Jefre Cantu-Ledesma has been keeping himself busy. Between running the experimental Root Strata label, producing a ton of impressive ceramic art, re-releasing two of his essential ambient drone recordings from 2013, releasing 2 great new albums this year — In Summer and the collaborative Comme un Seul Narcisse with Félicia Atkinson — and welcoming a child with his partner, it’s a wonder that he found any down time at all to sit down for an interview.

If his churning and expansive drone-ambient-shoegaze could fit neatly into any scene, Jefre would be considered a seasoned veteran. After getting his start in Bay Area post-rock outfit Tatrentel in the late 90s and early 2000s, Cantu-Ledesma has released over 30 albums under his own name since 2005. In addition, he’s been a part of over a dozen high-quality releases with other side projects, including the ambient project Raum, with Liz Harris (Grouper).

Over Skype last week, Jefre and I discussed moving to New York from the Bay Area, sharing music with family, balancing diverse creative energies. We also got an exclusive peek at his upcoming album, his first recorded with a full band in over a decade.

[This interview was lightly edited for clarity and length.]
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“In Summer”, 2016, released via Geographic North

B-Side: So, you had a 3 year delay after recording your previous solo release, and the album cover of your new In Summer EP explicitly details how the album was recorded during in 2015, about 2015. was this a conscious shift in the framing of your recording time?

Jefre Cantu-Ledesma: No, all of that was more circumstantial, 13 Moons would have come out a lot earlier. The label that I originally was commissioned for wasn’t able to do it, so I had to find a new label. I found Mexican Summer, but their calendar was already filled so I had to wait 9 months. It’s the same thing with the new one, I finish it and give it to the label and then it’s up to them as to when to put it out, whenever they have time to do it.

This was the first album you recorded in New York, as opposed to the Bay Area, where you’d recorded for most of your career. I hate when record labels promote albums like “This is their New York album!” or “This is their LA album!”, but was there a difference in working in a new location, a new mindset?

Actually, everything is always recorded at home pretty much alone just in front of my gear — well that’s not totally true, my new record that will be coming out in the spring I actually did in the studio. Oftentimes for me it’s much more about what’s going on in my life, either relationship-wise or with friends or whatever. It’s not consciously a New York record.

Definitely has more of the exhaling, tension-less feeling than a typically uptight city album would have.

Yeah, definitely. The field recordings and sounds [for In Summer] were actually recorded in Maine, my partner and I took a trip to Maine last summer and when we came home I recorded that EP. It has more to do with traveling in the Northeast.

So, congratulations on welcoming your first child into the world a few months ago! Have you thought about at what age you introduce your child to your own music?

Ahhh, it’s too early to say.

It’s only been a few months, right?

Not even. I think it’ll just be organic, but I’ll probably avoid my music for the most part.

Do you generally avoid sharing music with your family?

Yeah, I never do that. My partner’s always hassling me actually that I never play stuff for her and I don’t know if my family even knows about what I do. It’s fine, they know that I play music but I don’t think they know more than that.

You mentioned earlier you’ve got a new record coming out in the spring, is that going to be the new Raum album?

No, Liz [Harris, of Grouper] and I are working on the new record right now and hopefully it’ll come out next year, but it’s really hard to say. Liz and I kind of work at our own pace, there’s a lot of material already recorded but it’s more about getting it into the record. We don’t even live on the same side of the country, so we have to have Skype talks and sometimes we meet up and work on stuff.

“A Year With 13 Moons”, 2015, released via Mexican Summer

The record that I have in the spring is actually…I haven’t actually talked to anyone about it yet so I have to formulate my thoughts. It’s like a record that I, I decided to go into a studio and I decided to have a bunch of musicians come in with me, so it’s a full band, six people that play on the record with me.

I think partially I was missing being in a band. Mexican Summer has a studio here in New York with some friends, I went in the studio with friends, all people I’ve known. Some people I’d played with before, some people I’d never played with at all. We just went in the studio for, I think, three days. That was last winter, and I’ve been spending this whole year just cutting it up, overdubbing, adding stuff, subtracting things, just making a record out of it. Probably just need a couple more months and it’ll be done, but it’s slated for next spring.

So, you mentioned “cutting it up”. I’ve always gotten the feeling that the recordings we hear on your albums are snippets of hour-long, two-hour long jam sessions on a certain drone or key. Is that how you write the songs, or do you write them initially as fully-formed 3-to-5-minute songs?

Yeah, it’s the former, much more the former than the latter. I’ve never been much of a songwriter, so even with this last session when I went in with friends I just had riffs, just 4 chord riffs. We would just play off of it, come up with ideas, I’d kind of point something out as a direction, or not and we’d just go with it. We’d try multiple variation. I think in the 3 days we were in the studio I have probably 8 hours of material, maybe more. The record is obviously going to be —

— probably not 8 hours —

Yeah! It’s going to be like 40 minutes! Most of it is not interesting, most of it is not good. {laughs} It takes time to get into a space where things become interesting, and I totally respect that. I don’t expect the first minute to be incredible, or the first ten minutes. I expect maybe 20 minutes into a jam something happens.

I don’t know, I feel like if you did a live improvised show in a Phish-y style jam band with your genre of music, it’d be interesting for the crowd.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with Tarentel, but towards the end of our time as a band together, that was pretty much what we were doing. We didn’t write songs anymore, we would just show up and start jamming. Lots of it was not that interesting, but there’d be a chunk of it that was really pretty good, and that kind of makes the whole thing. It goes from “what’s going on here?” to, wow, this is really really good.

Yeah, it’s the moment of that shift that really does it.

Exactly. That shift.

"Vase (Late Spring)" from http://jefrecantu-ledesma.com/

“Vase (Late Spring)” from http://jefrecantu-ledesma.com/

Lately you’ve also shifted away from music towards doing a lot of ceramic art. What’s your balance right now, in terms of your artistic output now that there’s more than just music?

It’s a juggle, to have these divergent interests. It’s not like a have a lot of time for creative energies and endeavors, so it’s been difficult to find the balance. That’s probably why it’s taken so long for me to make my new record, even though I went into the studio almost a year ago. I get propelled by deadlines, in a way. For ceramics I might have a show coming up, so I’ll work towards that, and then later I’ll come back to the music because I have a show coming up for that, and I haven’t really found a good balance. Just juggling back and forth, It’s kind of crazy-making. I think I’m just too interested in other things other than music to just do music all the time.

 

 

Interview written and conducted by Matt Sater

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