Dead Leaf Echo is a Brooklyn based band consisting of LG (guitar, vox), Ana (guitar, vox), Steve (Bass), and Kevin (drums). They released their first EP, Pale Fire, in 2007 and have had some additions to the band since then. The band sat down with me on October 14th at The Foundry in Dallas, TX to talk to me about the formation of the band, their history, line-up changes and additions, and how they work together as a band.
Could you all please introduce yourselves to our readers and let us know what role you play in the band?
LG: I play guitar and sing.
Steve: I play bass guitar.
Kevin: I play the drums.
Ana: Hey, this is Ana B., I play guitar, do vocals, and occasional synth, and random noises.
How did Dead Leaf Echo form?
LG: It started in Manhattan when I got asked to score a student film for a Columbia University student. While composing that student film, I was in a very small apartment in an unknown neighborhood below Harlem and above the UWS known as Manhattan Valley. Then we started playing live and there was this music collective. As that was progressing (still at the 4-track phase) I started running a night at a cafe nearby and a songwriter scene started very quickly, simultaneously a group of promoters calling themselves Loveless Music Group (not to be confused with the night happening at LES club Belly at the time) began setting up shows in the East Village and Brooklyn. The shows were very well curated and at better clubs than I had performed at (which at this point were more punk or DIY warehouse places). But most importantly it introduced me to a lot of local and touring bands whose styles all influenced me to a certain degree. The first show I saw them present was Ulrich Schnauss at Knitting Factory. He’d later end up mixing our first song (the title track to Pale Fire EP). I’m still friends with a lot of those bands today. I developed and demo’d songs with various lineups but we didn’t start playing live until 2008 when I met Ana.
About three years ago, in 2013, at SXSW, Kevin joined us for that tour and Steve came on about a month later. We did a west coast tour after that and it’s been the same lineup every since.
So all of you played on Thought and Language?
LG: No, this first LP that we did with John Fryer was just Ana and I. And another member named Christo Buffam who is now R.I.P.
I’m so sorry to hear that.
Ana: He was also a member of this band called the Vandelles.
LG: Yeah, he was a local New York musician and a good friend of ours. So, yeah, the three of us were on this record (Thought and Language) and then, as soon as we [the current four members] got together, we did an EP called true.deep.sleeper. It was a 10” EP with four songs and everything since then.
You describe yourselves as an art collaboration. Can you talk a little bit about what you mean by that?
LG: We collaborate with our contemporaries, our peers and occasionally our influences in various forms of media including music, design, photography and eventually literature.
Your album Thought and Language has been out for about three years now. Can you talk a bit about how you see that album now that you have some distance from it? Do you still find the tracks relevant for you? Also, if you have a favorite track, what track would be your favorite at this point?
LG: Yeah, we played a couple tracks from the album tonight [October 14, 2016 at The Foundry in Dallas, TX]. It definitely seems relevant in our current lives. We still play a lot of songs from the album live. We actually just got to bring that album to Europe for the first time earlier this year and much of it is well rehearsed. “Birth” is the song that really captures the moment for me on all levels regarding the record. Live “Language of the Waves” is the most fun and we’ve found a way to work into an ambient ending which includes b-side (of “Kingmaker”) “I belong” I still don’t feel the recorded version holds up to us live. It’s the only song on the album that John Fryer didn’t mix and it just didn’t translate from the live version to the recorded version. Some songs are just like that. The thing we do with it live is really cool.
Ana: That’s actually something people tend to say about us. I think it’s a positive thing. People tend to like our studio output and it has a certain vibe to it but when they see us live, and it can be the same songs, it has another vibe which is a bit more loud, dynamic. Not that the album isn’t “loud”, it is, but that’s pretty cool. I like that you can get both experiences. Sometimes you’ll get something that is more close to the album but at the same time we like to make noise and bring something that is super dynamic and energetic live too. Sometimes in the studio there is more subtlety which we want that as well.
The album is ambitious and took a very long time to complete due to the large number of tracks and studios involved. Much of the next work will be a continuation of the starting themes of “T&L” A single earlier this year “Child.Glass.Heart” was a direct continuation/response to the album.
So how do the new members take the old songs and make them your own live? Do you feel like you reinterpret them?
Kevin: No, I think there is a certain amount of justice that should be paid to what is on the wax, what is on the record. I think I try to follow to a certain degree what is on there but I’m sure there is a certain feel I have that doesn’t exist. There’s just a certain way that people play their instruments since one does certain things differently than another did.
