On the first track to her 2016 album "Palm Psalms: A Light to Resolve All Darkness," Low Leaf sings "returned from outer space," lyrics from "Space Foreva." It's a song she also performs for KCET's "Studio A." In it, the Long Beach-based singer/multi-instrumentalist takes on the role of the space traveler. Like Bowie and others who have woven tales of travel amongst the stars, Low Leaf is on a mission. As she sings, she's "searching for inner peace."
Low Leaf's music doesn't belong to any specific place or point in time. It doesn't fall under a strictly defined genre. She's trained in piano and self-taught in the harp. She plays with electronics, producing beats that can drive soothing melodies. Her voice often bears a jazz influence, but, on some songs, it's layered with other sounds to appear as if it's a not-quite human texture.
"One of the biggest challenges of evolving as an artist is getting distracted with comparing yourself not only to other artists, but also to the idea of how an artist should be," she tells KCET's Studio A in her on-camera interview.
There's another challenge that comes with being a musician. Low Leaf adds: "Having faith in my gift and believing in myself."
Not long before her appearance on Studio A, Low Leaf did her first European tour with a band. Previously, she would tour solo. "It's a different energy when it's me with the electronics," she says. "I'm really inspired by when I play with other musicians because I can play my instruments more." Now, she's working on two new albums.
She tells KCET that she felt a connection to the moniker Low Leaf when she first thought of it, but it's come to take on a specific meaning now. "I think now, what it means, is ever-changing earthling," she says.
Low Leaf's music has evolved quite a bit since she released her debut album in 2011. In the early years, her music reflected what was going on in Los Angeles' beat scene, influenced by hip-hop and pointing towards the future of DJ/producer culture with unconventional rhythms and sounds. On her 2014 album, "Akashaalay," Low Leaf looked towards her Filipino heritage for inspiration. On "Palm Psalms," Low Leaf draws from the spiritual realm.
She says that her music is "very much intertwined" with her spirituality. "The more I become my true self, the more I find my true sound," she adds.
True to her name, nature has been influential to Low Leaf. She has been working with various plants, making flower essences that she sells through her website. She's also an ambassador of an environmentally-conscious, L.A.-based clothing brand called Kether. "Every step in the production process is very intentional and very thought out so that there's very little water waste and waste in general," she says. "I really support it because one of the greatest problems is trash and how much we put out and so many clothes end up in landfills."
In "Cleansing Incantation," which Low Leaf also performed for "Studio A," she sings of "floating in space again" in a meditative way. She sings as though she's trying to help the listener find balance or a sense of calm amidst the good and the bad in the world. At the end of the track, the song fades into an almost ambient interlude. It sounds like it could be influenced by another side of Low Leaf's sound pursuits.
There's the Low Leaf that records albums and plays live, often with a band now, and the artist who uses her musical gifts for therapeutic purposes. In addition to making and performing music, Low Leaf conducts sounds baths where she uses her voice and various instruments to essentially soothe people.
"What I do on stage is a show, so there's kind of like a — I don't want to say there's a separation — but it's not as intimate," she says in an off-camera interview. "When I do sound baths, I'm working directly with an individual. I speak with them and see what is going on in their life and what they're trying to retune and I focus all of my energy on trying to entrain their vibration to a peaceful state."
To do this, she uses crystal singing bowls, similar to what you'll find at the Integratron near Joshua Tree, vocal tones and maybe a bit of the harp. She has bowls to work with every chakra and tunes them. It's improvisational sound that she describes more like a "soundscape" than an actual song. She plans on starting up group sessions again after stopping those for a while. "It got a little intense," she says of the group sound baths that she used to conduct. "When you're going through a healing process, you can kind of absorb other people's pain, so I didn't want to do that."
She adds, "When I start doing group sound baths again, I'm going to shift the intention a little bit so that instead of it being a healing thing, it's just not so deep into people's personal stuff."
Creating sound baths has helped Low Leaf evolve as a musician. "Once I started doing sound baths, I experienced firsthand how sound can shift someone, so I'm very mindful of that when I'm creating, even if it's just intention-wise, because music is healing or it can be very disruptive," she says. "I would say that the intention is there, but the way it all comes together is very different."
Top Image: Low Leaf | Dominic Charles Ferris