Published May 03, 2012The fact that, back in the day, three kids from Canada chose to buck the all-encompassing rock and hip-hop trend to craft introspective world music may just tell you something about LAL's level of sophistication. The T.O. trio's fourth proper release, and first since 2008's conceptual triumph, Deportation, deserves the often-misused descriptor of "genre-hopping," as Nicholas 'Murr' Murray's steely electronics work organically alongside Ian de Sousa's gaping West coast funk grooves and Rosina Kazi's fearless, contained vocals. LAL's self-titled LP doesn't break down barriers as much as it simply ignores them. This is a truly Canadian sounding release from an outfit largely uninterested in such narrow descriptors.
Although LAL have received many accolades over the past decade, there's not a great deal of info. Can you give us some background?
Murray: It was actually just me and Rose [Rosina Kazi]. We were working at a record store downtown ― the big HMV ― downstairs in the dance department. We worked there for a very long time and we just started making music together and came up with LAL. From there, we added a bunch of members, like guitarists and such, but then we just narrowed it down to the three of us: bass [Ian de Sousa], electronics and vocals.
Was your original vision of the band to be more dance-oriented, less organic than it is now?
Murray: I came from sampling; I'm more of a hip-hop guy ― that's where I started. I was mainly working with rappers, at the time, so it was only after Rose wanted to work with me that I started to switch gears trying to figure out how to work with samples with a singer. Essentially it was just a downtempo-y kind of thing with Rose on vocals, with me just controlling the beats. Then we just tried to form a unique sound.
Your sound is often described as world music, what's your take on that? Do you find that warranted or do you find that you have more of a "Toronto melting pot" sound? Or neither?
Murray: I really try to stay away from the whole "world music" thing. World music really deals in tradition. Right now, my focus is on trying to find my way through without trying to mock it. I think other members of the band might have different opinions.
Kazi: Because the three of us ― Ian comes from a jazz/blues/African music scene ― are all big music lovers, you grow up in a place like Toronto and listen to, and take part in, so many scenes, like techno or indie rock or international music, so we're all really influenced by those things. People don't really know how to see us so they put us in world music, but we don't really fit into any genre. And I think that confuses people.
That said, what's been called the Toronto sound is really just one sound: rock. Do you ever feel left out because you don't sound like Broken Social Scene or Metric?
Kazi: Maybe at one point, but then I realized that Toronto is a rock town, but there are places here that other types of music fit in. And we've been accepted by the indie rock scene. There's more electronic stuff happening here; we're seeing more international bands that would have never have gotten that love here. I think you're starting to see people expand outside of the rock scene. I still feel pretty good about the place that we're in; we know lots of people working in a lot of different scenes. Now we're trying to focus outside of Canada because we realize that it's very much rock influenced. Audiences here love everything; it's just that there are more things on the radio, more things on mainstream television.
Can you talk a bit about the new album, the writing and recording?
Murray: We recorded a bunch of stuff just outside Orangeville (ON), like "Pain" and "Live Your Life," and a lot of the stuff we did was done in one room. It's like this getaway across the way from a French restaurant and there's this cabin there with tons of gear, so it was all of us in one room doing stuff and there was a lot of focus on songwriting. Not all of it was done that way, but that was the main difference between this record and our other records.
Kazi: For the last record [2008's Deportation], we had over 20 guest musicians from all over Canada and it took us a long time to sort of figure out that album. It was also really political because of its theme of deportation. This time, we figured that we'd just work on it ― the three of us together ― produce it all in one room, then we decided we'd get a bunch of different people to mix each song. We had the community take part in a very different way, through visual aspects, videos and mixing, but I think this was the first album that, as a trio, we really sat down together and worked out amongst ourselves.
Was the album recorded live-off-the-floor?
Murray: Well, essentially everything is done live-off-the-floor in the beginning and then we kind of just multi-track. We've yet to just sit down in a room and write everything. That's kind of how Ian records: everything just comes straight off the floor. But Rose and Ian pretty much figure out the song together and I kind of come up with a groove or a rhythm.
I've noticed that your songs are very spacious and airy. How much do you remove from a song before it's done or do you not work that way?
Murray: Yeah, it kind of gets packed with stuff and then we start removing. A lot of the time it's like one part is created by writing and then I'll come in and create another part all together and add to it. So it's kind of a back-and-forth between us. We work a lot with delays and stuff, a lot of effects, a lot of guitar pedals, a lot of outboard, so the sound does come out highly textured, along with a lot of older synthesizers. Everything is very retro, in terms of production aesthetics.
Kazi: But I think that changes when we perform live. Because we came out of a club/electronic scene, although it's downtempo, we've always had audiences. I love dancing, so, really, it's about making people move. Sometimes Nick and I have some tension between those two worlds, but when we perform live it's much more dance-oriented. It's not like house, but people definitely groove.
Murray: I don't necessarily equate tempo with dance music, like reggae music had been dance music for years. I'm into the slow, heavy, hard thing, but we make it work.
You must get this question between every album, but what took so long?
Kazi: You know, we actually try to do it really quickly. I think it's because we're not like typical bands. We don't necessarily do these long tours or put "everything" out; we just kind of take our time. Some of it is also that we often get grants, which may take a while to get. We like to travel, so a lot of the time we'll go to India together and then it ends up that four years go by. I feel that now that everyone is putting out music so quickly that a part of me really likes the fact that we take our time.
I also think that, when artists put themselves on a schedule it's like, "do you really have these songs inside you burning to get out or are you releasing this just to meet a deadline?"
Murray: Yeah, I believe in discipline and work. I think we could be more prolific. We're still figuring it out, but I think it's warranted to put out as many records as you can. It's a muscle, right? I don't really believe in the magical world where the art comes from this mystical place.
Kazi: How could you say that [laughs]!
Murray: I really do believe in the hard ethic of work and discipline and finishing it.
Kazi: He says that now! But also, the three of us have side-projects, we also do workshops, education stuff, activist stuff, we have a techno project, Ian gets asked to do so many things as well. I think part of it is that we're actually really busy. We'd love to put out a record every two years; it's something that we're working on [laughs].
That said, have you ever forced a song?
Kazi: Not really. You know, Nick and I are now working on a side-project where we're doing stuff like that, where we just need to put some songs out and not take another three years. But we've always written songs. I always write songs, they just don't normally come out.
Murray: Nothing ever really gets forced; whenever the ideas are actualized, they come out finished. That's kind of our process, that's kind of our cutting block. When something just doesn't feel like it needs to be finished, it's like, when all the ideas kind of stop for it, we realize that this can't really move on.
For this album, what was you biggest non-musical influence?
Murray: For me, it was just trying to get really good songs out of Rosina, and Ian was really supportive about it. I was influenced on this record by Japanese horror films, which kind of come through in some songs. The creepy synthesizers, cricket-y percussion and that kind of stuff, almost Hitchcock-ish at some points.
Kazi: I recognize, from touring and travelling India, and even Pakistan, a lot of these people are portrayed as poor or not empowered. Even in our arts scene here, it's like, if you're poor, you're not empowered. I really wanted to talk about the fact that we have power within our community; it just plays out differently. It may not be as obvious but we do a lot of work together, a lot of collaborations, a lot of bartering and that energy is really important in the art scene that I belong to. I wasn't trying to portray and apocalyptic future but a positive future because shit's always going to suck but there's ways of creating happiness together.
Read a review of LAL here.