With The Album Leaf’s fifth studio album hitting the shelves this month, and a world tour just beginning, it’s a busy time for “post-rock pioneer” Jimmy LaValle. We managed to catch up with him to find out about musical progression, movie soundtracks and genre pigeonholing.
As your fifth long-player, A Chorus Of Storytellers, is now on shelves reviews are starting to trickle in. Do you take much note of what critics think of your records – be they positive or not.
I don’t. And in the past I didn’t really pay attention to reviews. With this record I’ve been reading them. It’s really funny that so many writers think the record was mixed by Jonsi from Sigur Ros. I’ve mixed my last three records with Biggi (Jon Birgir Birgisson) and just because his name is similar, they go for that. That’s not a lot of homework done by writers and that can be frustrating. But, the reviews for this record have been 95% positive which is great of course. In the end, all press is good press. If they’re writing about you in any way you must be doing something right.
The album picks up much where 2006′s Into The Blue left off. What was the inspiration behind this album, especially in respect to the handful of tracks that feature lyrics?
I just wanted to progress. I wasn’t totally happy with Into The Blue Again. It wasn’t perfect enough for me. I thought the songs were strong but the end result felt rushed to me. I really took my time with this record. I wanted really strong vocal tracks and I wanted to challenge myself. Listeners may feel like its not much different but to me it really is. I feel there are lot of changes with the songs and approach to the music. I’m really happy with it.
This is the first record that sees The Album Leaf recording as a band. You’ve toured with a band for years, why the decision to get them into the studio now?
Again, I wanted to do something different with this record. I was also having a hard time finishing the songs – probably because I was focusing on doing something new. Once I got the band involved the songs started to come to life. Also, in the studio I was able to take an outside approach to the songs. I was able to hear different things going on and different parts happening between the guys. If anything, I really wanted to document what people have seen of us from the last seven years of touring; I wanted us to be able to reproduce the record flawlessly. It was a great experience making the record – and a lot of fun.
So, did the band have much input in to the writing of the album or were they just along purely to record you music?
They had some input on their own parts. We would work on parts they came up with together. They had a lot of freedom, but I also had the final say. After all the tracking was done, I went alone to Iceland to mix with Biggi.
You’ve just started quite a hefty world tour – almost 40 dates in little over two months – how do you keep yourself sane when on the road for that long?
I’m just used to it I guess. There are really no surprises for me after 15 years of touring. I have my routines and it’s comfortable. We do have a lot of shows coming up, and there is a lot of travelling involved, but it’s going to be fun and the most important part is I’m really excited.
How’s new material being received live?
It’s going great. We just sold out more dates on this tour than we ever have. Things have been great. It’s hard when you’ve been around for so long and have released a large catalogue of music; people want to hear this, people want to hear that! The point is, this tour is in support of this record, so we are playing almost all of it, and still playing things people want to hear. But you can’t please everyone! We do our best to play as much as possible.
A few of your tracks have been picked up for use on TV and in 2008 you performed a live score to F. W. Murnau’s 1927 silent film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. With the likes of Johnny Greenwood and Nick Cave turning their hand to scoring Hollywood films, would you be tempted to join them if approached?
Definitely. I’m not aware of Nick Cave’s soundtrack, but as far as Johny Greenwood goes, I know the guy has taste. And he scored and amazing film. I think he picked it well. I would hope I had the same liberty. I do really want to do more soundtrack work. I just scored a documentary a couple months ago called Torey’s Distraction and it was a great experience.
I read this about you in the press this week: “Jimmy LaValle is arguably one of post-rock’s focal figures.” Any thoughts on that? And if not you, who?
Its flattering of course, but also funny to me because I don’t feel like my music is post-rock. I’ve been making music and touring since the term came about but I don’t feel a part of that “scene”. I see bands like Mono, Expolsions in the Sky, Mogwai etc… being a part of that genre. That is in no way similar to what I do. Maybe in having music that produces some emotion but, aside from that, I don’t see the similarity. But people do what they do, they categorise things and that’s fine. Fact is there are a lot of music fans that love post-rock and seek it. If they come across Album Leaf in that way than great! I’m not going to deny a fan of course!
And finally, stick your iPod on shuffle and tell us the first three songs that come on and why they’re on there. No cheating now!
Mugison – ‘Scrap Yard’ (Niceland, 2004)
He’s icelandic and he’s brilliant. He’s not very well known outside of Iceland I believe, but he should be. He’s an amazing songwriter and musician. He also works with Biggi which is how I met him and heard his records.
Kraftwerk – ‘Numbers’ (Computer World, 1981)
One of my top ten favourite records. I don’t think I need to say anymore about that. Its a brilliant record, way ahead of its time and set the bar for a lot of electronic music during that day.
Aphex Twin – ‘Cow Cud is a Twin’ (…I Care Because You Do, 1995)
This was the first Aphex Twin record I got back in 1996. It blew my mind. He had so much influence on my approach to making beats and writing melodies since I first heard him. He’s genius. Need I say more?