Last summer, we stumbled across Brooklyn band, LEGS, and were immediately hooked. The 5 piece has some undeniable influences in the realms of funk and soul, but, most of all, their pop sensibility appealed to us as did the craftsmanship that went into their song-writing. Today the band celebrates the release of their debut full-length, ALTITUD, an album recorded in Ecuador and paid for through some good new-fashioned crowd-funding.
We got a chance to talk with founding member, drummer, and visual artist, Juan Miguel Marin about what it was like recording in South America, plans the band has for 2015, and how the city most of them call home has changed in the past few years. You can listen to the new album in full below.
Juan Miguel: Hi there friends at raven + crow… I’ve got to start by thanking you for the kind words about our album, but more importantly, for keeping in touch with LEGS.
raven + crow: Ah, it’s our pleasure. Alright, first things first, guys—the new album, it’s really great. Congratulations. It did exactly what I wanted it to do, which was take the feel of the EP and translate that into a bigger, deeper sound. How was writing for that? Were you pulling from material you’d pooled up over the years or was this a lot of new material?
Writing for ALTITUD started right around the same time our EP came out (Aug 2013). We had set a few goals for the band, including: 1. Developing our live set; and 2. Releasing a full-length before the end of 2014. So while performing around NYC, playing mostly the EP, we began adding to the set some of the songs we were writing. Songs that were still work-in-progress. Going through this process turned-out to be crucial (individually and collectively), because at the end there’s no way we would have arrived at so many conclusions if we had only workshop the material in a room. I remember clearly playing a loft party in Long Island City, where we were responsible for playing a really long set. We’d take these types of nights to test as much as we could. Really glad my phone wasn’t running out of battery all the time in those days, because it recorded the entire set and I cannot begin to tell you how much improvising from that night became new parts that ended up making the record.
But, short answer—all 10 songs from ALTITUD, were collectively written, from the summer of 2013, thru the days in the studio the following summer. Literally.
And you recorded it somewhere in South America, if I remember right?
That’s correct. We went to Graba Studio in Quito, Ecuador with producer Nick Stumpf for 8 days of recording.
How was it being down there?
It was an amazing experience, but 8 days wasn’t long enough. We pretty much went from the hostel were we stayed at (Boutiquito), to the studio for 8 days straight.
However, that forced us to make this album as live as possible—you know, the good old 5 musicians playing in the same room. Lunch and dinner breaks were really great though. It is very possible that we had ceviche everyday (the Ecuadorian kind), along with “maduros con Salprieta”, and the revelatory “best burger of my life”, according to the US American side
of LEGS. The place is called “La Burguesa”, if you want to know. My favorite—“La Frágil”.
Elaborating a bit on the “testing new material live”, the one thing we were able to do in Quito outside of the
studio and food, was to play a rooftop party that our friends from RadioCoCoa put together. We’ll never
forget that show…the thrill of playing for a new audience in a different country for the first time, combined
with the fact that we once again did things during our set that made it to the record—on songs that we hadn’t tracked yet, of course—certainly makes that rooftop show a moment we want to live again.
Not to mention that, we had the honor to share the bill with La Máquina Camaleön, an independent band from Quito, that sounds SO good.
Sounds like a very compressed, fun time. How did the crowd funding for the album go for you all? I feel like that can be so hard these days, when people are so saturated with asks from so many different people.
We are truly fortunate to had been successful with our Kickstarter campaign. Especially since we are a new band, and obviously due to the saturation that you mention.
Our plan was to run the campaign way sooner than we did, but different reasons, we ended up launching the last week of June, so the last week of our campaign coincided with our week in the studio. But hey, don’t judge our planning skills. It worked. With the help of our families, friends, and surprisingly a ton new people that are connecting with what we are doing, we reached and surpassed our 35k goal. So no kidney sale was required.
In the end, I think that as long as you are being transparent about your project, and actually reaching out to people about it yourself, crowd-funding is very much a viable alternative.
I do regret not having enough time to pull-off our highly anticipated “bike wash” fundraising event for the album.
Bike wash, eh? Is the album self-released then or do you all have someone helping out with distribution or pressing?
