In Pound For The Sound, Phoenix New Times gets technical with local musicians about what gear they use to create their signature style.
Brock Lefferts started A Cloud For Climbing in 2007 as a kind of way to keep playing music in the confines of Northern Arizona University's dorms. It was an unplanned musical journey and has evolved into an ongoing project.
Lefferts was born in the Valley and has lived here most of his life. He also has been playing music for most of that time, beginning at age 4 on piano. However, as a preteen he made his way to the acoustic guitar and drums, instruments he loved playing during his formative musical years.
Brock played drums for several bands in high school before heading off to college at NAU, the birthplace of A Cloud for Climbing. Due to his dorm room constraints, drums were no longer an option. So he turned to his computer to get his beat-making fix. He was that kid in the dorms who was always making music, often very loudly and at the expense of others — at first.
Finally, after some time perfecting his craft, Lefferts was asked to take his music to the stage. And it took off from there. All of a sudden, he was a regular in the Flagstaff scene and making it happen in his own way.
It should be noted that Brock is a lover of all the arts, especially the visualization of sound, and it shows in his work. His shows are a multimedia package, combining aural and visual stimulation to create a unique experience for attendees. He creates visuals with his instrumental soundscapes in mind, and he's an accomplished graphic designer.
A Cloud For Climbing is coming to The Rebel Lounge on Friday January 12, opening for indie touring act TV Girl. New Times was able to squeeze some words in via phone and email with Lefferts about his gear, love for audio visual connections, and upcoming show this weekend.
New Times: What's the secret weapon of your sound? And how did that help you find your "signature" tone?
Brock Lefferts: The secret weapon of my sound is burritos. Kidding. Because A Cloud for Climbing is a solo project, I don't have other band members to bounce ideas off of. While that could be seen as limiting, it's actually allowed me a lot of freedom in my writing. I'm able to write and layer melodies, counter-melodies, expansive drum parts, and atmospheric elements until I've pushed beyond what actually sounds good. Then, I edit down from there.
And that process is exactly how I've found my "signature" tone. When I first started the project 10 years ago, my music was very much acoustic. In addition to my acoustic guitar, I used a melodica, a toy horn, a mini glockenspiel, drum set, and a loop pedal to create all of my sounds. As I layered more and more of these elements, playing live sets started to become increasingly challenging. And that’s what encouraged me to really look at how I was writing — and it kind of forced me to pare down my instruments. That said, I still wanted to maintain an organic, layered sound quality overall.
Now, I use my computer as the brain of the operation. That allows me to loop electronic drums, synths, samples, and my electric guitar, the Fender Jaguarillo, which sits at the heart of it all. Because I have more control over the quality of my sound, I can still keep all the organic elements that are really important to my writing, but also offer a more modern, electronic vibe.
What's your favorite piece of gear in your collection and why?
Since most of what I do, both visually and musically, is contained inside of the computer, I'd have to say that my favorite piece of gear is the Ableton Push. If you're unfamiliar, the Push is a huge grid of buttons and knobs that make producing and performing music on a computer feel like playing an instrument. While performing live, it allows me to program improvised drums, synth parts, and control my computer at the same time. It's the glue to all of my gear that allows me to perform as a one-man band. And not only is it fun to play, but it's also a backlit with tons of bright colors, so the audience can follow along with what I'm doing. It's kind of like a piano had a baby with a Lite Brite.
Any special pieces of gear acquired over the years? Any special story, or stories, behind your collection of tools?
Over 15 years ago, I borrowed a Boss Chromatic Tuner, the standard tuner that every guitarist gets first, from one of my best friends/ex-bandmates, and it's lived on my pedalboard ever since. Even though I've had it for so long now, I don't think of it as mine. I actually plan on giving it back to him one day. Maybe in another 15 years. Anyway, thanks, Zack.
Just checked out your video on Facebook. Loved all the visual collages happening with the music. How did you go about putting that all together?
Thanks so much! The video is actually the culmination of 365 pieces of my digital art made in 2016. This project, dubbed "a thing-a-day thing," actually first began in 2011. At that time in my life, I was at the very beginning stages of my career as a graphic designer, and I wanted to challenge myself to create a piece of art every day for 365 days. So, I spun up a Tumblr and pushed myself to create and post there.
The results of that project really surprised me. I gained a following, worked with incredible clients on everything from designing business cards to a billboard for Coachella. But, what was most exciting to me was getting the visibility that allowed me to work with more musicians on creating custom album artwork for their own projects, which is my true passion. I'm proud to have worked with artists like Zella Day, Jacob Collier, Alfredo Rodriguez, El West, and others as a direct result.
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Fast forward to 2018. I've since completed this creative challenge again in 2014 and 2016, and am excited to start it up again this year. As much as my project is about my music, it's equally, if not more, about creation itself. So, I see the visuals as just another extension of A Cloud for Climbing.
You had mentioned that your music is all instrumental and that the visuals you create for it are an extension of the music itself. Can you expand on the role the visuals play into your sound?
Because my music is instrumental and doesn't contain any vocals or lyrics, the songs are left open to interpretation. That’s why I create visuals for my live performances. I think they help me tell a fully immersive story.
If you closely examine them, music and art have so many similarities in their form. For example, in music you have the frequency spectrum from low bass to crisp high frequencies; in visual art, you have the color spectrum from black to white and all the colors in between. Music uses reverb to create a sense space and depth, and art uses blur for a similar effect. I'm really focused on these parallels while I'm creating visuals for my music, so the two mediums work cohesively, and make each other more impactful.
You are opening for TV Girl at Rebel Lounge Friday, January 12. Any words you wish to share with fans about your upcoming performance?
There is so much energy in a live performance that is missing on recordings, and The Rebel Lounge's atmosphere and quality of the sound system really creates the perfect setting for this show. Hope you can make it out!