Across The Map
The 'Leles tour on their diverse new album
It would have been easy for The 'Leles to slip into a pigeonhole. People dig the ukulele-fueled playful folk, and rightfully so, but that's not the only thing the Toledo duo (expanding at times to five-pieces) wanted to be associated with. Actually, they never really thought about searching for a sound. And being scatterbrained has paid off, allowing them to push their style to new places; their debut, Let Us Rest! Let Us Move!, is a disheveled mix of freewheeling, dark, happy and desperate songs that bust genres and don't look back. It keeps you on your toes and that's exactly why it works.
Before they left town on a tour that stretches to the Pacific Northwest, Josh Ward and Gabby Grumelot swung into the TCP office to talk about being versatile enough to have fans from ages 6 to 60, why most children's music is lame and the benefits of their evolution.
How did the idea to base a band around ukuleles surface?
Josh: In 2010, at Ground Level Coffee House, there was a whole little scene happening with acoustic and original music. Gabby was playing by herself or with her brother and I was just there watching or playing with Stately Mane and she played "Home," which is on the album, and I thought, 'I want to play that song.' And then I got a ukulele.
On the album you cover a lot of emotional territory, from lighthearted love songs to relationships being ruined by drugs. What's your songwriting process?
Josh: This is definitely a compilation. Some of the material Gabby wrote years ago. But, these are the songs we have been playing and cultivating into The 'Leles sound. But, most of them we wrote separately.
Gabby: But, when we started playing them together they evolved. Once you
get other people in there they take another turn.
Josh: Lyric wise, I like this album because a lot of people see us as [musicians that] just have fun and dance around and play Kazoos and stuff, which is awesome, but there is a serious side. We did get some good contrast, especially with love [songs]. We have some scorn love songs, some I-don't-want-to-think-about-you songs.
Do you think that's why you appeal to both kids and adults; that versatile ability to be whimsical and goofy, but at the same time have those smart, emotional lyrics?
Gabby: I think that's pretty accurate. It has something to do with the simplicity. I think the younger kids, they enjoy the things that are a little easier to digest, but at the same time, if you listen to a lot of kid-specific stuff it's ...
Josh: … pretty cheesy. Kids don't need that either.
Gabby: Adults don't want to listen to that stuff either. So, [our sound] is right there in the middle; it works for younger people, but there's enough meaning, and interesting things going on in the melody that keep people's attention.
You guys have added members and expanded your sound. How has that exploration pushed you creatively?
Gabby: A person or an instrument, anytime either comes in, it's a new piece. It totally widens the dynamic of the song and adds a whole new perspective to the picture.
Josh: None of us ever had a set idea of what the sound was. We never had a concept of what The 'Leles were supposed to be. And just through time and with people's personalities and the instruments — keeping it whimsical, but keeping it structured enough — it's evolved into its own little 'Leles sound. Which, I don't think if we were actually going for, we would have gotten to.
Gabby: It's not the type of thing we could have strived for, it just kind of happened.
You can buy The 'Leles new album,
Let Us Rest! Let Us Move!, at The Art Supply Depo and B-Bop Records.