October Themed, an Interview with Leche Malo
First off, you're new music video for "Smoke Cigarettes" is really awesome. There're a bunch of comments already, talking about wonderful it is -- how it has all these great stories and characters in it. How long did it take you to make it?
It started as just this willy-nilly thing. Me and Sean Molloy, the director -- well, we co-directed it -- we were just like, lets get some outfits and find some cool monochromatic walls in Monterey and improv. We did 2 or 3 days of that before sitting down and trying to edit it together, at which point we realized we couldn't have this video of me just lip syncing and looking cute. So we started to look for other things. We got Chelsea Riddle involved. We got Marcus Wade, my drummer, involved. And we started doing some live band performance shots in different locations. Eventually we edited that in and realized that it still wasn’t enough. What’s this icing we're going to put on this cake? I was in the shower the one day and I had this vision of a giant cigarette monster. It seemed too unrealistic at first. We sifted through all these ideas, like maybe we'll put some dry ice in a huge tube of painted PVC pipe so it looked like it was smoking. In the end we settled on making this cardboard suit that Chelsea was going to wear and at the end of the video just set it on fire. All in all, it was maybe a week of actual work. Sitting back and thinking about how it was going to look took longer than actually shooting and editing it.
That goes into another question that I had, and it's the question of intention. So you have four total songs, soon to be five actually when this new single comes out, and it's really interesting how they progress. The first one's acoustic, and then you start getting more full band instruments coming in as more singles come out. How do you approach the intention of your song writing? What makes up Leche Malo compositionally?
Part of making Leche Malo was trying to be more intentional. You know, actively choosing a new name, and a different kind of mentality and ethos for the music to give it more focus. So, just inherently it's more intentional. And I think even more than sonically, it's just more aesthetically concise. Like you said, there's four singles out: one's acoustic, one's garage punk, one is a total jam band thing, and the other one's kind of electronic… But I think there's a through line to it all. It’s just a sort of frankness, an openness and vulnerability with the lyrics, and an earnest, almost over the top vocal delivery. I try not to be a slave to these constructs I make around, like, who is Leche? Can he do this? Or does he have to do this, you know? It's been a battle honestly, because I really respect really concise artists right now that obviously have a super direct vision. I know inside I'm just this all over the place person, and I find I'm always rangling myself in, and I don't know if that's right or wrong to try and do. I'm sitting on a lot of music that I've finished, and I think half the art at this point is understanding how I can roll the songs out effectively and reach as many ears as possible, and create a narrative with the releases. That's seems like the hardest part, and feels like, at times, the most important part if that makes sense. Because I've put out so much music to no one already. And I refuse to do that anymore.
I think it's interesting when you talk about the narrative that exists between these pieces. As someone who struggled for years with cigarette addiction, I notice that that comes into a lot of your songs. Smoke Cigarettes, particularly, that's the main driving force: an addiction to cigarettes and to vices. With October-Themed that's also a common theme: not only an addiction to certain vices, but also a more innocent addiction to tactile feels, like the crunching of leaves under your foot. Tell me a little more about this stretching narrative along those lines.
Yeah, I've been getting a little flack lately, like, does every song you write have to involve cigarettes? I think it's sort of a symbol for me because, I remember vividly, I was with my partner at the time, maybe two years ago, kind of when Leche was being conceived. We were in Big Sur, we were sitting on the side of the road, I think waiting for a bus or something. We were in this manic state, like, talking back and forth really fast about the future, and I spouted "Some day, darling, I'm gonna be on a fire escape with you. I'll be addicted to cigarettes and we'll be the artists that we always wanted to be, and we'll be out of this void of Monterey." Which, no knock on Monterey, but sometimes it feels like it pulls too hard. I mean, this is just the place I've lived most of my life, so, there's sort of that element to it. But anyway, it was kind of funny, going through life, and then realizing that was actually happening. Like, I did start smoking on fire escapes, I was living the artistic life that I wanted to. It's a small and unorthodox flag to wave, but I was really sort of proud of that for a time. It was definitely weaved really closely to the way I was viewing everything. It ended up in a lot of songs. I think I've moved passed that in my songwriting already but it’s just nobody has yet to hear those songs.