ALTITUD will be self-released, and we used a company out of California for the pressing. Short run of 500 copies.
Ah, cool. I can’t remember—were there any funny/overly involved funding rewards that you all set up? You don’t have to fly to Seattle to serenade someone’s ex do you?
All the backer rewards are grounded and realistic. There are a couple of private shows we need to do, but for the most part we treated this as a “pre-order” campaign. The sweet spot was definitely the digital download + t-shirt category. Followed by the vinyl.
Yeah, limited release vinyl is fun. And who wouldn’t like LEGS shirts? We’ve been meaning to ask you guys, though—where does that name come from? Always curious, from a branding/marketing standpoint.
The story goes like this—we were brainstorming names casually for weeks, aiming to also book a show by March/April 2013, but none had happened yet. Then Charlie shows up one day for practice and proposed LEGS, as suggested by his friend and roommate, Lane Koivu, who can be credited for naming the band. He also wrote the first piece of literature about the band. You know, the whole potencial side effects thing… he’s great, but don’t take my word for it and go watch our “Top of the World” music video. That’s Lane in the flesh, playing Teddy Z, host of the late night show “ The Big Deep”.
The name was an immediate winner for all of us. I guess we all felt that this project we had been putting a lot of hours towards, had legs. So went for it.
You guys forgot your instruments in that video! Also, Tito’s beard is getting outta control, man! That song, along with most of your others shows of a very funky, soulful sound but it’s not really derivative or a case where I feel like just recreating something from the past. Did that style develop organically as a group or all you all just big soul fans?
Our influences are all over the place and soul is certainly on of them, but our sound has been developing in a very natural way. Without overthinking genres and pre-establishing too many things before we hit our instruments.
Some band rules are good though. As LEGS we have a musical vision, but at its core that vision should translate in connecting with people just as much as we are making music for ourselves.
Totally makes sense. I feel like there’s a pretty noticeable trend in both indie pop and mainstream pop for this brand of new soul, with bands like How to Dress Well and Autre Ne Veut and Rhye and even the newly sued Robin Thicke. Any insight into the origin of that as a trend? Or are we grouping too many disparate sounds together?
Avoid trends at all cost.
Well, I have to stand by the trend of brushing your teeth every day, but point taken. I can’t remember what clued me into you guys but I remember my first exposure was the video for “High Times”, which I thought was really beautifully done. And, having just moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, immediately made me nostalgic for rooftop parties in New York. You’ve got “Top of the World”—any other videos planned?
That was a fun video to shoot. Ironically, most people we talk to about that video think that it was shot on a boat. We see it now.
So far “Top of the World” has a music video, and there is one more (at least) coming out soon. No spoilers, but yes, there will be some music videos action happening.
How long have most of been in New York?
Jack has been here the longest since he studied Jazz at The New School. He’s been here for 8 years now. I moved from North Carolina in the fall of 2009. Tito (Jack’s brother), and Charlie moved to Brooklyn sometime in 2012. And Herman (my brother), was here in NYC from 2011 thru the end of 2013. He’s now based in Lima, Perú.
Whoa. That’s a commute. Do you feel like NYC’s changed a lot in the time you’ve been there?
Without a doubt. There’s so much new construction everywhere and neighborhoods shifting right before your eyes. Let’s just hope this city can find its balance between inevitable real estate development and the fact
that arts and the creative community are (amongst others) the ones who have made New York City an interesting place (to put it casually) through the course of history. And we all know that fancy overpriced housing is not the answer.
Only if you’re a developer. Did one of you do the new album cover? I remember at least one of you having a fine visual arts background.
I am a visual artist/designer, but the artwork for the album has a sweet collaborative story behind it.
The visual language for the new album takes cues from its title “ALTITUD” (spanish spelling for altitude). Right after we came back from the recording sessions in Quito—which sits around 2800 meters above sea level—the band went on its first Pacific-North West expedition. We played our first show in Seattle, then Doe Bay Fest in Orcas Island, and finished with an intimate show at this magical place space in Indianola, WA (hometown for the Ramsey brothers). Although the title for the album came to me while in Quito, it wasn’t until we came back to Brooklyn that I felt comfortable enough to pitch it to the rest of LEGS.
