Folk singer Les Son, of Riverisde, has just dropped his freshman album, The Trees.
At a young age, Son learned the clarinet and trumpet. This progressed into him performing with the school orchestra, band, and choir.
”One of my uncles wanted to learn guitar and he was also getting into the Smashing Pumpkins,” Les Son said. “He kind of forced me to learn the other parts so he could play along.”
This year, Son released his first album, The Trees. Due to time restrictions, he worked several months on demos for the album in the early mornings and late nights. Recorded at Son’s home, he deliberately wanted to be sparse when it came to equipment and used his iPhone 7 plus as his sole microphone, focusing mostly on songwriting.
“If the content was good, then I wouldn’t need to rely on ‘studio magic’ and overly expensive gear,” he explained.
For Son, it is less about studio polish and was inspired by the timeliness of records from the 60s.
“When we compare the quality of studio recordings from today to those from the 60s or 70s, it’s noticeable even to the untrained ear and to a casual listener who isn’t a musician or engineer.”
Link Wray’s 1971 self-titled album was an inspiration for Son. “It’s low quality by today’s recording standards, but the songs are good and stand the test of time.” Other influences for the album were Matt Sweeney, Billy Corgan, Neil Young, Lianne La Havas, and Chris Cornell.
Son enjoyed the entire process of writing, planning, editing, tracking, but found the mixing to be the hardest element which he meticulously worked on.
The Trees is sparse sounding yet throughout the record, there are musical flourishes such as strings that expand and add depth. The instrumentation was all done by Son and he consequently made it that way. However, he is not opposed to working with a producer in the future.
“This is simply not a project that I wanted to develop together with a group. To get what I wanted from the record and in shaping the music, I had to retain the control,” said Son.
For The Trees, Son was also inspired by live performances, in how they can sound different from the studio version yet be just as good, if not better. Two examples he gave were, a-ha’s “Take On Me” acoustic performance from MTV’s Unplugged and Lianne La Havas’s album Blood.
“I couldn’t get out of my head how good those stripped down versions were and I wanted to produce something like that.”
The Trees is lyrically rich with different themes and ideas that Son said he could only express via song and wanted the lyrics to be meaningful.
“At the root of each song, as I look back on it, I wanted it to be honest and at the same time I was processing my own deconstruction. In the past several years I’ve gone through a lot of deconstructing of values, in family and other outside communities.”
Natural imagery is a theme that surrounds the album and is an aspect that Son did not purposely set out to do but was developed during writing. Album highlight “Thirsty” explores the theme of self-acceptance.
“The song is an affirmation of what makes us human, of our loves and joys and diversity.”
Another track, “Roots,” is about Son’s experience with poverty and longing for a place to call his own.
“We Rise, We Die” draws from the life of Philando Castile who was shot and killed by police officer Jeronimo Yanez with the police officer later being acquitted of all charges.
Addressing the verdict, Son said, “It’s a punch to the gut that leaves you breathless that yet another life had been taken needlessly by racism and the executor not held accountable and no justice given for Philando. Philando became another name added to the list, with Emmett Till, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, and on and on,” said Son.