We met Jimmy LaValle on a rainy day in Milan, just before his concert at the Magnolia. While I was arranging the interview with the tour manager, I caught a glimpse of Jimmy looking at the merchindising table.
Small talk before turning on the voice recorder, just to learn that his family has Sicilian origins and to find out, once the voice recorder was on, why he was so lost in his thoughts while looking at the merch table.
Throughout the interview we'll also find out that a small leaf, meant for an Icelandic concert, can turn into a life-long memory, we'll learn how to overcome a four-year long writer's block, how to go to a concert and get in for free thanks to a tattoo, how to jump off having no fear.
Having been through hardcore, post-rock and electronic music, can you find the leitmotif in your experiences with the Locust, Tristeza and The Album Leaf, and in which of these experiences did you manage to express your personality better
There is always a logic in playing music, of the three Locust is obviously a very different band, the other two...I mean Locust I was like 16 I was really young, by the time I was 19 I was done doing that, but it has always been an expression of me.
Your first record, "An Orchestrated Rise To Fall", had a noticeably different sound if compared to your former records, was this a conscious development?
The first record was an accident!
When I made it was basically me playing the piano and a friend of mine was just recording, so basically was a kind of accident.
I made a bunch of recording and that's why I think it has that sound of experimental, not so focused , not so structured. The first record was more experimental and I think the last one is just more a progression over 12 years of doing this, the sound is more polished, more structured, songs are more thought out.
I haven't listened to the first one for a really long time
Maybe one or two songs, just to check it out.
How do you feel about that?
It's cool, I like the vibe in it, it's really cool, I'd really like to do a record like that again, just getting recorded unknowingly, creating songs and stuff like that...
How did you get in touch with the artists that collaborated to "In A Safe Place"?
The Sigur Rós?
Yes, the Sigur Rós.
After my second record, "One day Ill be on time" came out, they asked me on tour in 2001 so I toured with Sigur Rós them and we basically developed a friendship during that travelling.
I toured with them again in 2003 in Europe and our friendship grew stronger. On that tour I did solo, I was opening just by myself but throughout that tour they were also starting to play with me, they would come up on stage and play drums, guitar.
It was the first time I heard my music presented in that way and started to make more sense to me. After that tour we toured the States together again and they would still come up and play. At that time they invited me to their studio to make a record.
It's basically what happened, I was out to make a record and they came over and played songs. But for the most part it was like just working with friends, having fun playing music.
Jónsi Birgisson took part to the release of the record, thus causing lots of comparisons of your work with Sigur Rós. How do you feel about that?
Sure that the song Jónsi sings on sounds like Sigur Rós, because his voice is very distinctive. The song was still written and recorded by myself. I think if you put his voice on anything it would sound like Sigur Rós in someway, but beyond that I don't see any comparison really, or similarities in our sound, I think it's two totally separate vehicles, two separate bands. It's a kind of thing where people draw comparisons to something to explain it to someone else, as "oh have you heard them, kind of sound like Sigur Rós"!
I mean, it's not a bad thing, that's great to be compared to something like that but I don't really think the sound is similar, at all.
As far as sounds and collaborations are concerned, you kept a sort of emotional bond to Iceland even after the release of "In A Safe Place". Is Iceland a sort of soul place to you?
It is, it's great I haven't been there only to work so I definitely could have different minds when I'm there and is definitely very relaxing, it's definitely very peaceful, so it is definitely a special place.
How is it, from San Diego to Reykjavik?
Very different, yeah! At this time in San Diego was like 75°F degrees which is like 25°C and then there was like -15°C in Iceland and I was just "Wow, it's crazy".
But I'm used to, at the same time, because I'm travelling a lot I'm used to different countries and climates. I do have a lot of friends there too. So it's very easy to feel at home when I go there and also be able to go to work and check it out but it is definitely a special place.
What's your favourite condition to orchestrate and write songs?
Guess as natural as possible, really. I don't want to seat there put myself in front of something and be like "I'm going to do that thing".
