Waking Up with Jimmy La Valle: The Album Leaf’s New-Dawn Instrumentalism

Jimmy La Valle is The Album Leaf. His music is about sonic textures—not sonic fads. He creates fantastic instrumental compositions with depth and honesty while leaving room for the listener to interpret his work as they listen. It's so well thought out and crafted with a spirit of progression (instead of the spirit of pretension) that it is easy to state that his music is among the best out in the indie world today. 

La Valle has been creating music for over ten years, beginning with Locust, where he served as their first keyboard player at the ripe old age of sixteen. He formed the seminal instrumental group, Tristeza, with some members of other San Diego experimental/noise rock groups. When his time with Tristeza came to an end, La Valle decided to focus on his own work as The Album Leaf. In addition, La Valle has been a touring and/or recording member of such notable bands as Sigur Ros, The Black Heart Procession and GoGoGo Airheart. He's also worked with former members of Mum and The Cure.

When I made the call to Jimmy La Valle at 2:00 in the afternoon, it seemed that no one was going to pick up, but just as I was about to give up I heard a faint "hello" through the receiver, and I realized that I just woke someone up. At first, I might have been a little let down by the fact that he used my interview as a wake-up call, but after a little small talk, that consisted of me saying "how's it going" and him replying with a yawn while he adjusted his morning/mid-afternoon wood, I launched into some questions. 

SLUG: What kinds of music are you currently listening to?
The Album Leaf: All kinds of stuff; it's hard to pin it down ... electronica, Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, all kinds of stuff.

SLUG: Can you see a comparison between what they did back in the sixties with music and the indie music scene today?
The Album Leaf: I don't think the stuff that happened back then can be re-created. People are trying and it's cool, but it's really hard to create something that is fresh nowadays. 

SLUG: Do you think the attitudes of those artists then compare to the attitudes of the artists now?
The Album Leaf: Yeah, the world is definitely changing. Everyone has cell phones....

SLUG: And the recording styles are so much different...
The Album Leaf: Nobody can really make a recording like back then.

SLUG: You leave room for the listener to interpret your work. What kind of messages do you create in your music?
The Album Leaf: I don't really get too intellectual about that. It is kind of what it is. When I sit down to write I don't really have any messages. I mean they all have meaning to me but...

SLUG: You just sit down and let yourself come out in your music.
The Album Leaf: Yeah, exactly.

SLUG: How is the songwriting process different for instrumental music then say, folk music or a different style of music?
The Album Leaf: I have no idea; I have never really done anything like that. [Instrumental music] is what I am used to. I have been doing it for like eight years now. But they are kind of the same as far as structure, verse-chorus-verse-chorus and so on. 

SLUG: What kind of steps do you take when writing a song? Do you start out with a melody first or a chord structure first?
The Album Leaf: It's all different. I might work off a Rhodes [keyboard] or drums or bass line.

SLUG: Do you ever create songs based on a "field recording?"
The Album Leaf: I used to. Not really anymore but it could be anything -- the sound of the rain or anything.

SLUG: That is interesting that you bring up the sound of rain. I really dig your song "This River Deep," from An Orchestrated Rise to Fall. It has such a great intro... 
The Album Leaf: It's a shower...

SLUG: I was wondering if it was rain or not. You also have that great gospel music playing in the background...
The Album Leaf: That's Tina Turner—actually, Ike and Tina Turner.

SLUGThe combination of the shower and the Turners sets a great mood. What do you look for when making field recordings?
The Album Leaf: I haven't done it in so long. I kind of miss doing it. I just need the time and the space to do it. 

SLUG: Your most recent re-release of the Seal Beach EP—it has a great feel to it. How would you describe the difference between Seal Beach EP and In a Safe Place? 
The Album Leaf: Seal Beach for me was more of a transition. As far as me going in a new direction, going more electronic and having me be more comfortable with stuff. And also, leaving the old style like the droning keyboards... Seal Beach is one of my favorite records that I've done.

SLUG: Who are some other bands or artists that help define instrumental/post-rock music?
The Album Leaf: Tortoise, Isotope 217, Mogwai, I definitely think Tristeza (his former band) has something to do with that.

SLUG: Where do you think the future of instrumental music is going?
The Album Leaf: I think people are a lot more receptive. The point of why I did a couple of songs with vocals (see A Safe Place) is so that I can write a song that someone can connect with and then maybe buy the record, and then get introduced to this kind of music.

SLUG: Where do you see yourself in the future with music? Do you see yourself pushing limits or sitting back and honing in your skills?
The Album Leaf: Hopefully a little bit of both. 

The Album Leaf has just finished touring for In a Safe Place, and La Valle is at home in sunny San Diego resting from the riggers of the road. He is currently writing for a new full-length album which as of printing has no release date planned. thesilverspade@gmail.com