Today we’re very happy to announce the addition of Leo Islo to our LAMP roster. We’re very excited to bring his dynamic style and sound to the fold, and cannot wait to share some new releases from him very soon. MR PUZL got the chance to sit down and chat with Leo Islo to talk shop.
MR PUZL: What was your first introduction to music?
LEO ISLO: When I was a kid my family briefly lived in my Uncle’s house between moves, and he had this big collection of old cassettes he kept around in wooden boxes in his living room. I started rummaging through them one day when I was bored and discovered a bunch of psychedelic and classic rock albums in there. I started listening to Blue Cheer, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, King Crimson, Hendrix, and the Doors around the same time other kids were listening to things like Brittany Spears and Limp Bizkit. Most of my peers thought I was listening to “old people” music, but I was totally into it.
MP: Do your parents or any members of your family have any influence on the pursuit of current music career?
LI: Honestly, the closest relative I have who really pursued music was my grandmother and grandfather, who played music during the big-band 50’s era as singers. The fam has always been super supportive, but I think I got into music mostly because I was so untalented at anything athletic. When I found drums and guitar, I was relieved because I felt like I had finally figured out my niche.
MP: What were some of the first pieces of music that inspired you to begin playing? Were the drums your first instrument?
LI: For some reason “White Room” by Cream comes to mind. I also really loved “Good Times Bad Times” by Zeppelin- Bonham is probably my favorite drummer of all time, and I used to watch all of the low-resolution black and white videos of him doing live sets I would download from things like Napster and Limewire back before Youtube was a thing (WHAT?).
I actually played Piano first, but the way it was introduced to me made it more work than fun- lessons covering Beethoven and Bach were the epitome of boredom for me, and I eventually quit because I hated it. I didn’t get back into music until I picked up the drums a number of years later in my Highschool’s Motown cover band.
MP: Do you have any memories of Chile that relate to music?
LI: I was super young, so they’re all really vague. But they give me a feeling- I guess a yearning for exploration and the unfamiliar. I grew up a military brat because my Dad was a Major in the Air Force, so we moved around a bit before we arrived in Flagstaff.
MP: How did Flagstaff, your friends and the surrounding influences kickstart your passion for music?
LI: Flag doesn’t have much of a music scene to speak of (aka: none), so my friends definitely had something to do with it. When I was first playing drums and songwriting everyone was telling me to keep rolling with it and saying how quickly I was picking it up. By the time I was playing house-shows and doing my first acoustic gigs I was obsessed.
MP: Talk about your career as a visual designer. How does it translate to your project as LEO ISLO?
LI: I’ve always had an interest in art, and I think growing up in the computer age naturally lead me to graphic and visual design. For LEO ISLO, its more of a supplement to the music, where I’m trying to give people a visual to accompany the sound. Some of them I take literally, and others I take to absurdity (like the “Oh Dystopia” artwork with the Toucan). Image is really important to me since it determines peoples first impression of how “quality” your material and output is, often before they even click play- so I’m glad the visual aspect is also a passion of mine.
MP: Does LEO ISLO mean anything specific?
LI: Not really- the name sort of emerged from my subconscious, and I just ran with it. When I was in limbo between my move from LA to Portland, I had this night of bizarre feverish dreaming and I woke up in the middle of one where people had been calling me Leo Islo. The dream was vivid and stuck with me, so in my own helpless-romantic way I decided it was important, even if nonsensical.
MP: What kind of software, hardware, etc. do you use in your productions?
LI: I use Ableton to do all my productions these days, but the majority of my sounds are from out-board gear. I have a Moog Sub-Phatty, Korg MS2000, and a slightly temperamental 1984 Sequential Circuits SixTrak (my personal favorite). Guitar sounds are mostly done DI through a series of pedals and an amp modeler. I recorded everything on the Modern Fiction EP through a tube amp, but I just enjoy the immediacy of plugging in and getting ideas flowing rather than waiting for tubes to warm up these days. The means to achieve a sound isn’t really important to me- all that matters is the sound itself, and whether I’m happy with it.
MP: How do you go about researching sounds for your music?
LI: Mostly by listening to artists I love and dissecting the samples, instruments, and timbres they use. Sometimes by actually researching their gear if I see a live performance and have no idea whats going on. I feel like I’m at a point in producing now where I understand how people achieve certain sounds, and if I hear something that interests me I get into the studio and try to recreate it in my own way. Lately my focus has been on overdriven, distorted sounding synths, which has been a ton of fun.
LEO ISLO is the moniker of Portland-based producer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist Matt Pahler.
Born in Santiago, Chile and raised in the small mountain city of Flagstaff, Arizona, LEO ISLO amassed an eclectic mix of art from the world around him, instilling a sense of wanderlust at a young age. By 17 and armed with a fake ID, he began touring as a drummer playing at a variety of venues across Arizona from local bars and clubs to casinos and popular lounges. I wasn’t long before his desire and self-motivation lead him to songwriting writing covers for 80’s classic and Motown hits.
It was during a move from Los Angeles to Portland that LEO ISLO found himself drawn towards the world of lo-fi, electronic music. Artists like Jai Paul, Neon Indian, Toro Y Moi, Caribou, Washed Out, and Grimes became early influences on his approach to production. This began fueling his propensity to create retro-soaked synths, ethereal pop vocals, warm guitar lines, and analog driven beats.
His first EP as LEO ISLO, Modern Fiction (2014), was conceptualized on a beach in Nicaragua and realized in his chilly garage studio through unrelenting DIY love, trial and error, and many sleepless nights.
LEO ISLO’s lyrics often focus on introspection, ephemeral mortality, and fleeting nostalgia, shifting between chill wave, indie-rock, house, and lo-fi pop. His sound continues to evolves as it incorporate aspects of each of these styles while progressing the realm of possibility within them. Relentless in his approach to creating the music he loves LEO ISLO is patiently building the foundations of a promising career, note by note.
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MR PUZL & LAMP