Mostly, I just like to have it happen, I could be sitting watching TV or playing with my dog and I get an idea, go to my studio and start doing it. I just like to keep things as natural as possible, no real expectations, hoping to come out with something cool.
You go with the flow.
While writing music, do you ever think of an ideal situation for the listener to enjoy it at its best?
I don't know, I always just think that being awake...
Oh, I'd better keep going ‘cause this sounds funny!
Well, being awake and aware with headphones on: I would say sitting, in a very comfortable position, or lying in bed, relaxing. With headphones on, that's why I said being awake ‘cause usually when you have headphones on you can fall asleep.
Or driving, travelling.
Just to mention a few words in your titles and songs, sun, wind, mountain, stream, fog, summer, and so on. Nature is a constant in your music, isn't?
It definitely is. Since I was little I've always been inspired by mountains and forests, deserts, everything that was natural. And nature has always been more inspiring in me than anything else. When I'm travelling I'm more into looking landscapes than I am in exploring cities.
It's been a long while getting "A Chorus Of Storytellers" released as we read that you lived a sort of writer's block. How did you manage to overcome it and have these 4 years changed your musical direction in any way?
I definitely thought long and hard really about making a different kind of record, or just doing something different, changing it up for this one. I've done for it pretty much playing, recording everything for myself and for this I just wanted to do something different. But I didn't really realized it until I started to pave a wall with all the songs, about the writer's block side of things. My first thought was to get all the guys that played with me in these seven years to come in and to play on the record and write stuff and then we started rehearsal and was more...songs kind of started to come to life for me, I could figure out how everything was going and I could finish things.
In four years I have heard a lot of different bands, lot of different music I have been interested and inspired by different things. And I'm four years older, obviously I got grown.
Did you play with somebody else in these four years?
Yes, with a band called Magnetic Morning, which was with Sam Fogarino, who plays in the Interpol, Adam Franklin from the Swervedriver, a nineties shoegaze band.That was cool doing this kind of stuff.
I did lots of remixes for other bands too and I just learnt little tricks, different little weird kind of tasks that brought different ideas and approaches to music, through doing all these different things.
But is a long time for sure, it's four years and some songs are already four years old to me. That's kind of crazy.
There are more words in this record, are you feeling more and more like a songwriter?
I sing just to challenge myself, to keep it interesting and to change it up, just doing different stuff. People don't like when I sing sometimes, there's a lot of diehard fan, like old fan that "I don't like when I sing" but... whatever.
We like it.
I like it too and I have fun doing it!
It's a challenge for me, a new way to think about songs I have never thought about, in a vocal sense, trying to tell a story, explaining a scenario or a state, a situation, it's kind of cool.
Songwriter I mean...I have always considered myself a songwriter, but not a lyric songwriter.
I still need help in writing lyrics, I still work with other people to get the right words because I'm still critical on myself about it. I have an idea and they would change it around to give it a little bit better word choice or different more abstract, that's not straight forward.
The title An Orchestrated raise to fall, the song Falling from the sun where you constantly sing find your way to fall. In some of your songs there's a sense of falling, surrender, abandonment. Have you found your own way to fall?
I've never thought about that...There is also in "Always For You" , "through the clouds I fall"...
What do you mean when you say falling.
I don't know, I've serious obsession with flying and with jumping off of things! Where people are afraid of heights and they ‘re really high my instinct is to jump all the time...
I was sky diving and it was amazing, I have this thing with falling I guess, maybe that's all it is about .
So you don't find it scaring, it has a positive connotation.
I think obviously, as you pointed out, I'm pretty obsessed with it.
I mean, I don't know if I've found my own way or not but it's always tempting for me. When we were driving here we were in the southern coast of France and there are some huge cliffs where we stopped and looked...I was like...I wanna jump!
Anyway it has not a negative sense like surrender, abandonment, it's something positive for you, like letting yourself go, basically.
Yes, I would say it, it's definitely some surrender and abandonment and some other meanings behind things.
But as far as falling...I think falling is more something that I'm obsessed with.
"A Chorus Of Story Tellers" has been recorded with a band that is playing live with you. What was the recording process like and how pleased are you with it?
