Jimmy LaValle of The Album Leaf was taking a short, one-week break from his band’s five-month tour, hanging at his home in Santa Cruz while we chatted on the phone about nature, volcanoes, weird Japanese food, and his band’s fifth album, A Chorus of Storytellers.
Release earlier this year on SubPop, A Chorus of Storytellers picks up from where Into the Blue Again left off, like a classic movie saga that takes you through the lives of intriguing characters, containing similar characteristics while evolving as time passes by.
Moving from San Diego to enable Jimmy’s wife to attend graduate school, the shift in homesteads actually brought him even closer to the shore. This water and nature element seems to influence the soundscapes and textures of The Album Leaf’s music from the past ten years.
Be it the reflection off the water, the subdued colors of sand, or the view of clouds out of an airplane window after an exhausting week in Austin, songs like “Blank Pages,” “Falling from the Sun,” “We Are” and “There is a Wind” provide both literal and figurative reprieve and rejuvenation.
“In my lifetime I’ve always been really drawn to nature, the mountains and the desert,” Jimmy explained. “It’s something that’s very inspirational to me, I guess, and very peaceful to think about. I feel really nice when I’m in that scenario.”
Having recorded both Into the Blue Again and A Chorus of Storytellers with Ryan Hadlock at Bear Creek Studio, which is located just outside of Seattle, also provided Jimmy with a subtle muse.
“It’s something that’s very comfortable for me. Even being in Iceland, it’s kind of desolate with a lot of nature. It’s where I feel most peaceful.”
In Iceland the album was mixed by Birgir Jón “Biggi” Birgisson, the previous engineer for Into the Blue Again, a tie Jimmy still has with Sigur Rós and their Sundlaugin studio in Reykjavik. I had to bring up the recent volcano eruption and what’s taking place over in Iceland right now.
His tone changed a bit, “I just heard about that. I’m kind of worried about a lot of my friends who are out there right now. And with all the earthquakes going on, it’s really kind of scary.”
This pseudo, 2012 craziness is exactly when people turn to music for that cathartic reprieve, to make sense of the chaos or to simply release it all and turn towards more positive aspects of daily life.
On A Chorus…, as opposed to Jimmy’s past method of taking on all the production and recording responsibilities, the musicians that have toured with him all these years– Matt Resovich (violin/keys), Drew Andrews (guitar), and Tim Reece (drums)–were also in the recording studio in Seattle. So he had, in a sense, power in numbers. And it shows. On “Stand Still,” drums take center stage at first, then keyboards provide the lyrical story as electronic elements join in and harmony abounds. Drums are again prevalent on “We Are,” but this time the dance partner is a string quartet.
“I felt really good about it and it was the right time. All the people on the record, with the exception of the bass player [Graham Lebron], we’ve been playing together for about eight years. The bass player; we were in a band called before this, so he definitely wasn’t unfamiliar to me.”
This move to the next chapter in Album Leaf’s musical story has relieved some pressure from Jimmy’s shoulders, and having this level of contribution from people he’s known, trusted, and worked with for a number of years has resulted in what fans now hear in the new material.
“[The members] know my vision and how I approach music. It was definitely nice to have other people bring ideas and kind of challenge my songwriting.”
This collaboration led to the title A Chorus of Storytellers, with the help of his significant other.
“It was a line my wife used in her application for school. It was something she was reading to me; got me to thinking about the process we went through to make the record, all kinds of people being involved, and having a story to be told through their contribution.”
Having that contribution in place from the get go has also made the preparation to take the band on the road that much easier. Now it was just a matter of logistics, to cat herd the various musicians from all their locales. Ensuring the songs from the album meet the fans’ expectation in a live setting has also been something the band as a whole has always strived for.
“We do use a laptop for our electronics, so we can add more atmosphere and layers to kind of keep it full, but where we’re still playing most everything that you’re hearing,” Jimmy explained. “But we do utilize it as much as possible to be able to recreate songs in their truest form.”
The recreation on stage will also include video visual artistry along with a light show designed by Michael Lee at Terminal design group, which is expected to tantalize all the senses.
The Album Leaf Chorus tour, which started back in February, took the band through Europe, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and is now continuing throughout the States through the middle of May.
When it came to Tokyo, TAL experienced the fan’s enthusiasm for their band in the way other American bands have. “We’ve done Japan nine or ten times and it is our biggest market in the world. We’re definitely grateful of that. The most people we’ve ever pulled in the United States is probably around 800 or something like that, and that’s in a bigger market like L.A. or New York. So to play to 1400 people in Tokyo for our own show, that’s pretty awesome.”
I asked if he and the band had a chance to see any sights or sample the local Japanese cuisine. While sightseeing was at a minimum, he laughs a bit, letting on that some of what he was served could have easily been featured on the Travel Channel’s “Bizzare Foods.”
“There’s definitely some gnarly stuff out there. Luckily, I’m a vegetarian, so I don’t get that crazy. This last round, there were frogs, snails eaten, and raw horse. Yeah, that made me a feel a little weird. I don’t think you should be eating horse. They’re such beautiful animals. That’s the kind of thing where the host orders some crazy shit and you feel obligated to eat it.”
The craziest thing TAL will find here in Denver is the tequila selection at Mezcal, across the street from the Bluebird where they’ll play this Thursday, April 22 with Sea Wolf. But I promise not to make them feel obligated to do shots at the bar.
Free MP3 Download: The Album Leaf’s “Falling From The Sun” http://subpop-public.s3.amazonaws.com/assets/audio/6191.mp3