Photos by Guy Blakeslee
In April of last year, a month after cities nationwide began to shut down and enforce quarantine measures because of the COVID pandemic, musician Lael Neale and her partner Guy Blakeslee decided to leave Los Angeles.
At the time, Lael was living in what felt like a treehouse, where her bedroom had wraparound windows overlooking trees and lush, green hills. This bedroom is where she wrote the entirety of her new album, Acquainted with Night, her first feature-length on Sub Pop Records. After six years of carrying around these intimate songs of hers, trying to add players and enlist producers to modify her sound, Lael embraced the power of simplicity and learned to trust herself. Stripped down, with only an Omnichord and her own voice as accompaniment, she realised the best way to make an album was on her own.
A collection of intimate, powerful, and incredibly relatable songs, Acquainted with Night paints a portrait of solitude that resonates with the current state of the world. ‘I feel like it’s an appropriate record for people right now because everyone’s going through this mental and physical experience of isolation,’ Lael says. And maybe it’s because of that isolation, and the deafening silence of rural Virginia where she now lives, that sees Lael looking to make her voice louder: ‘I may make a rock album next.’
When did you guys leave LA?
In April . Guy was in an accident and we thought he’d be able to recuperate better out here in rural Virginia, and both of us had lost our jobs. It just made sense. We flew in Easter morning and it felt like a resurrection.
And you guys are at your parents’ farm?
Yeah, we have a big beef cattle farm out here and my brother built a little house on it and he let us move in when we came back. We’ve made that our house now and are paying really minimal rent to contribute to the farm, but it’s great.
Is it snowing there right now?
Last night we got almost a foot. It’s very isolated out here; our driveway is two miles long, so there’s no other people or anything around, and when it snows, it’s utterly silent.
Do you like that? The inescapable silence?
I love it. I think I had a hard time adjusting to Los Angeles because I grew up in the silence and I became desensitized a little bit to it. But yeah, the silence and the nature sounds are things I’m really appreciating now.
Tell me about your new album, Acquainted with Night that’s out on the 19th of Feb.
It took a long time coming around to recording it the way that I did.
I kept looking for other people to work with and looking for producers and other musicians who would be able to see my vision, but I kept hitting walls and getting frustrated. I spent six years trying to find the right sound or way to record myself, and I kept getting pointed toward doing it myself, but I didn’t really know how to do that. Then Guy entered the picture, and he and I had been talking about the philosophy of doing things yourself. He created the space for me to be able to do that. He had the four-track machine and the engineering ability to set it all up in my room. I had the recorder on my desk, and I would record in the evening, and the way the light came in at that time was really magical.
How did it sound?
Really genuine. It’s the first time that I’ve sounded the way that I want to sound.
Was it liberating to make your own record?
It was a revelation. It shouldn’t have been a revelation because that’s how I was performing. I was playing [live] by myself. I guess you always think that since you can do more, you should do more. I think that’s the lesson in all of it, that less is more.
The songs on the album were written and recorded in Los Angeles, but now you’re so far removed from that world, living on a farm in complete isolation. How does that feel, the juxtaposition of it?
It’s interesting because I feel like the album touches on the themes of isolation and solitude because I was in that mode when I was writing those songs and recording them. And I was enjoying it; it was like solitude as companionship. Because when you’re in a city and you’re constantly around people and you’re going out and socializing, the only thing I would want to do is be by myself. And so now being out here completely by myself, I got what I wished for. It’s interesting how that works. But I feel like what’s cool about the album coming out now and what was exciting about Sub Pop reaching out was that they were listening to the songs exactly a year ago. And they were saying how it was resonating so much with the beginning stages of quarantine and all that. I feel like it’s an appropriate record for people right now because everyone’s going through this mental and physical experience of isolation.
And it’s funny because I sit here in my isolation in this bustling city and all I crave is isolation on a farm.
I know, I know. That’s why I think more and more people are coming to the realization that if you can make it work, having a place in two… Even people do that with Joshua Tree. You have your escape from it because there’s something essential about nature that the city will never fully be able to give you.
I wonder how living in the country will impact your songwriting.
I’m really curious, too. I’ve been writing some. It definitely feels like the songs are different, but it’s funny because I’m wanting to be louder.