Of all of the long-awaited debut LPs to come out in 2015, The Silver Lake Chorus’ self-titled full-length has proven to be the most worth getting excited about (It would also make the perfect last-minute Christmas gift for your favorite aunt or cool grandparent.) The — you-guessed-it — Silver Lake outfit – who is, indeed, an actual chorus – first came together in 2010, but their first LP (produced by Ben Lee) just dropped this summer, and it is surely the most sincerely charming thing I’ve heard all year. The album is comprised of new and rare compositions penned for the group by major musical heavy-hitters, like Inara George and Greg Kurstin (The Bird and the Bee), Aimee Mann, Tegan and Sara, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie), and Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd (The Flaming Lips). I recently got a chance to chat with Michael Wells, Music Director of The Silver Lake Chorus, who told me all about how the project has come together. He was also kind enough to give you a playlist of the group’s favorite songs of 2015, which you can find a link to below.
Izzy Cihak: So first off, I have to admit that I’m very much “East Coast” and am a bit put off by the whole “LA” thing, but Silver Lake seems like it houses some of the coolest people in America, so I have to ask: What’s the area like? How is it being an artist in Silver Lake?
Michael Wells: Silver Lake is a really diverse and exciting area of Los Angeles. It has a very strong artistic community full of musicians, bands, writers, installation artists, the whole thing. It’s definitely exciting being in an area of town that supports and promotes creativity, and of course a huge part of Los Angeles’s identity and history is tied to the arts and the film industry in particular.
Izzy: And you’ve been a band for half a decade now. Not to be super general, but what are some of the highlights of The Silver Lake Chorus so far? You’ve worked with some incredibly cool people and had some seemingly really amazing experiences.
Michael: Some of the highlights that come to mind are putting out our debut album, singing at LACMA as part of the Muse ‘til Midnight series, being featured on NPR’s World Café, A.V. Club premiering our music video for “From the Snow Tipped Hills,” the article Jim Fusilli wrote about us in the Wall Street Journal, and shooting a video with Funny or Die at The Jim Henson Studios.
Izzy: And how is it, specifically, that you all came together to form The Silver Lake Chorus?
Michael: We handed out flyers and held auditions early in 2010 with no specific plan in place. In those early days it was just about gathering and singing together purely for the joy of singing, no agenda or real musical aesthetic in place. We were always based in Silver Lake, which does lend itself to a certain indie vibe, but it wasn’t until Ben Lee came on board to produce the album that our niche really took shape and flight.
Izzy: Your debut has been out for a little while now. Have you had any particular favorite reactions to it, whether from fans, audiences, critics, or just friends or family? Any responses that really blew you away or made you exceptionally proud of the project?
Michael: The overwhelming majority of people seem to react to the size and warmth of the vocals, and often speak about how the sound feels quite “human.” We have also enjoyed hearing that it sounds “fresh” and that we are doing something new with choral music. We had a request from a woman who runs a group for seniors that deals with dying. She asked for permission to use our song “Home, Come Home” and relayed, “In my work with those at the end of life, we often use music – rather than speaking too many words. This song could bring great comfort and invitation to one ready to cross.” We thought that was a particularly moving reaction to our music.
Izzy: I know this is kind of sacrilege to ask musicians but do you, personally, have a favorite album track at the moment? (I’m assuming it changes regularly.) “Break it Down” is one of my favorite tracks of 2015, but I’ll totally admit to being a pretty massive long-time fan of Inara and Greg.
Michael: They are all my babies, so yes, it is hard to pick a favorite. I’d say at the moment my favorite is “Heavy Star Movin’.”
Izzy: On that note, and I’m totally not asking you to choose favorites, because all of the songwriters you wound up working with are totally awesome, but were there any that you were especially amazingly excited to find out you were getting to record? I would probably wet myself if I found out Tegan and Sara or Aimee Mann wrote a song for me, haha.
Michael: You are right on. We were thrilled and honored as the names of artists that were set to contribute to the album started to come our way. It’s been really exciting (and intimidating) to work with such great material. When I found out that Justin Vernon and Ben Gibbard were contributing songs I remember being particularly light-headed. Each artist that contributed to the album is so unique that honestly they were all genuinely exciting to hear about. I loved hearing that The Flaming Lips were going to give us a song and immediately was excited about the challenge and possibilities of such an interesting pairing.
Izzy: And since it’s the end of the year, I’ve been asking musicians about their 2015 superlatives. Have there been any songs or albums to drop or live shows you got to experience that you found especially amazing? I’m extra curious with you, as a chorus, because it’s hard to get an idea of the kind of music you all (collectively and individually) most appreciate.
Michael: With 22 people we get a wide range of tastes. Currents from Tame Impala was one of our favorite albums of the past year, and their show at the Hollywood Cemetery was astounding. Lianne La Hava’s What You Don’t Do was another staple, and our funkier members have been enjoying the new Little Dragon/Odesza collaboration, “Light,” for the past few months. I saw Blur perform at The Hollywood Bowl and that was really awesome. Damon Albarn just has it. We have a “Favorite Songs of 2015” playlist up on Spotify that people can check out.
Izzy: Finally, what is The Silver Lake Chorus hoping and planning for 2016? Anything already in the works? Any chance of some more new music or possibly the chance to get to see you live out here on the East Coast?
Michael: 2016 looks to be a very exciting year for us. We will be starting the process of our second album and hope to collaborate with more artists live and in the studio. We were supposed to make it to the East Coast this fall, but it didn’t work out. We hope to make it out some time next year!