Ana: I feel like when Kevin and Steve joined the band, no disrespect to any previous members, whom we loved (R.I.P. Christo), but when they [Steve and Kevin] joined, that is when the band really started to happen. It just felt right. I remember when Steve came to his first rehearsal, just to come play with us. He just played these bass lines and it was with just me and LG. No drums. Right away it was so locked in and I was like, you’re not kidding. Like, you’ve got this! I don’t know how much he [Steve} practiced but from that first… I was like, LG this is awesome. And the fact that we are all still together. We get along when we tour, the new music has evolved…
*laughs* LG is laughing…. I’m a complete brat and they put up with it.
But, yeah, it’s like the band, when this crew happened, this became the band.
Steve: Things you play live, that you recorded previously, even if did play on it, they are going to change over time. They evolve naturally. Even if you spend one month working on a song or you spend six months working it out, you’re going to have a different approach to it. You’re going to have little different nuances to what chords you produced.
Kevin: Especially if you tour. If you tour stuff which you’ve written, I mean, we’ve gone into the studio quickly a couple times and, I feel like, what happens after we go tour the stuff that we recorded, it blossoms in a different way. It just grows. It evolves.
Ana: and that’s what I mean. Anyone who has actually been a fan and pays attention and has been with us a long time, I think they appreciate that evolution, that aspect too, which is a great thing. I think that, myself as a fan of other bands, I feel the same.
LG: You can play what’s on a record and you still inflect your own personality through the way you play it. Through your equipment. Through your gear. It’s always changing, it’s never the same.
You’ve had a number of shorter releases come out since Thought and Language. Can you talk a little bit about your approach to writing and recording and, perhaps, how it has developed or changed since you produced your first full length?
LG: Approach is always changing as you constantly change who you are over time. Situations change and, as soon as Steve and Kevin came into the fold, we began to tour even more becoming stronger as a unit and quickly took some demo’s and got into the studio to produce 2014’s true.deep.sleeper EP. That was actually the most satisfying release being that the cycle of creation, recording to releasing and touring happening all very quickly (in under a year) which was a first for us. We did it at a friend’s studio really quickly in the fall of 2013 and it was out by SXSW in 2014. It was a really quick turnaround. The 2nd full length that we have been working on has fallen back in with old ways, but again we’re working on a much larger scope of project than just 2 to 4 songs for a release and these matters take time. The Full length is always the long term goal. A larger higher arching body of work that functions both as a whole and as singles (for a world that lives on shuffle). You want to go over the work with a fine tooth comb. It’s also really expensive. New York is an expensive place to live, so, all those factors are involved.
I really love how you arrange your songs, especially how you utilize volume and sound. How do you go about choosing tones and sonics? What attracts you to particular textures in music?
LG: Before this life I came from the desert…I thirst for water…I can’t seem to get away from anything that isn’t drown in reverb, delay. Fuzz has grown on me, I write from guitar predominately and the guitar players that I identify with have always surrounded themselves with those attributes. I think there is a certain amount of soft to loud dynamic. A lot of what we do has to do with digital reverb, at least in terms of the guitars. We like chorus on the bass.
I know what I like…or at least I think I do haha. I suppose a certain amount of it comes down to gear. I am a gearhead with no gear. I can only afford to trade in and out certain pieces, I can’t manage to hold down a collection.
Ana: I’m in kind of an interesting position because LG is the main songwriter but we all contribute our parts. As a vocalist and as a contributing guitarist, I’ll sometimes play parts that LG wrote, but, as we started to write together, I starting writing more of my own parts. Vocally I’ll write my own parts. But it’s like we are a loud dynamic band so I have to find dynamics to fill in the spaces or like details to compliments what is already there. He plays in stereo, so to compliment a very loud sound. Also, he will have a vocal and I need to find a place where my vocal works with that. Sometimes it’s about not playing something. I think that will come across in the next album, not that it didn’t in the last one, but LG had done so much before we had really started writing together. I feel like that’s my sort of challenge.
Steve: For me, I feel like I have the most minimal set-up. I don’t really change tones from song to song, which is, in a way, sort of the glue for the live show because there’s consistency because they [guitar players] have more dynamic changes and effects changes.
Yeah, I noticed too that the guitars are different between Ana and LG and that, LG, you switch out guitars to vary your own tones.
LG: Yeah, most of the stuff is written on bass or guitar and it’s nice to play the guitar you write the song on, whether it is twelve string or six string. There’s a complete different tonality to it. Whatever serves the current purpose.
