For over a decade, multi-instrumentalist Jefre Cantu-Ledesma
has charted a wayward course that’s strayed through many different genres, labels, bands, and geographic locations. He might be best associated with the Bay Area’s fertile experimental music scene, where he founded the Root Strata
imprint with Maxwell August Croy and became involved with a number of projects, including Tarentel
, Raum with Liz Harris
, the Alps, Portraits
, and more. Cantu-Ledesma also spent several years living and recording in Berlin before moving to Brooklyn in 2014. Mexican Summer
will be releasing A Year With 13 Moons,
Cantu-Ledesma’s LP follow-up to 2010’s gloriously dissonant Love is a Stream
on February 10. We recently got the chance to speak with Jefre about his earliest musical obsessions, the near-death experience of making the new record, and what the future holds for both his music and his label. You can listen to a three-song suite, sequenced as it appears on the album, below. These three tracks perfectly encapsulate the range of texture, emotion, and techniques that Cantu-Ledesma covers on A Year With 13 Moons
AdHoc: What first inspired you musically? What was the first instrument you became obsessed with?
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma: Definitely punk rock. And the whole rhythm of skateboarding. A friend of my mother gave me an electric guitar when I was around 14. Been obsessed with it ever since.
AdHoc: Many of your projects are San Francisco-based. Do you intend to work with anyone new now that you're living on the east coast?
JCL: Alexis Georgopoulos (ARP, the Alps) and I actually just made a record for Mexican Summer that will hopefully be out in the latter half of next year-- we just need to mix it. Well, we actually need a band name too. Evan Caminiti and Jon Porras (of Barn Owl) both recently moved here to New York and I hope we’ll get working on something once the dust settles. There are a few other folks I’ve talked to about collaborating with but nothing is set in stone yet.
AdHoc: How is the music scene in NYC different from the one in San Francisco?
JCL: Hard to say, really, as I’ve sort of kept a low profile in New York. I still get emails from people here in Brooklyn who ask me when I’ll be coming out to play in New York again! I’m not really involved in setting up shows or anything like that. I was in talks with Jan from Body Actualized Center
about helping curate events at that space, but sadly it recently had to close down. Also I haven't lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 2011 so I can’t really speak to what’s happening in the scene there right now.
AdHoc: Aside from Songs of Forgiveness, the new record sounds remarkably different from the majority of your previous work. Tarentel, the Alps, and Portraits is much more in line with kraut or modern classical pioneers than this new work, which feels more spiritually akin to the output of Factory Records and Vini Reilly, but slurred. What made you want to create an album based on loops?
JCL: For me the genesis of working on more traditional song-like structures started with Love is a Stream
and lead into Faceless Kiss
, a 7-inch that was the first thing I recorded when I moved to Germany in 2011, and the first track to have traditional rock instrumentation: guitar, bass, drums, etc. Since then I’ve steadily been exploring the possibilities of this instrumentation, seen through the lens of noise or electronic or freeform music.
AdHoc: Who are some of your loop heroes?
JCL: I’ve always loved Eno’s notion of "holographic music.”
AdHoc: I'm not familiar with the concept.
JCL: In the liner notes to Eno's Thursday Afternoon
it says: "Eno has characterized this style of composition as ‘holographic,’ by which he means that any brief section of the music is representative of the whole piece, in the same way that any fragment of a hologram shows the whole of the holographic image but with a lower resolution."
AdHoc: Did you create every noise featured on the album? Do you consciously write loops or find loops in various recordings?
JCL: I try to make things as intuitive as possible, so for me that means allowing the music to "happen" more so than "I’m writing a song." So to that end I may set up a system in which instruments or sounds are captured and looped, but done in a way that I have limited control over.
AdHoc: Did you work with anyone else on this album?
JCL: Not explicitly, but I did record this music while I was an artist-in-residence at The Headlands Center For The Arts with my good friend and long-time collaborator, Paul Clipson. Our discussion and his excitement and encouragement in regards to the music I was making was really inspiring.
AdHoc: Mexican Summer is arguably the "biggest" label you've worked with. Did this impact how you approached writing and production?
JCL: No, not at all. In fact, this record was originally commissioned for a totally different label. Mexican Summer only recently saved it from limbo. In general, I try and avoid making music or art based on what I think would be appropriate for a label or particular audience. When I asked Richard Youngs to make a record for Root Strata I remember him saying “Yes, but I have no idea what it’s going to sound like.” I really love that attitude.
AdHoc: When you mention 13 Moons having been in limbo, what do you mean?
JCL: Well, the album was commissioned by a label in 2012 when I was living in Berlin-- I turned it over in the spring of 2014, but the label was unable to put it out for various reason. Eventually Pete Swanson and Alexis Georgopoulos encouraged me to try and find another home for it. I think Alexis told Keith [at Mexican Summer] and he was really excited about it.
AdHoc: Root Strata and the Root Blog are consistent sources of experimental music. You and Maxwell continue to drop new and reissued work that is some of the most thoughtful experimental music around, most recently LPs by Le Revelateur, Christina Carter, and Harold Budd come to mind. How do you select the albums you put out?
JCL: I think it’s pretty simple-- we just both have to be pretty excited about it. Also, in the beginning when I started the label I was just releasing music I was involved with or music made by friends and acquaintances - I think that’s still largely true. Occasionally, like with Maggi Payne or Harold Budd, we venture out and ask total strangers to do things for us.
AdHoc: Your social media activity reveals you've been getting into pottery. What drew you to throwing ?
JCL: When I moved to New York I felt a need to make visual art again. Although I have a BFA in painting and sculpture, I haven't done much visual art aside from record covers since graduating from collage. Something about moving to a new city really got me motivated to be creative in that way again. I actually made ceramics in high school and have always had a love for pottery so it seemed like a natural step. I'm really enjoying it a lot!
AdHoc: What's next for you, and for Root Strata?
Root Strata has a number of releases lined up for the first half of 2015-- a couple of new faces that we’re super excited about. It’s the 10 year anniversary of the label and we’re considering how to mark that -- nothing is planned yet.
As for me, I’ll be heading to Marfa in the new year to play a Mexican Summer showcase, working on a couple of new tapes, and mixing the LP with Alexis. I’m slowly chipping away at a new set of songs that I’d like to use on an EP sometime this year. Felicia Atkinson and I have been working on a collaborative EP via filesharing, which is coming together nicely-- I hope to finish that up this winter as well.
Image of Jefre courtesy of Shawn Brackbill.