Allie Crow Buckley is a singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles. Her debut album Moonlit and Devious is out now.
(Photo Credit: Nastassia Bruckin)
Allie Crow Buckley is a singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles; Jason Boesel is the musician and producer who previously drummed for Rilo Kiley and as a touring member of Bright Eyes. He’s also the co-producer of Allie’s debut record Moonlit and Devious, so to celebrate its release, the two revisited their favorite moments of creating it.
— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Senior Editor
Allie Crow Buckley: Hi, Jason!
Jason Boesel: Hi, Allie, how are you?
Allie: Good, how’s it going?
Jason: It’s going good. Nice sunny morning in Los Angeles.
Allie: Very hot.
Jason: Pretty hot, actually, for this time of year. But that’s OK.
Allie: What you been up to the last few months?
Jason: Oh, you know, this and that. I’ve been producing a lot, I’m writing a lot. Kind of being creative and getting stuff done and enjoying life, you know. Why not?
Allie: Why not!
Jason: What have you been up to?
Allie: Just getting things ready for the record.
Allie: Very exciting. It was so fun making it.
Jason: I had a good time.
Allie: OK, highlights — top three moments.
Jason: Ooh, top three moments. What comes to mind — well, the take that is now “Nothing Sacred” was pretty magical, pretty high vibrational. I don’t think we did much to it after, we just played it and that’s it. Which is rare, more rare than you would think. I mean, a lot of people do that really well.
Allie: We were lucky, though, because we had such great players.
Jason: Yeah. Lee Pardini from Dawes, Dylan Day — who’s probably currently playing with someone incredible, rather in demand. Mike Viola who produced it with us. Great players. That was an interesting highlight for me because it was one of those rare moments that — it wasn’t that we got a great take, which we did, but it wasn’t just a great take — it was the first time that a lot of those parts were ever played. What we’re hearing in that is, people were conceiving their parts in real time. And then we just stopped. That was it.
Allie: And remember, we thought it sounded so bad. [Laughs.] We were all so disheartened, like, “I don’t know…”
Jason: Yeah, we were all disheartened, from the floor, as they call it, in the studio. But Dave Cerminara — the engineer, and he also mixed the record — really talented guy who’s worked a lot with Father John Misty and Jonathan Wilson and Weyes Blood. We went into the control room rather disheartened…
Allie: And Davey was so sweet, he was like, “You guys should come in here and hear.”
Jason: We were like, “OK, sure.” And we did, and then we’re like, “Oh! Yeah, I think we’re done.”
Allie: That was a great moment.
Jason: That was powerful. That was a highlight for me. And Dylan Day sitting on the couch, doing some experimental overdubs on a really just kind of, like, vibey afternoon.
Allie: And we had been drinking wine.
Jason: Had a little bit of wine — though I don’t know if Dylan had.
Allie: Dylan hadn’t, we had. [Laughs.]
Jason: But yeah, we were just exploring, having fun and we captured some real magic on a couple of songs, “Under The Sun” mainly. And watching you do vocals was another highlight. I mean, listening to you sing is always a highlight, but we did this speaker thing because Allie really doesn’t like to sing with headphones on whenever possible. So we wanted to make that possible in the studio for her, which can be a little challenging because there’s bleed from speakers. So we had to do a thing where you make the speakers out of phase so they — I don’t know, it’s a magic trick that engineers have discovered. I don’t understand it, but I know enough to request it. I know it exists.
So I had Davey do it so Allie could sing with no headphones so she could kind of be inside the music as she performed, because I wanted to get a little of her stage magic and her more expansive energy on the track. And I think we did. So that was another highlight. What were your three highlights of making Moonlit and Devious?
Allie: Three! Let’s see…
Jason: You can give more than three if you want.
Allie: Highlight number one — I think I’m gonna have to copy you and choose the recording of “Nothing Sacred.” That was such a special day, such a special moment. I also loved recording “Serpentress” and “Interlude” with Dylan. So fun seem him get to freestyle and do whatever he wants, because he’s so magical. I mean, everyone who contributed to this record is so magical and so willing to go with the flow and the magic of the day — which, you know, for us producing it, is sort of our only request, to just allow the song to unfold.
And then, let’s see, a third highlight… Gosh, so many good moments.
Jason: Yeah, I mean, it was mostly good moments.
Allie: Yeah, can they all be highlights?
Jason: Sure, it’s like the umbrella highlight.
Allie: Ooh! you know what the third highlight would be? Recording “Under the Sun” in the studio, because I was having to fine tune that final verse, and t because we recorded everything to tape, we were not able to get the exact sound of that first verse and chorus back because I had to write the verse in the studio. It was so fun — remember, I was doing almost whisper singing? We were trying to hit the tape just as it was and we couldn’t get it back. So to me that’s a highlight. We just made a moment out of it. Davey was so awesome in helping sort of pull that along.
Jason: Yeah. That song was really fun to discover in the studio, because you had that pretty much written other than one verse.
