Five(ish) Questions: Jimmy LaValle (The Album Leaf)
Jimmy LaValle is best known for his musical work as The Album Leaf. He's also a film composer, husband, and father. We sat down for breakfast empanadas and coffee and talked shop about tunes, relationships, touring, parenthood, and of course I asked him Five Questions. Meet Jimmy.
Let’s pick it up in the middle of our conversation about adjusting the musical schedule to parenthood. The Five Questions are about halfway down.
Jimmy: But yeah, I mean, going from a simple partner in a relationship, ya know, with our own schedules and our own work ethic. I mean, we were like… I typically worked from—let’s put it this way. I typically went to bed between four and six in the morning and I woke up between twelve and two in the afternoon. For years. That was my schedule. Sometimes I got up at ten and my wife would be like, “Why don’t you get up early?” And I’m like, “I got up at ten today! Ten’s early!”
Me: The sun is barely high!
Jimmy: Yeah, like, “What are you talking about? I got up early!” [Laughter] But anyhow. So I went from that world and that schedule to all of sudden being a father and raising a kid. The first two years are kind of a wash, you’re just kind of there, and obviously you’re exhausted anyway, but immediately my hours obviously changed. And then when he started school, that kind of thrusted me into literal nine-to-maybe-five, but definitely nine-to-three guy. So trying to kind of—wake up, drop him off at school, get in the studio, be like, “All right. Time to be creative.” You’re forced to be creative.
Me: You only have a finite amount of time now.
Jimmy: Yeah, you have this amount of time. And he gets out of school at three and he sometimes—it’s like between three and six we can pick him up, but we always normally pick him up between three and four. At any rate, whenever he comes home—and both my wife and I work from home, she’s a filmmaker, she’s at home too—we’re both at home. So when he comes home it’s like…
Me: It’s on, man.
Jimmy: It’s on. And my studio is not separate from the house, but it is in another section of the house. It’s a garage basically, I converted it. You go outside, you have to go—you know, it’s not like you’re inside the house and you just open a door and you’re in the room. There’s some separation but it is connected to the house, so I hear him running around, I hear him trampling, I hear him when he throws a tantrum, I hear him when he’s having fun or whatever. So yeah nine to three is like, “All right, that’s my time.” And three to five or whatever is a wash so kind of like finishing for the day. Yeah, change. Immensely. At the same time it’s amazing. Once I go into the groove, I became 100% more productive than I used to be. Which is odd, ya know?
Me: Well, I’m definitely a fan of routine and I’m a creature of habit to a point in certain areas. And so for work—I worked in finance for eleven and a half years at the same time doing a full-time band and the whole thing. And if I didn’t have a schedule, I would’ve failed. So now that I’ve quit my job last January and I’ve been traveling and trying to do things, man it takes a lot of fucking work for me to get anything done. So routine, I believe, you need it. You ever heard of the book called “The War of Art”?
Me: It’s like “The Art of War” but for artists and it’s just quotes by famous artists, writers, whomever, and there’s one and the gist is: Some people, it just comes to them whenever, and this one writer goes, “For me it comes every Friday at 5pm.” And it’s because he sits down every Friday at 5pm and does the work. So once you get into your groove of nine to three, this is all I got, you make—it just fucking has to work. You can’t waste your time.
Jimmy: Totally. And for me daily, I kind of feel guilty when I’m not in my studio.
Me: It’s a good thing to have that, I think. Because you need—for me, outside pressures don’t work on me. People are like, “You have to do that.” And I’m like, “Nah.” [Laughter] So it’s me saying, “I need this done.”
Jimmy: Totally, man. But yeah, so it’s interesting and it’s nice to feel that.
Me: So. While we’re doing questions—what’s up? You good?
Jimmy: Oh, yeah. Sorry, I’m gonna be building a bench soon so I’m just looking to see—“Oh, that’s an interesting construction!” [Laughter]
Me: You do that as well? As a hobby?
Jimmy: No. It’s just like a necessity. It’s like something I’m able to do. It’s not like I’m, ya know.
Me: You don’t love it?
Jimmy: I do. But it’s the same thing, I feel guilty when I’m not in the studio. I’m building a table, but I don’t have time to build a table because I wanna be in the studio working. So I’m very proud of the table I built, but…
Me: But I should be working on music.
