Over the last decade Jimmy LaValle has released five full-length records and four EPs as The Album Leaf—all almost entirely instrumental. Since he broke through to mainstream recognition with 2004′s “In A Safe Place,” recorded with Sigur Ros, audiences have listened to him unfurl into new sonic territory with each new album, all while maintaining that distinct Album Leaf sound.
With his new EP “Forward/ Return,” The Album Leaf hits a reset of sorts—LaValle has gone back to clean guitars, lush songs that sound as fresh as the first day of spring. We caught up with LaValle to discuss the new record, plus his score for the touching new documentary “Torey’s Distraction.”
This record sounds very clean to me with lots of guitar as opposed to the Rhodes keyboard that’s taken center stage on the last records. What were you going for sonically? What led you to explore this space?
I just wanted to have a different approach to this record. I love my Rhodes and it has been the centerpiece to all of my records, but I missed playing guitar and also having a “band” feel. My previous records were me doing most or all of it. I’ve always had programming and ambience, I wanted to focus on having it sound and feel different but still sounding like Album Leaf.
The one song on the EP with Lyrics has a lyrical theme of “Starting all over again,” which seemed maybe related to the record’s title “Forward/ Return.”
It’s exactly that. Going back to basics. Recording at home, not trying to overproduce or over think it. Let things happen as they do. Keep it natural. Sounding like a band in a garage, if you will. There of course is personal lyrical meaning to me, but it definitely ties in to the theme of this record and where this current lineup of Album Leaf is.
I know you like to experiment with sound and recording techniques and that technology has evolved a lot since you broke through with “In A Safe Place.” Has our your process changed along with the technology available?
I guess a little bit. I still keep things very analog. I even used my moog voyager for drum programming. Physically playing it as opposed to programming it. I used percussive instruments like tambourine and shakers, cymbals etc. Then I manipulated them into more ambient sounds. Just to create layers that weren’t straight ahead sounds.
How did you get involved creating the music for the documentary “Torey’s Distraction”? It looks like a really touching film.
We played a show in Albuquerque a couple years back and a friend of mine was sitting in with one of our opening bands. His girlfriend, (now wife) was the director, Tisha Blood, and he told me she had been working on the film for 8 years and she had used a lot of my music as temp tracks. So he gave me a DVD of the film. I had never heard of Aperts Syndrome and was blown away by the strength of the family who the film is about. I called her and offered to score the film. I did about an hour of music for it and was very proud of it. So it felt right to release it as a body of work. The film is really powerful and I recommend seeing it. The subject matter is something 99% of the population have no clue about.
What was the experience of scoring a film like, as opposed to starting with the blank canvas of a potential record?
It was great. It’s always inspiring to write to picture and I enjoy the approach. Even starting with a blank canvas is nice, too. But something about writing to content and having a feel for the scene then conveying that through music is really pleasant. It’s a rewarding feeling to be able to help a film become more powerful by writing music and making the director happy. I’ve been doing more score work and I hope to continue with it.