Published Nov 05, 2013Fifteen years after leaving Groove Theory, Amel Larrieux has made peace with her past, and is firmly living in the present. Together with her producer husband Laru, they run what is essentially a successful family business that allows her to make a living through music without sacrificing any comforts. On the heels of her fifth solo album, Ice Cream Everyday, we spoke to her about what that title means, how she'll only step into a studio if she absolutely has to, and how she has evolved as a writer.
It's been a few years since we've gotten an album from you, and at least a couple years since you announced Ice Cream Everyday. What's been going on in that time and how did this album come together?
After I did The Lovely Standard album I had been on the road off and on in support of that. I've been really lucky to be able to have a life on the road doing live performances whether I have a new project out or not. We have two teenage daughters, one of whom [has been] in my band for the last three-and-a-half years, and that's a already a full time job as it is.
I guess this album just seems like it took longer than usual maybe, because I didn't do a whole bunch of other appearances in between like I've done in the past. For us it just felt kind of organic. I don't know if this sounds nonchalant or something, but it's ready because it's ready now. We live a pretty modest life but we are comfortable enough where we can take our time to do the best work that we think is possible in our power, and then compile it and put it out.
So what exactly does "Ice Cream Everyday" mean?
That was an exclamation that I made on a day that was rest for me. My husband, my producer, said, "Oh you should call your album that," because it sounded so funny when I said it. It's a metaphor for finding the little ingredients you can add to make life more liveable on a daily basis. I don't want people to eat ice cream every day, I don't mean food or substance of any sort. I hope that it would be something a little more esoteric, something that you couldn't necessary put your hands on. Whatever it is, the thing you can find to make life that much happier and more at peace.
Okay, but if we were talking about actual ice cream, what flavour are we talking about?
Well, I found out I was lactose intolerant in the last six years, so it's been a long time since I've had ice cream. When I did eat ice cream the very best flavour I ever had was lavender ice cream from a little organic ice cream place in Oakland. You can actually order it online, it's called Tara's Organic Ice Cream. I was ready to order ice cream all the way from Oakland to New York, because it was that good!
Wow, that almost adds a new meaning to the title, almost a longing for something that is gone.
It is! It kind of was a whole full circle of spiritual learning for me that was pretty far out. What helped for me was a very regular meditation practice over the last seven years, and pretty regular yoga. Things that I kind of evaded. I spent a lot of my 20s and 30s wrapped up in my kids and my career and forgetting about my interior life, my emotional life. Those sort of things you can't run away from when you have to sit with yourself on a daily basis for 20 minutes in silence. It's interesting, I learned a lot from that title.
The first single of the album is "Afraid," an upbeat song about being smitten with someone but worried what that might lead to. How did that particular song come about?
I've had those emotions before. I've been married for about 20 years now in a very committed, very stable and grounded relationship, but like everyone else, I've experienced different stages of love, passion and obsession. That is one I can remember very well, being smitten, but the feeling of total, complete fear over where it would take me, giving into it, and wanting it very much. I talk a lot about the adrenaline rush, the blood rushing in, all this things, the holistic experience of emotions and physicality and how it's really not a separate thing between our bodies and our brain, and all that is one with our heart and our spirit life. I think I talk about that a little bit more on this album.
So the album is being put out through Blisslife, your own independent label that you and your husband run together. How much of the business side do you involve yourself in?
I don't have to do anything, thank god, in terms of the business part. I'm not built that way. I'm lucky that he is and he still wants to run it, because I wouldn't know what I was doing in that area. I'm able to concentrate on writing, singing, arranging and performing, and we've been at it like that since 2004. Of course, it's not easy. We carry the brunt of everything, but we receive all the fruits of our labour. I think the trade off is pretty great.
How does it work in terms of collaborating with other artists as an independent? Is it easier to reach out to other artists, or is there the risk of finding yourself in your own bubble?
I don't actively reach out to people very much. Once in awhile I do, but I'm fortunate that people reach out to me, and I'm able to be choosy to an extent, and do the things I really want to do. I find that we end up doing a lot of stuff in house, and you guess could perceive it as being in a bubble, or you could say we found something that just works for us. I would say that we've fallen into a comfortable pace, because we're married and we live in the same abode and we have our own home studio. It's really convenient to work together.
And maybe comfort is more valuable to the process than anything else?
Yeah, I do think so.
I was reading through a few of your blog posts on the Blisslife site, and I was really taken by just how interesting the writing was. Are there any aspirations for writing outside of songwriting?
I really hesitate. My mother [Brenda Dixon Gottschild] is a dance historian and an author of four or five books. She's a super prolific writer on a university intellectual level. I'll read her books and have to sit there with a dictionary and be like, "wow!" But I also revere other styles of writing, and that, paired with my own insecurities, makes it really tough to say, "yeah I going to write some poetry and publish it." I've written stuff for magazines, and I've done these "Notes from Amel" and stuff, but also being the person I am now at age 40, I feel like one thing I've learned is it isn't black and white area at all. Meaning, of course I could do it one day, just right now I'm not saying yay or nay.
Are you at a point with songwriting where you don't have those same insecurities?
Yes, I really am. I don't think everything I write is great. I've reached the point where I realize that everything is disposable and I'm not so afraid that I'll never write a good song again. It's not so much about confidence to me as it is letting go, and just letting it be what it is, and trusting myself. I think I'm a better writer now than I've been before. I think I'm a different writer also, evolving. Living and having the space to evolve is really beneficial for every songwriter and artist in general. I've had the luxury of being able to do that, and I think if I can continue to do that I'll just get more and more comfortable in my craft. It will sound seamless, and it will read seamless the more that I'm able to do that.
Your vocals have been really consistently across projects, always very intimate and close sounding. How do those intimate sounding songs translate to live experience that inherently isn't as intimate?
I do all kinds of venues. Once I did The Lovely Standard it afforded me entrance into the world of jazz venues. I prefer small venues, the more intimate, the better. I like the feeling of an intimate experience, because yes, I perform that way. Performance for me is very therapeutic, and very much a connection between me and the audience that really gets deep into the exchange of energy and spirit and all the emotions that come when two human beings are there. I've heard people say you have to experience me live to get the full picture, and that's definitely true. I can't speak for everybody, but I hate being in the studio. I just do it because I have to, but I hate it. I love the live performances. I almost never do things the same, there's so much more room to improv, and it's live! Half of it is completely letting go and leaving my body, and the other half is that I am so present, that you'd don't know which it really is. It's nirvana for me.
A couple years ago there was talk of a Groove Theory reunion. Does that ever get tiring? Does it take away from the attention you'd like to devote to your new material?
Sometimes you need art to be the same thing. It's comforting, because really what it is is a direct line to an experience that you want to relive. I appreciate that people even want to hear anything from me, whether it be my solo stuff or the Groove Theory stuff. What's so great about people still wanting to hear Groove Theory is that there are opportunities to still do that, and make a living from it. That's awesome! I've been able to now have my solo career, but over the last two years Bryce [Wilson] and I have done six shows. This may be a little tacky or something, but this is a job for me. It's how I make my living, and I've been able to make money from doing shows from a band I was in 15 years ago, that's great, that's wonderful. I'm just glad that anyone still wants to hear it. I guess I'm comfortable as a solo artist, and I'm established enough where any doubts I might have had in the past are just put to rest. I feel comfortable in the position I'm in as Amel Larrieux. I can do Amel Larrieux and do Groove Theory and it's all good.