Jimmy: Yeah. [Laughter]
Me: So on that note, why don’t we just hop into the Five Questions? I don’t know if you read any of them…
Jimmy: I didn’t get a chance to.
Me: That’s fine. I actually prefer that people don’t because then people can, like, prep. And I don’t want prep. I prefer “in the moment.”
What is your greatest accomplishment?
Oy. I would say my kids. I see myself in my kids. I see my wife in my kids. It’s amazing. And creating those little creatures is pretty amazing. I feel like, sure I’ve accomplished music and I’m successful at playing music. Like I said earlier, it’s not like I’m selling out the Forum or whatever. It’s not like I’m doing anything like that, but I have successfully managed to have a career in music. That’s great. But it’s also superficial and it’s also kind of here and now in a way. Not superficial, but it’s not as, I guess—it’s not like supplying a life and seeing that. It’s kind of amazing, ya know. [Laughter] Obviously I’m proud of my accomplishments and the fact that I’m a musician, but yeah, my kids are incredible.
How do you define being “in love”?
I don’t know. It’s about going down a path and being supportive of each other and being a partner in that and being able to step away and being able to appreciate each other. My wife and I go back to high school. We weren’t together since high school, but we were together in high school and then we were apart for I think it was eight years or six or something like that. And then we’ve been together now—we’ve been married nine years this year and we’ve been together twelve. Most of my whole life, my wife has been in my heart. Even when she broke my heart in high school, it still stuck. It was always there. So I don’t know, it’s obviously life-long—and we’re connected even stronger today through our kids. We have that life-long connection. I don’t know. Defining it is rough, well it’s not rough, but there’s the typical norm answer of, “Love and affect—” I don’t know, but everything’s different. It’s true to you as a human and it’s true to you as your relationship is in the way you interact together and the way that you—you know, everybody’s human, everybody’s different. I guess the way that I defined it kind of having that pact and supporting each other down those paths and those roads and finding time to step away from those situations. Appreciate and love each other.
Me: I appreciate that idea of a pact. I don’t think I’ve heard that in an answer before. As far as I know—and I’m not married and I haven’t had a girlfriend in a while, but I have and it’s been amazing. Ya know, the idea of you decide. Like, it’s a decision. Isn’t it? And that’s an honest question. I mean, you decide to love this person at a certain point.
Jimmy: Well, I feel like there’s just a connection. It’s the connection that brings you together in the first place and it’s the connection that grows stronger and the connection of wanting to be with one another. The connection of feeling like, “It’s cool. I can do the rest. I’m good.” I mean… I do not miss the single game in any way. And especially the being-in-a-band-single-game.
Me: Oh my god, totally. [Laughter]
Jimmy: You see it amongst younger people that you tour with or whatever. And it’s just like, I don’t know. Touring with Sigur Rós early on in my years, in the aughts, in the early aughts. Kind of seeing them—they were already family guys and they’ve gone through different things, but one specifically, Georg…and Kjartan, both of them. They’ve been together with their partners for ages. And just seeing—when you don’t have that young… There’s nothing wrong with wanting to hook up with someone, but it’s also like that game…
Me: It wears you down.
Jimmy: It wears you down. And it’s not fun. And being with someone that you like…
Me: You can just be.
Jimmy: It’s cool! You’re good. It’s a great feeling to just be with someone that just supports you, loves you…you can fuck up, whatever. It’s like, you work through your problems, you work through your things. You have that strong connection and experience with someone as opposed to kind of just like, I don’t know. [Laughter] I haven’t talked about being single in ages because I haven't been! [Laughter]
Me: Yeah, it’s a foreign thing to you, I gotcha! [Laughter]
What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to do?
Just straight up? Most difficult thing?
Jimmy: Fuck. [Laughter]
Me: These aren’t easy necessarily.
Jimmy: Nah, these are like… I don’t even know.
Me: And I can do another question if you want. Or maybe a moment where you felt like, “Holy shit I can’t do this.”
Jimmy: I guess I’ve never really felt that strong sense of that.
Me: That’s great.