I love this record! It's funny to say but it's my favourite, actually.
I did all my records solo, Imean I worked with other people here and there but everything was written by me and still it is but this time I just want to ...
There's a lot of pressure when you are writing, playing and doing everything by yourself and I'm not really a fan of being in complete control of everything, so I wanted to record with other people and get other people's ideas.
This is the first time I play only keyboards on an album. That's really cool and I had a great experience, we are really good friends when we tour, and that was translated into the studio.
When we were making records and recording it was just fun, we were laughing, it was always fun time so it was really a good experience and I'm really pleased with what came out, for sure. I'm really happy with that record.
You played live in Asia, South-East Asia, how have the audiences been, how do they perceive a music that evokes different and far away nature and landscapes?
Asia is were we do best, I have no idea why but we are biggest there we played in front of a lot of people. I'm not complaining about that I don't understand why there it has taken off so much but it is great playing there, is just amazing... (very strong noise of a plane taking off )
We are very close to Linate airport, all these planes passing by.
God it's like being outside! Sorry, what was the question?
The difference in the way they, maybe, perceive a music that often evokes far away landscape. How could it be, I don't know, under a tropical palm tree.
I don't know why they like it so m much, I'm not really sure why people appreciated there more than other places and I think they are all into nature a lot over there, I guess it is in their culture, like Japanese gardens and grounds are really beautiful. As we told before, nature is always inspiring for me and these things are related, maybe.
Indietronic is the genre you are normally given by reviewers. How would you describe indientronic nowadays and how do you define your sound?
Defining my sound , I always have problem in defining my sound. I say like electronic, ambient, atmospheric, melodic, mellow. People say post rock, which I don't agree with it at all. I guess indie-electronic... what is the word?
I mean, that makes more sense to me I guess, because it's definitely indie, it's definitely electronic.
It's really hard for me to put a label on what it is. I think about this as far as I don't really know of any other bands that are similar in sound or anything like that, so...I have no idea.
Stylistically speaking, is there any band you feel close to?
I've always kind of compared to Air as a method, just the way of thinking about the aesthetic of the album, the approach I think that is the closest-wise, maybe Múm, but definitely Air a band I've always kept an eye on. And Notwist as well.
Throughout your career you've been an outsider, perhaps gaining less attention than deserved. What if instead of San Diego you were born in Berlin, and you had recorded for Morr Music... do you think you'd have been more considered?
It's so funny you say that, actually.
I love Morr Music, that's why is funny you said that. Earlier I was looking at the merchandizing table. This is the difference between being on City Slang and Morr Music. I think if I was from New York but in the same time it is what it is.
I haven't been on a genre like up, I've never had like a peak and a fall, mine is a genre that has always kept going upwards, so maybe if I was from somewhere else it would happen sooner, but maybe I would be down by now.
I feel like everything is going its course for a reason. We toured the States lately and we sold thousands cds, which we've never done before. Something is working, something is happening maybe in the downloading world. Things are changing and in a good way and I've no complains with it, as far as the dynamic of all went. But I do think about that, if I were born here or there...or being on Morr which is my favourite label.
Morr Music it's amazing.
You never know.
Maybe next life.
Well, we don't have a leaf tattoo... can we get to the concert for free, anyway? (showing the same tattoo that Jimmy has on his arm, a leaf, you can get to his concerts for free)
Of course you can!
So what's the story of the tattoo?
It actually goes back to my Icelandic experience too, as far as my first concert that I played up there, a friend of there did a poster for it and the artwork for it and they made a poster that had this leaf on it. That was the start and I just decided to turn it into a logo. It's a meaning for me, when I'll be 80, 90 years old, I could be like (he rolls a sleeve up to show the tattoo) "Yeah you know, I used to tour around, I used to play music...".
It's a reminder for me of how good things were and how lucky I am to have the life I have been able to have, touring 15 years all over the world, that's crazy, making out living of this. It's a recognition of how people love and appreciated my music... I'm still like "this is crazy, this is cool"!
You still enjoy it.
After 15 years of touring and doing it...yes, it's still fun!