The idea of dropping the “e” from “altitude” (as spelled in spanish), and exploring an abstract mountainous landscape was part of my pitch to the band. We are a grateful bunch and wanted Craig Ward—who designed the EP’s artwork—to have a shot at the album cover. This time with a very modest but actual budget for it.
Craig got on board with the concept for the album and proposed involving Cedric Kiefer, who is a wonderful code artist based in Berlin.
Cedric crafted some sound reactive code in Processing, that creates a 3D render of a sound-wave, so Craig could run it with the songs from the record. And because he totally gets our sound (not electronic at all), Craig asked me to share any photographs of mountainous landscapes I had. Fortunately, there were some images from a recent trip that worked for his plan.
We loved what Craig proposed as the final form to be the cover of ALTITUD.
Make sure you look at the album art upside down.
If it doesn’t demystify the band too much, wondering about everyone else’s background outside of Legs. Got any cops? Stay-at-home dads? Craft brewers?
Without getting into specifics, there are music majors, art majors, and engineering majors. But more importantly, we are friends and lovers.
I guess we could also add “part-time dish washers” to that list. Did you have a dish-washing machine at home while living in NYC?
Hell no. What do you think, we lived in fancy overpriced housing? Though those are pretty commonplace here in Los Angeles. How did you guys meet initially?
I can tell you a really long version of this story, that involves a complex chain of events and people that I feel have part of making LEGS happen, but for sake of making some sense, I’ll share the more rational version…
Days before 4th of July 2012, Catalina (my eternal slumber party-mate, and talented photographer), had mentioned an invitation to one of her “client’s” rooftop party on the 4th. I wasn’t interested at all, but agreed to go under one condition—arriving early, so we could leave early.
We basically got there ON time, but you know that means an hour or two earlier than most people attending. There were no more than 6 people there (including the host), upon our arrival. Amongst those 6, there was Tito and his wife Irene, who had just moved to Brooklyn from Seattle a few weeks earlier.
To this day, I believe that if Catalina and I had gotten there at a later time, Tito and I wouldn’t have had a chance to talk the way we did. Just and hour or so later the place got packed (literally). Tito and I talked about music, that we were both working on tunes at home (on the computer), looping things, and the whole one man band myth. Then we realized that both of us had brothers (Herman and Jack), living in NYC, and that they also played instruments.
We left, exchanging our contact information and links to things we were working on. Soon after Tito, proposed a casual jam, where he also invited Jack, Herman, and more importantly Charlie, who was also living in Brooklyn, and knew the Ramsey brothers from way back.
That was the beginning of LEGS.
The big lesson—be on-time.
Nice! I don’t know if you’re this kind of band, but any specific goals or hopes for Legs in 2015? Hyper-fantasy dreams?
We do make lists of short-term, mid-, and long-term goals as a band. LEGS has big dreams (as should we all), but we are also aware that putting in the hours is the only way to get anywhere. Hopefully ALTITUD is well received and we can start doing some Summer Festivals and meeting some of the kind people who are listening to our music.
Yeah, we definitely wish you best with this. It obviously helps to have solid material—which you all do—but then so much of it these days is a combination of luck + work. I know you’ve got your record release at Mercury Lounge next Tuesday, but I’m assuming you’ll be doing some touring to support the album too, yeah? Playing LA soon, by chance?
ALTITUD dropped (how clever) today and we celebrate the release at Mercury Lounge on the 7th, and after that we do intend to tour in support of the record. Not sure yet how soon after this might happen, but I can definitely say, that LA is one of the cities we hope to visit in the near future.
Glad to hear it. Well, thanks so much for talking with us, Juan. Really excited to catch you live soon.
My pleasure, and we look forward to meeting you in LA. Will you take us to your favorite food spot?
I will! Though there’s lots to chose from these days. I’ll give it some thought and get back to you.
ALTITUD is out today and can be ordered directly from the band via their site or through iTunes if you’ve got a gift card burning a hole in your pocket. If you’re in or around New York, catch them at their record release next Tuesday at the Mercury Lounge; if you’re in my boat, check their site + like them on the Facebooks to stay in the know.