I usually like to ask a band about the writing and recording of certain tracks I find to be interesting or different from some of their other work. Can you talk a bit about the writing and recording of “blind.island”? Same question for your most recent track “Lemonheart”.
LG: I knew you would like “blind.island” because it’s an ambient track. I don’t remember much from “Blind.Island” the track was written in a fever dream…late at night / early morning. Had been in the studio for days. It came around those 3 open chords, a strange reverb and ping-pong’ing loops. It was done with our engineer Charlie. It was done at like three or four in the morning. It’s just one of those songs that comes out of nowhere
“Lemonheart”came together very quickly. I had the riff. It was just called “pop song #1” for a bit until the lyrics fell in. Not much deliberation…it’s nice when that happens. It came together in maybe like a week.
Kevin: It’s probably one of the most synergistic ones we’ve done.
LG: Really, there are songs come together quickly and songs that, they’re like the red headed step-child. You have to constantly chip away at them and cut them up. They are almost not as enjoyable. I mean, you love all your children, I know. But that one, we called that one “pop song” and then the lyrics came together with “Lemonheart”. That one was like really easy and fun and not a pain in the ass.
Ana: Blind.island is cool. Honestly, on some level, I was mad because LG was like “just come in here and sing.. just do something”. And I was like “I don’t even know what you are talking about. I have to walk in today and just do this?”
LG: I end up doing that to her sometimes.
Ana: But, for me, I like doing that ambient stuff and just those far away, tripped out vocals. That night, I was like “I don’t even know if this is good or not” but in retrospect, I actually really loved it. I’m glad we have that, I’m glad you asked about it, along with the other stuff that we do. I’m glad that some people listen to Dead Leaf Echo beyond what we do live. I’m always like buy the album because there’s so many tracks like “blind.island” that are surprises for people who pay attention.
LG: That song is like a b-side. B-sides are often filler material when you are like “we need something that’s not on the album that we can use quickly to put on the other side of this 7”.” Sometimes you come up with something really quickly and you are coming up with something off the cuff as opposed to something where you are doing a single, this song has to be perfect. You are in there cutting away like making a sculpture. It’s a different mentality.
So you’ve been putting out singles and EP’s for a few years. Are these all in preparation for a full-length or are they completely separate from such a release? Is there a new full-length in the works?
LG: Actually we’ve competed our 2nd full-length and have begun tracking our 3rd LP. The finished 2nd LP won’t come out this year, it’s been done for a bit but have been slowly tweaking the audio and design as we work on the legal issues behind it. “Lemonheart” is a single from the album but that’s it. The rest of the album will be new. We’ll release 2 outtake tracks on a tape next month via Moon Sounds to get some more material out there behind the rest of this tour (as it continues to the mid-west).
For the gearheads who read our site, can you talk about your gear you use both in the studio and then live? If there was any piece of gear you could get your hands on that you don’t already own, what would it be?
LG: For guitars I use a mix of a 12 string (a Rickenbacker knockoff) and a 90’s era MIJ Jazzmaster. The 12 has P-90’s put in it by Lawler? I think it was. No it was Tom Wilkinson. The Jazzmaster has a Mustang Bridge, a StayTrem, and replaced Novak Stealth Pickups (not sure if there HC or PAF) also changed were the Nut and volume/tone knobs. A lot of late 80’s digital rack units. I keep changing out a lot of different pedals. I love my Turbo Rat, she [Ana] has a lot of really cool pedals.
Ana: Sometimes we like to be semi-secretive about some stuff. One of the classic things I’ve never been able to give up is an Alesis Quadraverb. Everyone uses it but I think why it’s not a big deal because one they are ubiquitous. Everyone uses that rack unit. The parameters are so exponential on it that anyone can make it their own and it would be hard to replicate anything that they’ve heard.
LG: You don’t just put it on setting 6A and it’s our sound. There’s also the studio stuff, tons of plug-ins and outboard gear. I mean, honestly, I wish we had taken better detailed notes of every single thing. There’s like demos out there, stuff that we’ve done, jams that we’ve done, we have a lot of rehearsal tapes… I don’t know how we are ever going to be able to recreate it. I honestly don’t know what we were playing or what the settings were. For example, there’s a song on the new album. The song is called “Cloud Dancing” and it was the biggest pain in the ass because we created it from a jam and threw some luck and digital editing, we created a song out of the jams. But it just took forever to figure out how to play it. We still can’t do it live.
