of an unwritten rule: Don’t meet up with a musician too early in the morning, because they’re notorious dawn-worshippers. And Sacramento electronic producer Fred Warmsley, known primarily for his work under the moniker Lee Bannon, is by no means an exception to this rule.
For instance: On a recent Thursday just after 1 p.m., we’re out front his Midtown home. “Hold on a sec,” he says. “I need to grab some breakfast.” He crosses the street and, a couple of minutes later, emerges from a nearby convenience store with a bag of gummy worms and a pack of Orbit gum.
It’s no joke, though. The late-night producer, who often goes to bed when his girlfriend is waking up to go to work, has collaborated with international artists such as Mary Anne Hobbs, Del the Funkee Homosapien, Talib Kweli and Inspectah Deck. He’s legit.
And, while only 24, his beats have quite a loyal following. For instance, after seeing the film Drive recently, he spent his entire New Year’s Eve making an 11-song “soundtrack to an imaginary movie.”
Then, on January 2, he put the album, called Gnarlon Bando’s Midnight Noir, on Bandcamp—and within a week he’d earned some $2,500 in downloads.
Needless to say, Warmsley no longer has to work a day job.
His living room on this Thursday speaks to this single-minded fervor for production. A three-seater couch rests in front of a coffee table with a bike frame waiting to be spray-painted on top. The couch faces a work station: a desk, covered with gadgets and an Akai board and lots of yellow Post-it notes, a computer monitor towering over it—and then another flat-screen TV above the monitor. The studio desk is the main event. It’s the No. 1 focus.
Sitting at his desk, he plays songs and tracks for me from upcoming releases. This month, an album, Fantastic Plastic, drops on Plug Research. It’s an experimental hip-hop full length with cameos by Del, and locals such as Poor from Tribe of Levi and even Downtown James Brown.
It’s probably easiest to pigeonhole the album as Madlib-styled production with a penchant for snarky samples and jazzy beats. But Warmsley says that he’s over this “Bannon” hip-hop sound. “I turned this album in to the label a year ago,” he explains. “Hip-hop, to be honest, was what I was into when I was a lot younger.”
Indeed, he gets more fired up when sharing new work, such as First Person Shootr. It’s wildly gloomy, experimental electronic music that features his own vocals and sounds like down-tempo R&B ’80s tunes, but from the mind of a man who sees more darkness than daylight.
But the sounds addict—even the single “Punch Struck” recently premiered by Urban Outfitters’ website.
Warmsley says part of what he’s just trying to do with new work is capture the spirit of R&B groups such as Deele and the System, for instance, but at the same time “removing the cheese” and taking them to a different, more abstract place.
To show what he means, he plays the YouTube video for Deele’s “Two Occasions.” He calls the song inspiring. “My mom had a Camaro, and this is what she’d listen to,” he explains. And you can see the influence on First Person Shootr. And it’s a groove that other locals can vibe with.
“[He’s] a talented producer, for sure,” says DJ Whores, who’s invited Warmsley to perform at his various dance nights. “He has the uncanny natural ability to chop up obscure vocal samples, melodies and drums.”
“Basically, the boy has soul. He’s definitely no flash in the pan.”
Videographer Sean Stout, who’s currently finalizing a debut video for First Person Shootr, agrees. “[He’s] is one of those true spastic artists whose mind seems to work faster than ideas can be expressed,” Stout says. “I’ll get sent an ambient, borderline noise track one day, then the next day some hip-hop banger with C-Plus spitting on it, then the next day a soundscape for a short-film idea he has had.
“It’s inspiring, yet sort of hard to keep up with—I mean that in the best possible way.”
Warmsley says it’s simple. He shows me a work of art, a mixed-use painting he created, and says his inspiration is quick.
“I just look for the color that I’m feeling,” he says. And then he just goes, goes, goes.