Allie: It was a word puzzle that I had to figure out.
Jason: As you often do, you wrote that on synth bass.
Allie: No! I wrote that one on the organ, on the Wurlitzer.
Jason: It kind of in some ways reminded me — and I wanted to kind of head in that direction — of that Kinks song.
Allie: Oh, “Strangers.”
Jason: Yeah, “Strangers.” And, you know, that’s inspiration, but it doesn’t sound anything like that. I wanted the thuddy mallet drums that created a moment. And I think it worked.
Allie: Yeah, and it was so fun that it just you, me, and Lee.
Jason: And then Dylan later, from the couch.
Writing lyrics in the studio — I feel like a lot of people aren’t comfortable with that. They like to have every word sort of decided upon before entering. Talk about your writing process, because I think sometimes you have songs that are complete as works — like, done — but then sometimes songs can change in the studio, or [you’ll] write, in this case, a whole new verse.
Allie: Well, I think it’s so fun the way that we decided to record this live on the floor. I am happy that we chose to do that because it allows space to be malleable with your words or with the way the song is going to end up being. So, you know, once we’re all there and we’re going through the song and getting takes, as you say, you never know what’s going to happen. There’s these opportunities to change. Oftentimes I’ll go in with the full song, but then you start to sing it with the band and the cadence or the rhythm of the words doesn’t fit with what the song is becoming. “Under the Sun” was a poem and I had, but then once we got in the studio and singing it rhythmically, I needed to change a couple of words around. So, you know, just being malleable and open to that is a big part of my process too.
Jason: Yeah. You had said going in every day in the studio [that you were] requesting magic.
Allie: Or, you know, being open to it!
Jason: Yeah, making it like, “OK, I’m open.” You know, we’re there to find magic, I suppose. And that’s kind of what creativity is in the first place. It’s easy to lose that intent when you’re like, “Alright, we’re just trying to get this down into a recording,” versus [thinking], what’s it going to become in that process?
Allie: And capturing it.
Jason: Exactly. So some of your songs start as poems.
Jason: Like “Moonlit and Devious.”
Allie: That one was cool because it was stream of consciousness. That’s always cool when it happens and you catch it. “Nothing Sacred” I wrote on a plane.
Jason: Planes, I find, are great places to write.
Allie: Great places to write! You can get your thumbs going on your phone, or if you have a notebook. “Taming Shadows” [was] also a poem, and “Under the Sun.”
Jason: A lot of this record started as poems. I think you and I both value lyrics and poetry, perhaps — not above, but—
Allie: It’s a first priority.
Jason: I think about hearing on a live Leonard Cohen DVD of the last touring he did, he reads “A Thousand Kisses Deep.” I think there’s a recording of it as a song? Anyways, that reading of that poem is one of the best songs I have heard live, and there was no music.
So to me, I’m definitely keyed in on the lyrics and the poetry of it, and I think it elevates kind of the songs that I love.
Allie: Well, you’re one of my favorite songwriters of all time.
Jason: Oh, thank you.
Allie: So [that’s] high praise.
Jason: I think that you you come in with a real love of a wide variety of music, whether it’s classic rock or real unknown Brazilian records, certainly classical music. I mean, your influences are wide ranging and you hear some of them more than others in your writing, but I think they really inform the depth of the music that you make. I think our producing partner in this record and your EP, Mike Viola — you and him have a real connection on a lot of music that I didn’t grow up loving or being privy to as much.
Allie: Mike and I are definitely a musical match made in heaven. That’s what makes all three of us such a great producing trio, or a three headed monster.
Jason: Bringing different stuff to the table.
Allie: Exactly. And we all connect on different things and have this wonderful back and forth.
Mike and I have so many favorite records — I mean, I remember recording the So Romantic EP, and going in and saying, “Well, the drum tones on the James Gang record…” And he was like, “These drum tones?!” Just very specific things.
Jason: And I’m like, “I think my mom liked the James Gang.”
Allie: [Laughs.] My dream team. Truly.
Jason: It was a dream team band and production engineer. And I think we’ve heard from a few people, friends and collaborators, that with this record we really ended up creating a world. I think your lyrics — the imagery and the words obviously laid that foundation, but sonically, everything really grew up around those pillars. I think we ended up creating a very visceral world. How do you feel about living in that world, or revisiting when you listen?
Allie: Well, some of my favorite records are worlds, and I feel like as as a listener, that’s what I want. I want to enter someone else’s world and connect to it and be there. I want them to be the leader of this world, and I can sort of be a part of it and feel connected to it. I suppose that wasn’t the intention, but I’m so grateful that that is what happened so that the listener of this record can have a similar experience where they can enter the world.
Jason: It might not be the intention, but I think it’s inevitable. Especially making this record the way we did in a relatively short amount of time with a small number of people, you end up creating a world, whereas, I think, if you are working on songs for years with different producers and people, it can be a little disconnected. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — great records have been made over long periods of time. But this is very much a world that you kind of step into.