Ana: I’m also into Zvex pedals. I use a Super Hard On… yeah, it’s called a Super Hard On. I like T.C. Electronics and I use an OCD for distortion. I’ve used a twin reverb, I wanted one my whole life.
LG: Her OCD is customized. We’ve had some mods done on some stuff.
LG: The biggest piece of gear you can own is a studio. I know that’s cheating, but I want a studio. We are already working on our third record because we have free time in a vintage studio. That’s the thing that takes the longest time: Saving up money and getting into a studio. We really don’t do DIY. We like our records to be a little bit more polished. It’s not garage rock.
Ana: I love that he said that because it’s commonly known that the Beastie Boys took their first money they made and built their studio. They would just demo and play stuff for hours and invite their friends over and play bball and then write some more. They would just hang out all the time and record everything. That’s the ultimate luxury. Their albums were them just picking the best stuff and putting it out.
LG: I just saw an interview with Matt Johnson from The The and when he got his first advance, that what he did. It’s an investment.
So scale that down to some smaller in terms of dream gear.
LG: Right now I want to get Evantide H2 or H3? It’s really expensive. It’s like $600 which is a lot for pedal.
Steve: Some new strings…. There’s not a lot of gear I want. Maybe a Boss Chorus Analog CH1.
Kevin: I would probably get the Roland MXS, the drum console that does sampling and different sounds. A lot of people have them and I think it’s valuable for some of the stuff we do. It would add some new dimension and, for me as a player, I would like to work that into a mix.
Aba: Along with LG’s pie in the sky answer, I would get a tour van that we could park in the city but I know you are actually going for gear.
LG: Road cases and all that stuff. His [Steve’s] head has been busted on tour so many times. There are so many little things. I know they aren’t cool but they are very important. They’re almost more important than the new Fuzz Diode or whatever.
Ana: I love my Twin Reverb, it’s my classic standby, but my friend has like a boutique amp shop. They are called Chara Amplification and they are pure white and are the best of a Marshall and the best of a Twin. They have a really beautiful tone and I’ve always wanted one of those. Also, we just played with My Education and his Matchless from ’96. I would take one of those as well. So, a new amp.
What artists have influenced the way you think about, hear, and compose music?
LG: My hero changes yearly but as of right now, the list is in no particular order just which comes to my mind first. Colin Neuman, Matt Johnson, AR Kane, Julian Swales, Patrick Fitzgerald, Robin Guthrie, Emma Anderson, Kevin Sheilds, Andrew Sheriff, Ian Masters, John Lennon I’m gonna stop now…all these artists are British….I don’t know why but it’s always been that way. Wait, I like Richard Hell, there. Also the punk and post-punk New York scene in the late 70’s. For literature, it’s mostly Russian and French for me. Visual artists, a lot of Viennese and German… Bauhaus and Art Nouveau and stuff like that.
Ana: Well, I’m from D.C., so a lot of that early 90’s D.C. indie-pop like Unrest and Velocity Girl, like, “Lemonheart”, for me, I’m absolutely pulling form that. At the same time, songs like “Language of the Waves” or the ones that are a little more shoegazey, same thing. Definitely like early 90’s British classic bands. I had to give D.C. the shout-out though. But also bands like Stereolab that have multiple vocalizations.
Kevin: I suppose I’ve been learning about this style of music more and more being in this band as I go along. But stuff that I can’t get over would be like Portishead, favorite drummer. Saw his name today on the new Radiohead record, Clive Dreamer who played on that record and is the drummer for Portishead. Current band that I love… I love this newer Lower Dens record.
Steve: For me, I don’t know, I guess, for this project I would answer this question… for someone who plays a lot of music, it sounds kind of cliché, but for me this band has been going for like New Order, Peter Hook bass sound. I definitely don’t like to emphasize too much on the low end. That’s my starting point.
Thanks so much for sitting and talking with me. Safe travels on the rest of your tour!
Tour Dates: 2016
October 29th, Brooklyn NY – ARKHAM Zombie Halloween Party
November 6th, New York NY – Berlin TAPE RELEASE PARTY
November 9th, Ft. Wayne IN. – The Brass Rail
November 10th, Chicago IL. – The Empty Bottle
November 11th, Detroit MI – Echo Fest Pre-Party Garden Bowl / Majestic Theater
November 12th, Kalamazoo MI – Kalamazshoegazer Festival
November 25th, Nashville TN. – TBA
December 3rd, Philadelphia PA – Ortlieb’s