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Picture This’ is Le Chateau’s Call to Arms

In their latest release, the San Diego band weaves their dark, electronic indie pop sound with rich, optimistic lyrics

Erik Visnyak, Laura Levenhagen and Frank Green of Le Chateau.

Photo by Darren Bradley

Above: Erik Visnyak, Laura Levenhagen and Frank Green of Le Chateau.

In their latest release, “Picture This,” San Diego band Le Chateau weaves their dark, electronic indie pop sound with rich, smartly written lyrics. The songwriting marries a post-break-up rallying cry with a broader sense of fatalism — and in doing so, flips the dialogue of private, specific sadness into something general and almost communal.

Not to say that their songs are devoid of hope; they just don’t spoon-feed it. While the band doesn’t intentionally write tracks to be cohesive or part of a themed whole, the album’s throughline is still powerful. It’s a story of being lost or trapped, emerging and then settling in to a new understanding. It feels like a form of optimism.

“Most of the collection when they come together really are a resignation but then a rallying call to arms,” said vocalist Laura Levenhagen. “Most of my lyrics have to do with the pitfalls and then the things that give me hope and bring me back.”

Growth and Patience

The trio has been performing their unique brand of atmospheric, urban pop together since 2014 and has two other EPs (and three San Diego Music Award nominations) under their belt, including 2016’s “Brutalism.”

This new EP, “Picture This,” represents steady growth for the band. They’ve landed at a place where they’re no longer experimenting or playing with style, but mastering their innovative sound. And being patient with it: “Picture This” took upwards of three years to write and record.

Levenhagen, the band’s primary lyricist, sings, while Erik Visnyak and Frank Green play guitars, synth and electronics. In fact, their live show is a hypnotic balancing act of laptops, pedals, loops, synthesizers, instrument-swapping and Levenhagen’s mesmerizing vocals. “Picture This” is also the first time the band has recorded with a live drummer, (David Mead on some tracks, and Mike Kamoo on others, who also mixed and mastered the album at Earthling Studios).

Their collaborative songwriting — more of a democratic process than co-writing or any one individual — involves Visnyak being what Levenhagen describes as “the energizer bunny,” building a trove of riffs as potential essences for new songs. Together, they’ll thumb through these, and build new pieces from there. Sometimes Levenhagen pens lyrics first, but often, she lets Visnyak’s compositions feed and shape a song she’s been wanting to write. “It’s very collaborative,” Levenhagen said.

Le Chateau, "Disguise"

"Disguise," by Le Chateau (via Spotify).

Personal Stakes, Communal Healing

While Le Chateau was writing the record, band member Frank Green lost his father. “The song, ‘Statues,' is very much ingrained in my head with my dad’s passing,” Green said, because they were knee-deep in working on the song.

“I do a lot of archiving of my life with music,” Green continued. “So whenever I hear songs, it always takes me to a place in my life. And that one will always bring me back to that period. It’s very cathartic to listen to now, but before, it was, you know, drinking wine until 2 in the morning and crying.”

And with that, Levenhagen added: “I didn’t know that song meant that to you.”

Green took a short period of time off, and the band canceled a much-awaited local show. But the experience of Green’s father’s death led to another track on the album, “Blurred Image,” which Visnyak composed the night they heard the news. Levenhagen wrote lyrics that evoke family and loss. “It was really a special song for us, because [it] represents our love for you, Frank,” she said.

A Pared-Down Heart

While Le Chateau’s style showcases their lush sonic textures and intricate compositions, “Cruel,” is stripped down, just Levenhagen’s voice and piano. Clocking in at just 1:19, it’s more than the brief intermission a song of its length and style might otherwise be. It feels instead like the creative heart of the album: reflective, resigned, lovely and troubled.

Le Chateau, "Cruel"

"Cruel," by Le Chateau (via Spotify)

In the final two tracks of the EP, the vindictive, horror-tinged ambience of “Epic” (“Feed the beast, it’s hungry,” chants the refrain) builds with anger into “Prophesy,” a closing track that defies our expectations for a rah-rah conclusion. Instead, it’s a defeatist examination of being out of control, and there’s something comforting there.

Unexpected Influences and a Changing San Diego Music Scene

Attempting to rattle off national acts as comparisons for Le Chateau’s sound means scanning several genres and decades. Sylvan Esso or The Postal Service quickly come to mind, and the band has cited Phantogram, Portishead and shoegaze acts like My Bloody Valentine or Slowdive (and even the shoegaze-meets-black metal band, Deafheaven) as among their influences.

In San Diego, Le Chateau have recently performed with outside-the-box pairings that reflect their influences, though Visnyak said that 10 to 15 years ago, it was easier to find diverse bands because shows would pair an abrasive punk or metal band like The Locust with a dreamy act like The Album Leaf.

“I don’t think everyone should listen to the same crap,” he said, and also links a shift in the music scene to a changing local media landscape. “I just don’t really feel that energy anymore. I don’t hear about any bands now that CityBeat is pretty much gone,” Visnyak said.

As Le Chateau kicks off 2020 supporting their new EP, they hope to soon transition into songwriting mode too, which manifests for the band as a type of hibernation.

Catch Le Chateau on Friday, January 3 at Soda Bar with two other local, Earthling Studios bands, The Swedish Models and Free Paintings.

Le Chateau, "Statues"

Le Chateau's "Statues" (via Soundcloud).

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Julia Dixon Evans
Arts Calendar Editor and Producer

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI write the weekly KPBS Arts newsletter and edit and produce the KPBS Arts calendar. I am interested in getting San Diegans engaged with the diversity of art and culture made by the creative people who live here.

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