In issue #28 we interviewed Jimmy LaValle, the man behind The Album Leaf, about his home recorded instrumental albums that we really enjoyed. Now Jimmy has had the opportunity to record his new album, In a Safe Place, in Iceland at Sigur Rós' studio with input from the band themselves. What a lucky guy. We sat and listened to the record as I picked his brain.
So how did this whole project with Sigur Rós come about?
It was with Jónsi originally.
How did you meet them?
They bought my record, One Day I'll be On Time, in Iceland. I ended up on the tour [as the opening act] and through the tour we became really close friends.
So when did you decide to go over to Iceland and work in their studio?
On that first tour they talked about how they had their own studio and on their second tour I was just traveling with them and they said, "You should come out and record with us." I did another tour with them and they actually started playing with me live because in Europe I was just solo over there. They would start sitting in, one by one every night and playing along. Them playing with me was really, really good. Then I arranged a time to come out. I didn't really know what to expect when I went over there.
How long did you go initially?
My first one, I thought I was gonna be done, was three weeks. I did another trip after that which was a week, and then the last trip I just did was two weeks. I started in August and I just finished in January. The second time I went over there I played a show and that took away two days.
We interviewed you briefly once before, and you talked about how you were using Vegas and doing things with minimal gear all alone.
Did this become a whole different system of working? You said the first track was begun on Reason.
And then there was some string overdubs. I wrote that in the bedroom I was sleeping at and that's why the song was called "Window" because I wrote it in front of the window. I went in with six songs. I tried to go in with half ideas so there'd be room for someone else to write a change and stuff like that. When I got there it turned out they didn't have much time to be part of the writing process of it so I would do all the writing and spend eight to ten hours a day in the studio by myself with the engineer. I'd just lay things down to click tracks and if I came up with something new I'd lay that down as well and burn rough mixes. I was staying with Kjarri who's the piano player for Sigur Rós so I'd bring back rough mixes and he and his wife, who plays violin on the record, would listen to stuff and have ideas. One night, right before we left, they came in and had a whole list. "I want to do this on this song..." It was cool. There are melodies there that I didn't do. Throughout the day members would just poke their heads in and randomly come out and do something. Sometimes I would just leave them alone with the song and they'd record all this stuff. When I was working on my previous records I'd sit in front of my computer for five or six hours tweaking. [In Iceland] I had to have everything ready to go. I didn't know how to edit on the software that I was being recorded on.
Yeah. So I couldn't really mess around. Eventually I learned how to use the thing and I got into my own, normal way of working. I was so happy when I learned how to use Soundscape. It was a lot different. You know how the space bar is always the stop and play? On Soundscape it's the up arrow.
Could you tell the engineer to edit things?
Yeah, but he didn't understand it like I did. Trying to point at waveforms. That's where you as an artist make sense to yourself but you can't really convey it to somebody else.
How was it working in their space?
It was completely surreal. There's a pond right there and it's all green countryside. Horses right outside the window and a waterfall a minute's walk away. To get stumped or something and then just walk...