[ there's no place like home ]
by Craig Young

It's a rare album that insists I immediately track down every other work in an artist's catalog. Not that I'm so picky about what I listen to that I'm unmoved to further investigate other releases by a particular artist I hear, but it's not often I listen to something that compels me to rush out the same day and purchase every other release I can find.

Leaving VA is such an album.

The third release for Los Halos behind 2001's eponymous debut and 2002's For Ramona, Leaving VA's eight tracks plumb the emotional depths of uncertainty and heartache with a naked honesty that's hard to find in music today. Pure in its sorrow, simple in its hope, understated yet still a grand masterpiece of musical devotion, it is a rare find indeed -- and one that sent me out straight away in search of every other Los Halos album I could find. And one that also sent me in search of an interview with Los Halos' enigmatic frontman, Samezvous.

[ samezvous - photo by justin renney ]
photo by justin renney

Thank you very much for your time. I've been wanting to speak with you for awhile. I just want to start by saying that Leaving VA is brilliant. It's quite a beautiful piece of art, and one of those rare things that after I first listened to it I went out the next day and bought every other album of yours.

Samezvous: Thank you.

I'm not usually struck by an album like that, so I've been looking forward to speaking with you. I saw you play at http://www.thecrocodile.com The Crocodile in Seattle a few months ago with a full backing band. I'd never seen you play live before, and I was a little struck by how upfront and roadhouse rawkish you sounded.

Samezvous: Well, that was a rough show! [Laughs]

In what way?

Samezvous: We were exhausted, quite honestly. We'd just gotten done playing some 20 shows in about as many days, driving from Philadelphia down to Memphis and over to South Carolina, then driving all the way over to San Diego in California and driving all the way up the coast -- playing shows every night. The Seattle show was our last one of the tour and we were just beat to shit. It was one of those nights where we didn't have enough energy to be tight. We only had enough energy to just... go apeshit. [Laughs] You know what I mean? If we had tried to play tight, it wouldn't have worked. So, we gave it every ounce of energy we had and then collapsed at the end.

It came across really well. I guess from only having heard your music on album I was expecting things to be a little quieter.

Samezvous: The albums are all done by myself. I play the drums and the guitars. Whatever's on there, I play it. The guys that are in the band with me know that this is my vehicle, so they're not really involved in the creative process of writing and recording the album. But when we get together and play live it becomes a situation where I don't want to be a band leader telling everyone how to play their parts. That takes away all the joy from them. They can't make up their parts and feel the songs their own way. For the current foursome that plays as the live band, I think our strength lies in the heaviness that we do. We're not necessarily strong in our tightness, it's more in our outright volume and intensity. This particular band has only been together for less than a year, and we all have full time jobs, and school, and what not, so we're only able to jam once a month, and it becomes one of those things where we just go with our strengths. It's what works best and is what makes everybody happiest, so it's what we do.

I try to balance that out with solo acoustic shows. I enjoy doing both, but the solo shows I especially enjoy because it really gives me the opportunity to stretch. I can go anywhere I want with any of my songs. I can play all of my songs with an acoustic guitar pretty effectively, and I can better control how they're played.

Do you try to reinterpret your songs for those shows, or just strip things down to the bare essentials?

Samezvous: I have to do that -- I absolutely have to strip things down. It's a necessity. I honestly make an effort sometimes to throw it all out completely different to give myself something new to try and find in the song. When you play a song the same way every time you get to know all its nooks and crannies, so it's refreshing to mix it up.

You're quoted as saying that: "My favorite part about making music is going inside and finding a spot that you didn't know was there before, however small it may be, and being able to come up with something that never existed before."

Samezvous: And that's exactly it. To me, anyway. That's why I make music.

[ leaving va ]
[ give a listen! ] "Lioness" MP3

How does the audience reception differ between solo shows and when you're playing with a full ensemble?

Samezvous: It depends on how prepared people are for what we're doing. A lot of the time the people that come see us play are only familiar with our second release, For Ramona, which is pretty much an acoustic CD. It's low key, melodic and pretty, as opposed to the heavy you saw us play in Seattle. So they'll come to a show where I'm playing with the electric band and be taken aback to a degree by how unlike For Ramona we sound.

That was my case, but I also quite enjoyed it.

Samezvous: We get mixed reviews. Some people are cordial and nice, but you can tell that they didn't totally dig it. And some you can tell that they really liked the fact that it was different.

I was always into bands growing up that, when I went to see them play, I didn't know what I'd see. That's always what made it interesting. They were bands I'd see again and again and again, because every time I saw them it was something new. Then there are other bands that basically played the same show every time you saw them. And as much as possible I'd like to avoid playing the same show live to make each one unique. It's tough to do. Sometimes you just don't have it because you're tired.

That kind of change-up is also reflected across your three albums. Could you describe where you were at, and what you were trying to get across, with each?

Samezvous: The first Los Halos album was actually a full-on "band" album. It was myself, my brother Adam (aka Momo Fats), a guy named Xpreston, and my brother's wife Tamra. We were a band who was living together in the same house, and my brother's wife was a drug addict.

That album was made under circumstances where we were just in heavy places. Not necessarily bad places, but heavy places. And so the album basically was about addiction from beginning to end. But with the heaviness of it all there came an odd kind of beauty at the same time in a poetic kind of way.

There's a very angry feeling to the album. Not in an aggressive way. One born more out of intensity.

Samezvous: I think there's a frustration to it. We'd have rehearsals and my brother's wife would just sit there and stare and not even be able to lift up her hands and play. We'd play live shows and she'd just sit there staring at her feet, not playing anything. We'd be so angry and get so frustrated that...

So many different things come into play. Not to mention the fact that the band was my brother, his wife, and my best friend. All these emotions were constantly feeding other emotions that ended up feeding on each other and each one of us. There were so many different personality conflicts coming into play, so it became an album that was very heavy. But at the same time, I firmly believe that there's a real beauty and a real... uh... I don't know what the right word is. But just a beauty that comes through it and becomes a forgiving of what's gone on.

In the end, all is forgiven and there's a love there.

[ los halos - photo by justin renney ]
photo by justin renney

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