The Album Leaf
Seal Beach EP (Better Looking)
An interview with Jimmy Lavalle
By Tim Den
The Album Leaf‘s last full-length, In a Safe Place, was my favorite album of 2004, so naturally I waited for this Seal Beach EP reissue with baited breath. Containing four out of five songs of the original, Spain-only release, this deluxe edition also comes with a previously comp-only track and five pristinely recorded live songs (four of which were recorded onto minidisc [!] by Chunklet’s own Henry Owings). Although the sculpting of the effervescent moods and aerial mercury isn’t as devastatingly affective as In a Safe Place‘s, Seal Beach EP nonetheless has brilliant moments, particularly in “Malmo,” “Brennivin,” and “Essex.” In these instances, the tinkering of the Rhodes plays puppeteer with your heartstrings and the clicking rhythms quantify each amplification of emotion. There’s good reason why The Album Leaf’s name continues to grow louder each day. Pick up both Seal Beach EP and In a Safe Place to find out for yourself.
Your last full-length, In a Safe Place, really took on a life of its own: Raves everywhere, everyone buzzing about it. What do you think contributed to its success? Recording in Iceland and working with Sigur Rós? Being on Sub Pop? Revelations in your personal life?
(chuckles) Uh, I’d say all three. Being on Sub Pop definitely helped. They were able to give the album more attention than what I’m used to, but – and I’m not saying you’re doing this – a lot of people have just been focusing on the Iceland thing. I mean, yeah, it was a great working environment, but I’ve always written songs before, during, and after recording sessions. I wrote a bunch of stuff before I went over, we laid it down, and I kept writing after I got back. What’s on In a Safe Place is just what I happened to be writing during that period.
Were you guys writing as you were recording?
Yeah, that’s kinda how I roll. (laughs) I’ll have basic ideas and melodies beforehand, record them, and then add all sorts of stuff on top before slowly taking things away.
I’m always writing. When I’m on the road, I record ideas in that program, Reason.
Is it hard for the musicians you use on the road to re-learn all that you’ve recorded?
No, so far I’ve had pretty much no trouble translating the songs. Our (live) violinist plays on the album.
Does it ever get tiresome to keep hiring musicians for live shows?
Well, actually, the line-up we have now has been around for two years.
Really? Cuz last time I saw you in Boston, around 2001, you had a completely different crew. I remember talking to the drummer, and he said he played for Fluf…
(remembering) Oh yeah, that guy. Yeah, he played for them a little bit, but it wasn’t serious. He liked to talk. He was always “yeah, I’m doing this and that…”
Will this current line-up ever become permanent members of The Album Leaf?
Maybe. But this is really just me doing my thing, recording my ideas. With the next record, they’ll be playing on it and getting to have freedom with some of the arrangements.
I also noticed that your onstage set-up has expanded dramatically. Seems like you’ve got a whole studio with you now!
(chuckles) Yeah, I kind of keep accumulating things and bringing them on the road.
Didn’t you play Taiwan a few months ago?
Yeah, it was just one show.
I was born there. By the time I left, at the age of 10, the country was just starting to fully embrace Western culture. There were McDonalds and Pizza Hut and Rocky IV and all that shit, but American indie rock was not yet a common presence.
(laughs) We were only there for about 32 hours. We flew in, went to our hotel, went to a bar, slept, spent the entire next afternoon soundchecking, and then played the show at night. We spent the entire day after that at the airport, so we didn’t really get to see much.
The show was crazy: It was on top of a mountain overlooking the city. It was 110 degrees. Us and The American Analog Set were pretty much the only American bands at the festival, the others were Chinese and Japanese.
I can’t imagine American indie rock being a part of Taiwanese youth’s everyday lives.
There were about 8000 people there. What was weird to me was that everyone had really normal American names: George, Mary, Bob. We were signing autographs at a booth and it was like “who should I make it out to?” “Oh, Jim.”
When did you decide that The Album Leaf was going to be your priority and that you needed to leave Tristeza?
It was about two years ago. The demand for The Album Leaf was increasing, and Tristeza were kind of laying low anyway. I was going on tour with Sigur Rós for three months, and then I was going to record for another two months, so right there, the band was gonna have to be on hold for almost half a year. I didn’t want to hold them back. Plus, there were conflicts creatively. I wasn’t happy with the musical direction they were going in, and The Album Leaf was much more satisfying. But there are no hard feelings, it’s what happens when you start a band at the age of 19, and all of a sudden, you’re 25. I’m actually doing a remix of one of their new songs. They sound completely different now.
Back in 2001, I remember you saying you wrote jingles as a way to make a living.
(very disgusted grunt) Yeah, I don’t do that anymore, thank god. The Album Leaf is all I do now.
Was it that bad?
Yeah, it was. To be working eight hours a day making shitty house music, or trying to rip off Dave Matthews Band, it was hell. We’d basically have clients give us references, and then try to copy them. I hated it. I was afraid it was going to start seeping into my creativity.
And it was a nine-to-five job?
Well, 11-to-seven was more like it. I’m not a morning person. (laughs)
I remember you’d just written a Pantera knock-off or something…
Yeah! That was for a whiskey company. They wanted something macho, like Pantera, so we gave it to them.
So what’s next for The Album Leaf?
We leave for Europe in a few days, and after that, I’m going to start recording ideas. I think I’m gonna do it in Seattle before returning to Iceland.