FYIG Chats With The Silver Lake Chorus

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Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

We’re an indie chorus based in – you guessed it – Silver Lake, California. In general, we do the “chorus” thing a bit differently. Some of our songs are a capella, others have a full rock band feel that makes you want to get up and dance. We borrow very liberally across the indie music landscape and from all the major categories of choral music – classical, doo-wop, carols, you name it – and over the years we like to think we’ve made our own sound. Instead of solos, we rely on the power of layered vocals and harmonies to carry the emotion of the song. It’s kind of like being a band with twenty-two lead singers.

How did The Silver Lake Chorus come together?

TSLC was formed almost ten years ago by a couple of Los Angelenos who love singing and
missed that vital, communal, choral experience you can usually only find in a high school or
church choir or college a capella group. Those early folks spent a few weeks handing out fliers all over LA – at community art events, UNIQUE LA, that sort of thing. Then they found a music director (Mikey Wells, who still runs the chorus) and started to audition singers. Within a few months, we honed in on a style that worked for us, tailoring our music selection to match the artsy, independent vibe of our namesake Silver Lake community, and suddenly we were off and running.

Has it been relatively the same lineup for the existence of the group or does the lineup change here and there?

There’s a solid group of us who’ve been around since day one, but almost every year or two we add a few new members and say (an often tearful) goodbye to some others – usually because of grad school, other music or professional projects, a cross country move, that sort of thing. One hallmark of the chorus is the community we’ve created – both with current and past members. We’ve been in each other’s weddings and short films, sung each other down the aisle, witnessed and celebrated professional and personal milestones – jobs, graduations, marriage, divorce, babies. We often start rehearsals by going around the horn to see who has news to share, whose mom has a birthday (and needs a happy birthday call from the chorus), who’s just come back from vacation, who’s having a shitty time at work. The ethos of the chorus is to work hard, show up prepared, and hold ourselves accountable, but it’s also to have a good time, give each other the benefit of the doubt, and chill when we need to chill. If it weren’t that way, we wouldn’t have this kind of longevity.

What can you tell us about your latest songs first from Lucius with “Not Not” and then from Van Dyke Parks’ “Tabu”?

We met Lucius backstage at the Orpheum Theater when were all singing back-up on Daniel
Johnston’s 2017 Farewell Tour and we knew right away their gorgeous, layered songwriting
and intrinsic harmonies would lend themselves perfectly to our choral format. We were over the moon that they were open to the idea, and they gave us “Not Not” soon after. Lucius’s
frontwomen, Jess Wolfe and Holly Lessig, often sing together in perfect unison so we wanted to incorporate the women of TSLC singing as one voice, and then open up to lush harmonies. This style of singing the lyrics and melody all together sometimes feels like the simplest, stripped-down idea, but can lead to profound and powerful moments of music-making. Around the same time, one of our tenors, Bobby Halvorson, was working with Van Dyke Parks and reached out to him about contributing a song. We were thrilled to get VDP’s “Tabu,” which turns out to be a little tune he wrote for a musical back in 1988 that was never produced. The song has such movement and vivacity and this old school lounge-singer-esque chorus that is super flirtatious and playful, and we love it. Both singles are about love and longing, but where “Not Not” evokes real solitude and heartbreak, “Tabu” is hopeful and fun. Throughout the process of making these tracks, we were excited to keep things local and celebrate the incredible musical talent that exists in the Los Angeles community. Lucius and Van Dyke Parks are both based in LA, as is our producer Luke Top. Once Luke was on board, he brought his friend Matt Gangi along to master the two songs.

What’s it like to sing songs written by notable artists like Sia and Tegan and Sara?

A lot of the musicians we’ve worked with are huge musical influences: Sia, Tegan and Sara,
Van Dyke Parks, Justin Vernon, Ben Gibbard, The Flaming Lips… and it’s incredibly humbling and exciting to get our hands on material that’s such high quality from artists we truly admire. It definitely motivates us to do our part as well in terms of the arrangement and execution of the song. We definitely want to do their songs justice – while adding our own twist and choral treatment – and we always hope to continue the relationship in the future. We’ve gotten really positive feedback from a few artists in particular and know that it can be incredibly rewarding for them as well to see their songs take this journey that expands on the original intention or scope of the song.

What’s the recording process like with so many moving parts within the choir?

On our first album, we went for a ton of isolation. Each section tracked on its own, each singer got his/her own mic, and we had a lot of control in terms of panning and mixing. We changed things up a bit for “Tabu” and “Not Not.” Before recording both tracks, our producer Luke Top stopped by a rehearsal and fell in love with the sound in the space, so we decided to keep the actual recording raw, natural, and stripped down. We popped a few mics in that same rehearsal space (the organ room of a semi-abandoned church), pressed record, and that was pretty much it. Later, we got in the studio and added the instrumentation. For “Not Not,” the main instrument you hear is a Guzheng, which is played by one of our sopranos, Jett Kwong Kelly. It’s a gorgeous instrument, like a horizontal harp, that adds a whole other voice to the arrangement.

Do you have any live performances coming up? What’s the experience like at a live show?

We’re doing a short set August 30th at the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival – which has become a fun, annual show for us – and we’ll have some more shows to announce this fall. Doing a live show definitely involves serious coordination between a lot of moving parts. As a chorus we’ve got some added challenges, like figuring out how to mic 20-odd singers inside a rowdy bar venue and making sure the stage is big enough to hold all of us and a drum kit. But we find the experience of singing live to be pretty unparalleled. It’s one thing to listen to our music in your car or on your headphones, but being in the same space with friends and strangers and sharing in a live performance is truly magical. We say this a lot at our shows, but the mere act of showing up – despite how many new streaming services there are, despite LA traffic, despite everything else you could do on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday night – is huge. We get so much energy back when we perform live, and we know there’s something particularly special about the choral vibe – being in a room with so many voices singing together in harmony – that fills a space and gives back to everyone listening.

What’s next for The Silver Lake Chorus?

We’ve got more live shows in store and are planning to record some new songs as well.
Inevitably, every year includes a couple of surprises – often in collaboration with other artists who want us to back them up on stage, or add a choral vibe to a recording, and we always look forward to those as well. Our goal is to be the go-to chorus for anyone performing or recording in LA who wants to add a bigger, choral sound to their music, so we’re always on the lookout for those opportunities.

What advice would you have for aspiring singers/songwriters?

Listen to you, keep striving, up the production value where you can, call your mother.

What are your lives like outside of music?

The chorus is made up of a mix of professional musicians and folks who just love choral singing. We have your typical Los Angeles cohort of actors, directors, television writers, and music industry professionals, as well as music educators, a coffee shop owner (Constellation Coffee), food service workers, a life coach, an IT specialist, a finance associate, and more. Many of us have solo projects as well. Two of our singers perform with artist Cassandra Violet and about five members perform together as the band Brother Sister. Our director Mikey Wells is part of Lost Moon Radio and Story Pirates. Any given week, it’s highly likely at least one of us has a show going on outside the chorus, and it’s wonderful to be both members of the same tribe and huge fans of each other’s independent work.

Let the readers know where to find you online.

So many places. You can follow us on Instagram and Twitter @TSLChorus. Our website is
TheSilverLakeChorus.com, and you can find us on Spotify, Apple Music, and Facebook by
searching for The Silver Lake Chorus. Swing by and say hello 🙂