Alexander LaFollett (pronounced La-FALL-it) is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, music theorist, and educator, based in Oregon. Their latest album “Electrical Gremlin” is a wild ride, that features eight tracks of instrumental music for strings and electronics, ranging from Neu!-style krautrock, to quasi-ambient synth-hymns, to modal viola freakouts, to Rihanna-meets-Larks’ Tongues-era King Crimson absurdity.
I sat down with Alexander to talk about their first musical experiences, how they started playing stringed instruments at an early age and the making of “Electrical Gremlin” which you can get here.
CMM-What was the first music that really made an impact on you growing up and what artists and bands did you all enjoy the most?
Alexander-Having grown up in the late 1980s into the 1990s, my earliest musical memories were of Nintendo soundtracks (the Metroid series being my favorite musically), and the music my parents had on in regular rotation back then, which was a lot of Tom Petty, The Who, Cream, The Beatles, and the like. All that music has had a lasting influence on what I do now. I also started listening to classical music a fair bit when I began music lessons, and a fair bit of Mannheim Streamroller. Eventually, I started gravitating toward composers like Igor Stravinsky, Béla Bartók, and Darius Milhaud by my teenage years, and that was my gateway into prog, krautrock, and generally leftfield music.
CMM-When did you first start playing instruments and making your own music?
Alexander-I started violin lessons when I was 7, later picking up the cello. The urge to write music came very quickly after my first violin lesson, and it eventually snowballed into me majoring in music composition and theory in college, and ultimately getting graduate degrees in it. I was an orchestra kid, so prior to this last year or so, my output was mostly orchestral and chamber music in a contemporary classical vein, and there’s still noticeable influence from that in my recent work.
CMM-You recently released an amazing album called “Electrical Gremlin”. What was the writing and recording process like? Any notable pieces of gear that you used throughout the sessions?
Alexander-Thanks for the kind words! The whole process of creating Electrical Gremlin was really a breath of fresh air for me. The disruptions of early 2020—which was already a rough time for me, even before the pandemic arrived in full force—really left me feeling musically adrift for over two years. I was getting lots of interesting musical ideas, and even made a lot of progress on a book about my system of modal harmony (which underpins everything on Electrical Gremlin). But trying to continue with contemporary classical music increasingly felt like a dead end for me.
Around the same time that this was happening, I had finally gotten a very modest studio space set up over at my parents’ house. Originally, I set up the studio to try to do “one-man string orchestra” recordings of some of my existing classical compositions, but eventually, I figured out that the studio was my way forward for new material, and finally provided me a way to really indulge my interests in things like krautrock and electronic music.
It really came into focus when I received a 1010music Nanobox Lemon Drop mini-synthesizer for my birthday in October 2022, and started recording my improvisations I was doing with it. I just let things flow into Pro Tools and then started assembling things in there. The immediacy of working this way was truly exhilarating, and I went from “maybe I should make an instrumental/electronic album” to actually finishing one in about four months.
There are some other notable and unusual things on Electrical Gremlin gear-wise: there’s a lot of strings on the album, often with a fair bit of effects, including the oddity that is my detuned electric cello. I actually took one of my cellos, stuck a pickup on it, and drop-tuned all the strings by a fifth. It makes up almost the entire soundworld on “Gilgamesh”, and it’s also on “Poltergeist Activity” and “Kyrene Road”. My theremin also shows up on the title track—I hadn’t used it in a while, and its circuitry had gone kind of wonky and kind of failed while I was recording it, so that’s what led to the track (and the album) getting its name.
CMM-If you could collaborate on an album with any band or musician who would it be and what direction do you think the music would go in?
Alexander-I think it’d be a lot of fun to work with Ruban Nielson of Unknown Mortal Orchestra. I’m a big-time theory geek, and I’ve long admired his harmonic prowess.
I still vividly remember how I got into UMO—I was, of all places, in the Macy’s at Washington Square Mall in Tigard, Oregon, some 8-9 years ago. I heard this fuzzed-out song coming from the store’s speakers, with this infectious bass line and all these ninth chords, and was blown away (both by the song, and the fact that it was playing in a major department store in a suburban mall). I paid attention to the lyrics so I could Google search them, and it turned out to be “How Can You Luv Me?” off the self-titled first album—which I then immediately went out and bought.
I’d suspect the resultant product could end up being some sort of avant-funk with an Eastern European classical influence, with some similarities to UMO’s IC-01 Hanoi and Ege Bamyasi-era Can.
’ve also had numerous people say that many of the tracks on Electrical Gremlin sound like they should be on a video game soundtrack, and I’d love to collaborate with a game developer sometime.
CMM-What do you have coming up next? Any new recordings?
Alexander-The relentless productivity that started with Electrical Gremlin has continued unabated, so I’m already immersed in working on my second album. I’ve already released the first track from it, “Whirlygig”, as a single. It will be joined by a new track, “Walker Lake”, which will be out on July 7th on Bandcamp and streaming. The new album is shaping up to have a lot of the same DNA as its predecessor, but there’s more pronounced math rock and shoegaze influence.