“I Like Hitting Pads and Turning Knobs”: A Conversation with Linafornia

The versatile L.A. producer discusses bouncing back from a severe car accident, her impressive debut album, and new royalty-free Ableton compositions.

Welcome to Micro-Chop, a newsletter dissecting beatmaking, DJing, music production, rapping, and sampling — written by me, Gino Sorcinelli.

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“I Like Hitting Pads and Turning Knobs”: A Conversation with Linafornia

Before making waves with her impressive (mostly) instrumental debut YUNG, L.A. beat scene staple Linafornia found her way into production as a form of catharsis during a dark time in her life. “I started making beats because I was doing physical therapy, learning how to walk again and stuff like that,” she tells me. “That was the influence.”

Though her early beats were born out of difficult circumstances, Linafornia’s life was in a great place before she had to retrain her brain and body how to walk. In addition to attending school and holding down a job, she’d also landed a dream gig promoting the documentary film Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton as part of Stones Throw Records street team in 2013. Things took an unexpected turn, however, when a severe car accident forced her work obligations to the side so she could focus on healing and recovery.

Thankfully, the folks at Stones Throw responded like champs when she informed them she could no longer provide her services to the promotion of their new film. “They were so kind to me and nice to me,” she says. “They sent me a care package of all these different CDs, all this music I listened to during my recovery time. That’s what pretty much inspired me to want to make music myself.”

As Linafornia looked for a way to test out her musical abilities while she regained her physical strength, the Roland SP-404 provided an affordable and intriguing option for making beats. “I always wanted to be a DJ but I didn’t have enough money to spend on 800 dollar turntables,” she says. “But with the 404 it was super cost effective, it was within my budget.”

After an extended recovery period she had the necessary health and confidence to test her skills with a July 2014 live show alongside fellow 404 master ALWAYZ PROFLIFIC, who also happened to be one of the first producers Linafornia saw rocking a 404. Still relatively new to the game and in the process of building her catalog, the two producers decided to use a unique format during the show to share their music. “We both did a back and forth, beat to beat kind of set since I didn’t have a lot of material at the time,” she says.

It may have been Linafornia’s first show, but her performance left a lasting impression on those who saw it. It wasn’t long before requests for more live sets started coming in at a steady clip. She decided to say yes to the majority of the opportunities to play in front of a crowd, quickly making her a fixture at esteemed L.A. venues like Bananas. “I did shows for free every weekend for a year straight in a row,” she says. “Then I eventually competed in beat battles, which was a lot of fun. I won those and that only increased the demand for bookings. I just grew that way.”

These shows gave ample opportunity for Linafornia to tinker with the sound and mixes of her instrumentals in addition to providing a fun way to premiere new tracks in front of a live audience. “I manipulated different features and special effects to give the illusion that I was mixing,” she says. “I was discovering different effects that can transition from one beat to the next.”

Beyond appreciating the ample effects available on the SP-404 and 555, the tactile, pad-pushing feel of both samplers are an essential and appreciated part of Linafornia’s creative process. “I like the physical aspect of making beats,” she says. “I like hitting pads and turning knobs and things of that sort. Then I feel like it’s getting the sounds that I want out in real time, in my time.”

Having said that, she also keeps an open mind about embracing technology and integrating it into her workflow. “I love FL Studio,” she says. “My album [YUNG] is really like a melting pot of FL Studio, the 404, and the 555. I just make whatever works, whatever sounds good.”

Beyond using a variety of tools to compose YUNG, which was released on Dome of Doom in early 2016, Linafornia also employed a range of methods to create the different songs on the album. One especially mesmerizing moment is “hi shrimp,” which showcases an unconventional horn sample paired with ample effects to create a head-nodding instrumental. “That song and those effects and the way I did ’em just captured the energy I had at that moment,” she says. “I was super excited because I had finally figured out how to loop the actual sample of those horns, I was super hype about that. That was just a one take, go for it.”

To Linafornia, filters and effects are crucial in producing something that translates a new level of feeling to the listener —they can take the experience provided by the music to a different realm. “The filters and effects are also like accents,” she says. “Flangers and phasers and accentuating the highs or the lows, those are all things that give emotions to beats.”

While “hi shrimp” came from off the cuff creation, “wrdfrmjazzoh [the oracle]” was born out Linafornia’s spontaneous decision to record her close friend Jazz-Oh. “She was reading my birth chart and I thought it was really, really dope,” she says. “I voice recorded her on my phone, without her knowing—my bad. She was perfectly fine with it.”

Interestingly, the birth chart recording was originally geared towards personal use and re-listening rather than for inclusion on the album. As YUNG evolved during the recording process and she started to think about the track order, it struck Linafornia that Jazz-Oh’s words might pair perfectly with an unused instrumental she made with her SP-555. “I was like, ‘It would be cool to have an interlude because everything is so high energy,’” she says.

As an early indicator of the critical acclaim Linafornia’s first album would receive upon its release, the SoundCloud upload of “xtrctions” earned praise and a retweet from Erykah Badu several years before finding inclusion on YUNG. This was an especially meaningful co-sign from one of her favorite recording artists.

Linafornia first discovered the main sample from “xtrctions” during her recovery time after the car accident when her mobility was still very limited. “I was pretty much incapacitated,” she says. “But I was still watching Boiler Room and checking Instagram to see who was performing where even though I knew I couldn’t go.”

Laying in bed one day, she caught an AshTreJenkins Boiler Room set where he opened his performance with a John Klemmer song. It immediately struck her as an essential sample source. “I thought it was super intoxicating and super beautiful,” Linafornia says. “I found it and I decided, ‘I want to do something with it, I don’t know what.’”

This habit of finding and storing loops with no express purpose is not uncommon. “I’ll find samples and I’ll loop ’em and I’m like, ‘I don’t know what I want to do with this, but I need to pull this just in case,’” she says. “Sometimes loops will just sit in my SP for however long and I will not know what to do with them until later.”

These loops often morph into something more complete with time, even if it takes a little while. In the case of “xtrctions,” Linafornia was able to flesh out the sample and complete the song when she started walking again.

Though she remains proud of her debut effort as we discuss it over three years later, Linafornia wants her fans to know she isn’t resting on her laurels. “YUNG is an amazing album but it was also three years ago,” she says. “I’d really like for people to know that I am working on new stuff diligently.”

After investing considerable time into overcoming the learning curve of Ableton and unlocking the full power of the program, she now finds herself reinvigorated and ready to take her art to new places. “I’m really excited to work on more original production and sampling myself just so I don’t have to worry about sample clearances so much,” she says. “It will open up more opportunities for me to monetize my art. I’m really excited about that.”

Those looking to check out some of Linafornia’s new beats, mixes, and remixes should bookmark her SoundCloud as the primary place to go. As for her next official release, she’s still working out the specifics, but fans should rest assured that something is in the works. “There’s no official, immediate title yet, but I’m definitely working on something for sure,” she says. “The more I work on music within the next couple of months, the more it’s going to reveal to me which project is gonna be ready this year.”

(This article is a modified and updated version of a story that was originally published on Micro-Chop.)

Thanks for reading, see you on Wednesday!