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Post-rock outfit The Album Leaf is an ongoing musical project that can be likened to a buzzing beehive, especially on their latest album Between Waves.
The vibrating and pulsing of sound courses and builds upon itself. Bees diligently working and constructing a pattern until it becomes something more. A life. A center of activity and sound.
It is something intricate and multifarious, born out of the utterly simple and seemingly mundane.
In the center this hive, this work of music and dedication of craft, stands Jimmy LaValle. LaValle founded The Album Leaf in 1999 after playing with another instrumental group, the acclaimed Tristeza.
The multi-instrumentalist has since proceeded to construct a career built upon incorporating a broad palette of sounds and textures to create music that dips into a wide array of genres including trip-hop, psych-rock, and electronica. LaValle dropped his sixth Album Leaf LP, Between Waves, at the end of August on Relapse Records, and sat down to speak with us on home studio life and scoring films, amongst other things.
LaValle, in a rather relaxed and pleasantly unrehearsed manner, began discussing his Album Leaf hiatus and his work scoring films, “This is my first full length Album Leaf record since 2010. I’ve done a handful of different things throughout and postponed the record a bit, but when it’s all said and done it’s nice that it’s now coming.”
LaValle casually went on, relating how he approaches scoring a movie: “I did four film scores in the last five years. Ideally when someone comes to me for a film score, I want them to come to me for what I do. One of those scores was more like a sound sampling project. The director had all these cues that she wanted, that she was tied to and really wasn’t interested in expanding on those handful of cues. So, I did that and then I also added my own flavor over scenes in the film,” he explained.
“For the most part, I just watch the film and see what happens. I just don’t create music that way, the way most people do. I just approach it naturally and whatever comes from that, I try to evolve and expand on [what] came naturally from that scene,” he continued, adding, “It’s like with everything, I try to make it honest and create what comes naturally.”
He also contemplated on how working on a film has influenced his creative process, stating, “Everything changes my creative process as I keep going. Especially after having done it [making music] for twenty years, if I had the same creative process for twenty years that’d be really fucking boring. As I do each new project I learn new tricks, learn new things that spark creativity in kinds of ways. So, I feel like the creative process is and should be ever evolving,” he added.
He then moved to discuss his new LP Between Waves: “A lot of things start with new gear. I’ve been writing and writing. I’m always writing, but with this record a lot it begins with my discovery of Ableton Live. Using it and discovering all the different tricks and different things that can be done. I’ve had the software for as long as it’s been around, but I’ve never really found a use for it, but then I kinda fell into a Mark Coslick collaboration and was looking for a way to recreate those songs live without having to lug around three [full-size] keyboards,” he said.
“So, I stumbled on to Ableton and its sampling capabilities, which opened up a whole new world that basically turned into a whole lot of inspiration for this record. I took existing ideas that I had and moved them into Ableton and used its powers to create this record. I didn’t use any of the stock sounds, only the engines. I didn’t use any of their samples or loops,” he added.
“I used to sample and then run that through a bunch of gear and resample that. This record, compared to my last five Album Leaf records, I mean all of my old records were Rhodes piano based and more straight-ahead instrumentation. With this one I used a lot of drum machines and synthesizers, and resampled all those synthesizers,”LaValle explained.
“With all of the tools that are available now, it’s really about manipulating them and making them personal. I mean, you could sound like some hundred thousand dollar a day studio, or some shit like that. That’s generic and stale, but take that and throw it through some distortion and all of a sudden you’ve got a four track recording, and that sounds way cooler,” he added.
Sitting in his home studio,LaValle also shared how he finds inspiration for his music. “For me it’s literally like sitting down in this room and with some kind of toy, hearing something in the process there that just sparks whatever is to come. Of course I have moods during the day, mood swings and feelings that may curve and shape what I’m creating. But I’ve always said that everyday life and occurrences, and my state of mind in that current moment is what I’m creating.”
He described recreating highly produced songs live, as well. “Recreating it live is what’s most important for me, the presentation of the songs live. We use try to play as much as possible and leave little to our tracks, but sometimes there’s some ambience and layers beneath what we’re playing. Now I can take those samples and sounds and stack them in Ableton, so I’m playing it all live. Also, the capability to add more ebb and flow to the songs themselves. Like, I used to just play things like they are on the record, there was no real embellishment live, no improvising. Rather than playing to a computer, we’re playing with a computer. The computer is just part of the band, because I’m controlling it, telling it what to change with all of us.”
He continued, “In the last five years, my wife and I have had two children and that shot me into magnified studio mode. Whereas before I was probably 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., now I’m like, ‘Dude you have 8 hours to be creative, get to work!’”
“I’ve made a living from music now for over ten years and I still consider myself lucky. I don’t take that for granted. Ever. I do treat it as a job and I work hard on it, touring and keeping the band name out there. It’s been almost six years now since my last album, so it’s almost like reintroducing or rediscovering it. If you think about it, kids that are 20 now, were 14 then,” he ruminated.
LaValle added, “I’m not 20 anymore, so I’m not into partying and the other clichés of this rock shit. It’s serious for me. It’s what I do.”