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Throughout the production of four full-length albums and a series of EPs, including the Green Tour release currently available through iTunes, LaValle has gained critical recognition for his unique blend of acoustic and electronic music. Along the way he has collaborated with numerous artists, including Sigur Rós and The Black Heart Procession. Fresh off yet another win for Best Electronic Act at the 2007 San Diego Music Awards, LaValle chatted with LAS contributor Eric J. Morgan about his surprising musical muses, touring, his unique take on post-rock, and what's so great about Iceland.
LAS: First, thank you for taking time out of your schedule to answer a few questions - we know you're a busy man, so we really appreciate it.
Jimmy LaValle: Of course, thank you.
To begin, tell us how touring has been going this year, and what is on the horizon for you.
Well, as of late not much touring has been going on. A couple shows here and there. This summer tour went well. We did the west coast with Under Byen from Denmark, they were great.
Is it easy for you to translate your material from the studio into live incarnations? Your music can be fairly complex, with an array of sounds and layers, so I'm wondering if you feel there's a difference in how well your songs work between studio and live versions.
I have a very good group of fellas playing with me. They have been with me for over four years now. They know my style, they fit right in, and they sometimes play on the records. So it is easy to re-create [live] what goes on in the records.
What about the process behind recording on tour, as you did with the new Green Tour EP, which is available on iTunes as we speak - is it a challenge to create new material on the road with all the pressures of touring?
On the road I mostly just jot down ideas. When I get home and have time to sit with them is when they come to form. It is really difficult for me to find time to record and write while on tour. I do it mostly at home, when my head is clear!
Speaking of the last tour, tell us, honestly - how many fans actually showed up to your shows with Album Leaf tattoos to gain get free admission? It sounds like a unique kind of promotion.
At least 2 or so a week. Really it's great, and we would have more if there were more all-ages venues on our tours. We would much rather play all-ages all of the time, but it's not possible in certain cities.
Have you had much time to do any reading or music listening of your own throughout this tour? Any recommendations?
Well a couple tours ago we were out with Young Galaxy and Steve Ramsay gave me a lot of music I had never heard which blew my mind and is continuing to blow my mind. It's a collection of a lot of obscure psych bands from the 1960s and 1970s. I think if you just explore that realm, you'll run across some really great music.
Your sound has gone through subtle changes over the years, moving from primarily acoustic sounds on An Orchestrated Rise to Fall and One Day I'll Be on Time to more lush arrangements, featuring strings and electronic influences on In a Safe Place and Into the Blue Again. Where, as an artist, do you go from here?
That's my question, too. I am trying to be very open to every option possible now. I really want to do something great of course, but I am taking my time with this new record for sure.
A lot of critics, including this one, feel that you have a unique ability to conjure up feelings of the natural world in your music, especially in your instrumental pieces. Why is that? Do you spend a lot of time communing with nature? Would you consider your music to be at all transcendentalist?
I guess it's hard to explain where inspiration comes from. It feels a bit unnatural as well to talk about it. But I do get very inspired by real things such as nature and everyday life. I just try to be honest with myself and leave it at that. I try not to think about it much.
Into the Blue Again was recently nominated for Best Alternative Album at the San Diego Music Awards, and The Album Leaf has been nominated for Best Electronic Act as well, an award which you've won three times before. How does it feel to earn such critical and popular recognition for your work?
It's cool. I won again this year for Best Electronic, and lost for Best Album to a band I had never heard of. But that is also the nice thing about San Diego, there are a lot of other bands out there doing well I don't know about. But it is a nice thing to be recognized by your city.
You've recorded and mastered in Iceland, and worked with quite a few artists from the volcanic island nation. What is it about the country that helps to create such beautiful, atmospheric art? Is it the natural hot springs? The beautiful women? The constant flow of hard liquor?
Initially, it was just a place to go and be away, hang out with friends and make a record. It is next to impossible to not be inspired by Iceland though. It is very beautiful in every aspect. But like I said earlier, my inspiration comes from everyday life and natural surroundings. It's a nice, calm, relaxing place to make a record.
You've worked with, among many others, Jónsi Birgisson of Sigur Rós, Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, and Pall Jenkins of the Black Heart Procession - all artists with critical and popular success as well. Who will you be collaborating with in the future?
It's a mystery! There are many people I would like to collaborate with. Brian Eno would be amazing. Maybe it will happen!
Related to collaboration, tell us about your muses. Who inspired you to do what you do?
Brian Eno is a main influence of mine. Pink Floyd is as well. Sounds funny, I know, but I do take a lot of inspiration from a lot of '60s and '70s rock. Everything they were doing at the time was totally original and fresh. It is next to impossible to do that nowadays. I am also very influenced by the beats in hip hop and soul.
A final thought: what's your take on the state of the post-rock genre? Where's it going, and will it stick around? And where does The Album Leaf fit in?
I have never thought of The Album Leaf as post-rock. I do not understand the genre, really. I always figured it was kind of when rockers go soft. And since I was in hardcore bands through my teens, I figured that's how I fit in or got thrown into that genre. It's really a way to generalize a certain sound I guess. Not all "post-rock" sounds the same, but it could just as easily be described as Indie.
That's all from us. Thanks a lot for your time, Jimmy. It's been a pleasure to talk with you, and we look forward to hearing what's next from The Album Leaf.
Thank you very much! SEE ALSO: www.albumleaf.com
SEE ALSO: www.subpop.com
Eric J. Morgan
Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Eric J. Morgan is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of Colorado. He has an orange cat named Nelson and longs for the day when men and women will again dress in three-piece suits and pretty dresses to indulge in three-martini lunches and afternoon affairs.
See other articles by Eric J. Morgan.
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