Jimmy: I mean I’m sure there’s been a moment. I don’t know, I immediately try to think of like death, someone’s death or someone’s—or like being in a really uncomfortable situation. And none of that is sticking out to me. [Laughter] Yeah, I don’t know. What are the typical answers you’ve gotten for that? I’m not gonna have those answers, but I’m just curious.
Me: Death, generally. One of my friends in Rome lost her mom to a stroke. She was young, she was like sixteen when her mom died. But it’s generally death or divorce or heartache.
Jimmy: To be honest, I think the most difficult thing I’ve done is being a parent, really. [Laughter] Pshh. That’s some real shit. My son can be challenging just because of tantrums and things like that. He’s barely four. We have the rest of our life to deal with it. Tantrums, personality. It’s a very testing thing.
Me: Is that testing for you as an individual, a couple, a household?
Jimmy: All of the above. Cuz it just disrupts it all. You’re trying to figure out and navigate. It puts strain on things and in that moment you can’t really—you just gotta figure it out. And talk about it afterwards, but then a different situation comes up and it’s like, “Fuck! How do we deal with that one? I don’t know!” Being a parent is a difficult thing. But it’s also the most rewarding thing. It’s the…
Me: Polars. The yin and the yang.
What's one thing you don't know now, but feel compelled to know?
It’s funny because these questions are like—I’m like… You’re forcing me to think bigger. Not surface. I don't know. There’s a lot of things that—I wanna learn Spanish. [Laughs] [Long pause]
Me: You wanna audible? Go to another question?
Jimmy: Yeah, let’s pass. [Laughter]
Me: This one’s probably not gonna be any easier.
What's your greatest fear?
Oh, that’s a little bit easier. Basically losing it all. I don't wanna say failure, but—everything being upended. Or natural disaster kinda shit. Like the earthquake that’s imminent on us. Just things that are disruptive. Anything bad happening to my children or my wife, things like that. You can go down pretty twisted rabbit holes of that shit. It’s funny because since becoming a parent—it’s not funny actually—but since becoming a parent, so say you see a situation on TV of someone dying or a grieving mother or grieving father or all those scenarios, you always feel for the person, but when you’re a parent…it’s kinda weird, the switch. Cuz all of a sudden you’re just like, “Whoa.” And it’s not to say that I understand more because I’m a parent than someone else that’s not, but it’s just a different layer, a different connection. Things like that weigh really hard. I can’t imagine anything terrible happening to my…and just dealing with that.
Me: So how do you deal with those—obviously those things gotta come up. What do you do to cope with those feelings when you see something like that?
Jimmy: I mean it just hurts, you just feel for the person and it puts everything in perspective for you and your immediate scenario.
Me: And have you ever had to prevent yourself from going down the rabbit hole? And if so, like, what do you do?
Jimmy: Oh yeah, you just worry. Like always. [Laughter] My wife and I are worried. We’ve had three nights away from our kids since they’ve been born. And most of those nights have been spent worried about…
Me: Like texting the in-laws or whatever.
Jimmy: Yeah, exactly. You just worry as a parent. Especially in this climate today, I grew up being able to just walk outside and do whatever.
Me: The 80s, bro.
Jimmy: The 80s. Come back when the street lights are on, kinda deal. I wanna have that too. I’m not into the over-protective, helicopter style of parenting. We’re nervous if our three-year-old is out in front of the house unattended because of the street. But we live on a cul-de-sac. We don’t live on a busy street. We’re at the top of the neighborhood in the back, maybe cars pass by like twice an hour or something like that. Yet, we don’t want him to be out there by himself. But at the same time, we’ve taught him not to go in the street.
Me: Sounds difficult.
Jimmy: Yeah. That was a tangent. [Laughter]
What will you miss the most when you’re gone?
Life and living. Having a family and the people I’m surrounded by. Obviously those things are what I would miss. But at the same time, I don’t have a clear vision when you’re gone. So I don’t believe in—I’ll just put it this way: I’m an agnostic that leans very atheist. So as far as that’s concerned I don’t believe in the popular narrative of things. So it’s interesting. It’s—all of the things—I don’t really know what happens. [Laughter] So I don’t know what kind of feelings I’ll have, but I know I will miss just whatever life it is that I’m living at the time. And whatever’s contained within. My family, my wife, all that kind of stuff, performing, playing music, creating music, creating memories, all of these things.