You talk about this pull into Monterey, and this desperate need to leave. We met up in New York and spent a little time walking around and hanging out. You said you were going through this phase, in trying to figure something out. Do you feel like October-Themed and your other singles pull from this experience of travelling around?
Yeah, when I was in New York and we were walking around, that was definitely the thick of trying to flesh out what was happening artistically for me. And, I don't want to announce the record, but "October-Themed" is definitely part of a record, and that record is very close to being done. And that whole album is absolutely imbued with travel, with Chicago and New York especially, with breaking out of the cycles of youth that I've had for so long, losing love, that sort of youthful love. Like, the relationship these songs are about lasted most of my young adult life. That love was the lens in which I saw the world. And then suddenly losing it while simultaneously being thrown into that world -- travelling around, meeting new people, seeing new scenes. I think, developing Leche was sort of a way to just have grounding of self. It was a way to view myself definitively when all of the things that I thought defined me, like, where I lived and who I was with, were lost. This was the new way. This total internal dialogue I was having with myself. I don't know if I answered your question, but....
You answered it just fine. What happened when you were back out in Chicago? How was that?
It was great. Do you know Bernie & the Wolf?
No, I don't.
Okay, well, Bernadette used to live in Monterey, and Lobo, her musical partner, had recorded the first record I made under my old name. So we met here and then they moved to Chicago where Lobo's from. They were going on this crazy long US tour and needed to sublease their apartment. And I was like, "Hey, I'll just come and stay there for two or three months and pay your rent." Their house is a recording studio, or it was at the time, so I was thinking I could just hold up and work on the next album full time… But I ended up getting there and totally being in love with the city, and really inspired in that way, but not inspired to actually work on the music. I was out there playing bass for a band called The God Awful Small Affairs, and meeting people, and writing songs, but not working so much in the studio. But yeah, There's one song in particularly that's really influenced by Chicago. I'll go back there some day, no doubt.
How do you feel place has influenced your writing style when it comes to the songs that you've put out?
I feel like context is everything for me for sure. I'm definitely that guy that goes to a place and immediately writes a song about it. Since all of my music is really autobiographical I have to break out of my comfort zone to even write at all. Traveling is such an easy way to break out. Changing where you are literally. Sure, sometimes songs come from a mental break through, or maybe from pushing into a more vulnerable place in a relationship or something… But sometimes that's a lot of heavy lifting one can’t always maintain and just straight up going on a road trip is going to be a quick ticket to thinking differently.
You're music does this thing that I really like. You do this thing, mixing introspective lyrics with upbeat music. You want to tell me a little more about that, your thought process in juxtaposing lyrical content with your musical aesthetics?
Absolutely. There's a blog called American Pancake. They wrote an article on "Smoke Cigarettes" when it originally came out just as the audio single. They cataloged it as Sad Core. And I kind of ran with it. I was totally into that. Because I think part of adopting a new moniker was trying to start to write music that I really enjoyed listening to. I realize that the stuff I was putting on loop and that really made its way into my every day life was pretty upbeat and snappy music sonically. But then, my lyrical approach is so, like, sad-boy-heart-on-your-sleeve… So I don't see any reason not to just wedlock those two things. I think it also has something to do with the fact that I don't really view my voice as an instrument. A lot of great singers I hear have these beautiful, resonant voices with these long drawn out tones and all. They sound like violins or something, but I just feel like a drum. Like my voice is a drum. And maybe that's just like talking shit on myself, like, "Oh I can only yell, and be really aggressive and whatnot." I think at this point, that sort of upbeat kind of raucous music works well with where my voice is at. But I would love to make ambient laments or something down the road when I discover new ways to use my voice. Like maybe I’ll discover what instrument my voice is akin to and use it as such. I also think, in this breaking out point as an artist, a great way to do that, maybe for me, is to have more boisterous music and to be off the wall and in your face and sort of performance arty. Then maybe once people are listening I can pull back to an intimacy and a beauty. I really do want to make beautiful music. And I feel like my music is a bit brash, which is fun and cool, but, eventually, I look forward to experimenting with softer tones.
