Teen Vogue sounds more like the place for pop princesses and boy bands than indie rockers with a penchant for banjos and overdubs. Then again, today's teens are weaned on all things hipster, which may explain why a mention of Baltimore's Le Loup cropped up in a recent issue of the magazine.
The band's frontman, Sam Simkoff, was surprised, as evidenced in an amusing photo on Le Loup's Twitter page in which he holds up a copy of the issue, finger pointed at the cover, eyebrows arched and mouth in a wide grin.
“It was flattering,” Simkoff says. “It was such a shock, but it's awesome.”
So—did he, like, list his faves and stuff, OMG?
“Yeah, you know, we had a photo in there with our shirts off,” he laughs. “Nah, it didn't list our stats or anything.”
All kidding aside, Teen Vogue ran a thumbs-up review of Le Loup's second album, Family, which follows on the heels of The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly, a mouthful of a debut that Simkoff created mostly on his own, with help from friend Christian Ervin, whom he met in high school in Portland.
The two eventually ended up in Washington, D.C., then Baltimore, and when Simkoff started recording music on his computer, he e-mailed Ervin his loop-heavy files, which eventually became The Throne. (Le Loup means “The Wolf” in French, making it both a pun and a sly nod to the many “Wolf” bands on the indie scene.)
When Seattle's Hardly Art (an imprint of Sub Pop) expressed interest, Simkoff knew he needed a band to take on the road. The lineup, which includes Ervin, is now five members strong, with at least twice that many instruments, including old-timey ones like the banjo and mandolin—which Simkoff admits are in many bands' repertoires these days, including Le Loup's more obvious influences: Sufjan Stevens, Arcade Fire, Animal Collective, Fleet Foxes.
“Right now, especially, there's this constant scramble of reaching back in time and dragging any old thing back to the forefront and renaming it or reintroducing it to the American vernacular. You'd be hard-pressed not to find something that people aren't grabbing from the past and reinterpreting.”
On Family, Simkoff took those natural, folk-rooted sounds—jangly guitar, plucky banjo, the human voice—and reinterpreted them by churning them into dense, sometimes-otherworldly layers.
“With this album, we wanted to get into the fundamental songcraft of what makes a song a song,” Simkoff explains. “To me, that means a very strong organic element, juxtaposed on top of a strong melody. Everything else is kind of window dressing when you get down to it.”
“Rhythm of some sort. We wanted to blow that out of proportion. I find rhythm so incredibly immediate and emotional. We wanted to amplify that as much as possible. We ended up, with almost every song, overdubbing three or four drum sets and random percussion. We wanted to get that throbbing, pulsing, forward movement.”
On the album's best songs, the percussion has a tribal, Afrobeat feel, ricocheting from the speakers around the room like a ghostly drum circle. Simkoff admits that this computer magic can be tough to re-create live, though the band does its best with two samplers and a small drum kit.
For Le Loup, the studio-to-stage translation will inevitably get easier with time. After all, Simkoff only recently transitioned from solo to full-time band—a new experience that likely lends Family its name. To record the album, he and his bandmates holed up in a cabin in North Carolina—and no, none of them got cabin fever.
“You get a lot of practice on the road of being with each other for long hours,” he says. “We did a lot of off-the-cuff recording that was the most spontaneous and energetic parts of the album. But I think you could do that anywhere, as long as you are spending enough time just focusing on music and nothing else.”
After that, there's plenty of time for distractions, Teen Vogue and otherwise.
Le Loup plays with Nurses and Cuckoo Chaos on Friday, Oct. 30, at The Casbah. www.myspace.com/leloupmusic.
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