by Ari Roth
Quirky, ramshackle, starry-eyed folk-rock ensemble I Am Love are known for their eclectic, layered approach to instrumentation, but their upcoming album, Love Is Strange, sees the band radically stripping back to its core members. Taking time off amid the final stretch of the recording process, bandleader Joshua Christopher talks to me about the band’s transformation and rapid-fire writing process for the new record.
“We used to be a big band with seven people,” he explains, “and we threw the Brandywine Folk Festival last year and got burned out and took a break. I was doing solo stuff, and then Will [Whitmire] and Kris [Jackson], the drummer and bassist, came down and we just wrote and recorded the album in a week. We scrapped all the old stuff. We had eighteen tracks from a year ago that was going to be an album with the big band, but we got in the flow and wrote a new album.” As a result, the new material is looser, more spontaneous and immediate, inspired by this spur-of-the-moment approach.
Despite this reduction in membership and instrumentation, the new album features three songs – “Pillar Of Salt”, “Pants On Fire”, and “Finest Hour” – recorded with the old lineup, which “allowed us to pay homage to former band members by featuring them on a couple of tracks.” Still, Christopher seems relieved and excited to go back to the basics, focusing on the creative essentials of the band rather than getting bogged down with the complexities of maintaining such a big ensemble. The current members “had more musical input than the other members anyway – Will and I write most of the stuff together, even going back. It’s just effortless with the three of us. With the bigger band, it was a lot of work – writing parts for other people, and then getting them to be on the same page together. This is just absolutely effortless. We’re just doing what we naturally do.”
Thematically, Christopher describes the new record as “a ‘consciousness movement’ album. The worldwide awakening going on to who we are as a species. I read tarot cards, so there are a few references to tarot stuff in there too. It’s more spirituality-based.” The band is also continually inspired by their surroundings in rural Pennsylvania. Christopher values “being around the rich American history” of the area, and describes going “canoeing on the Brandywine River all the time, and George Washington and the Founding Fathers were there. There’s a huge respect for what they did. There’s definitely a feeling of appreciation for the land itself.”
I Am Love traces its roots back to a cataclysmic, near-fatal car accident in which Christopher was involved. Although he “had been making my music for ten or fifteen years,” the period of recovery from the crash gave him the time to write and a new attitude towards music: “I wouldn’t let myself listen to music, I made myself play if I wanted to hear something. That’s where a lot of those early songs came from.” Although the first I Am Love songs came from a focused, isolated environment, without the intrusion of outside musical influences, Christopher cites bewitching indie folk project Timber Timbre and spiky alt-rock pioneers the Pixies as inspirations for some of the new material, two bands who go some way towards triangulating I Am Love’s singular sound.
Before the band began to grow and expand, these early songs came from Christopher alone. Their first single, “Starting Over”, was inspired by Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, which resulted in enormous casualties and destruction. “I recorded that song by myself,” says Christopher, “and did it solely to benefit Haitian charity to raise awareness. I threw an event, my cousin and I, and helped them buy property for their school. I really didn’t expect the band to turn into anything, it just ended up turning into something later on.” The project continued to grow, and the band collected some of their songs on the five-track Intro EP, released earlier this year.
As a live act, I Am Love transitioned down to a trio with ease. As I speak to Christopher, the band is wrapping up recording on their album in Florida, and playing a string of enjoyable gigs in the area in between studio work. “Our last few shows have been incredible,” says Christopher. “We’ve done a few smaller cafe acoustic-style shows to stay true to our roots, but our plugged in performance is a lot louder. It’s a lot of fun, and audiences love it.”
Despite their new, lean and sprightly incarnation, Joshua Christopher has a cosmic vision for the future of the band. “The whole idea is to raise the vibrational frequency of humanity,” he says. “It’s about making great music, and having as many people hear it and identify with it as possible.” After four years of growth and development, Love Is Strange may accomplish just that.
If you want to check out I Am Love in action, they’ll be playing at The Flash at 102 Sycamore Alley in Kennett Square, on Thursday, September 25th at 8 PM. For tickets, click here.
In addition, we are premiering a stream and download of “Pillar Of Salt” from the upcoming Love Is Strange album. To listen to the track, click here.