It's interesting how you compare yourself to all these singers. Do you find yourself hiding, if you will, behind your approach to song, style and structure, in that sense? Especially as you talk about becoming a lot more performative and a lot less focused on the sound of the voice, inherently as an instrument?
I think growing up and trying to cut through the noise, being in a lot of rock bands, playing in a lot of bars to make money and trying to stand out has sort of led me to this place. It's like when you learn the guitar when you're younger, and you have all of these, what's the word I'm looking for, you develop all these bad habits. I kind of feel like I'm at a sweet spot where my bad habits have grown to be something almost desirable. Like, I can lean into my bad habits and create something that is really kind of cool sometimes… But this is my big experiment, doing that. I'm going to have to take some introspective time coming up, and really focus on unlearning a lot of things. I do look forward to doing that, but at this point in time, I'm all in. I'm going to throw down with where I'm at right now. I try not to compare myself, but it's hard not to. I just love to fall in love with other artists.
I don't view myself as having a bad voice. I think that was the big thing you were asking.
Well, when "Smoke Cigarettes" starts, it's really clear, and then your voice comes in, and it's quite beautiful. And it melds really well with everything. It doesn't feel as if your voice is this performative thing. It feels like it's something that's melded really well with the sound of the song. I think you have a beautiful voice actually. I think, more often than not, it's the kind of credit we each give ourselves.
You know, I think "Smoke Cigarettes" -- more than any other singles, except for maybe "Window Shopping," at least in the verses -- touched on a sort of softer beauty. I recorded the vocals for "Smoke Cigarettes" in a La Quinta Inn in Arizona. The walls were paper thin and I was recording on a shitty little USB mic. There was someone next door and I didn't want to bother them. So while recording I was trying to be quiet and not trying to push it too hard. It was sort of perfect because an element of music that I really like in other people is an effortlessness. It’s so magnetic hearing someone not trying too hard but sounding good. On that track specifically I may have tapped into that. I would love to do that more -- you know people don't want to hear you struggle. There can be an intensity to the lyrics and delivery and all but… I don't know what I'm trying to say here. I'm still trying to figure it out for myself. I think sort of giving up is the answer for me. Like keep moving forward, but giving up trying to push the envelope, like literally straining to scream over the noise, and instead being, like, "sup," you know?
I think I tried to ask earlier, and I'd like to know your thought on this. I asked earlier that you started with acoustic stuff, and moved to full band stuff. I wanted to know, do you write the bass parts and the drum parts and other things like that? Or, when you have a full band coming in, is it more along the lines of you all working together as a band, almost like these songs become collaborations?
Yeah, um, I don't have a set way that I do things at this point. And I kind of hope never to have that. I'd like it to remain a project by project situation. But, as it stands, I have mostly arranged everything myself for this record that's coming out that has "October-Themed" on it. I demoed out everything. I programmed drums on my DAW. I recorded scratch bass parts, guitar parts, and vocals. And then I went to the studio and I worked with a session bassist and a session drummer [Josh Howard and Garrit Tillman]. They listened to the scratch recordings that I'd made and once we got into the session together, they basically performed what I had written, but with their personal finesse thrown in. And sometimes they'd be like, "Hey, you know, you had this part planned out, but I think it might be cool to do this." I'm always super into that. I feel like musicians are like crayons, and you can't really ask an orange crayon to be red, you know? Like, don't go against the grain. If they want to put a swing on this once they get into the studio don't try to squash that. You picked them for a reason. I think there's a freedom in giving in to people's instincts.
For a minute there I definitely had to deal with the fact that this record wasn't turning out exactly how I had it in my mind. There was a dissonance there and it kind of stressed me out. But then I took that away. I just was like, "I'm done with this shit. This doesn't have to be hard. This can be fun and different than I thought." And I sat down and I listened to the record and just gave up. I listened to it for real and heard what everyone did and just thought it was so beautiful. And it was honestly better than I could've conceived by myself alone in my room. I think down the road I'd love to collaborate more thoroughly with people. It's just at this point, with no fiscal backing from a label or anything it's really hard to get into the studio without a set plan. It costs a lot more to just get in there flying by the seat of your pants, you know?
