The Album Leaf talk to Joseph Murray in this exclusive GIGsoup interview. Edited by Siobhan Scarlett.
GIGsoup catches up with the talented Jimmy LaValle (The Album Leaf) at the Union Chapel in Islington. We sit down backstage with Jimmy, nursing, what he believes to be, a broken toe after some ninja antics trying to charge his phone at his hotel, and we begin to discuss his music, family life and his new record ‘Between Waves’ due out next year.
I suppose the first thing to ask is, since being in this beautiful venue, how important is the venue to your performance?
Massively important, it really is. As we always travel with our own lights, projection and other stuff we’re able to convert most spaces into something we’re very happy with. Some of the more run-of-the-mill venues like Scala can be challenging as they’re more barebones but you can still present a good vibe in them. We’re lucky tonight as obviously there’s already a lot of atmosphere built in and with our gear it just adds to the embellishment of the venue.
Seeing as we’re in a church do you think anyone will be having some religious experiences tonight?
*laughs* Not for myself but I sure hope the fans have a good experience tonight.
Before, when talking about creating an atmosphere in a venue, do you feel that your music easily translates to the live setting?
There are definitely obstacles but obviously nowadays with computers and sampling devices and stuff like that it’s getting easier to recreate what you do in the studio and successfully bring it to the stage. I like to put a lot of hours into presentation of songs and what happens when and how during the performance and hopefully that shows. It’s definitely easier than it was, that’s for sure!
So is that something that excites you then? With the rise of high fidelity sampling you can pretty much have an orchestra at your fingertips can’t you?
Oh yeah totally. I’ve definitely been way happier and way more excited when it comes to playing certain songs live as I’m not limited at all; it’s kinda become like “ah cool, now I can actually perform that track”. I really love the tech of the shows.
Does the tech help you compose or do you like to keep it fairly analogue when writing?
It definitely helps me compose, as my options are fairly limitless. I still start with a keyboard or a sound or a beat but piecing everything together is a lot smoother and I feel I can actually be a lot more creative as there are so many possibilities from a sound or instrument perspective.
Do you build a sound first or do you start with a chordal/melodic structure?
The latter, although it’s not always like that. It’s not controlled and there’s no set formula; it’s still kinda sporadic and spontaneous which is really nice. Everyday my composing has a different perspective or scenario of which I write from. I guess the best way to put it is that there’s never been a set formula for me. A melody would normally come first, but yeah, there’s no definitive process I religiously follow.
Is that consistent for every album or are those processes more in line with your new album?
Every record process has been different. Over the years, with technology, the new devices that are available to you create new ways of writing and recording. I mean my first record was recorded on tape so I quite literally hit record and noodled on a Rhodes and would have moments of “ah that’s cool” or ”yeah that works” and build from there. My second one was when I first properly discovered programming and computer recording so I’d consider that my most traditional approach when writing/recording an album and then my third was with Sigur Rós at their studio so I had the liberty of experimenting with all their gear so yeah, every time has been different.
Mentioning Sigur Rós, do you think that collaboration has introduced you to new ways of writing music or do you still feel very focused with your own musical persona?
Oh yeah, even when collaborating I still have my ways that I’m comfortable with. Collaboration isn’t intrusive for me, I’ve been lucky in that it always flows nicely and everyone’s voices are being heard so to speak. I do however think that musicians can learn a lot of cool things from each other which can, in turn, aid the writing process.
What about from the perspective of a soundtrack? Do you find composing for picture to be one step further in difficulty or is free writing, i.e.; composing your own material harder? Effectively you don’t have a brief to work from?
I don’t know, obviously with soundtracks the director would often have a temp track so some sort of set vision was there but my recent film; I had complete freedom, it was completely up to me where to take it which was really cool. Creating out of the blue is usually the most fun but there are times when writing soundtracks when everything comes together and it’s sorta a cool revelation moment. My only challenge lately is going between my personal life and my musical life because now I’ve got a kid I’ve got my dad duties which I absolutely love; it’s just I make sure that my music doesn’t neglect those in any way which can slow my process a little.
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So would you say that becoming a father has changed your music in any way?
Oh for sure, I mean, not necessarily how my music sounds, although that constant inspiration is there, but moreso how and when I write my music. Before I’d be working through ‘til five in the morning and then waking up at two in the afternoon to then start that process all over again. Now I’ve got myself a set routine, I take my kid to school then go to my studio then work. It’s pretty much a nine to five deal where I have to make the most of my time musically.
Does having those sort of mini “deadlines” help you be more productive with your time?
Definitely. It’s really beautiful and inspiring to have what is effectively a complete product of you, you know, so I’m not short of inspiration, it’s moreso finding time in the day. It’s normally like “I’ve got a three hour nap window – time to be creative” which isn’t always easy. I’m not the sort of person who would set a deadline and force something though, it’s definitely gotta be natural. But that’s the beauty of having a family is that it changes things but they’re challenges that you can’t help but love.
You mentioned earlier about the progression of digital music and media, I’m curious as to how you feel Spotify and other streaming services are affecting music?
Yeah I definitely do. I think the whole gripe with it can be quite tiring to listen to, it’s like “quit whining, more people are listening to your music” and that’s what’s great, adapting to change is a big part of everything you do and I like that I’m challenged in that aspect.
I definitely agree, I think Spotify and other streaming services offer a neutral platform for established artists, such as yourself, and rising artists to share the same stage.
Exactly, and the people that aren’t happy are the mega industry people of which it really doesn’t matter to them. I think it’s a great music tool. Effectively I see it as a great network for musicians to share a neutral platform like you said and grow a fan base.
Speaking of other music is there anything you’re listening to at the moment that has stood out to you this year?
Stealing Sheep, a three piece from Liverpool who are great. We managed to do a couple of shows with them which were really awesome. And Sleaford Mods, they’re really cool. I’ve also been listening to some Cliff Martinez soundtracks that I really love. There are a lot of unconventional approaches to his composing with synthesis and sound design, which I enjoy.
Do you feel you take a similar approach for scoring picture?
Yeah I’d say so. I don’t ignore piano and strings because it’s classic and it’s beautiful and it works you know but I try to avoid it if I can just so I can really test the water. I like to try and create an atmosphere in a way that doesn’t just rely on a melody. I have a lot of friends writing piano and strings style soundtracks that are incredible but I sometimes feel like my music isn’t really about that.
Your most recent release, ‘New Soul’, is that indicative of what’s to come on the new album?
The record is all done so looking at is as a whole I don’t think it necessarily defines the entire record but atmospherically it’s cohesive with the other new songs. They all gel together for sure but I definitely think that ‘New Soul’ is maybe the oddball on the record. I mean there’s very little Rhodes piano on the record and obviously the Rhodes and vocals drive that track.
You have a mixture of instrumental and vocal led tracks; I’m interested to know if you find the lyric writing process as natural as the music?
I go in normally with instrumentals and then you kinda get a feel for a track and think “yeah that would benefit from lyrics”. I never have lyrics first because my lyrics are always inspired by the music I’m writing. Normally it’s a cluster of words that, when looking at the entire album, tell a bigger story. If I feel it has the space or that another melody could compliment the track I experiment with lyrics and vocals.
To end I’ve saved the biggest question till last, are you excited for the new ‘Star Wars’ movie?
*laughs* Oh man yeah, I was born in ’78 so that shit was like my youth right there, I grew up on that. I can’t wait. What about yourself?
Definitely, I love the franchise so can’t wait. Thank-you for your time, it was great meeting you and good luck with the show and the album release.
Thanks man, you too. I hope you enjoy the show!
‘Between Waves’ is out in February 2016.