Botany is the musical title of Spencer Stephenson, an Austin-based producer and multi-instrumentalist whose work uses drum-heavy sample-based hip-hop as a prism through which to refract psychedelic folk, spiritual jazz, kosmische, and sound collage. Inspired by the work of forebears like Four Tet, Madlib, and Jay Dee, Stephenson began experimenting with DAWs and samplers more than half his life ago at age fifteen. After landing on Pitchfork’s now-defunct Forkcast in 2009, Stephenson signed to the label Western Vinyl and soon after released an EP in memory of his mother who had recently taken her own life in light of a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer. In the following years, Stephenson briefly relocated to a remote farm outside of Austin to begin work on his full-length debut, Lava Diviner (Truestory), which appeared in 2013. Dimming Awe, the Light Is Raw dropped in 2015 as a limited LP, the success of which prompted a reissue shortly after; guests included rapper R.A.P. Ferreira (FKA Milo) and Leaving Records founder Matthewdavid (who has also mastered all Botany projects to date). In 2016 Botany released Deepak Verbera, a surprising and drumless excursion into what he calls “free-psych”, invoking artists like Alice Coltrane, Harold Budd, and Popol Vuh while drawing praise from The Wire, and FACT Magazine who declared Deepak one of the top 50 LPs of that year. Stephenson returned to beat-based form in 2017 to deliver Raw Light II, followed in 2018 by a moody and sociopolitical one-off album with east coast emcee Lushlife under the moniker The Skull Eclipses. The Botany canon is expected to expand in 2020 and beyond.
Fourteen 45 Tails was created by recording the final downbeat of fourteen different 45 singles chosen at random from a stack I keep next to my workspace. Using my turntable’s pitch control to key-match, each of these fourteen record tails are looped on top of each other, with each layer having its own runtime. Because of their varied lengths, the loops interact differently with each repetition creating a feeling of density despite the fact that each individual loop consists mostly of space, and that space itself is the run out groove of each record. I used reverb to erode the distinction between the sounds in the middle third of the piece, and let the dry sounds gradually reappear in the final third. The goal was to create a feeling of movement from solidity to dissolution and back again.
While some of the singles I sampled were acquired during record store trips as expected, most found their way to me from the collections of deceased relatives. This reminded me of a theory that a friend of mine mentioned when his grandmother passed away: that maybe the afterlife is actually the tiniest sliver of time right before brain activity ceases, stretched out by some neurochemical mechanism as to become a virtually infinite dream-state, so that a life seems to never quite end to the one living it. In reference to that idea, Fourteen 45 Tails is made out of the final moments of fourteen records that once belonged to people who’ve long since lived – or from another perspective may still be living – their own final moments.