"October-Themed" is coming out October 16th. Why do you think the month of October is important for the theme of this song?
Honestly, I really don't think the Halloween element or the October theme (ha) of this song rules it. I think the song can be listened to year round. It's not a slave to that sort of spooky aesthetic. I just thought it was cool to release it in the month of it’s conception two years ago. Why the hell not? It's gonna make it on the record and the record's gonna come out probably next spring. So, you know, people can just deal with it if they want to skip it because it's not the namesake season.
Interviewer says some shit about genuineness.
I think people, especially right now, are adopting a witchy-ness year round. Like, we can be spooky all the fucking time. We can dress up all the time. We can scare the pants off each other all the time. I feel like there's Christmas music, and Christmas music can be compared to, like, the heart of L.A. And it's too expensive to live there. So we're being pushed out to the suburbs and stuff. And so Halloween is sort of becoming this really important holiday to everyone. Maybe Halloween songs are going to dominate the game. I don't know if that needs to be said. Yeah, it's like, there's sort of, a, it's arbitrary. It's arbitrary, the season of the song.
Also, I got the Leche denim dress that's in the "Smoke Cigarettes" video two years ago, on Halloween, in Brooklyn, from a thrift shop. This song ["October-Themed"] is the retelling of that moment, basically. Hanging out on a fire escape attached to my then partner's apartment and finding the dress and doing a terrible accurate tarot reading… Even walking around in the cemetery with my instant black coffee and stuff… That was all October 2018. Having this be the first single that comes off this debut record for this moniker seems somewhat significant. It’s a bit of a subdued origin story in the song.
Do you view Leche Malo as a character that is separate from you personally?
How did you come up originally with the name Leche Malo, and what do you feel like that represents, at least in your mind?
I have an uncle and he lives out in New Mexico right now. I was on this life altering road trip after me and my partner split up and I was trying to find myself personally and artistically again. I felt I had changed inside but hadn't let myself change outside at that point. I was staying on my uncle's property for a little while. He had a guitar, and the guitar was vandalized with the words "Leche Malo.” And I was like, "What heck is this, Louis?" And he told me this story about how he played music in L.A. when he was in his mid twenties, about the age I was and how people called him "Leche Malo." It was this silly thing his friends called him when they were drunk, and he started rolling with it. And I thought that was a really cool name too. It just resonated with me. I knew that that's what I wanted to go by. I hadn't been thinking about who this character might end up as. I needed to pick a name at that point to be able to move forward. I picked the name, committed to it. I think people have a hard time redefining themselves when they're in a context that they've been in their whole life. Namely, if you're in the town that you grew up in, how are you going to redefine yourself if everyone knows you as this person that you've always been? You're kind of bound to everyone's memory, and sometimes it feels kind of stupid to like, I don't know, start wearing new clothes all of a sudden. Everyone's like, "What happened? You're different now. What the heck?" I think there was just a change that I needed to go through and this was how I had to do it. Maybe Leche started as a character, but now he’s more so a vehicle for me finding my truer identity. He’s a more literal personification of how I feel. Everyday I get up, and I think about how I feel, and I look through my closet, and I try and wear clothes that express that. Sometimes it's just black. I feel super fucking emo, I don't want anyone to look at me, and I'm just gonna like, blend in. Other days, I feel fucking fabulous, and I need to wear red monochromatic jump suits and shit, and walk through Costco and have everybody looking at me. And I think that's what Leche's all about. Just wearing what you feel and putting your vulnerability on blast.
Really makes me think of "Smoke Cigarettes" to be honest. "Some days are great, some days are terrible, some days don't come."
"October-Themed" is a catchy, ear worm of a song. It's a great follow-up single. It feels like the next logical step. And I think it's wonderful!
Thank you so much for your time. "October-Themed" by Leche Malo is available on all streaming platforms.