How do you feel about synthesizers?
Allie: Love ‘em, live ‘em, breathe ‘em. You love them? And drum machines!
Jason: Yeah, I love all things synth and drum machines. I think they’re so versatile. I hesitate to — the word “cheating” is interesting. I’ve been thinking about it recently, because I’ve heard different engineers, like my friend Shawn Everett — I was watching a tutorial, he’s just a genius. I’ve known him for a long time, but I just love to learn from him via the internet.
Allie: He’s a true wizard in this world.
Jason: Mad man, genius, wizard — everyone would agree with that.
I think he used the phrase like, “it’s like cheating to me,” because [synths] can sound like strings, like drums, like guitars. They’re so malleable and deep you can do anything with them. So to have synths around, I think, is just a magic thing. And drum machines, too. They’re just so beautiful sounding and, you know, samples and stuff. We didn’t use a ton of samples on your record. It’s a very organic analog record.
Allie: But you had the OP-1, and you had so many wonderful percussive…
Jason: Yeah, we used a lot of OP-1, Chroma, Yamaha.
Allie: Moog, obviously.
Jason: A lot of Moog, yeah.
Allie: And how has it been for you in the past year, just mostly working from home? Because oftentimes you’d be on the road touring. More and more I feel like you’ve been just focusing on producing, songwriting — has that been better for you, to just do it from home and get to focus on that?
Jason: You know, it’s been wonderful. I mean, I don’t take anything away from the difficulty that this year has brought to the world. But on a personal level, it’s provided a lot of space, and certainly in the first six months, a real quiet and an opportunity to rearrange priorities. And just a ton of space to create things.
I listened to a podcast right at the beginning of this whole pandemic thing, and it was with Seth Godin and Brian Koppelman — two guys that I really admire — and the take away was, what are you going to do in this time, and how are you going to be the best version of yourself? And what do you want to make happen? Nothing? No, let’s do stuff. So I learned a bunch of stuff and produced a lot more and wrote a lot more.
Allie: And you’ve been mixing.
Jason: Oh, yeah, I’ve been mixing a lot, which I have found to be endlessly fascinating.
Allie: And that’s crucial for producing. For you, I know it’s a wonderful addition to get to better each recording in the way that you would like.
Jason: Yeah, a little deeper in how I can implement what I hear into the music as a producer. I have endless respect for mixers though. What an art.
Allie: Yeah. I mean, Davey killed it. I love his mixes, he really understood. And it was so nice getting to have him engineer it as well, so that he was there and capturing the tones and understanding the world as it was going in, and then to have him take it to his studio and round it out.
Jason: I recently learned that there’s the ying and the yang, and then the third element is the containment. And I feel sometimes as creators, you can get out of balance if there’s no container. And I think that producers, but also mixers and engineers, help to provide that container. So I think that at the end of the day, it must be done.
Allie: Yeah, otherwise we would just keep flowing and going and creating forever and ever and ever. It’s almost like a boundary, an artistic boundary.
Jason: So, what do you have planned coming up?
Allie: Oh, gosh. I mean, just this records coming out. It’s just all consuming at the moment. Yeah. Very excited to get to share with the world. Vinyl came yesterday — very exciting.
Jason: Oh, that’s exciting. How does it look?
Allie: Looks beautiful.
Jason: Yeah, the cover is very special.
Allie: Oh, my gosh, I know Nastassia Brucken and Britt Bogan — she art directed it and Nastassia took the photos. It was cool because, it was all film in medium format and, so we had a lot less images to choose from. I feel the same way about working with tape. It’s sort of like this artisanal menu and you only have a couple of things to choose from. So it was cool that the album cover also kind of had those constraints in a positive way.
Jason: Yeah. Which brings something up that I wanted to ask you about. The imagery for the record is kind of — not, I wouldn’t say opposite, but I feel like there’s a lot recently in popular culture of sort of shrinking like, iPhone photos as record covers, which I think is super cool. But your music and the aesthetic of the imagery around it — like the fine art and the paintings you post a lot, and your music I think has a lot of qualities that a lot of music right now doesn’t, whether it’s expansiveness or sexual energy, you know, like the raw energy of human sensuality. It just has this weightiness that a lot of music doesn’t have right now. I think I told you feels very Herb Ritts, or the black and white, like, supermodel vibe of the ‘90s.
Allie: I always love collaborating with visual artists. Britt Bogan is a painter, and she and Nastassia created their own world within the within the imagery. Which is cool because it contrasts the record, actually — it’s much more angular and intentional, whereas musically and sonically the record is warm and sort of free in a lot of ways. So I love having a record cover that represents the record so well, and obviously the duality, literally, with the shadow.
Jason: It contrasts and compliments. Well, I’m so proud of the record we made together, and so proud of you as an artist. I think you made a very special record, an incredible collection of songs.
Allie: Thank you. Couldn’t have done it without you.
(Photo Credit: left, Debra Crow Buckley)