Interview with The Album Leaf (Jimmy LaValle) | By Jameson Ketchum | Photos by David Black
“If I don’t feel it, it’s not mine”
Though many have been eagerly waiting for San Diego’s The Album Leaf to resurface, one can’t blame Jimmy LaValle for taking a leave of absence after 2010’s There Is a Wind, The Album Leaf’s last proper release. LaValle wasn’t holed up in some cabin, contemplating the meaning and trials a 17-year career can bring. Rather, he was contributing to soundtracks and collaborating with anyone he could get his hands on. But The Album Leaf haven’t taken a backseat to these other projects. In fact, the multi-instrumentalist has been working on the new release since 2012, finishing the record over a year ago. As LaValle’s personal life added two children and a whole new schedule, finding time to create posed challenging, but the new father sounds more excited than ever—no easy feat when one’s career is approaching two decades and the full gambit of genres! Relapse Records became the home for Between Waves—out Aug. 26—a record that fans may consider The Album’s Leaf’s boldest leap yet.
You’ve already been getting widely positive reviews for Between Waves. Do early reviews calm you at all? Do reviews even matter after all these years?
Of course. Especially now, because obviously, I have been around for a long time. I think there are still people who are familiar, but have never heard the music—or have never heard of the band, period. To stay relevant in this “game” that I’ve been successful in, and throughout the time of releasing records, I’m very grateful for that. It’s been six years since my last proper release, my last Sub Pop record. I’ve been doing a lot, it’s just that an Album Leaf record got put aside in a way. There’s somebody just graduating high school who was just discovering music at 12-years-old the last time I put out a record. That’s a pretty good realization to have. I don’t want to be putting out the same record twice ever, so I do feel like this is a departure in my sound and what people are familiar with. It still sounds like The Album Leaf, but it’s definitely tonally very different, the vibe is very different, but to get positive responses is great.
Has the dad life changed your work?
It definitely has. My work hours were typically, like, 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. Now, I have a child, and it shifted my hours and my focus. It’s more of a job than it was before where, now, my hours have shifted into almost a nine to five. I drop my kid off at school and come back and get to work. Then, I pick him up and by 5 o’clock, I’m done and back into being a family man, and I’m exhausted at 8 o’clock at night [laughs]. Lyrically too, I have songs that are about him, so there is also that.
It must be more difficult to force yourself into a timeframe rather than just creating when inspiration strikes.
It’s a funny feeling to go into the studio and say, “Okay, time to be creative.” You can sit there and noodle and nothing happens. The way I work is that I’m just constantly creating, so if I’m not feeling something, I just stop [laughs]. I’m just always working on something, and that kind of thing is positive and negative, because I could just keep working and not see an end and not focus on finishing something. These songs went in so many different directions, some stayed and some came back to what it was before, but all things were tried. The creativity turns into work, and it’s a good thing. Luckily, I’m a musician and creating music comes naturally. I have to trust when the spark happens.
When you don’t follow the usual album cycle schedule, do you feel like you can come back and not worry about what you did last time, not have to build on the previous release?
Even when I was releasing records more on the “proper cycle,” I never really think much about that process or how I’m changing. My creation process changes so much year to year that if I put out a record in 2014, it may sound different than this record. I just get into new things throughout the creation process, whether that be new bands that I hear or new gear, all those things just slowly evolve.
What brought you back?
I was definitely working on it the entire time. I was demoing and writing from 2012 on. I wanted to put a record out in 2014, but I took a gamble and I did some collaborations and a lot of other music that I’m sitting on, as well as soundtrack work. The entire time I was working on this record, I changed management, publicists, etc. I played solo shows with new material, but when all is said and done, this record was done in April of 2015. Then, I was shifting and trying to find the right home and not rush it. There wasn’t a rush to get it out. There was time to release a couple songs and rebuild the awareness of the band rather than getting anxious like I have been for the last year and a half.
When a musician is under the gun with a deadline versus what you just mentioned, it’s a wonder which process will produce the better outcome…
It’s good and bad. Deadlines are good to have, and they put a fire under you to get something done. I have a tendency to tweak and tweak and tweak. It could have been a different record if it had a 2014 deadline.
How do you keep your live show fresh? Where does your inspiration come from in regards to the aesthetic?
We’ve done a lot of shows in the last six years, and the show and instrumentation has changed a lot. I don’t think the States have seen what we’ve had, which is me standing and no Rhodes piano [laughs]. I’m not sure if that’s really that big of a deal, but I did feel like I had that Rhodes fan club for a long time. We’re adding more production to the show. We’ve always had live visuals, and each song sort of had their own story and more abstract imagery to support the song. We’re going to embellish or add to that idea this time around. I’m thinking of taking away the focus on visuals, which is going to be important and more of a leap, because we’re so associated with live visuals. I just want to present them in a different way, more abstract and less focused. My idea is to create more of a museum art installation setting that we’re playing in, rather than the stale band you see every other day of the week on the same stage. This time, I really want to change it and present something that’s really unique and different. We will see how that goes over.
Making mostly instrumental music must have its pros and cons. We tend to put much more stock in what is being talked about in music and connect lyrics to boldness and stances. How do you feel like you’ve made bold moves in your music?
I guess I haven’t really thought about that. Obviously, I stepped out on a limb when I started singing. It wasn’t necessarily successful. I don’t know that people love or hate my vocals. People still say they don’t like the vocal songs. That’s a limb I still step out on. Shifting into more electronic based is another limb. With this record, I took away the Rhodes piano; the previous songs were very Rhodes-based, and now, I’m shifting away from that. I’ve also changed the way we configure the songs, and I think that’s going to be a limb to step out on as well with this upcoming tour. Not seeing a Rhodes piano onstage may freak some people out, since I’ve been playing it since 1999. It’s important when having a career as long as I’ve had and being on the public radar for as long as I have been to keep changing and doing new stuff. It’d be boring if I made the same record over and over again, so I want to go with what I’m feeling at the time. Hopefully, I’m myself and I’m not forcing that change, because I don’t believe that’s right to do something that’s not natural. I just try to remain honest with music: if I don’t feel it, it’s not mine.
It’s been said that every album should be considered an artist’s definitive record. What does this record mean to you and your career?
I’m definitely most excited about this record!